Drive to the grocery store, water your plants.
The 2016 Toyota Mirai is the Japanese automaker’s first production hydrogen fuel cell sedan and is close to being launched in California. The Mirai, along with the Hyundai Tucson and Honda FCV, are fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) that uses compressed hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere in a chemical reaction that creates electricity to power a compact motor, which in turn drives the front wheels. The only emission is water vapor.
The Toyota Mirai has an EPA-estimated range of 312 miles between hydrogen fill-ups, room for four passengers and a refueling time of three to four minutes (H70/700 bar). Unlike a plug-in electric vehicle, there’s no waiting hours for the battery to recharge. With a top speed of 111 mph and zero-to-60 mph times of less than 10 seconds, performance is similar to an EV such as the Nissan Leaf and VW e-Golf.
A little larger than its hybrid cousins, the Prius and CT 200h, the Mirai is built on a platform that was previously used by the retired Lexus HS 250h. Size matters and everything – including the propulsion system, battery, and two lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic, high-pressure hydrogen tanks – had to fit. Many components of the electric-drive system are shared with Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain with the benefit of keeping build costs down.
Promising a punch of 152 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, the engine feels reasonably strong and also has a ‘power mode’ that releases more hydrogen into the fuel cell stack. Even though it shares electric powertrain bits from the Prius, the Mirai is much different than its hybrid cousin. Cabin materials are nicer than a Prius and it has many premium features that you won’t find in a Prius. Plus, this is a heavier car that weighs 1,006 pounds more than a regular Prius, and you feel the extra weight pushing the car into corners.
Realistically, the Mirai has plenty of pep for a car where performance is not supposed to be a selling point. Mashing the throttle to the floor from a dead- or rolling-stop invigorates the Mirai with instantaneous torque response from the electric motor. Trying to coax more acceleration for passing at highway speeds is a slow and steady process – a behavior that is typical with hybrids and EVs. Toyota thinks most buyers of the Mirai will be more appreciative of the smooth, comfortable ride over a sporty edge.
I drove the 2016 Mirai for a day and into the night, and logged 262 miles. At the end of my test drive the Mirai reported a miles per gallon equivalency (MPGe) of 60 compared to the factory spec of 67 MPGe. This was my second time behind the wheel of the Mirai – the first experience was limited to a 5 minute test drive around the block and a distance less than two miles.
This time I had the full experience and drove it from the San Francisco Bay Area, to Sacramento, then to the East Bay for more driving time at night. I was expecting the Mirai to drive similar to an EV, but had a total change in attitude by the time I was ready to return the key to Toyota. There are lots of good things to say about this zero-emission car, and very few that aren’t so good.
One of the first things that I appreciated was the hush tone of the cabin and its ability to insulate the passengers from road noise. The combination of acoustic glass, sound absorbing materials, and sound-insulating materials placed inside the body frame work together reducing noise and vibrations; the carpets are fitted without any gaps and there are lots of soft-touch surfaces that absorb sound. Everything comes together resulting in a quiet, refined trip that is on par with a Lexus ES or GS.
The steering response has a light feel and somewhat numb, but overall it is good for being electric power assisted. Handling and ride quality is even better. There is minimal body lean carving through the corners and the ride quality, which feels on the firm side, is not bumpy or harsh feeling. The 4,078 pound curb weight probably contributes to the smooth, plush ride.
The seats are injection-molded and covered in a psuedo-leather material called Softex, while comfortable and conforming, the material isn’t nice to touch. I have a small body frame and did not notice myself squirming in the seat to find a comfortable spot, nor was I sliding around when testing the cornering capabilities. The front and rear seats are heated, but neither setup with fans underneath for cooling.
The cabin design has a sculpted dashboard and an information display mounted high and centered. Scrolling through the multitude of display screens report information on energy usage, MPGe diary, how good (or poorly) your driving style has affected fuel consumption, and more. Navigation, infotainment and climate controls are accessible on another panel below the central display screens. The electrostatic touchscreen switches are modern and attractive, but gets messy with fingerprints and smudges easily.
The Mirai is well equipped with LED headlamps, heated steering wheel, individual automatic climate control for the front passengers, and adaptive cruise control. Back seat passengers have heated seats and plenty of legroom. Because the rear seats sit above the hydrogen tanks, headroom is limited.
Mirai also has a broad range of standard onboard safety technologies, including vehicle pre-collision, blind spot monitor, lane departure alert, drive start control and automatic high beams.
Beginning Fall 2015, the Mirai is only going to be available to California customers whose application is accepted by Toyota. Initially, eight dealerships in California have been selected to sell a few hundred units of the hydrogen fuel-cell car, but the program will expand up to 3,000 units by the end of 2017 and eventually become available in the Northeast states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
Early Adopters Beware
The cost to own a 2016 Toyota Mirai outright is $58,325, or lease it for $499 a month for 36 months with $3,649 due at signing. If you choose to purchase a Mirai, there are federal and state incentives available, which can reduce the price by as much as $13,000.
The purchase price includes three years or $15,000 worth of free hydrogen fuel for the car; a week’s worth of rental-car access for the first three year; a hydrogen fuel station finder app; 24/7 customer support; and an eight-year, 100,000-mile hydrogen powertrain warranty.
Zero emissions vehicles are allowed access to California’s high occupancy (HOV) lanes, which is a good perk if you’re commuting alone.
Locating a refueling station will be a challenge for early adopters, much like trying to find an EV charging station a few years ago. California has plans to open 56 hydrogen refueling stations in select areas up through autumn 2016, of which eight are officially open now. Check the California Fuel Cell Partnership (www.cafcp.org) website for maps and current information about the planned hydrogen fueling stations and the program’s progress. The website is also a good source of information about the collaboration that is happening with involved government agencies, automakers, and energy providers.
- Buy it!
- Lease it!
- Rent it!
- … or forget it!
The Mirai gets earns a “Lease it!” for its advanced engineering, near-luxury ride and comfort, and better than average ride quality. It loses points for its expensive entry price, lack of feedback through the steering wheel, and the touch quality of the seat material and panel switches. Plus, it’s probably a good idea to be tied to evolving automotive technologies short-term.
While the Mirai leads us down the path of alternative fuel and zero emissions, at the end of the day it is simply a car that does its job well – and has the added benefit of providing water for your plants.
Want to learn more? Watch this “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know” video about the 2016 Toyota Mirai and educate yourself about this emerging technology.
2016 Toyota Mirai Specs:
- Type: Polymer electrolyte fuel cell
- Max. output (bhp/kW): 153/114
- Motor: AC synchronous electric generator
- Max. output (bhp)/kW): 151/113
- Max. torque (lb-ft/Nm): 247/335
- Transmission: single-speed step-down
- Fuel: compressed hydrogen
- Max. filling pressure (Mpa): 87.5
- Nominal working pressure (Mpa): 70
- Storage density (wt%): 5.7
- Hydrogen storage mass (kg): approximately 5.0
- Refueling time: approximately 3 minutes
- Battery: Nickel-metal hydride
- Max. output voltage (V): 650
- Cruising range (miles): 312
- Miles per gallon equivalency (MPGe): 67
- Max. speed (mph): 111
- Acceleration 0-62 mph (sec): 9.6
- Acceleration 25-44 mph (sec): 3.0
- Length x Width x Height (inches): 192.5 x 71.5 x 60.4
- Wheelbase (inches): 109.4
- Ground clearance (inches): 5.1
- Curb weight (lbs/kg): 4078/1850
- Coefficient of drag (Cd): 0.29