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Hydrogen power returns to Toyota’s line-up with a radically different second-generation Mirai

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The past 10 years ought to have been nourishing ones in the realisation of that sustainable dream of personal transport, the hydrogen fuel cell car. Despite the best efforts of many car makers, however, and principally due to external factors, they haven’t quite gone to script.

It was back in 2014 when Toyota took the covers off its first-generation Toyota Mirai hydrogen production car (its name Japanese for ‘future’). A year before, Hyundai had started making fuel cell cars in low volumes, and in 2017 the second-generation Honda Clarity FCV came along.

Big wheels were part of the new Mirai’s design brief, to add static appeal. These glossy black 20in items come on range-topping cars

Even lower-volume, toe-dipping hydrogen car pilot schemes had been run by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Mazda previously, but it was really only in the middle of the last decade that anyone got truly serious about what has become known as the FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle).

Turbulent market conditions have since eroded any funds that might have found their way into fuel cell development, though, while the enormous investments in electrification have left little money for longer-term projects. Hydrogen refuelling infrastructure has been slow to expand too, even across the developed world. The upshot? Mercedes, for one, cancelled its long-running hydrogen car production and development programme in 2020, while other brands scaled back their own ambitions.

For some, though, the dream lives on, as represented by this week’s road test subject: the all-new, second-generation Mirai. While rivals back away from hydrogen, Toyota remains committed to the technology as part of an all-encompassing vision for a workable zero-emissions transport system of the future that might include larger, longer-range passenger cars.

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It has redeveloped its proprietary fuel cell stack (which is backed jointly by BMW, and due to appear in the i Hydrogen Next later this decade), and has quite radically changed both the mechanical underpinnings and mission statement of the Mirai production vehicle whose market penetration, it hopes, can really begin to accelerate.

What powertrains does the Toyota Mirai have?

The Mirai offers only one choice on power output and bodystyle, but Toyota has given it a showroom model line-up of sorts by packaging up equipment in a three-tier range.

Entry-level Design spec gets 19in alloys, cloth seat trim and JBL premium audio. Mid-spec Design Plus adds synthetic leather and extra active safety kit. Top-level Design Premium cars have 20in wheels, natural leather, a panoramic roof, a head-up display, wireless device charging and heated rear seats.


2 Toyota Mirai 2021 RT hero side

Toyota sold some 10,000 examples of the first-generation Mirai, which was itself a close relation of the third-generation Toyota Prius hybrid of 2010. This second one is aiming for many times that market success, though; and while the car is fuelled and powered the same way, it’s a markedly different car from its predecessor.

Owners of the first Mirai told its maker they wanted longer operating range, and better comfort and practicality, from their cars. At the same time, Toyota wanted to lure new Mirai owners with a car of significantly greater luxuriousness, material quality and static desirability than the original. One that could have the rounded appeal of a really upmarket product, and be desired for reasons besides its sustainability credentials.

Slightly drawn, shark-nosed front end, with its X-shaped sculpture, hints at several other Toyota production cars. It is perhaps a little aggressive for some tastes, but should certainly make the car recognisable on the road

All of which explains why the new Mirai shares a technical architecture not with a Prius but with a rear-driven Lexus LS limousine. The mixed-metal chassis platform has been braced, adapted and reinforced to account for the specific application of a fuel cell powertrain, getting die-cast suspension towers, special sills and ring-shaped bulkhead reinforcements for extra rigidity. Suspension is by steel coils and independent multiple links front and rear.

And so the Mirai becomes a full-sized luxury car: one that’s 85mm longer and 70mm wider than it was, with a wheelbase some 140mm longer also. It now comfortably eclipses the footprint of a current BMW 5 Series. As we’ll go on to explain, the Mirai has now got a proper five-seat cabin too, although boot space is a little more restricted than you might expect.

In terms of technical layout, the Mirai has been widely redesigned. The hydrogen fuel cell that powers the car is all new. Smaller, 42% lighter and 12% more powerful than before, it has been moved from under the front seats to fit under the bonnet.

That stack takes compressed air from the atmosphere and combines it with compressed hydrogen gas stored in three separate tanks: two are arranged in a T shape within the wheelbase while the third is under the boot floor. They store up to 5.6kg of hydrogen – up from 5.0kg in the old car – which makes for a claimed WLTP range of up to 400 miles at just under 70mpkg of hydrogen; the Mk1 Mirai delivered 331 miles at just over 66mpkg. That’s quite something when you consider that the old model was not only smaller but officially 75kg lighter than the new one, and will also have presented less aerodynamic frontal area to the wind.

This car is propelled by a new electric motor that is housed just above the rear axle and channels its drive through a single-speed transmission. Its power is drawn primarily from the car’s fuel cell stack, but can be buffered and topped up by a 1.24kWh lithium ion battery that is located just above the drive motor and rear wheels.


10 Toyota Mirai 2021 RT cabin

The new Mirai has swapped the airy but unsporting Toyota Prius-derived cabin of its forebear for something that exists far more in the traditional GT car mould. This is hardly surprising, given the underpinnings are now related to the Lexus LS.

The scuttle, therefore, sits high and the driver low. The effect is augmented by the additional height of the broad digital screens and the substantial ‘transmission’ tunnel, underneath which sits one of three reinforced fuel tanks, designed to store hydrogen at a pressure of 10,000psi. The Mirai even borrows the asymmetric centre console sweep found in the GR Toyota Supra sports car, which serves to enclose the driver even more securely.

Driver and front passenger enjoy the full GT-style ambience – cosseted, but with plenty of space and good forward visibility, unless you’re particularly short

The SofTex-trimmed seats (both heated and ventilated) then strike an appealing balance between softness and support, and the leather steering wheel has plenty of adjustability, allowing it to be brought out towards the driver’s chest. All in, this is an environment you wouldn’t be surprised to find with a long-snouted eight-cylinder tourer, and the supple upholstery lavished on the dashboard and door cards emphasises the feeling of if not luxury then premium quality.

Beyond the gloss black trim used for the centre console, display surrounds and switchgear (of which there is a good level, all clearly marked), you will struggle to find hard plastics inside the Mirai, which just about manages to feel its £60,000 asking price, despite the costs the powertrain must entail. In the words of one tester, material quality is “high-end Toyota, rather than Lexus”, and that’s no bad thing.

Less impressive is the passenger space in the rear and boot capacity. It’s an improvement on the old Mirai, not least because the bench now offers three berths rather than two, but despite the car’s large footprint, there’s easily less leg room than in a BMW 5 Series. And because there’s a hydrogen tank and powertrain equipment below, head room is impinged, with taller passengers reliant on cut-outs behind the panoramic roof. Tesla’s Model S and combustion alternatives do far better.

With the drive battery and electric motor then positioned above the rear axle, and the third and final hydrogen tank beneath the boot floor, luggage capacity is hurt by a boot that is both short and shallow, and there are no split folding seats. Given this cabin’s attributes elsewhere, you could probably look at the Mirai in one of two ways: unusually spacious coupé or considerably compromised saloon.

Toyota Mirai infotainment and sat-nav

The Mirai features an 8.0in digital instrument cluster as standard, though Design Premium models like our test car are upgraded to the sprawling 10.1in display seen here. It’s paired with a 12.3in central touchscreen for an overall effect similar to that seen in recent Mercedes models.

The central display handles the infotainment system, communications and navigation but can also show several useful schematics relating to the powertrain’s behaviour and, if necessary, can split the screen among several functions. Additionally, specific functions can be slid from one side of the screen to the other, giving the passenger easier access. A 14-speaker JBL sound system is also standard, as is Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and a three-year subscription to Toyota’s Dynamic Navigation software.

Overall, however, this is not among the finest systems in the class, and is notably outperformed both in terms of sharpness and latency by BMW’s iDrive and Mercedes’ MBUX offerings.


22 Toyota Mirai 2021 RT fuel cell

To avoid outright disappointment with the Mirai’s performance potential, you need to cast aside the image of its surprisingly athletic cab-rearward silhouette the moment you slide aboard.

Twenty years ago, a car looking like this would have come equipped with a brawny V8, which would have been a fair match for the 1937kg as tested kerb weight. The Mirai’s rear-mounted electric motor is rather less impressive, and gives the car a power-to-weight ratio of just 94bhp per tonne, which today is about what you would expect from a mid-ranking hatchback.

Its Lexus LS underpinnings and quiet, airy cabin lend the Mirai a limo-like personality that suits a two-tonne FCEV with only 180bhp and a lot of mechanicals to lug around.

Acceleration is therefore more stately than scintillating and, on the mile straight at Millbrook, the Mirai took 8.7sec to hit 60mph and 25.5sec to hit 100mph. For reference, the 180bhp Ford Focus ST-Line X we tested in 2019 took 8.9sec and 22.8sec respectively.

It’s a comparison that feels awkward for the £60,000 Mirai, which at least beat its only real rival, the more expensive Hyundai Nexo. That car took 9.6sec to 60mph and as long as 38.5sec to make triple figures. Stomach-dropping speed clearly doesn’t come as easily to fuel cell EVs as it does to battery-powered ones.

That said, there’s little wrong with the nature of what modest performance the Mirai offers. A healthy 221lb ft means step-off is not only enjoyably crisp but also brisk enough if you’re merely in the 0-30mph window of town driving. The throttle pedal calibration is also expertly judged, being responsive but intuitively damped.

There are no surprises here, which is important when maneuvering a saloon that now splits the difference between the Mercedes E-Class and Mercedes-Benz S-Class in its size. Beyond 30mph, you will also find this powertrain generates that almost perfectly linear acceleration for which electric cars are known.

Our main reservation concerns the brake pedal. Push it and its soft action is ill-defined, and anything more than the gentlest deceleration requires more pedal travel than we would like in a big and heavy saloon. At 45.9m, the stopping distance from 70mph is adequate, so there seems to be no shortfall in ultimate performance, but more bite would be useful, as would stronger regenerative functionality when the stubby gear selector is dragged back into ‘Br’ mode.


24 Toyota Mirai 2021 RT on road front

It may possess a highly advanced electric powertrain and an array of digital displays inside the cockpit but, in terms of handling, the Mirai unashamedly rolls back the years.

We don’t mean that as a criticism, either. It’s simply that the generous suspension travel and more relaxed approach to containing body roll and heave are reminiscent of the big European saloons of the immediate post-millennium era. The E39 5 Series comes to mind; not because the Mirai touts a subtly but sweetly tuned oversteer balance (it is much more understeer-prone than any BMW), or because the steering is especially transparent (though accurate, the EPAS rack has an oleaginous quality and is deathly uniform in its weighting), but because it can achieve that easy but accurate flow so many modern saloons have sacrificed in return for improved body control.

The Mirai will sporadically expunge itself of deionised water as needed. A button on the fascia clears the system before parking, if you'd rather it didn’t dribble on the floor

It has that detached elegance you’d expect from a boat-like Japanese executive saloon, with all the ease that goes with it, once you’ve acclimated to the dimensions. And we think this suits it well. Of course, the flip side is that the Mirai is not in any real way an enjoyable car to drive, beyond the very quietly satisfying act of keeping it adequately balanced on the throttle through corners and lazily flowing it down larger roads.

It never makes good on its rear-drive layout – its personality is too soft for that, and while pushing the car’s dynamics will reveal reasonable reserves of grip, the nose’s angle of attack remains steadfastly unresponsive to whatever the accelerator pedal is doing. Overall, this is a definite improvement over the Prius-based Mirai of 2014 but no dynamic alternative to the best-handling ICE saloons.

Millbrook’s Hill Route isn’t the natural habitat for a mid to senior-sized saloon with soft suspension and relatively little torque. With the same boat-like gait as the Honda Clarity FCV, the Toyota will tolerate being hustled but lacks precision in all areas, making it much less enjoyable or confidence-inspiring to plot along the barrier-lined bends of this course than, say, a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes E-Class.

However, to its credit, the Mirai never gets itself into any trouble. Its suspension might be supple but the car maintains good directional stability, and though outright grip levels are hardly exceptional, both ends of the car are consistent with one another, and the Mirai shows a mid-corner balance that yields higher speeds than you might be expecting.

Up the ante and you’ll spill into understeer, and only with the most assertive provocation can the Mirai be made to gently oversteer.

The Toyota Mirai's comfort and isolation

Refinement is one of the Toyota Mirai's biggest strengths. Clearly, with an electric powertrain, the noise generated by propulsive duties was always going to be negligible, and that’s absolutely the case.

At low speeds, the Mirai glides around with the serenity of larger premium battery-electric cars such as the Mercedes EQC or Jaguar I-Pace, if not quite summoning the anaesthetising qualities of something like a Mercedes S-Class. Occasionally you might detect a faintly electronic-sounding outburst from the direction of the front-mounted fuel cell unit, but progress is mostly a picture of calm.

Perhaps the slight busyness imparted by the 20in wheels fitted to our top-spec test car would give us reason enough to stick with the regular 19in alternatives, but in general the Mirai moves ever so deftly for something of its bulk. At higher speeds, the appealingly lazy ride quality is mostly unblemished, though sudden suspension inputs aren’t always dealt with especially neatly.

What owners will appreciate, however, is how quiet this loping saloon is on the move. At 70mph, our microphones registered just 66dB – as quiet as the £88,000 Audi E-tron S.


1 Toyota Mirai 2021 RT hero front

As well as being bigger, faster, longer-legged and more efficient than its predecessor, the new Mirai also costs quite a lot less.

When we road tested the Mk1 Mirai in 2016, it came in one trim level and at a cost of £66,000. Five years later, the new model can be had for a fiver under £50,000, which is a broadly competitive price for any luxury saloon of its size in 2021 and just under £20,000 less than the Hyundai Nexo FCEV. At that price, Toyota must still be subsidising the business case of this car significantly; but, clearly taking a long-term view, it must see both strategic and financial value in doing so.

FCEV Mirai can’t match the residuals of Mercedes’ excellent EQC electric crossover, but it does better than the 545e plug-in hybrid

For buyers, the car can be considered a very viable, zero-emissions fleet alternative to a big EV, qualifying as it does for the UK’s 1% benefit-in-kind tax bracket – but also capable of being refuelled in just a few minutes rather than close to an hour, or longer. Just like the last Mirai, its fuel cell powertrain emits only water, and it also contains filters and purifiers that actually clean the air around it of pollutants, oxides of nitrogen and harmful particulates.

The hitch for UK buyers remains our very limited hydrogen refueling network. It extended to just three sites five years ago, and currently stands at 10 (with only two further north than either Beaconsfield or Swindon). If it will support your needs, you will find that a kilo of hydrogen gas costs between £12 and £15. Mirai drivers therefore won’t, at least for now, enjoy the same potential running cost savings that a private owner might see from a home-charged EV.


27 Toyota Mirai 2021 RT static

It wasn’t so long ago that FCEV saloons were barely beyond the concept stage and costing their makers seven figures to make – per car. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Mirai is therefore that in entry-level form it can be bought for around £50,000.

For such a credible semi-luxury saloon of competitive performance and range that exists right at the technological vanguard of its genre, it’s an exceptionally low asking price.

Impressive Mirai has made strides but remains hamstrung overall

Should I buy a Toyota Mirai?

Since the last generation, the Mirai also seems to have found its own relaxed and effortless character – one that truly suits it.

What makes the Mirai more laudable still is that Toyota is operating in an arena that does without the groundswell of industry-wide unity currently being enjoyed by BEVs, with all the benefits that brings. Perhaps that’s why the case for the Mirai is currently hamstrung not by any major shortcomings of the product itself, but by an embryonic fuelling network.

Yes, the car’s packaging also needs improving, and the business of premium long-distance zero-emissions transport is still better left to big-battery luxury EVs, but the Mirai is a courageous endeavour, and one with the trappings of future acceptability.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.