By Wayne Gorrett
The Toyota Mirai (Japanese for ‘future’) is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and represents one of the first FCV vehicles to be mass produced and sold commercially. The original Mirai was unveiled at the November 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show and introduced to the UK in 2015.
With the Mirai, Toyota has one eye set firmly on the future rather than any big-number sales targets, which is evident by a global Mirai sales total of around 11,000 units, with Europe taking around 840 of those, of which just 172 have been sold in the UK.
While the Mirai isn’t an electric car in the conventional sense, it feels broadly similar to many mainstream EVs in the way it drives. The big difference is range and refuelling time. If you’re lucky enough to reside near any of the UK’s roughly 12 hydrogen refuelling points (and finding one that works), you can fill the Mirai in around five minutes, returning a range of roughly 400 miles.
Critics point to the lack of refuelling infrastructure and the amount of energy which is used to create the hydrogen to fuel the cars as reasons why BEVs are the best solution for zero-emission motoring.
However, the significant investments currently being made by organisations and governments in the technology suggests hydrogen will have a major role to play in the decarbonisation of transport in the future.
Toyota is one of the companies at the forefront of the technology and refers to the Mirai as being an entirely holistic approach to electrification. The automaker stresses that it does not see the hydrogen fuel cell as an either/or situation with battery-electric vehicles, but more as a complementary technology which will suit some applications more effectively.
The Mirai and Hyundai Nexo are the only hydrogen fuel-cell cars currently on sale in the UK, using a radically different engineering solution to the question of how to store electricity on board. However, British-start up Riversimple intends to use hydrogen power and the technology is also being explored by Mercedes-Benz. Indeed, BMW – in conjunction with Toyota – is to release its iX5 Hydrogen in small numbers in 2022.
Late last year, Toyota revealed this all-new second-generation Mirai – and it’s a more serious proposition than what came before. UK sales commenced in April, 2021 and earlier this month, I spend a few days with ‘UK70 FCV’, a Toyota Mirai presented in ‘Design Premium’ trim and finished in ‘Scarlet Flare’.
Before the bad man with a clipboard came to take it away, I scribbled a few notes…
Comparing the first- and this second-generation Mirai really would be like comparing one of Dover’s finest chalky whites to a wheelbarrow full of Romanian Urdă.
The new Toyota Mirai is based on the rear-wheel drive TNGA platform (a shortened version of that which underpins the Lexus LS) and aside from a completely redesigned exterior, it is significantly longer, wider and lower than the previous iteration.
It offers a 30 per cent increase in driving range with increased hydrogen capacity and this time includes the ‘Advanced Drive’ system with a driver monitor camera and remote software updates.
The svelte exterior of the new Mirai is much sleeker than its frumpy predecessor and a much better fit for the style-conscious family or executive. The new car’s bold shark-like nose, stylish alloys and fastback shape look genuinely upmarket: more Lexus than Toyota.
Accommodation is less generous in the back seats. Because of the need to package those three gas tanks and all the associated plumbing for the fuel-cell technology, it’s really quite cosy in the second row for a car of this size, and boot space is compromised too.
Many adults’ feet and legs will rub the seatback in front of them, while taller passengers’ heads will strike the roof lining (compounded if you choose the top-rung Design Premium Pack’s Toyota Skyview panoramic glass sunroof). Note also that a 321-litre boot in a car this big is significantly disappointing.
Toyota Mirai comfort is first-rate: this is an extremely pampering car and one whose priorities are clearly aimed at soothing the occupants – a car for cruising, not for bruising. When you first climb in, access is easy thanks to wide-opening doors and you sink into super-comfortable front seats with electric adjustment, making it very easy to find the right position.
Operating the controls is pleasingly straightforward. Press the start button, select D and pull away: you’re transported into the wonderfully peaceful world of full-electric cars, the Mirai gliding along in near silence. The party trick here is the sublime refinement all the way up to and including motorway speeds – there are few more hushed and relaxing cars on sale today.
There’s a high feel good factor in this car and all three trim levels are generous, from the excellent 14-speaker JBL stereo to the wireless phone charging and 10.1-inch head-up display that projects speed and satnav instructions up on to the windscreen, so drivers don’t have to dip their head to read important information.
Cramped rear dimensions aside, the Mirai boasts a welcoming cabin in which front-seat passengers can enjoy spending time. You won’t mistake it for anything other than Japanese and there’s a range of graphics and switchgear that could only hail from the makers of Toyotas and Lexus products. For instance, there’s the same style of stubby gear lever that you’ll find on a Prius (all Mirai’s are automatic). It’s short and used to nudge forwards or back into Drive or Reverse.
Toyota Mirai boot space
As touched on above, rear legroom is little better than that of a supermini, while the boot offers just 321 litres of luggage space behind the rear seats. This is largely due to the three hydrogen fuel tanks, which are located beneath the car’s floor. There’s no option to fold the rear seats down to create more cargo space either. Conversely, beneath the hatch of Audi’s A7 Sportback, there is a generous 535 litres of space, which can further expand to 1,390 litres with the rear seats folded down.
There is only one technical spec of Mirai available, but you can choose from Design, Design Plus and range-topping Design Premium equipment specifications.
Every model comes with electric windows all-round, keyless entry and start, electrically adjustable steering wheel and eight-way adaptable front seats, plus a rear-view parking camera and wireless phone charger for compatible mobiles.
Also standard fit are LED lamps front and rear, Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite-navigation and alloy wheels, starting with 19-inch rims rising to a larger 20-inch set on the Design Premium model as tested.
It also has a digital rear mirror as pioneered by Land Rover. A rear high mounted camera sends a crystal-clear image to a screen where the mirror usually resides. It’s good for unimpeded rear vision, but it does take some getting used to. If it starts to make you feel a tad blurgh – as it did me – you can also flip it back to a conventional mirror. The tech is great on an SUV that you can load up to the roof, but on a family saloon does seem a tad superfluous.
Powerplants and drivetrains
The new Mirai has three hydrogen fuel tanks compared to two in the outgoing model – an increase of 20 per cent more storage capacity. It also has a more compact and efficient hydrogen fuel cell set-up which boosts power and torque to 180bhp / 300Nm (up from 151bhp)
The smaller power unit also means Toyota engineers have been able to move it from the rear to the front, helping with styling, weight distribution and balance.
Although hydrogen is the principle source of the power that drives it, the Mirai is actually an electric car driven by a 134kW electric motor.
It uses a special fuel-cell which acts as a mini on-board power station, taking the hydrogen gas and through a chemical reaction creates electric power from the fusion of hydrogen from the fuel tank and oxygen atoms sucked in from the atmosphere around the car.
The by-product of this process – as you may recall from your school chemistry lessons, is H20 – otherwise known as water. This is what dribbles out of the stainless steel exhaust pipe
Of course, the fact it emits only water means that it’s applicable for the very lowest company-car rates; Toyota claims the Mirai is better than net zero, in fact – removing harmful SO2 and NOX pollutants from the air as it drives. It is exempt from vehicle tax and the London Congestion Charge, but the high RRPs mean all Mirai models miss out on the Government’s plug-in car grant, now capped at £35,000, down from £50,000.
In addition, hydrogen is rather expensive, costing around £74 for 400 miles of range. The advantages of hydrogen-fuelled motoring remain including its cleanliness (as long as the energy used to create the hydrogen continues to come from renewable sources).
On the road
While the Mirai is more than gutsy enough to feel comfortable even in a fast motorway merge or cheeky exit from busy traffic, ultimately the 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds is indicative of its rather sedate nature compared to its ICE-powered peers. Its dynamism is not helped by a hefty weight of 1,925kg, which is about 200kg more than a BMW 530e and only about 150kg less than a Tesla Model S.
However, in terms of refinement, this is one of the best cars I – and my test-drive passenger – have experienced on the road for some time. There’s barely a hint of noise from the electric motor and nothing at all from the fuel cells. You’re left with only distant wind and tyre hum and even this is perfectly muted to living-room conversation levels.
The light steering is precise and predictable, while the Mirai smooths over bumps and crusty surfaces in the road. It’s all the more enjoyable from the super-comfortable, armchair-like seats that give a fine view of the widescreen infotainment screen.
Reliability and Safety
Prospective owners can expect the Mirai to be reliable, not only because Toyota has invested huge sums in the technology but also because of its excellent reputation as a brand in this regard. ‘The car in front…’ and all that.
The Mirai is fitted with Toyota’s tried-and-tested safety equipment but hasn’t yet been crash-tested by independent assessors Euro NCAP. Passive safety features like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warnings and rear cross-traffic alerts are all designed to help prevent a collision before it happens, and are fitted as standard in the mid-range version.
Every Mirai is equipped with seven airbags, hill-start assist, driver attention alert and ISOFIX child-seat mounting points, plus Toyota’s ‘eCall’ system which will contact the emergency services on your behalf in the event of a serious accident.
Was every petrol station in the UK to suddenly have a hydrogen pump appear overnight, then hydrogen would, for many, be the no-brainer choice over a ‘conventional’ electric vehicle.
You can refuel Mirai much like a petrol or diesel car because it’s quick, taking just a few minutes. An EV takes anything from several dozen minutes to several dozen hours to recharge depending on the charging source and battery size.
As a vehicle and a showcase for fuel cell technology, the Toyota Mirai is a hugely impressive package. However, it is difficult to evaluate the Mirai in isolation without considering the limitations placed on it by the current refuelling infrastructure.
FAST FACTS: 2021 Toyota Mirai FCV ‘Design Premium’
- Powertrain: Hydrogen fuel cell stack (polymer electrolyte fuel cell).
- Hybrid battery: 1.2kW/h lithium-ion.
- Power (bhp) / Torque (Nm): 180 / 320.
- Transmission: Single speed.
- Layout: Rear motor, drive to rear axle only.
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 9.0 seconds.
- Top speed: Limited to 108mph.
- Fuel economy (kg/100km): 0.89.
- Fuel tank capacity: 5.6kg.
- Theoretical EV range: Approx. 400 miles.
- Emissions: Water vapour.
- First year VED: £0, thereafter £0.
- 2021/22, 22/23, 23/24 BiK (Benefit in Kind) rate: 1 / 2 / 2 %.
- Kerb weight: 1,925kg.
- Luggage capacity (litres): 321.
- Roof luggage weight: 75kg.
- Service intervals: 12 months or 10,000 miles.
- Warranty: 10-Year / 100,000 mile.
- Three-year paintwork warranty.
- Twelve-year anti-corrosion and perforation warranty.
- Roadside assistance: One year.
- Insurance group: 34.