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The 2019 Hyundai Nexo.

Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

Here’s an appealing, capable crossover that’s loaded with tech, except there’s a tiny hitch: It can be filled up at only one station in all of Canada.

The 2019 Hyundai Nexo, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, should get at least 600 kilometres a tank, and it can be filled up in as little as five minutes. Presently, though, a Shell station in Vancouver is the sole disbursement site, with another in Quebec not operational yet.

Environmentally friendly hydrogen is abundant in nature – and in California, where there are 35 public stations (with more on the way).

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The Nexo's exterior doesn't give away that it's an electric vehicle.

Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

During a test drive, a 12.3-inch screen displayed 537 kilometres of range. I’d just finished driving the Hyundai Kona, a battery-charged electric vehicle, and even though it has plenty of range at 415 km, the Nexo felt more comforting. The screen also showed that the nearest hydrogen filling station was only 17 km away.

The five-seat, front-wheel-drive SUV creates its own electricity by combining hydrogen from the tank with oxygen in the air, producing only water in the exhaust.

Aside from the near silence – except for an artificial warning hum at low speeds – and drag-reducing touches such as air vents on the D-pillar and retractable door handles, you can’t really tell that the Nexo is electric just by looking at it.

Drives like an SUV

Hyundai claims the Nexo's hydrogen fuel cell has a 600 kilometre range.

Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

The electric motor delivers 161 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. Hyundai says it should accelerate from zero to 100 kilometres and hour in 9.5 seconds. That’s not exactly peppy, but on the highway and winding canyon roads, we never lacked for oomph. You feel steady power as soon as you hit the pedal.

The Nexo also has regenerative braking, controlled by paddles at the steering wheel, that recharge the 1.56 kWh battery as you slow down.

“It’s really like a hybrid; you use the [hydrogen fuel cell] stack to power the motor, but you use the battery for stop-and-go driving,” said Jerome Gregeois, senior manager, Powertrain and Eco Technologies with Hyundai.

The Nexo's screen displays the fuel cell's remaining range, as well as the distance to the nearest hydrogen station.

Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

The Nexo has all of Hyundai’s standard safety tech and then some, including a monitor next to the speedometer that displays video of the blind spot when you put on the flasher.

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It also has remote parking, which lets you use the key fob to back the car into or out of a tight parking space.

Inside, the monitor is Mercedes-like in size and quality, and the centre console seems to have more buttons than the Space Shuttle. The interior is snazzy and classy, not unlike the company’s Genesis luxury brand. And there are eco-friendly touches such as interior plastics and carpet made from sugar cane.

The Nexo's centre console seems to have more buttons than the Space Shuttle.

Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

So how much will this all cost? Hyundai hasn’t settled on pricing yet. The fuel-cell Toyota Mirai sells for US$57,000 in California, before rebates.

Whatever the MSRP, Hyundai expects to lose money on every hydrogen vehicle it sells. That’s because, right now, there’s no economy of scale for the fuel cell. Instead, it exists to stir up interest in the technology.

Unlike the Tucson FCEV, which was lease-only – there are still at least three on Canadian roads, down from a dozen at its peak – the Nexo will be for sale.

It will be available everywhere, but Hyundai thinks they’ll sell them only in B.C. and Quebec. Because everywhere else, the Nexo is out of its element.

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Will government support hydrogen power?

A Shell station in B.C. is the only active disbursement site for hydrogen fuel cells in Canada.

Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

Hyundai and Toyota hope more stations will be built as consumers, governments and oil companies see the value in a green car that doesn’t need to be plugged in.

Hyundai will be building the Nexo to order, and they expect the main customers to be governments and companies working in hydrogen tech, at least for now.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” said Rafael Bechelli, Hyundai Canada’s product manager. “In a coalition with Honda, Toyota and other partners, we’re going to the government to lobby to get them to help build the infrastructure to increase the volume of these cars in Canada.”

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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