The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is a rare beast – a true pioneer that looks and acts like your stock standard ix35 but has so much more going on beneath the bonnet.
Hyundai was the first car manufacturer to begin assembly line production of a fuel cell vehicle with its ix35 Fuel Cell. The company had planned to produce 1000 cars for the first run. Hyundai’s belief that zero-emission vehicles will pave the way for a new area of ‘clean’ transportation has positioned them at the forefront of the fuel cell vehicle market with Toyota and Honda following hot on their heels (with their own offerings making their way to the production line by 2015). The ix35 Fuel Cell is available to lease for a select few people in the UK and Europe at present with hydrogen refuelling stations not being abundant enough yet for the car to hit the mass market.
The car is powered by a hydrogen tank to store fuel (at the rear), a Fuel Cell stack to convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity with the only by-product being water (at the front) and an inverter which converts the current to operate the electric motor as well as controlling speed and torque. There’s also a lot going on beneath the chassis with an electric drive motor used to convert electric energy from the inverter into mechanical torque or, alternatively, to store electricity when decelerating. The reducer (also under the chassis) is involved in shifting gears and amplifies torque by adjusting the motor’s rotational speed for efficient operation over varied terrains. Finally, also at the epicentre of the vehicle is a compact lithium-polymer battery to store electricity. The electricity supply from the Fuel Cell stack and the battery is enough to give a boost of energy during acceleration. All of this technology helps to result in a pretty hefty 2,290 Kg kerbweight.
People may recoil a little at the idea of a lot of hydrogen gas lying in the back of their vehicles but Hyundai has by no means skimped on safety. With four hydrogen sensors scattered throughout the vehicle, any hydrogen leakage will be detected quickly. The intelligent sensors also shut off the hydrogen in a collision. It has passed burst tests in pressures higher than working pressure, drop tests in accident scenarios and crash tests involving guns. The vehicle also offers a six airbag system and active headrests to minimise injuries in the event of a collision.
Stepping into the vehicle we were expecting it to feel like stepping into a spaceship (Fuel Cells were first used on NASA’s spacecraft). On the contrary, stepping into the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is like stepping into any new car. It also drives like a regular ix35 – when you’re behind the wheel, the only clue that it is a fuel cell vehicle is the complete absence of noise due to its unconventional engine.
Reaching 62 miles in 12.5 seconds and offering a top speed of 99 mph, it’s not going to get your heart racing but it offers a smooth, comfortable ride. The real clincher of course is that its only emission is water, so while it may look and act like an ordinary ix35, it is by no means ordinary: the ix35 Fuel Cell is an electric car with a twist, using a Fuel Cell stack to convert hydrogen (and oxygen from the air) into electricity which in turn powers a perfectly acceptable engine. The dashboard is also somewhat different from the ix35’s dashboard, with the needle resting either on Charge or Power.
It is not without its conveniences either, offering a dual zone air conditioning system, rear view parking display and a steering wheel remote control.
Overall, we found it handled very well in the city, absorbing any bumps in the road, changing lanes with just a little effort and providing a comfortable and conventional interior. People may even be inclined to call it boring – or compare it to a Prius – but with Hyundai’s goal being to produce a zero emission vehicle that looks and feels just like a conventional vehicle, we can’t fault it.
Offering a maximum fuel economy that is equivalent to an incredible 78.5mpg and a maximum range of 369 miles on a single tank, the economy versus range far surpasses that of other EVs especially when you consider that it charges or refuels in under 10 minutes.
Hydrogen is also easy to come by using electrolysis, however it does require a source of electricity in order to harness it.
Currently, only a select few officials in the UK can hire the iX35 Fuel Cell, but in California, the US-named Tucson is available for lease to the public for a downpayment roughly £1800 ($2,999) and a monthly cost of roughly £300 ($499) a month for 36 months which includes all maintenance and unlimited free hydrogen. When you consider that you would also be liable for less road tax due to the car’s zero emissions, leasing an ix35 Fuel Cell seems viable for even the average taxpayer.
Currently, the biggest hurdle to this zero-emission vehicle gaining widespread appeal is the lack of infrastructure in the form of hydrogen refuelling stations, but the UK Government has plans to expand the network dramatically and by doing so to help achieve its low emission goals. Currently there are 11 hydrogen refuelling stations in operation in the UK with more in the pipeline, but an estimated 65 stations would be necessary in order for the ix35 Fuel Cell to become a real contender in the consumer market.
A car that offers zero tailpipe emissions, uses an abundant fuel source and offers all the safety and performance features that one has come to expect in a city car certainly gets our vote. The Hyundai ix35 gets a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10 – it misses out on a 10 out of 10 due to the lack of widespread availability of sustainable hydrogen, meaning that, as yet, it’s not a genuine low emission option for the majority of motorists.