Toyota’s hydrogen car is one answer to the future of motoring
The futuristic-looking Toyota Mirai is the Japanese firm’s car of the future that you can buy today. After years of promise, it’s a hydrogen fuel cell car you can own – a vehicle that emits only water, runs under silent-drive electric and is potentially as sustainable as traditional combustion engine cars are not.
First, though, what is a fuel cell? Basically, it’s an onboard generator, that takes hydrogen, combines it with oxygen and produces electricity to drive the car. The waste product is water pure enough to drink. Unlike a battery electric car, you can refuel it in five minutes, and the range is almost 350 miles
Toyota, after pioneering the hybrid car, reckons fuel cells are the next big thing. So, although it’s radical-looking, behind the space-age styling is a relatively conventional large four-door, four-seat saloon car, which Toyota reckons is the first mainstream step to the car of tomorrow. Aside from low-run models such as the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell and Honda Clarity FCV, it’s virtually without rival.
For all its futuristicness, driving the Mirai is a conventional experience. You simply turn it on, select drive with the auto gearbox, and move away. It feels just like a battery electric car, so is particularly punchy away from the line up to 30mph, and the silence is appealing. The ride has been tuned to complement this, with good cushioning, although this does mean the handling isn’t very sharp.
The cabin is as forward-looking as the exterior. It’s dominated by display screens – there are four of them in total, dotted across a swooping dash. Some of them are easier to use than others, granted, but it’s all enough to make the Mirai feel special inside – and help you look beyond some of the cheap plastics.
Although those in the front are well off within this large car, those in the rear will be left wondering where all the space has gone. Because the hydrogen tanks take up so much space, less room has been left over for passengers, meaning there are only two seats in the rear and space for them isn’t great. The boot is small too, with far less capacity even than a smaller Volkswagen Golf.
It feels a bit like an MPV to sit in for the driver, with a high-set seating position and good forwards visibility. It’s much less clear looking back, so it’s hard to see where the boot is when you’re parking. Good job both rear sensors and a parking camera are standard.
As for costs, best sit down. The Mirai costs over £60,000, even after the government grant. Hydrogen also currently costs pretty much the same as petrol or diesel – electricity, in contrast, is much cheaper. You will save big if you run a Mirai as a company car though: its 9 per cent benefit-in-kind rate is appealing.
It’s well equipped too, with a comprehensive standard spec including sat nav, DAB, Bluetooth, LED headlights, heated seats both in the front and rear, adaptive cruise control and wireless smartphone charging.
We’re pleased Toyota has introduced the forward-looking Mirai. It proves the car of the future will be just as easy to drive as today’s models. The concept isn’t yet perfect though. Space efficiency needs to improve, prices need to come down and the hydrogen refueling infrastructure must get much better to make this a viable mainstream car. It’s promising, but things are not quite there just yet.