What is it?
When Toyota talks about the Mirai, it frequently references larger vehicles: trucks, trains and more. The Mirai may be a hydrogen fuel cell car, but it’s only part of Toyota’s ambition.
This is the second Mirai but Toyota’s ninth FCEV. It started work on them in 1992, and it wasn’t until its fifth that it homologated one.
The first Mirai, introduced in 2015, sold modestly. Around 11,000 found owners, some 180 of them in the UK and 829 across Europe. Toyota aims to increase that tenfold this time, so still small volumes for a company of its size, but it makes clear that it’s working towards something else.
The smaller the vehicle and the shorter its intended range, the more appropriate battery-electric tech seems. So for a scooter you would look to nothing else; on a ship the size of a small county, not so much.
Cars and vans are, depending on their size and what you’re going to do with them, where I think Toyota imagines the crossover. No, not that sort of crossover. If you’re going to drive long distances, pull big loads or operate in poor conditions, perhaps you will want a hydrogen fuel cell, so you can refuel quickly and not have to carry heavy batteries. If Toyota is right (and China’s investment in the tech suggests it’s in influential company), the infrastructure could grow enough that what has been seen as ‘the fuel of the future’ might lose the joke ending ‘and always will be’.
We will see. For now, to this Mirai. It’s big, based on the platform that underpins the Lexus LS. It’s all but five metres long, which is handy, because while the fuel cell stack is much smaller than before, the system still takes up a lot of room. Sitting under the bonnet, the stack has 330 power cells, rather than the 370 of its predecessor, yet makes 172bhp (up from 153bhp) and weighs 50% less.
The new Mirai is rear-wheel drive, and between the bonnet and the rear wheels there are three hydrogen tanks rather than a drivetrain: one in the central tunnel, one under the back seats and one in front of the boot. Between them, they hold 5.6kg of hydrogen.There’s still also a 1.24kWh buffer battery weighing 45kg, mind, which absorbs regenerative energy or gives a boost to the 180bhp motor if it asks for more than the stack can deliver.What’s it like?
All told, then, the Mirai weighs 1950kg, which is quite heavy, but a BEV of the same size and range would weigh more. Toyota thinks that, put through the WLTP range tests, it will come out at 400 miles.
The nice thing is that if you don’t plug it in overnight and it’s cold, you will still see 400 miles. Although I imagine you would still want to live or work near one of the UK’s dozen or so hydrogen filling stations.
Inside, material quality is high-end Toyota, rather than Lexus, but really soft surfaces abounding. It’s large enough, too – not quite as cavernous as some cars this length, but tall adults behind tall adults will find they all have clear space, and the Mirai this time around is a five-seater. Perhaps the boot is a smidgeon shorter than it would be in an ICE car, and the mechanicals don’t hide beneath the floor quite as conveniently as in the Tesla Model S, but I suspect it will be big enough.
It’s also quite a lot better looking than the original Mirai. That was meant to pull you in with its intelligence, whereas this is meant to appeal emotionally too. Hence, in part, the rear-wheel-drive thing, although this isn’t a sporting saloon. Not with 180bhp, although there’s 221lb ft of torque from a standstill, which makes step-off very brisk.
The ride is good enough. It fairly lopes along, with a little thump here and there, but isolation is sound. There are driving modes, which don’t seem to affect the handling but can make the steering stickier.Should I buy one?
But more emotional or not, it’s still the technology that makes the Mirai; if this were a big saloon with an engine, you would just dismiss it as a large Toyota. As it is, it’s exceptionally quiet and smooth. It’s also likely to be £50k, rather than the old car’s £60k.
Toyota still isn’t going to sell as many Mirais as it is Camrys. But with every step, it learns more about fuel cell packaging and production, and it believes it wins people over. Some people are desperate to seem ‘right’ about powertrains (‘only this will work, that never will’), but I suspect the future is more complex.
If we have to put in an infrastructure for trucks, trains and buses, there will be some car and van users who will want to use it too. Big cars like the Mirai could be one – but there’s more to it than just a long range and a short refuelling time.