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If you’re unfamiliar with hydrogen-powered vehicles, you’re not alone. They’re uncommon, and you probably won’t spot one unless you live in certain areas of California near a hydrogen station. In fact, the Hyundai Nexo is the only hydrogen-powered SUV on the market, Car and Driver reports. This $60,000 compact SUV is pretty weird, but it has also been an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for three years in a row. Here’s everything you should know about the Nexo.

What is the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit organization that researches the crashworthiness of vehicles to help keep consumers informed and reduce the number of car accident deaths. A vehicle can earn a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ award by meeting or exceeding benchmarks in the IIHS’s evaluations.

To be designated a Top Safety Pick+ — the award that the Hyundai Nexo earned — a vehicle must receive “Good” ratings in six crash tests. They evaluate several aspects of the vehicle, including its side, head restraints, and roof strength. The vehicle must also earn Advanced or Superior ratings for front crash prevention and must come standard with headlights that earn an Acceptable or Good designation.

The 2021 Hyundai Nexo’s collection of IIHS awards

The 2021 Hyundai Nexo may have a hefty price tag and an uncommon fuel system, but there’s no denying it’s very safe. The IIHS awarded the Nexo its highest rating of Top Safety Pick+ in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

This year, the Nexo earned a Good rating for its standard headlights. It also received the highest possible rating of Superior in its vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention.

Unsurprisingly, this SUV comes standard with a fairly extensive list of safety features. These include blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a forward-collision avoidance system with pedestrian detection. If you upgrade to the Limited trim, you’ll also get a blind spot camera display in the instrument panel.

What you need to know about this unusual vehicle

The 2021 Hyundai Nexo’s electric motor makes 161 hp. According to Car and Driver, the base trim has an estimated range of approximately 380 miles, while the weightier Limited trim has a range of approximately 354 miles. The base trim gets 65 MPGe in the city and 58 MPGe on the highway, for a combined fuel economy of 61 MPGe. Standard features include a 12.3-inch infotainment display, a wireless smartphone charger, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

So, what makes this SUV so weird? First of all, as TFLnow points out, the Nexo is functional only in California. That’s because hydrogen stations aren’t widespread. In the contiguous United States, California is the only state where you can find them.

But its rare fuel system isn’t the only thing that makes the Nexo stand out. TFLnow notes several unique exterior features, including a distinctive front bumper and handles that disappear into the doors when the Nexo is locked.

Its interior is also notable. While many vehicles have begun moving away from manual control buttons in favor of touchscreens, the Nexo’s console comprises almost all buttons — excellent news for anyone who dislikes the prevalence of digital control systems.

All in all, the 2021 Hyundai Nexo is a weird and expensive vehicle. It’s the only hydrogen-powered SUV, it’s sold only in California, and it has a unique design that makes it stand out from other cars. Whether you love it or hate it, though, there’s no denying the Nexo’s safety record is impressive.


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