Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle: We test-drive the future!

Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel station
© Toyota

Toyota has finally released its vision of the future—their long awaited, 20-years-in-the-making, fuel cell vehicle (FCV) they have christened Mirai.

“Mirai,” for those of you not fluent in Japanese, translates to “future,” and we were invited to Newport Beach, CA to be among the first to drive pre-production versions of the vehicles Toyota hopes will help usher in a future where hydrogen fuel eliminates our dependence on fossil fuels.

© Eric Rogell

If you remember, in October of 2013, we were invited to Japan to test drive the heavily “Frankensteined” mules Toyota was using for testing, to see how the powertrain worked. Now we not only know exactly how the Mirai will drive, but also what the exterior and interior will look like.

For those of you who don’t have time to read the whole review, here’s the Mirai in a nutshell: Think of it as the love child of a Camry and a Prius (because it kind of is, but more on that below).

For everyone else, here’s what to expect from the new Mirai:

The Look

Satoshi Ogiso, Managing Officer of Toyota Motor Corporation, told us, “If the name of your car is Future, it better look futuristic.” So the Mirai looks unlike any Toyota before it. It gets a sharp, angular hood that appears to be floating above the front end, with thin, multi-bulb headlamps lighting the way. Below that is the most striking feature on the Mirai, the gigantic twin vents that ride on either side of the front bumper.

© Toyota

Not just a design element, these vents are functional, sucking in large quantities of oxygen to be pulled into the fuel stack to join the hydrogen in creating electricity. And the water vapor emitted out of the tailpipe.

© Toyota

The profile gets flowing lines and wide rear fender bulges, meant to “convey the transformation of air into water,” the underlying function of Mirai’s powerplant.

Just like the Prius’s design when it came out, the Mirai’s exterior look is polarizing. Some cringed when it was revealed, some loved it. Very few, if any, were noncommittal. Whichever side of the fence you ride, it’s a bold statement for Toyota design.

According to Ogisio, the exterior is meant to provoke the question, “What’s that?” Mission accomplished.

© Toyota

Inside, looking forward from the driver’s seat, the Mirai is decidedly Prius. The thin instrument panel that rides the top of the dash, and the center stack with its touch screen, touch controls (there are only two real knobs to be found), and mini shifter will be instantly recognizable as coming from the Prius family. And this, says Ogisio, is intentional. It gives the Mirai the feeling of open and uncluttered space, and a sense of familiarity to fans of the company’s first hybrid.

Mirai’s seats also feature the latest technological advancements from Toyota. The cushions and covers are produced as a single piece, rather than material over foam, giving more support and better comfort. Both the driver’s and front passenger’s seats come standard with 8-way power controls.

© Toyota

Actually, everything on the Mirai comes standard. It only comes in one trim, fully loaded with everything Toyota could pack into it, including tech like Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keep.

© Eric Rogell

Except for a single option: the “power out” port you can use to turn the Mirai into a rolling electric generator. Yes, the Mirai can power the average home for up to a week with both onboard hydrogen tanks filled. Not a bad option to check off on the order sheet if you live in a storm prone area, or your idea of camping includes lights, air conditioning, and hair dryers.

© Toyota

The Ride

If you’re a fan of the Prius or the Camry Hybrid, you will love the Mirai. That’s because it runs on essentially the same hybrid system. Toyota simply replaced the combustion engine with the fuel cell stack and hydrogen tanks. The batteries and electric drive are the same.

The numbers are similar to Prius numbers as well: 151 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque from the electric motor, 153 hp from the fuel cell stack, top speed of 111mph, and 0-60 in 9.0 seconds.

© Toyota

For those torn between a plug in electric and an FCV, or hybrid drivers wondering if the “fuel” economy is better, it has a range of up to three times an electric, and hydrogen fuel has much denser energy than gasonline. The Mirai will take you just over 300 miles with the just over 5 kilos of hydrogen—about the equivalent of 5 gallons of gasoline—it can hold in its two onboard tanks.

© Toyota

“For all its technical wizardry, zero emissions, and bold styling,” says Ogisio, “it needs to be, at the end of the day, a regular car.” And that’s exactly what you get from the Mirai. That familiar whine from the powerplant as you accelerate. A smooth, effortless ride. And while it’s not as floaty and cloudlike as the Prius, the Mirai does provide a very comfortable driving experience, with good driving dynamics.

That’s really the bottom line with the Mirai: This fuel cell technology may be in its infancy, but Toyota has infused the car with enough familiar qualities, from the Prius-ish interior to the Camry-like ride, to make the Mirai approachable and drivable for most drivers.

© Eric Rogell

Price and Availability

The Mirai’s inaugural year will be a limited one. They won’t be available until the fall of 2015—and only about 200 units will be for sale in California to qualified buyers who can prove they live and work near a hydrogen fueling station. (Toyota expects to ramp up to 3000 Mirai for the 2017 model year.)

But for those who do qualify, and want to drive the future, the Toyota is offering a 36-month lease for $499 per month. Or you can purchase the Mirai for $57,500—which Toyota is estimating to drop to a final purchase price of about $45,000 after rebates and incentives.

© Toyota

New Mirai owners also receive Toyota’s 360 Ownership Experience, including 24/7 concierge service (to help you with things like finding the closest hydrogen fueling station), 24 hour roadside assistance, 3 years of Toyota Care maintenance, and a comprehensive 8-year/100,000 mile warranty.

The biggest plus is those early adopters who sign on to buy the new Mirai will also get 3 years of free hydrogen fuel. You won’t have to pay a dime to fuel your car. This is not so much an incentive program from Toyota, as it is a logistics and systems issue because the technology is so groundbreaking. Apparently the fuel is so new, no one—from the local governments to the fuel producers—quite knows how to charge for it yet. So rather than stall the rollout, FCV makers are giving the fuel away.

Bottom Line

For a technology that’s as new as it is, the Mirai delivers a surprisingly refined driving experience. With an affordable price tag and 3 years of free fuel, you can go green and save a lot of green too.

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles | Fuel Cells

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