It’s no secret that used car prices are still sky-high, with relief looking long out. I get it, it’s hard to wait, and people want well-equipped, late-model crossovers on dealer lots now for rock-bottom pricing. Based on that description alone, you’d imagine it would be impossible to find something that fits those popular criteria. Not so fast — head to California and you’ll find a number of Hyundai Nexo crossovers for cheap that tick a lot of boxes. However, it does come with a big hang-up that makes it not for everyone that (It’s an FCEV). Let’s start with the appealing stuff.
For a start, the Nexo is available. A quick perusal online finds no shortage of well-equipped Nexo models for under $20,000, and these aren’t old cars we’re talking about. The vast majority land in that three-to-five-year-old sweet spot and have very little mileage, usually the sign of a good used bet.
Then there’s the form factor. Sure, it may only be front-wheel-drive but it’s a small crossover, and few things sell better than small crossovers at the moment due to sheer practicality. We’re talking about cars not much longer than a small hatchback but with plenty of interior space, perfect for your dog and/or 2.2 children. To this concern, the Nexo comes with five seats, 29.6 cu.-ft. of cargo space with all seats up, and 130.9 cu.-ft. of total interior volume. We’re talking Toyota RAV4 passenger roominess here.
So what about equipment? Surely, with used values this low, you can expect spartan appointments. Not so fast — you can find the Limited trim for under $20,000 with more features than you’d expect for the price. I’m talking cooled seats, navigation, a sunroof, a digital cluster, and more console buttons than the USS Enterprise. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’d be hard pressed to find a better-equipped used car for this sort of money without subjecting yourself to depreciated luxobarge maintenance misery.
So what’s the catch? This Nexo thing just seems too good to be true. Well, here it is: Depending on where you live, you might not be able to drive the Nexo at all. That’s because it’s a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, a technology for which the infrastructure isn’t exactly built out.
As a result, the Nexo isn’t the only cheap hydrogen car on the used market. Toyota Mirai values consistently drop like cast iron bathtubs out of tenth storey windows, with gently-used front-wheel-drive first-generation models in the mid-to-low teens and snazzy rear-wheel-drive second-generation models listing in the low twenties. A brand new Mirai stickers for $50,595 including a $1,095 freight charge. However, it gets even better. Spend a touch more on a Certified Pre-Owned Mirai and Toyota will currently throw in $15,000 in free hydrogen. Go with a first-generation model and that’s basically the cost of the car in fuel.
Unfortunately, Hyundai doesn’t have a free CPO hydrogen program, nor do the fuel gift cards that Hyundai toss to new Nexo owners transfer to subsequent owners, which begs the question: What does filling up cost? Well, hydrogen fuel is predictably expensive, with one S&P report in February pegging California pricing at $26.01 per kg. With a tank capacity of 6.33 kg in the Nexo, it would cost premium gasoline-powered car money to fill up, around $164.64 to be reasonably precise.
That plush Nexo Limited with the cooled seats has a range of 354 miles due to its big wheels, which means a spend of $0.465 per mile in fuel alone. That’s bordering on obscene, but there is a bright side. Because fuel cell electric vehicles are fundamentally electric, they don’t require nearly as much pesky maintenance as gasoline-powered cars. No oil changes, no transmission fluid changes, no spark plugs, just filters and coolant. It definitely doesn’t completely make up for the preposterous fuel costs, but it helps. Then there are the simple savings on the front end. We’re talking thousands of dollars less than an equivalent combustion-powered vehicle, and a few thousand bucks buys a fair amount of fuel.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend a hydrogen-powered car to everyone, as it takes particular driving habits, location, and a willingness to learn new things to run an FCEV as a daily driver. However, if you are good at owning weird cars, don’t drive a ton, live in California, and are willing to adapt, don’t write a cheap FCEV off yet.
(Photo credits: Hyundai, Toyota)
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