Review and road test of the Toyota Mirai (2015 - 2021)
By Jonathan Crouch
The first generation version of Toyota's innovative, fuel-cell Mirai marked another landmark in the company's relentless pursuit of progress. Theoretically as convenient as a petrol car, but as clean as an electric one, this Mirai aimed to pack the future into a family saloon that led the charge for hydrogen power in the 21st century's second decade.
5 door Hatch (Fuel Cell)
Every now and again a new type of automobile comes along to challenge the traditional way of life for the millions of motorists who have long-established rituals governing how, when and where they drive. Toyota have form in disrupting the norm. Having introduced a bemused world to the Prius electric-hybrid in the late 'Nineties, the Japanese giant has been instrumental in opening the minds of motorists to alternative ways of fuelling and re-fuelling their car.
With the Mirai in its first generation form back in 2014, Toyota took another giant leap forward, overcoming both the limitations of plug-in electric vehicles and the scarcity of oil, by turning the most abundant element in nature - hydrogen - into a fuel that can generate electric power on-board. To achieve this in a family-sized package was remarkable. Even so, Toyota shifted only around 10,000 Mirais across the world in its seven years of production, mostly at a loss on leases to eco-minded fleets. It finished production in 2021, replaced by a completely new - and very different - second generation model.
What You Get
The Mirai was based on a MK3 Toyota Prius - which might be evident from the dimensions and from a look at the exterior styling. Much of the exterior design of the Mirai owes itself to the sciences of aerodynamic efficiency and electrolysis. Each surface is designed either to help the car slip through the air more easily, or to suck in more air to stimulate the process of turning hydrogen into electricity.
Inside, the designers saved considerable space by replacing physical controls with large touch-screen surfaces that dominate the cockpit. They thought about the needs of the likely drivers of this car and included neat little touches like a handy storage area that allows wireless smartphone charging for compatible devices. This is a four-seat car due to the need to keep the heaviest parts as central as possible but passengers are compensated with plenty storage areas. Boot space, however, is smaller than most comparably-sized family hatch-sized models.
What to Look For
The few Mirai models about will probably have been very well looked after, but as with any family-sized car, check the interior for scrapes and child damage; and the wheels for scratches. As usual, prioritise models featuring a fully stamped-up service record. The issues you'd have with ownership will probably be less about the car and more about finding places to refuel it. Even when you do, the pumps sometimes tend to be out of order - or there's a queue at the pumps. Life as an early adopter has its pitfalls.
(approx - based on a 2018 Mirai FCEV ex VAT) A pollen filter is in the £5-£19 bracket. A set of front brake pads tend to retail in the £30 to £60 bracket; think around £30-£66 for rears. A pair of front brake discs is around £48-£78, but you could pay as much as around £131 for a pricier brand.
On the Road
Despite all the new technology fuelling the Mirai, it's essentially an electric vehicle, which means the overall driving sensation has the same characteristics as any other electric car. Power delivery from the 113kW motor is smooth, instant and consistent from zero all the way to its top speed of 111mph, and the Mirai will reach 62mph from a standstill in around 9.6 seconds.
Given its intended role, ride comfort and cabin refinement take priority over sportiness and handling. That being said, the car has been engineered to have a low centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution, to counter the added weight of battery and fuel cell. This coupled with a suspension set-up more commonly found on sportier models shows that environmentally responsible driving needn't come at the expense of enjoyment.
The attention that has been paid to cabin refinement speaks volumes for Toyota's efforts to produce a car worthy of its original £66,000 price tag. Even though the motor is nearly silent, Toyota went to great lengths to prevent outside noise penetrating the passenger compartment, and throughout the car, soft padded textures have been used to give a luxurious feel to the interior.
You can expect to pay around £60-£70 for a full tank of Hydrogen, and that tank will take you around 310 miles. This works out at an equivalent 67mpg. The Hydrogen filling station network in the UK is being developed along key motorways and cities to make longer journeys are possible. At the time of writing though (Spring 2022), there were only 12 Hydrogen filling stations in the UK. Refuelling takes about three minutes.
Named after the Japanese word for The Future, the Toyota Mirai aimed to mark the start of a new way of motoring. The four-door, four-seat saloon would have come into its own if the Hydrogen re-fuelling infrastructure had expanded with it, but that never happened. In future, it'll need a concerted effort from government and industry to make that a reality. Which needs to happen. A car that brews its own electricity, on-board, is a huge step forward in the quest for convenient, green solutions to deal with the scarcity of oil. And all this technology comes wrapped in a smart design with excellent build quality.
And in summary? Well this car will stay in the Early Adopters phase for a while yet, but you never know, the Toyota Mirai's time could still come. If and when it does, this early version might be sought after. For the time being though, it's hard to recommend.
Toyota Mirai (2015 - 2021) review by Jonathan Crouch