26.5.2021Toyota Mirai first drive
When is an electric car not a pure-EV? When it’s an FCEV - hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle. There aren’t many around (in fact there’s one rival in production), but the Toyota Mirai manages to break new ground as the first FCEV to make it to second-generation status.
Review by Chris Lilly
TOYOTA MIRAI: PERFORMANCE
Toyota has refined and improved its hydrogen fuel cell systems, and this new version is both cheaper and more compact than before. The latter is important for interior space (covered later) but in this performance section, the Mirai performs capably, if not excitingly. There is a 134 kW electric motor driving the wheels, which is good for a 0-62 mph time of 9.0 seconds. Not brisk then, but quick enough, and certainly responsive at lower speeds.
The size of an executive saloon, the Mirai’s performance sits alongside the more relaxed models in the range, and that’s reflected in the performance characteristic. The Toyota Mirai is a refined and comfortable car to drive, without every feeling hurried. In town, the electric motors manage to keep responses at a good level, and there’s pace at higher speeds to keep up with motorway speeds. There’s just the one powertrain, so it is simultaneously the fastest and slowest version, the most and least economical.
After reading the above Performance section, it should come as little surprise that the ride and handling is set up towards the comfortable end of the spectrum. It’s not so floaty that you can’t feel what the car is doing, but it’s certainly a cosseting car; one that is well suited to a motorway run. However, that’s not to say it feels out of place on a twisting country road. It’s not going to trouble a performance saloon, but there’s an agility to proceedings that means you won’t feel out of your depth, and you can even have a bit of fun.
Steering is light at lower speeds, which makes parking simple, but it weightens up at higher speeds, so you have a good idea of what the front wheels are doing. It aids in precision, even if there’s not much feedback through the wheel. It will roll a little through corners, but this means that it also deals with rough road surfaces well. All in all, a nicely balanced executive car.
The Mirai is certainly a nice looking car. Understated, stylish, premium; it’s a car that, regardless of powertrain, holds its own ground in the executive saloon market. There is no sense this is simply a rebadged Lexus either, with plenty of Toyota’s DNA shining through, but at a more premium level than anything else in the line-up.
Inside, the hydrogen systems make their presence felt. For the two up front, the Mirai is a spacious, comfortable, and relaxing car to drive or be driven in. In the back however, there is less space to play with. The fuel tanks sit beneath the bench seat, and in the ‘transmission tunnel’, which means the floor is quite high, and there’s not a lot of leg space for this class of car. The boot isn’t particularly generous either as there’s a third tank in the back, so although the Mirai is more than capable of dealing with day-to-day life for most, it’s not a car to load up with family and kit for a couple of weeks away.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Getting a good driving position is easy thanks to plenty of adjustment on the seats and wheel, plus those pews are approaching arm-chair levels of comfort. You sit deep in them with arm-rests around you, giving the impression that this is a plush interior. The quality of materials used in the Mirai are not of the highest quality, but they certainly aren’t shoddy either - a reflection on the fact this is Toyota with an advanced powertrain, rather than a conventional premium model.
Switchgear thankfully has a decent number of physical controls on offer, but there’s a large touchscreen infotainment set-up too. The driver gets digital instruments, and there is a high transmission tunnel with plenty of cubby holes and storage places, thanks in part to a high-mounted drive selector. Visibility is a little restricted out back because of some chunky pillars and shallow rear window, but there is a rear camera fitted as standard.
TOYOTA MIRAI: RANGE & RUNNING COSTS
Here we come simultaneously to both the Mirai’s greatest strength and weakness. The strength is a range of up to 400 miles on a tank of hydrogen according to official figures. It’s a significant range, and the benefit of FCEVs over pure-EVs is that replenishing that range takes just a few minutes - the same as pumping petrol or diesel into a tank. The downside is that there are only a handful of hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK, so the Mirai’s usefulness is limited to those that live nearby one. Unlike EVs, an FCEV can’t be refuelled at home either - presuming you don’t have a hydrogen pump at home anyway.
In real-world driving, there was no chance to really push the Mirai’s range on this first drive. That said, the Toyota covered more than 80 miles on a quarter of a tank, which equates to a driving range of 330 miles when full. It’s not close to the 400 miles quoted, but there are few EVs that can achieve a real-world range of more than 300 miles, and all cost a lot more than the Mirai. It’s an impressive range over a good mix of driving roads - city, motorway, and country roads. Convenience is key however, and the Mirai’s refuelling requirements will only suit certain owners.
The Mirai only has a small battery - a little over 1 kWh - but it’s only there to act as a buffer for when the driver puts their foot down. By being small, it saves weight and space, and also recharges quickly. The fuel cell stack powers this and charges the battery, as well as brake energy recuperation. It means response is as instant as an EV, rather than as instant as an internal combustion engine machine. It also cleans the air it drives through.
Three tanks hold a combined 5.6 kg of hydrogen, which sees a tank cost between £55 and £80, depending on costs. It’s not going to save much money compared to fuel costs, and certainly not compared to EV costs, but the benefit is the Mirai is a zero-tailpipe emission vehicle, and will be treated in the same tax and restriction class as pure-EVs. This means that as long as EVs aren’t penalised for entering low-emission zones and similar, the Mirai won’t either, which can rack up significant savings compared to even hybrid models. It’s still a far cry from perfect technology in the automotive sector, but it’s improving, and everything has to start somewhere.
There is one powertrain available, so it means the only changes available for the Mirai come in terms of specifications. There are three trim levels - Design, Design Plus, and Design Premium. Entry level Design features 19-inch alloys, Toyota Safety Sense, 12.3-inch multimedia system with navigation, reversing camera, 14-speaker JBL audio system, dual-zone air conditioning with air purifier, heated front seats, and digital driver’s instruments.
Design Plus adds synthetic leather upholstery, front parking sensors, blind spot monitor, and other safety kit. Design Premium tested includes 20-inch black alloy wheels, semi-analine leather, front ventilated seats, rear heated seats, colour head-up display, triple-zone air conditioning, and panoramic sunroof.
TOYOTA MIRAI: MODEL SUMMARY
There’s no denying that hydrogen fuel cell cars aren’t ideal for a large number of people; and there's far more to discuss than can be done in this review verdict. The refuelling infrastructure is woeful at the moment, and there isn’t the ability to ‘refuel’ from any plug socket that there was in the early days of EVs when public infrastructure was sparse.
The Mirai also suffers from a lack of rear interior space, and costs a lot of money to buy; but that’s not the point. It has less space than the Hyundai Nexo, but also costs a lot less. Toyota should be credited with continuing with the Mirai, because there is likely to be a market for long-range FCEV cars in the future, even if it’s a small one.
Creating hydrogen isn’t as efficient as generating electricity, but the ability to store it in tanks and refuel in a few minutes still as big advantages over even the fastest charging EVs currently. FCEVs will continue to improve, and the infrastructure will expand - just as, no doubt, pure-EV ranges will continue to expand and charging times come down.
For some, particularly fleets with a green objective (which should be all of them) the Mirai will make enough sense to go for, and that means more of them on the road, a greater need for infrastructure, and the users to make said refuelling sites useful and viable. Chicken and egg problem; it might be a cliche, but without the likes of the Mirai, nothing will change.
Model tested: Toyota Mirai Design Premium
Body-style: Executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 134 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Design, Design Plus, Design Premium
On-road price: Range from £49,995. Price as tested: £64,995
Warranty: Five Years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.0 Stars