Hybrid Vs. Hydrogen Vs. Electric: The Tesla Model Y, Hyundai Nexo And Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Take On The World’s Toughest EV Test

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We’ve tirelessly talked about electric cars over the past few years, but what really is the future? Will hybrids soon dominate the roads while traditional gasoline and diesel engines die off, and will battery-electric and hydrogen vehicles gain a substantial (and permanent) foothold in the marketplace? That really depends on which one hits the mark for most drivers in real-world conditions. In this TFLcar video, we’re running a test with all three types of vehicle up the “Loveland Trials” — the world’s toughest EV test.

In this test, we’re going to find out just which vehicle is the most efficient in extreme driving conditions. Going from just about 6,000 feet to over 11,000 feet in elevation over a 150-mile round trip test will show just how well these cars can manage their energy reserves and net the longest range.

Hybrid Vs. Hydrogen Vs. Electric: The Tesla Model Y, Hyundai Nexo And Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Take On The World's Toughest EV Test
The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is the most conventional vehicle here (at least currently), and it’s the most affordable. [Photo: Hyundai]

The contestants

Before getting to the test, we need to take a look at each of our thoroughly modern contestants. The most conventional of these three is the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The automaker just redesigned the hybrid model for a new generation, and it has new styling, technology and an updated powertrain. This version mates a 2.0-liter “Smartstream” four-cylinder engine to an electric motor, producing a combined 192 horsepower. According to EPA figures, this Limited model should manage 45 City / 51 Highway / 47 Combined mpg in normal driving. The Sonata Hybrid also has a solar roof on the higher trim, which Hyundai says should add about 700 “free” miles of EV driving per year.

The 2020 Tesla Model Y is the latest addition to the TFL fleet, and is by far the fastest. Now, this one is not the 316-mile Long Range model. Instead, we have the Performance, which is still good for 291 miles on a charge, according to EPA figures. We’re starting the Loveland Trials test with 271 miles of range, so after the 150-mile gauntlet the car should have about 120 miles remaining. Of course, because of that large battery pack and the fact that electric cars are not impacted by elevation, that range is more than enough for a week’s worth of commuting between charges.

Hybrid Vs. Hydrogen Vs. Electric: The Tesla Model Y, Hyundai Nexo And Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Take On The World's Toughest EV Test
Tesla has dominated electric car range for the past several years, and its Model Y continues that trend with up to 291 miles of range for the Performance version. [Photo: Tesla]

Finally, there’s the most unusual car of the bunch: the 2020 Hyundai Nexo. Unlike the other two electrified cars, the Nexo is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The FCEV does use an electric motor and a small capacity battery, like a typical electric car. However, instead of relying solely on the battery for power, you have three hydrogen fuel tanks storing 6.3 kilograms (or 156 liters) of hydrogen at 10,000 psi. Hyundai makes this model on a purpose-built platform, since it’s the next step from their first attempt, the Tucson FCEV. The Nexo can manage 161 horsepower out of its drivetrain, and EPA figures put its range at up to 380 miles. For now, though, this sort of car is limited to states like California. Colorado only has one hydrogen filling station, and while we are close to it, we weren’t allowed to use it due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hyundai Nexo is the most unique among these three, thanks to its hydrogen fuel cell technology. [Photo: Hyundai]

The results

Over our Loveland Trials gauntlet, how did each of the cars do? For its part, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid used just 2.727 gallons of fuel over the entire trip, costing just $7.77 to fill up. Despite the uphill portion, the car’s capability to use the electric motor and regenerate energy going downhill meant the fuel economy worked out to 54.4 mpg — an impressive result.

After 148 miles of round-trip driving, the 2020 Tesla Model Y performance lost exactly 148 miles of range. Fortunately, regenerative braking on the downhill portions balanced out the more taxing uphill gauntlet, and the car’s ability to judge its range has proven to be accurate. Over a long-term ownership, that should definitely help with the once-dreaded range anxiety. According to EPA figures, the Tesla should get 121 MPGe in normal driving conditions.

According to the car’s onboard trip computer (again, we couldn’t fill up to verify this), the 2020 Hyundai Nexo managed 67.8 MPGe. That is a substantially better result than the EPA’s 61 MPGe for the most efficient Blue model. Over 148 miles, we actually used less than 148 miles of overall range.

Now, if you’re actually somewhere you have all three cars as options, there’s the matter of price. The Tesla Model Y is the most expensive at $59,900 to start. The Nexo is ever so slightly cheaper at $58,735, but is only available in California. The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is by far the most affordable, starting at just $27,750 before destination charges.