4 mar 21

First Drive: Toyota Mirai, a woke water cannon

The new Mirai looks good, has a much improved fuel cell and costs 12,000 odd euros less than its predecessor. Are we one step closer to a business case?

Toyota had no great volume ambitions with the first-gen Mirai from 2014. It was a car that had to create awareness around the possibilities of hydrogen as a sustainable source of energy. In Europe, 1,100 of these cars were sold, mainly to taxi and government-related fleets.

With this second generation, however, things are getting serious. Toyota wants to sell ten times as many units of this car based on the fact that they have improved the fuel cell technology and based on customer feedback have created a vehicle that doesn't just make a statement, but also drives (very) well and looks good.

In any case, the design is much more fluid than before - this time Toyota clearly asked the designers to leave their samurai sword at home. In profile, you could even see some Audi A5 Sportback, Kia Stinger or BMW 4 GranCoupé in it.
The sloping roofline looks very graceful, but it does limit the headroom in the rear, especially if the Mirai is fitted with a sunroof. Although it pretends to have a fifth door, the Mirai is actually a four-door. One with fixed rear seats. That was the case before and unfortunately has not changed, so going to IKEA for a Billy closet is out of the question.

New platform, new fuel cell

The new Mirai is 65 mm lower and rests on 75 mm wider tracks, while the wheelbase has been extended by 140 mm. Of course, this results in completely different proportions, but also a lower centre of gravity, which in turn is good for handling.

Remarkably, it is no longer the front wheels that are driven, but the rear wheels. This contributes to a 50/50 weight distribution between the axles and thus a neutral cornering behaviour. This perfect mass distribution is also due to the fact that the fuel cell itself has been placed under the bonnet, whereas previously it was built into the cabin floor and was therefore quite audible. The typical vacuum cleaner noise from the fuel cell is now much less prominent - it's only when driving at walking pace that you can hear the fan blowing in the background.

The fuel cell is also much lighter and more compact but delivers 14 kW more power and is 10% more economical. Furthermore, there are now three tanks in the underbelly of the Mirai instead of two, so that it can carry 5.6 instead of 4.6 kg of hydrogen under high pressure. Add to that a lower vehicle weight and better aerodynamics, and the end result is a range that increases by 30%, to 650 kilometres. That's starting to look more like it.

Two kinds of soft

In terms of figures, the new Mirai already impresses. We were therefore curious to see how it would drive in practice. After a test drive of one and a half hours on a stretch of motorway and a lot of winding Flemish roads, we can confirm that it has taken a serious step forward in terms of handling. The previous Mirai felt rather boaty. The new multilink suspension in combination with the lower centre of gravity translates into a much more neutral and tauter road holding.

On the motorway, it is strikingly quiet. Moreover, the seats are very comfortable. The dashboard looks original to say the least, with its sweeping lines and many facets and a wide touch screen in the centre. The ergonomics and ease of use are quite ok.

The assembly is flawless and the leather of the heated and ventilated seats looks high-quality, but the door panels, the centre console and the dashboard are covered by a kind of soft vinyl. You can pinch it between two fingers and underneath is hard plastic. We also wonder if customers will appreciate the purple glitter in the black panel around the air vent on the left of the steering wheel.

More economical

During our test with the previous Mirai we burnt 1.3 kg of H2 per 100 km. The trip computer of our brand new test car (with 300 km on the odo) indicated 0.95 kg / 100 km. That gives a driving range of 600 kilometres - not much less than Toyota claims. A piece of information: per hundred kilometres the Mirai produces about 7 litres of water. In theory, you could drink that, if you hung a jar on the exhaust pipe.

It is worth noting that the consumption can be lowered to 0.6 kg/100 km by setting the cruise control to 100 km/h. However, as soon as you enjoy the quick acceleration potential, fuel consumption rises dramatically. However, one should not expect Tesla performances. The Mirai is a smooth ride that puts the planet and not vulgar sprinting fun first.

Hydrogen costs around €10 per kilo. With a responsible driving style, a fuel budget of €9 per 100 km should suffice. By way of comparison: a Tesla Model S consumes 20 kWh / 100 km when driven equally responsibly, which corresponds to €7 if you take into account the Supercharger rates. From a fiscal point of view, fuel cell cars are treated just as favourably as electric cars.

Toyota is offering the Mirai for an entry-level price of € 53,700 excluding VAT and before incentives - some 12k less than its predecessor. That should make the car a lot more accessible to company fleets. TCO-wise,  the Mirai seems a viable option. You do have to consider the fact that you may have to make a long detour to fill up your Mirai, because the number of filling stations is still rather limited.  

The new Mirai makes progress on all fronts and is a lot less expensive. Those who live near a hydrogen station and do not need a large boot could definitely consider it as an alternative to an electric car. If its residual value is on a par, it might just yet tell a positive TCO story.
Driving comfort and silence
600 km driving range
Interesting TCO

Limited headroom in the rear
Small boot, fixed rear seats
Choice of interior materials

Picture copyright: Toyota, 2021

Authored by: Dieter Quartier