What is the Toyota Mirai?
This is the second generation of Toyota’s pioneering hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (FCEV), which is considerably bigger than the previous model and seems two generations down the track in terms of technology and refinement.
It is driven by a 134kW/300Nm motor powered by electricity that's created by combining air and hydrogen in a 125kW fuel cell located under the bonnet.
Unlike the first Mirai, which was a gawky-looking medium sedan that was styled in keeping with the Prius of its time, the new Mirai is a large, elegant car that’s roomier than a Camry and looks as though it belongs in a Lexus showroom.
Like the Hyundai Nexo FCEV, the Mirai cannot be bought outright but is available to the public through a leasing program aimed at environmentally conscious organisations. So far just 20 will be made available in Australia.
What is the Toyota Mirai like to live with?
The Mirai has a premium feel to it and comes well equipped, with the standard feature list including an 8.0-inch digital instrument display, 12.3-inch infotainment screen displaying satellite navigation, 360-degree parking monitor, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. There's also a 14-speaker JBL sound system, dual-zone air-conditioning, keyless entry/start, LED exterior lighting, 19-inch alloy wheels and Toyota ‘Safety Sense’ advanced driver assistance system.
On a Camry-like dashboard, the large touchscreen tilted toward the driver atop a neatly laid-out row of buttons that allow you to control infotainment functions without having to touch the screen and delve into menus.
The synthetic leather front seats are power adjusted and very comfortable with loads of elbow room between them.
The space between them is filled by the centre console that has a handy-sized storage bin topped by a stitched synthetic leather padded armrest, along with a wireless phone charger and cup holders.
Protruding from a rising panel that bridges the console and the dashboard fascia is the gear selector, which helps to free up space. The multi-direction shifter is similar to the one found in the Prius in that it is a little unconventional and looks like it belongs in a milk float. You soon get used to it, but I’d prefer something a little simpler.
The Mirai’s 2920mm wheelbase brings plenty of space to the rear seats and while they’re very comfortable, its five-seater designation should come with an asterisk.
You see, unlike the Nexo, which has an almost flat floor at the back, the Mirai has a huge bump running through the centre, like a transmission tunnel but bigger, to accommodate one of the hydrogen tanks. This almost renders the centre seat useless to anyone over the age of seven with legs.
Another hydrogen tank at the rear compromises boot space, which at just 272-litres is 9.0-litres less than the Toyota Yaris light hatchback and about half that of the Camry.
What about the cost of running a Mirai?
It will cost $1750 per month for three years to lease a Mirai, with that price also including free hydrogen with the catch being that, so far, there aren’t too many places to top up apart from Toyota’s own hydrogen centre at Altona in Melbourne’s west.
With a 650km WLTP range this obviously limits where you can travel but for somewhere like Melbourne, which just became the second city in Australia to open a public hydrogen refuelling station after Canberra, it’s a very handy way to enjoy emissions-free driving.
Not only is the range significantly longer than most battery-electric vehicles on the market, refuelling only takes about five minutes and isn’t too different to filling a car up with petrol or diesel – it’s actually a little easier as the nozzle locks into the car’s fuel port which means you don’t have to hold onto it. Instead of litres, compressed hydrogen is measured in kilograms and the Mirai’s three tanks take up to 6kg combined.
According to its official fuel consumption rating, the Mirai consumes 0.7kg per 100km.
Servicing the Mirai costs $2639 for the duration of the lease, with payment required upfront at the start of the loan period.
What is the Mirai like to drive?
As with its interior comfort, the new Mirai feels considerably more refined on the road than its predecessor, and you can certainly feel the additional power.
Its powertrain, consisting of a 128kW, 330-cell polymer electrolyte fuel cell and 134kW/300Nm motor that drives the rear wheels, has similar output to a six-cylinder petrol engine and performs and handles accordingly.
And while it doesn’t have that head jerking take-off like a battery electric vehicle (BEV), it does take off instantly, helped by a 1.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack taken from the Toyota hybrids that can feed power directly fed to the electric motor for a bit of extra boost when required.
Three drive modes consist of Eco, Normal and Sport. Sport brings 0-100km/h acceleration of 9.2 seconds on its way to a top speed of 175km/h, which is a fraction quicker than a Camry.
Interestingly it’s just 0.4 seconds quicker than the first-generation Mirai, but having driven both down a straight from zero to 100km/h at Toyota’s Altona test track the newer version seemed much punchier and more spirited.
Like a turbo engine, it gets to highway speeds effortless and seamlessly through the two-step transaxle transmission and there’s plenty of instant power in reserve for when you need it, such as when overtaking.
As well as no lag when you put the foot down it's pretty satisfying knowing that when you do fang this thing the only emissions coming out of the tailpipe will be water and purified air.
The Mirai’s ride feels smooth on the front and rear multilink suspension and 19-inch Bridgstone Turanza rubber, though our time with the Mirai was rather brief so I never got to try it on anything too rough.
That also meant, apart from a slalom run at the Altona test track, we didn’t put its handling through its paces either, but it felt as composed as any other large rear-wheel-drive sedan, with the electrically-assisted steering feeling well weighted and direct.
Rear vision is a little obscured, but there is a 360-degree camera monitor to help with parking.
All in all, it’s a very pleasant and comfortable car to drive and be in.
What is the Toyota Mirai like for safety?
The Mirai comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense advanced driver assistance suite that includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection that will also stop to prevent or mitigate a collision at an intersection.
It also has all-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane departure alert and emergency steering, and speed sign assist that will warn you if you’re speeding.
Other safety features include rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, auto high beam that provides optimum vision at night without dazzling other drivers, and seven airbags.
The hydrogen storage tanks are extremely strong with a three-layered structure comprising glass fibre reinforced plastic, carbonfibre reinforced plastic and a polyamide resin liner.
Because only about 11,000 Mirais have been built worldwide, the second-generation Mirai is unlikely to be tested by ANCAP, EuroNCAP or US safety authorities.
While the first Mirai did much of the groundwork to make FCEVs suitable for everyday use, this new generation model is still very much a pioneer that will help determine once and for all if hydrogen will be a suitable alternative fuel for passenger vehicles.
But this is no concept car – it’s everything people expect from a Toyota with a hint of Lexus in its styling and comfort levels and, putting the current lack of hydrogen stations aside, would make for a great, clean daily driver.
Apart from the scarcity of hydrogen filling stations and a very small boot, it seems to present few compromises compared to ICE or BEV vehicles.
The good news is that even the EV-phobic federal government is seriously looking at green hydrogen as a future fuel for a range of applications including mining and public transport, a byproduct of which should be cheaper vehicles and the proliferation of refuelling stations.
Such is Toyota's confidence in the growth of hydrogen that it's expecting Mirai to be viable enough to be sold directly to the public within three years.
I, for one, am looking forward to that.
PLUS: Emissions-free driving, cabin space and comfort, ride and handling
MINUS: Hydrogen scarcity, small boot space, no ownership options, no legroom for rear-middle seat,
2021 Toyota Mirai specifications
Body: 5-door, 5-seat large sedan
Motor: Permanent magnet synchronous motor
Combined Power: 134kW
Fuel cell: 125kW
Battery 1.2kWh Lithium-ion Polymer
Fuel (hydrogen) consumption: 0.7kg/100km (combined)
Transmission: Transaxle – three-axis, two-step speed reduction gear
Suspension: Front/rear multilink, stabiliser bar
Tracks F/R: 1610/1605mm
Brakes: Front/Rear ventilated/discs with regenerative braking
Tyres: 235/55 R19 Bridgestone Turanza
Wheels: Alloy 19-inch
Price: $1750 per month (lease only)
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