The Mirai is Toyota's first stab at a UK production hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. What's it like to drive and does it make sense?

What is it?

There’s no doubt that the Mirai (Japanese for ‘future’) is as eye-opening in real life as it appears in photographs. The root of this extraordinary look lies in the two large (but very functional) nose-mounted air intakes which feed its fuel cell stack with oxygen.

This styling logic feeds through to the rear of the car where the front intakes are echoed by huge rear light clusters, which look like they might be extractors but aren’t.

The extended rear wheel arches, it seems, are meant to tie in with the huge frontal air intakes, relaying a sense of the air being sucked in and nothing but water being ejected from the tailpipe.

Whichever way you look at it, the Mirai doesn’t have the easy-on-the-eye futurism of Honda's hydrogen-powered FCX. The technology contained beneath, however, is no less impressive, but with its arrival on UK roads imminent, does the Mirai feel as though it'll fit in?

What's it like?

The interior is rather less extreme and in keeping with what you might expect from a hydrogen-powered car. The surface quality of the plastics seems higher than that which you'll find in the Prius and the large central touchscreen feels right when you're seated in the car, even if it looks odd in photographs.

Under the unusual skin, the Mirai has an equally unusual layout. It’s a pretty big car (4.9m long and 1.82m wide) and is fairly typical in that it is front-wheel drive with MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbone suspension at the rear. However, that’s where the similarities with conventional cars end.

In the engine bay is the electric motor, mounted transversely, with the power control unit sitting on top of it. Toyota's new, compact Fuel Cell Stack sits under the front seats and the fuel cell booster is attached to its forward end, effectively sitting between the front seats.

The Fuel Cell Stack is a matter of great pride for Toyota engineers. Compared with the company’s previous attempt from 2008, the new unit is claimed to have more than double the specific output (1.4kW/L compared to 3.1kW/L) and is a fraction over 50 per cent lighter.

It uses an all-new ‘3D mesh’ cell design, which, in simple terms, clears the waste water away from its surface, in turn improving the the flow of oxygen to the catalyst layer. The stack can also start in temperatures as low as -30deg C and is said to have the same lifespan as that of a conventional internal combustion engine.

There are two hydrogen tanks, one mounted under the front seat and the other behind the rear seat. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack sits on top of the second tank. Underneath, the car has a full-length undertray, something that’s possible because there’s no hot engine or exhaust pipe to deal with.

When you look at a cutaway picture of the Mirai, it's clear that an awful lot of tech has been packaged within what is otherwise a pretty conventional structure. However, although the rear overhang isn’t ridiculously long, the boot space is more than a token effort.

As you might expect with an electric car, there’s not much more to do than press the start button, push the short gear lever into drive and hum away.

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For a keen driver that is the problem with many of the new breed of electrically driven cars. Unsurprisingly, they all have a similar character.

They all have very smooth and almost silent drivetrains, a substantial chunk of torque from standstill and pretty brisk acceleration up to the 50-60mph mark. It’s not that these cars are characterless, more that they are all surprisingly similar to pilot.

The Mirai is no different. On the brief drive we had in a production version of the car, it was everything mentioned above. It did, perhaps, feel its weight a little (the torque and power figures are on the low side for a car weighing over 1.8 tonnes), but it felt well pinned down and rode well on Japanese roads.

The low-down weight (the Mirai is well-balanced front-to-rear) does give the car a little bit more agility than you might expect and it is keen to respond to inputs at the wheel.

Should I buy one?

Taken as a large, front-wheel-drive, saloon the Mirai would be nothing more than competent. But this is a huge technological achievement. It's a practical, useable series-production hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle.

The Mirai reaches Europe this September and first year production has already been hiked from 400 to 700 units, with Toyota expecting to sell 3000 in 2017. It's a small start for the long-promised hydrogen revolution, but the energy density of the gas and ability to refuel at quickly means this technology has much going for it.

Toyota Mirai

Location Japan; On sale September; Price £56,000; Engine AC electric generator; Power 153bhp; Torque 247lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1850kg; Top speed 111mph; 0-60mph 9.6sec; Range 300 miles; CO2 and tax rating 0g/km, 5%

Join the debate

Add a comment…
michael knight 7 April 2015

Bit of a mess really

That inetrior...wow, there's so much going in there. Toyota seriously need to get a grip on their interior-design; Adding extra lines and swoops does not = better design.
rjv 2 April 2015

it may be the future

i dont understand the bland criticism towards this car. fossil fuel as we know is a pollutant and the long term future is a question mark. toyota has been behind this for a long time and they are bringing down the production cost are on the way to make it practical.i am sure if some Germans came up with this people will be rushing to appreciate
audiolab 2 April 2015

I do so hope that...

...this is an april fools. Most of its been said above. There appears to be something wrong as everything appears to be under the front seat.