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    Life With a Hydrogen Vehicle

    By Philip Ruth–

    What about hydrogen cars? 

    I know, it’s probably not likely this question has bolted you out of your sleep in the dead of night. Hydrogen is absolutely not on the tip of a car buyer’s tongue, as BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) steal the spotlight when internal-combustion alternatives are considered. 

    OK, but here you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, which leads the U.S. in growing out the hydrogen refueling infrastructure. So, what would life be like with an FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle)? 

    First is the reality that an FCEV as your only car would be an absorbing challenge for many drivers. So, in this column, I’m imagining a two-car garage, with one slot for the hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo, with a Toyota Sienna minivan as a support vehicle. 

    We’ll need more than $100,000 for this scenario, as the tested Sienna XSE lists at $47,049, and the Nexo Fuel Cell Limited leveled up at $64,130. The XSE is an aggressive-looking Sienna, with the extroverted lines and curves fleshed out on the tester by the $425 Ruby Flare Pearl finish. More than a minivan, this Sienna XSE is a statement that’s big and bold. 

    Meanwhile, the technologically exotic Nexo has sedate styling that blends in with other compact crossovers on the streets, even with its Shimmering Silver paint. The Nexo’s distinctions are within. 

    In terms of driving, both the Nexo and Sienna are fine examples of their formats. The Nexo has an electric car’s instant torque off the line, albeit with a bit of whooshiness from the hydrogen powertrain. The Nexo feels light on its feet and nimble in the turns—and the Sienna XSE does too, despite its lumbering profile. Neither are particularly enthusiastic or engaging—you’d be forgiven for adding an old Miata on the side—but the Nexo and Sienna won’t make you look bad when the going gets curvy. 

    In many ways, the Nexo acts like a normal crossover BEV. Hyundai has made efforts to normalize FCEV ownership as much as possible. There are tax credits, a $13,000 fuel credit over three years of ownership, and the deal includes seven days per year for rental cars, so you can still feel free to roam beyond the Nexo’s advertised 380-mile range. 

    Plus—and this is no small consideration here in the traffic-choked Bay Area—you can sail along by yourself in the HOV lanes, any time of the day, smiling and parade-waving to the stopped throngs that you pass. 

    All sounds good, right? Yes, except there is only one hydrogen refueling station in all of San Francisco, and like the others, it isn’t always online, which can be checked on an app. Outside California, the station count is just about nil. The Nexo ends up as a mainstream-feeling vehicle with a specific mission and location. 

    I’d want something that’s actually mainstream in the other garage slot, and this serious-looking Sienna XSE would do nicely, as long as there’s still room for that old Miata. 

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant with an automotive staging service.

    Published on January 26, 2023