From £53,1056
Extended UK drive of the fuel cell-powered ix35 reveals a car with plenty of promise even if our hydrogen infrastructure causes limitations

Our Verdict

Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell

As Hyundai ramps up its hydrogen car production, can the ix35 gain some traction in the UK

  • First Drive

    2015 Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell review

    Extended UK drive of the fuel cell-powered ix35 reveals a car with plenty of promise even if our hydrogen infrastructure causes limitations

What is it?

Despite recently releasing the Tucson, Hyundai is continuing to build and sell this fuel cell-powered version of the outgoing ix35. While at first glance it may seem little different to regular versions of the small crossover, what’s under the skin could point towards the future of the motor car.

At its heart, the ix35 Fuel Cell is basically an electric vehicle. Up front is an electric motor that produces 134bhp, and there’s a battery under the floor. Unlike most EVs, however, you don’t plug this one into the mains.

That’s where the fuel cell comes in. The fuel cell is located under the bonnet and runs on hydrogen drawn from a couple of high-pressure tanks either side of the rear axle. But unlike in a conventional internal combustion engine, this fuel isn’t burnt.

Instead, inside the fuel cell the hydrogen is split into protons and electrons, with the latter forced around a circuit. This generates electricity that is sent to the drive motor. Spare energy is used to charge the battery pack for times when peak power is needed.

Once the electricity has been generated, the only waste products are heat and water that is so pure you can drink it. When you run out of hydrogen, you just refill the tanks - a process that takes around three minutes.

Externally, the only differences between this and a conventional ix35 are a blue-backed Hyundai badge, fuel cell badging at the rear and a different fuel filler cover. Inside, the changes are even harder to spot, limited to a different set of dials in front of the driver.

This is very much at odds with cars such as the Toyota Mirai and Honda FCV Clarity. They both shout about their eco-credentials externally and internally; by way of contrast, the Hyundai is almost trying to hide its high-tech innards. But do they hinder it on the road?

What's it like?

Despite the science-fiction underpinnings, the ix35 Fuel Cell is remarkably conventional to drive – assuming you’ve sampled an electric car previously.

From behind the wheel, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you’re just in a remarkably quiet Hyundai SUV. Thumb the starter button and the instruments spring into life to reveal a conventional-looking fuel gauge with a handy range guide.

The rev counter is replaced by a dial that shows either power consumption or if energy recuperation when braking. Between the seats is a gearstick shared with the automatic ix35; slip this into Drive and you pull away with barely any noise. The worst you’ll get is a faint whine under hard acceleration.

Thanks to maximum torque being available from zero rpm, initial acceleration is far brisker than the 12.5sec 0-62mph time suggests. Thrust tails off noticeably after this point but the delivery stays smooth at all times. As with most electric cars, there’s only one gear in the transmission.

Thanks in part to a 100kg weight increase over regular versions of the ix35, the fuel cell variant can be painfully slow past 60mph. It will happily keep pace with motorway traffic but you can’t be afraid to lean on the throttle hard, although at this point you’ll watch your range tumble pretty quickly.

You also feel the portliness of the car around corners. While there isn’t too much additional body roll due to so much of the extra mass being mounted low, Hyundai can’t change the laws of physics.

Direction changes feel ponderous, with the stability control kicking in early to try to prevent the nose from washing wide. There’s also very little in the way of feedback through the steering wheel.

Like most electric cars, you’re much better taking a relaxed approach with the ix35. Not only will smaller throttle openings preserve the range, but you also get to appreciate the exceedingly comfortable ride. Imperfections are soaked up without fuss, while bigger bumps are dealt with equally well.

As for the interior, you’d be hard pushed to notice you’re in anything but a normal ix35. This has both positive and negative points. The good news is that the cabin is for the most part spacious and not too bad to look at. It’s easy enough to get comfortable up front and you sit high up, with a commanding view of the road ahead.

The rear seats offer a decent amount of leg room, although the sloping roofline does eat into head room significantly. Where the ix35 does score over the Toyota Mirai, its rival fuel cell offering, is that it offers seating for five, not four. There won’t be masses of shoulder room but it’s good to have the ability to carry three in the back.

Those occupants should probably pack light however; one of the hydrogen tanks is under the boot floor and does impinge on load bay space. While a regular ix35 has 591 litres of storage space, the fuel cell model makes do with only 436 litres.

Unfortunately, while it may be well equipped, with heated leather seats, touchscreen sat-nav infotainment, climate control and other toys, you can’t get away from the fact that the ix35 is showing its age. This generation of Hyundai's crossover was originally launched back in 2009, and it shows.

There are far too many hard plastics around, while the overall design is dated. It’s a real shame Hyundai couldn’t have installed the fuel cell guts of this into the much fresher Tuscon.

Should I buy one?

There’s no doubting the ix35 fuel cell’s green credentials. Assuming you can source a supply of hydrogen that’s been produced cleanly, it’s theoretically possible for it to be a 100% zero-emission car in general use.

Despite being a little on the slow side, there’s no doubt that it’ll do everything a petrol or diesel car can do. On a long run it kept at motorway speeds for miles on end and proved to be a relaxing and comfortable companion. As long as you don’t expect excitement, it’s a pleasant place to be.

Ignoring the dated cabin, there are two main things that may put you off. The first is the purchase price: even with a £5000 subsidy, the ix35 Fuel Cell costs just over £53,000. That’s Tesla Model S money.

Secondly, hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the known universe, but finding a filling station that stocks it isn’t so easy. Even including a couple that are due to open in 2016, there are still fewer than 10 in the UK. In conclusion, you really have to be committed to saving the environment to choose the ix35 Fuel Cell.

Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £53,105; Engine 100kW fuel cell stack & 24kW hybrid battery; Power 134bhp; Torque 221lb ft; 0-62mph 12.5sec; Top speed 100mph; Range 369 miles; Gearbox single-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1830kg; CO2 and tax band 0g/km, 0%

Join the debate

Comments
30

15 December 2015
.....it's slow, heavy, expensive, you used to need a certificate to fill it (still might) and that's in the unlikely event you find somewhere, you can't get it repaired by the local garage or 99% of garages for that matter, it's dated, people will laugh at you for wasting money. Sounds great.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

15 December 2015
I thought it was a £15,000 grant and not the £5,000. You save enough to buy a decent secondhand Leaf

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

15 December 2015
so lets get this right you convert gas, wind power etc to electric power then use loads of it to make hydrogen, make some diesel for the tanker to transport it on already busy roads, the car then converts it back to electricity emmmm very sensible. Electric car method is: gas, wind power etc to electric power unplug your toaster and plug in your car, end of!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

15 December 2015
It's the only car for sale that has no mpg figures provided by the manufacturer AND CAR journalists seem to play along by not mentioning it.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

16 December 2015
xxxx wrote:

It's the only car for sale that has no mpg figures provided by the manufacturer AND CAR journalists seem to play along by not mentioning it.

Would this link help? https://www.hyundaiusa.com/tucsonfuelcell/

On that site, it says: Miles-per-gallon Equivalent 49 city / 51 hwy / 50 comb, and gives Hydrogen Tank Capacity 140 liters / 37 gallons

16 December 2015
Bravo to the makers - they save some billions by using an outgoing model as real life test bed. The dynamics clearly suck but the operation and reliability is what matter here and now. Hopefully they will sort everything out otherwise in the replacement..hmmmm but of course Hyundai are not exactly very brilliant in interiors or dynamics, which makes me wonder - will it or wont it cut the mustard on arrival. I have been shouting for 20 years to have this kind of power unit and now its coming. Imagine the Paris global warming summit would have been much easier if they demanded all diesels be scrapped and replaced by hydrogen over the next five years :-))
Oh and before the unbelievers have a go - I live in St Petersburg in Russia - been here 10 years and today we had the first sprinkling (like sugar) of snow!!! and forecast for new year is PLUS 9 C - unheard of. Global warming people is FOR REAL

what's life without imagination

17 December 2015
Global Warming is real in the minds of politicians who have an agenda to hold back the developing world and use it as a means of taxing carbon emissions.
The reality is when they couldn't continue to call it Global Warming due to the inconvenient fact that there hasn't been any for at least 17 years, they then renamed it to climate change hoping nobody would notice. Nobody is arguing we don't pollute the world or that we shouldn't take steps to reduce pollution and I can agree with you that Hyundai deserves credit for their effort, but Co2 is not the pollutant that we have been led to believe. Sure we are having a warmer winter here in the UK than what is usual but to state we caused it is another thing. The fact remains the world was a warmer place in the Middle Ages. How do AGW proponents get round this ?

 Offence can only be taken not given- so give it back!

16 December 2015
Sorry but you’ll be shouting for another 20 years if you think Hydrogen is the way forward. Musk and BMW have already said Hydrogen power is dead for the time being. I’ve been banging on about Plug-in power is the way forward for some time now and it looks like Audi, VW, Porsche, Telsa, Ford, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes, Renault, LRJ think the same.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

16 December 2015
XXXX I really do not understand why you seem to be on such a mission to discredit Hydrogen as a future fuel. The ability to jump in to your car and drive away stopping only briefly and occasionally to refuel is something most of us currently take for granted. The fact that this may be possible in the future with zero tail pipe emissions is something that we should all be hoping for. True, the cost of the vehicles needs to come down , the motor power produced needs to increase and there will need to be far more filing stations, but all of this will come in time. As regards plug in power, most people’s requirements cannot be accommodated by the limited range and there is also a limit to the number of charging facilities that can be provided in any one area. We operate a Nissan leaf within the business and it hardly gets used as most people are concerned about the limited range and there is also the hassle factor of plugging the vehicle in and un-plugging again every time it is used, (especially when it is raining) Like it or not hydrogen has to have a future if we want to retain the independence of movement that we currently take for granted.

16 December 2015
you forgot about all the other points. And as Norway has proved with 1 in 5 car sales being electric it does solve the owner's requirements, and that's before the Leaf 2 comes out. If you're a 2 car family then the Leaf would be used the most as it only costs 0.02p a mile. Hassle of plugging in, well I spend 5 minutes a week putting petrol in, this would be down to 2 minutes if I were to plug it in 5 times a week. Like it or not Hydrogen has failed and this £54,000 car proves it. Still no mention of the mpg either!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

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