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2016 Hyundai Tucson FCEV First Impression

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Just by looking at this particular Hyundai Tucson, you wouldn’t think it’s that different from the rest of the fold. It essentially looks like business as usual.

Slip inside, and it’s the same thing. A well-executed cabin and an easy-on-the-eyes centre stack create a welcoming environment for the driver and passengers. But if you look a little closer, you’ll notice a few differences.

“Hydrogen EV” is written alongside the body. The gas cap is marked “Fuel Cell,” and “Blue Drive” is badged near the front wheel wells.

So, on the surface, yes, you can read some differences, but it isn’t until you look under the hood or underneath the floorboard in the trunk that you realize just how special this Tucson is.

What is the  Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell EV?
The Tucson Fuel Cell EV is powered by compressed hydrogen gas. I’m not a scientist, nor am I an engineer, so I won’t do the system justice by explaining it in colloquial terms. But here it goes:

Compressed hydrogen gas is drawn through the fuel cell stack up front. Through a series of processes, that gas is then converted to electricity.

Hyundai says, “There is no combustion of hydrogen and the stack has no moving parts. The electrochemical process of combining oxygen and hydrogen in the fuel cell stack creates electricity to power the vehicle's electric motor and charge an onboard battery. The only by-product of the process is pure water vapour, resulting in zero greenhouse-gas emissions.”

2016 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell EV Technicalities
Being that it’s an EV, the first thought on people’s minds is probably, “What’s the range?” 

Good question.

The estimated range on a full tank of hydrogen gas is just over 420 kilometres (426 to be exact). That’s a pretty liveable number. Unless you frequently road trip or drive a lot for your job.

Hyundai is the first manufacturer in Canada to offer fuel cell EVs to the public. Meaning, it’s not part of a fleet. 

Individuals or families can apply to the program and lease one of these Tucsons on a three-year term. It’s $599 a month, which includes all your gas, and maintenance costs.
Where do you fill up, you ask?

There’s only one designated fuelling station in British Columbia. It can be found in Surrey at the BC Hydro Powertech facility.

Living with a Fuel Cell EV
Now that you know a little about the vehicle, here’s what it’s like driving one.

It’s remarkably unremarkable; a saying coined by one of Hyundai Canada’s PR reps. And he’s 100% right.

The Tucson FCEV is quiet. It’s smooth. It’s nice to drive. It’s attractive on the inside and out. It’s really nothing out of the ordinary.

But I like that.

Furthermore, the projected range displayed on the digital screen on the instrument cluster was almost bang-on to actual kilometres driven. In fact, I got a few more kilometres (more than it had projected). Need to accelerate quickly to get on the highway? No problem. It drives just like a “normal” vehicle.

OK, this is probably the hottest topic of discussion when it comes to fuelling a FCEV: infrastructure.

There’s only one place to get enough for a full fill in the Lower Mainland and you’re restricted to hours of operation -- usually between 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Those applying to lease a FCEV are aware of this, and so was I.

Is it a pain to drive to the suburbs? It’s definitely out of the way for me, and I had to make sure I gave myself enough range to get there. But no, it was a non-issue.

I drove there during off-peak hours so the commute wasn’t horrible, but it’s close to 30km away from the city centre where I live.

Fuelling takes less than five minutes, and it’s as straightforward as filling your car with gasoline. Attach the nozzle, press the buttons on the pump and away you go. Replace said nozzle, and drive away knowing you’re running on hydrogen. It’s actually pretty cool.

My Two Cents
An FCEV is not for everyone. That’s a fact. Nor is it available for everyone.

As for driving the vehicle, it’s brilliant. The time I spent with it I was impressed and am rooting for its commonplace existence on the roads sometime in the future. Whether or not the infrastructure will be available is another story altogether.

It’s hard to compare a hydrogen-powered EV with a straight EV. It’s not better or worse, just different. But the reality of owning an EV over an FCEV is much more realistic. Electricity is available pretty much everywhere. Compressed hydrogen gas isn’t. 

Regardless, at the end of the day, I loved the Tucson FCEV.