Hyundai Tucson Hydrogen Fuel Cell SUV (2015 Model Review)

Written By: Lori W.

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

Hyundai Tests the Water with Limited Release of 2015 Tucson FCV

Hyundai is dusting off the tattered promises of fuel cell vehicles (FCV) with introduction of the 2015 Tucson FCV. The aggressively green automaker is banking on owner satisfaction within a limited California market with what has become the trifecta on the race to broader, mass production of electric vehicles: lower emissions, acceptable range and ease of refueling.

Hyundai will be manufacturing the 2015 Tucson FCV on the same South Korea assembly line as the gasoline-fueled model, making it the world's highest-volume fuel-cell vehicle at launch.

Wisely keeping the training wheels on, the 2015 Tucson FCV is only available in California as a three-year lease, with $2,999 down and $499 monthly.

The automaker expects to make and market about 1,000 of the FCVs over the next two years. Potential owners must provide their contact information and will be vetted to ensure they are comfortable driving the fuel cell Tucson, which is still viewed by some as an experimental vehicle.  And of course that they are close to a refueling station and their driving habits mesh with the range of the Tucson. Those that qualify will have their name drawn lottery style for the privilege of leasing.

The company has announced it will grease the wheels on the deal by picking up the hydrogen-fuel tab, presumably because federal incentives for FCVs go straight to manufacturers. The state will add icing to the cake with a $5,000 subsidy to erase that down payment and ratchet down the payments to $443 monthly.

So how does the Tucson FCV stack up? If you're familiar with driving a battery electric vehicle, you'll feel right at home behind the wheel, with the Tucson FCV's silent drive train and fuel cell. The Tucson FCV features a 134-hp AC motor with 221 pound-feet of torque, allowing the 4,150-pound crossover to accelerate from a stop with confidence.

The single-speed transmission keeps things rolling without a stumble. Under the floor is a 0.95-kWh taken from the Sonata hybrid and used to power the motor until the fuel cell starts making enough electricity. If there is any surprise for those leasing this FCV, it's perhaps that there is nothing much out of the ordinary to the eye, despite the unique power play going on under the hood.

Delivering on the promise that an FCV can be easy and efficiently refueled, filling the Tucson FCV’s twin hydrogen tanks from the point of empty takes about 10 minutes, give or take. Each of the tanks, positioned to straddle the rear axle, hold just under 12.5 pounds of hydrogen at 10,000 psi.

Filled, they are enough to provide a 265-mile range. That may seem acceptable to those interested in leasing this FCV, and it is—as long as they keep in mind that the range is an absolute. Go past it, and you better have the name of a good tow truck. As infrastructure builds, this will become less of an issue.

Rumor Has It

Although Hyundai Group launched the Kia Soul EV, word has it the company is more interested in perfecting hydrogen fuel cells as a means of moving toward zero emissions than it is battery electric models, so expect to see more FCVs from the Korean automaker down the road.

There are some car enthusiasts, even those who favor alternative fuel vehicles, who believe the Tucson misses the boat and that FCV technology will not be able to keep pace with battery electric vehicles. Watch for automakers to favor one over the other in the race to offer more electric vehicles at palatable prices and acceptable ranges.