The Ride Guide to Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicles

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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Selection is overrated. According to Harvard Business Review, “excessive choice can produce ‘choice paralysis’” and can “reduce people’s satisfaction with their decisions, even if they made good ones.”

Lucky for you, fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) shopper, your choices are limited to just three models available in just three U.S. cities. If you live in or near Los Angeles or San Francisco, you need to visit a Honda, Hyundai, or Toyota dealership. Toyota also offers its FCEV in Honolulu, Hawaii. Beyond those model and geographic restrictions, Honda won’t sell you its FCEV. You must lease it.

Still interested? Let’s take a closer look at the three FCEV models that you can drive today.

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell in White
Honda has been working on fuel-cell electric vehicle technology for decades and began offering the FCX Clarity to consumers in 2008. A redesign for 2017 dramatically improved the renamed 5-passenger sedan, which is also available as a plug-in hybrid and a battery electric vehicle. (Honda)

The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell is a midsize 5-passenger sedan equipped with a trunk that holds 11.8 cubic feet of cargo. Aerodynamically styled, the Clarity Fuel Cell blends familiar Honda design cues with unusual details such as its hockey-stick LED running lights, rear fender skirts, and dramatic fastback roofline.

Inside, the Clarity Fuel Cell looks upscale and futuristic. Everyone is comfortable, and Acura-grade materials lend the car a luxurious look and feel. Honda says that 80% of the interior is composed of eco-conscious materials.

Though it looks high-tech, the touchscreen infotainment display is hard to use while driving because it lacks buttons and knobs. Honda’s Lane Watch technology is not as useful as a traditional blind-spot monitor, either. Transmission controls take some getting used to.

Honda equips the Clarity with a fuel-cell electric powertrain providing 174 horsepower and 221 lb.-ft. of torque, and there is a Sport driving mode. Remember, like any electric vehicle, maximum torque is available from the moment you step on the accelerator.

2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell interior dashboard
Most of this Honda’s Acura-grade interior materials are manufactured in an ecologically conscious manner. (Honda)

Honda says that the Clarity Fuel Cell gets 68 MPGe in combined driving, and can travel as far as 366 miles between visits to the fueling station. Like the other FCEVs in this guide, it takes about five minutes to fill the tank with compressed hydrogen gas. A HondaLink smartphone app helps you to find the nearest hydrogen fueling station, shows whether the station is on-line or off-line, and provides directions to it.

You can lease the Clarity Fuel Cell for three years, and as this article is published the cost is $369 per month with $2,868 due when you sign the paperwork. Honda keeps any federal or California state incentives in order to keep the monthly payment low, and it does not include tax, registration, or other fees.

Honda does provide a couple of perks at that price. First, the automaker offers Clarity Fuel Cell drivers $15,000 in free hydrogen fuel over the course of the 3-year lease. Second, you’ll get 21 free days of luxury vehicle rentals through Avis, for when you need to drive someplace where hydrogen fueling stations don’t exist.

Hyundai Nexo

2019 Hyundai Nexo Limited in White
The new kid on the block is the 2019 Hyundai Nexo, featuring greater utility than its two competitors thanks to its crossover SUV packaging. Two trim levels – Blue and Limited – are available for the Nexo, which is arguably the best-looking model of this trio. (Hyundai)

The Hyundai Nexo is a 5-passenger vehicle styled and packaged like a crossover SUV. But since it doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, it’s really more of a hatchback or wagon. Cargo space measures a reported 29.6 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat, including an underfloor storage compartment. With the rear seat folded down, the Nexo can handle 56.5 cu.-ft. of cargo.

In my opinion, the Nexo wins the styling and design competition among FCEVs. Hyundai’s chief designer, Chris Chapman, says that stones skipping across a pond and southwestern desert landscapes inspired the vehicle’s clean and calming appearance.

Inside, the driver and front passenger face what Hyundai calls a “flight deck.” Extensive use of bio-friendly materials ensures environmental responsibility, and the Nexo features dual widescreen digital displays for the instrumentation and infotainment systems. The center console is littered with buttons and knobs, but their markings can be difficult to see because of the silver surface finish.

Standard trim is called Blue, while the more expensive version of the Nexo is known as the Limited. It adds larger 19-inch aluminum wheels, leather seats, a Krell premium audio system, a Lane Follow Assist system, blind-view video monitoring of both sides of the car, and a high-tech remote parking-assist system that can park the Nexo while you’re standing outside of it.

2019 Hyundai Nexo Interior and Dashboard
Hyundai says the Nexo’s dashboard is designed to serve as a “flight deck.” Note the twin widescreen digital displays, reminiscent of a Mercedes-Benz. (Hyundai)

The fuel-cell electric powertrain supplies 161 hp and 291 lb.-ft. of torque, and features Comfort, Eco, and Eco+ driving modes. Maximum travel range with Blue trim is 380 miles at 61 MPGe in combined driving, while the Nexo Limited can go 354 miles at 57 MPGe combined. Owners can use a smartphone app or the Nexo’s navigation system to locate hydrogen fueling stations and to get directions to them.

You can buy the Nexo Blue for $58,300. Limited trim costs $3,500 more. Federal and California state incentives help to lower the cost, though some of these take your annual income into account.

Alternatively, you can lease a Nexo Blue for $399 per month or a Nexo Limited for $449 per month. When you lease, Hyundai keeps the government incentives to lower the cost of the payments, which do not include taxes, fees, or other charges.

Hyundai provides Nexo owners with $12,000 in free hydrogen fuel during the first three years, which is less than the competition. Hyundai matches Honda and Toyota in terms of free car rentals, though. You can get seven days of no-cost car rentals each year during the first three years of ownership.

Toyota Mirai

2019 Toyota Mirai in White
The Toyota Mirai has been available to Californians since 2016, and thousands of them are now on the road all around the world. A 4-passenger sedan, the pioneering Mirai is falling behind its competitors in terms of room and driving range. (Toyota)

Toyota introduced the Mirai for the 2016 model year, the midsize sedan offering 4-passenger seating and providing 12.8 cu.-ft. of trunk space.

Perhaps the most extreme example of Toyota’s latest catamaran-inspired design language, the quirky-looking Mirai’s name means “future” in Japanese. Interior design themes are familiar to anyone who’s been in a newer Camry or Prius, but with discordant lines similar to the car’s exterior styling.

Instrumentation is displayed within the center of a strip running beneath the base of the windshield, with the infotainment system housed in a dramatically asymmetrical pod rising from the dashboard. Touch-sensing climate controls reside on an angled portion of the center console, beneath the joystick transmission controller. The control layout is intuitive; it just looks otherworldly.

The Mirai is equipped with a fuel-cell electric powertrain producing 153 hp and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. It is rated to return 67 MPGe in combined driving and supplies 312 miles of driving range on a full tank of compressed hydrogen gas. Thanks to the Mirai’s free 3-year subscription to Safety Connect services, owners can use the navigation system or a smartphone app to locate hydrogen fueling stations and to get directions to the closest one.

2019 Toyota Mirai Interior and Dashboard
The Toyota Mirai’s interior is just as wild as its exterior. Unlike the Honda and Hyundai, the Mirai seats four people instead of five. (Toyota)

Toyota will sell or lease the Mirai to Californians, while Hawaiians can only lease the car. The price is $59,430 (including a $930 destination charge), and as this article is written Toyota is offering a $7,500 rebate on top of California’s maximum $5,000 FCEV rebate (which is based on income level). Plus, you can get 1.9% APR financing for 72 months.

If you lease, the deal at the start of 2019 is $349 per month with $2,499 due when you sign the paperwork. Tax, registration, and other fees are extra, and Toyota keeps any incentives in order to keep the monthly payment low.

Every Mirai includes $15,000 in free fuel for the first three years of ownership, as well as 21 days of free car rentals during that same period of time. Maintenance is free during the first three years, too.

If you don’t care about all of those perks and you just want an affordable FCEV, low-mileage Mirais are available as used cars. A search on Autotrader using a Southern California zip code turned up one example with fewer than 21,000 miles on it for less than $17,000, while the cheapest certified pre-owned Mirai had 19,000 miles on the odometer and was priced at just under $23,000.

About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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