Toyota Mirai review
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The Toyota Mirai is right at the pointy end of a potential revolution in how cars are powered, being one of the first hydrogen fuel-cell cars ever to go on sale in the UK.
The first thing you need to know is that a fuel-cell car is an electric car, just like the battery-powered electric cars we're now familiar with. Drive still comes from an electric motor (which turns the front wheels, in the Mirai's case), but power comes from fuel cells, or what's also known as a hydrogen 'stack'.
The cells have no moving parts, and unless you have a science degree, you only need to know that they produce electricity by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in the presence of a catalyst. The process splits hydrogen molecules into negative and positively charged particles, creating a current.
Basically, you fill the car's high-pressure tanks with hydrogen (a process that takes minutes and is just like filling a car with petrol or diesel), witchcraft happens and you have an electric car that's just as safe as any modern car, drives just as serenely as any electric car, and will do some 300 miles before you need to find another hydrogen filling station. No cables or charging are required, and the only emission is the water that drips out of the back of the car.
Physically, the Mirai is a large saloon that’s similar in size to a Ford Mondeo but with oddly gawky styling. Unlike most electric cars – battery-powered ones anyway – it has a gaping grille designed to funnel oxygen into the fuel cell. The hydrogen is stored in two small and phenomenally tough carbon-fibre tanks, where it’s compressed to an incredible 10,000psi.
One 5kg hydrogen fill (equivalent to around 130 litres) is enough to take you 300 miles. The rest of the powertrain is just like a Toyota Prius hybrid, with variations on the theme already fitted to more than 2.5 million vehicles around the world.
With 152bhp and plenty of torque, the Mirai drives in a similar fashion to many other electric cars. It’s quick off the mark and around town, and performs like a 2.0-litre saloon with a comfortable ride but not much handling panache. There’s no engine noise and very little wind rush evident inside, the latter thanks to a well-insulated interior.
There’s only one trim level, but the specification is high with a touchscreen navigation system, heated seats for all and a safety package including automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.
It would all make a lot of sense, were it not for two critical factors. One being the £66,000 price tag and the other the scarcity of hydrogen pumps that are available to the public. There are only a handful of hydrogen fuel stations in action, most of them around London, and that's not set to get better any time soon since it's predicted that there will be fewer than 25 in operation by 2020.
Toyota offers a £750-a-month lease deal that includes fuel, in an effort to reassure Mirai users they can’t be held to ransom by the owner of their local hydrogen pump. And while the company isn’t taking a leaf out of Tesla’s book and installing its own network of filling points, the government is promoting the development of a sustainable ‘hydrogen economy’.
With Hyundai also encouraging hydrogen uptake with its Nexo SUV, Toyota is in good company as it pushes for hydrogen to become more mainstream.
For the moment though, most of the hydrogen used in the UK comes from natural gas and so has a significant CO2 footprint of its own, and it looks set to be many years before any hydrogen car can be considered a genuinely recommendable transport option for the masses.
For a more detailed look at the Toyota Mirai, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.