Toyota Mirai review

The Toyota Mirai provides a tantalising glimpse of hydrogen fuel-cell technology, but it's not really a feasible option for private motorists just yet

£66,000
Hydrogen

Pros

  • Emits only water when driving
  • Drives like any other electric car
  • Small battery minimises production emissions

Cons

  • Most hydrogen is derived from natural gas
  • There are only a handful of hydrogen pumps
  • Expensive to lease, and you’d be mad to buy one

As of late 2018, the Toyota Mirai is the only hydrogen fuel-cell car available in the UK. Its fuel cell has no moving parts, and unless you have a science degree, you only need to know it produces 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.

The Hyundai NEXO, Honda Clarity and Mercedes GLC F-Cell are hydrogen-powered rivals slated to arrive in 2019, and by 2025 there’ll likely be thousands of fuel-cell-powered cars on the roads in the UK – compared to the 75 or so Toyota Mirai saloons in use in the second half of 2018. That’s still a drop in the ocean of nearly 38 million cars registered for use in the UK, but it’s the tip of an iceberg.

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 five-kilogramme hydrogen fill is enough to take you 300 miles, as the electricity generated by the fuel-cell reaction is fed straight into an electric motor. 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 or tyre roar and very little wind rushing 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 – at the time of writing in 2018, the number stands at just nine, with fewer than 25 expected to be 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’. 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.

For a more detailed look at the Toyota Mirai, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.