Toyota Mirai review
Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell Mirai will be the future of motoring for an increasing number of people over the next five to ten years, but a single power system is not going to take over the world. This year Toyota aims to sell or lease about 15 cars in the UK but to be making 30,000 for the world by 2020 to speed up the market and the growth of filling stations. You cannot refill at the side of the road because the fuel system is pressurised.
Review by Russell Bray
Powering the Mirai is a hydrogen fuel cell which produces electricity either for storage or to drive a 152bhp electric motor. The motor produces 208 lb ft of torque, but because of the car's heavy weight of 1,840kg the official 0-62mph time is a leisurely 9.6 seconds. This is in the 'power' setting rather than the 'eco' one which would be hard to live with on a daily basis in a busy town or city. Fortunately, because the electric motor provides torque almost instantly the Mirai feels livelier than the figures suggest and keeping up with town traffic or overtaking on a main road isn't a problem. As usual with hybrids this performance is achieved in near silence with just a few whooshes and whirrs. Top speed is 111mph. At motorway speeds you get the usual continuously variable transmission feeling of wanting to change up a gear – but you can't.
Weight is the enemy of responsive handling and the Mirai has got plenty of it, though Toyota has located the heavy duty hydrogen tanks, electric batteries and other assorted equipment as low down as possible to help the car's centre of gravity. The Mirai is rather like a big American saloon to drive. There's no real feel in the electrically assisted power steering and it's vague too. There's some wallow through corners, especially if the road surface has some lean to it. The Mirai isn't the sort of car you want to push hard into corner and extract maximum performance from the grip of the relatively narrow tyres. The rear suspension can thump over potholes and road imperfections. The brakes have the typical dulled and graunchy feel of systems designed to generate electricity for the hybrid system from the retardation.
Fans of high performance 'super cars' will recognise some of the distinctive looks of the 552bhp Lexus LFA of four years ago in the Mirai, especially the huge vents at the front and sharp side angles. The projector headlights are the stuff of science fiction and in dark colours it has hints of Star Wars. The Mirai's cabin is clean and modern and obviously from the same people who gave you the Prius. The Mirai is a big car, think new Ford Mondeo, yet there is only room for four adults. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as with Hyundai's ix35, are often sports utility vehicles because it is so difficult to squeeze in all the necessary equipment and technology, but Toyota felt it needed the challenge. The fuel cell stack for instance is under the front seats. Since 2008 Toyota has reduced its size by half but has doubled its power output. The electric motor is fitted transversely in the engine bay along with complex control and cooling electronics. The motor drives the front wheels via a fixed-ratio gearbox. The boot is not that large and rather oddly shaped. Length 4890mm. Width 1815mm.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Mirai's seats are large and well shaped. The driver's moves backwards automatically and the steering wheel moves away too for ease of exit when you power down the car. The driver's seat was comfy but felt rather over stitched so that you sat on it rather than in it. The steering and brakes, ventilated discs all round, are light to operate. All four seats are heated, and there's no central rear seat. The Mirai feels painstakingly well built and Toyota stats suggest its hybrids are an incredible 12 times more reliable than its petrol or diesel models. The steering isn't very informative about grip if you tackle a motorway exit ramp rather too quickly. There is no clutch to operate and the Mirai has a foot applied parking brake. Some of the centre console screen and touch sensitive controls look great but aren't that practical and can be fiddly to operate and find on the move without looking away from the road. The Mirai scores well on cup holder and oddment space, but the 361-litre boot is unevenly shaped. Because the car's fuel system is under high pressure (700bar) you can't refill it at the side of the road if you run out of gas. Tyre noise is the most prominent sound but acoustic glass reduces this.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Hydrogen cars are fuelled by weight with the tanks filled under pressure. It takes about four minutes to fill the Mirai with five kilograms of gas. The official economy rating is 0.75kg/100 kilometres but according to the on-board computer the car averaged 1.0kg/100 kilometres. Currently, hydrogen costs £10 to £15 per kg to buy so a tank full could be £75. Toyota calculates the Mirai does the equivalent of 60 MPG. Hydrogen gas can be burned in internal combustion engines but produces oxides of nitrogen (NOx). Used in a fuel cell car the fuel cell stack converts the on-board hydrogen with oxygen from the outside air into electricity to drive the electric motor that propels the vehicle. Hydrogen contains much less energy by volume than petrol or diesel so the same range is difficult to achieve. The Mirai's official range is about 340 miles which probably means 300 miles in real world driving. Only nine filling stations will be open in the UK by the end of this year. Toyota will hire you a Mirai for £750 a month for four years or 60,000 miles. The charge includes maintenance, tyres and fuel (estimated to be worth about £200 a month). You also get a five-year warranty, plus a concierge service and roadside assistance. Zero exhaust emissions (barring water vapour) mean there is no road tax to pay. Service intervals are annual or every 10,000 miles.
Despite its zero emissions, Toyota's Mirai might not be as green overall as you think. It all depends on how the hydrogen is sourced. It's the most abundant element in the universe but difficult to 'manufacture' as a fuel, requiring a lot of energy. Of all the hydrogen provided to industry only about six per cent is not generated using fossil fuels. Water vapour is the only exhaust emission but there is also a water catch tank you can empty at the push of a button so you don't come back to a puddle in your garage under the car. Because there is no need to package hot exhausts it has been easier for Toyota to give the car a flat underbody for better streamlining. The drag co-efficient of the body as it slips through the air is just 0.29. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 41.
There is only one trim level but, since the Mirai is pricy, it comes loaded with kit. Electric windows, 17-inch alloys, LED lights all round, automatic wipers, wireless phone charger, rear parking camera and sensors, and dual-zone climate control with heated seats and steering wheel are all included. The Mirai comes with a 4.2 inch colour DAB touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, which is identical to that found in the Prius. However, the information screens on top of the dash are much nicer than the Mirai's hybrid cousin. Safety equipment is excellent with emergency brake assist, blind spot monitor, hill-start assist, pre-crash system and a large number of airbags expected to keep the Euro NCAP crash testers happy. The Prius has just been awarded five stars by the independent safety body, though it is built on a different platform to the Mirai.
Model tested: Toyota Mirai
Body-style: Four-door saloon
Engine / CO2: 154bhp electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Only one
On-road price: From £66,000 before £4,500 PiCG. Price as tested £66,000
Warranty: Five years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0