Hydrogen saloon has been upgraded in every regard, yet also become far cheaper. Still in a niche, but it should make that niche much bigger

What is it?

Before we talk about hydrogen cars (or FCEVs) and related topics such as their fuel cell stacks, refuelling infrastructure and role in a wider hydrogen society, let’s take a moment to reflect on how good the new Toyota Mirai looks.

Maybe it’s just me, but with its long nose and coupé-like roofline, there’s a whiff of final-gen Celica about it.

The styling may seem a frivolous place to start when considering a car that essentially serves to showcase a whole powertrain technology, especially one so comprehensively overhauled. But it’s important, and not just because its shape is honed for aerodynamic efficiency: Toyota clearly wants the new Mirai to stand out for more than how it’s powered.

Certainly you would never confuse the new Mirai for the original: it’s not only sleeker but also substantially bigger, due to the new GA-L platform. But it’s the changes to the powertrain that make it less a second-generation car, more an entirely new one.

The fuel cell stack, now sited under the bonnet, is smaller and lighter with 330 cells, down from 370. Output has increased from 153bhp to 180bhp, and drive is now sent to the rear, rather than front, wheels.

Moving the stack up front has made room for a third high-pressure hydrogen tank to be added, with the combined storage of 5.6kg of liquefied hydrogen enough to offer a range of around 400 miles. The three tanks are located in a T-shape, with two in place of the central transmission tunnel (which does limit leg space in the central rear seat), the other beneath the rear bench and boot.

There’s also a 1.24kWh lithium ion battery (the old Mirai featured a nickel-metal-hydride one) that stores captured regenerative energy and helps to smooth out the power the stack sends to the electric motor.

2 Toyota mirai 2021 uk fd hero rear

What's it like?

Despite all the weight savings of Toyota’s latest-spec FCEV tech, the Mirai still weighs a hefty 1950kg, but it does a good job overcoming that. Don’t let optimistic mentions of Celica-like styling and a rear-drive layout fool you into thinking it’s a sports saloon, though: it’s more a comfortable cruiser. The ride and handling are so unremarkably pleasant (even on flashy 20in wheels) that you quickly forget about the remarkable tech powering the car.

Where the Mirai really scores is in the marvellous smoothness and quietness of its powertrain. That’s aided by a very pleasant interior, including a 12.3in infotainment touchscreen that features plenty of actual buttons, a quality JBL sound system and a decent head-up display.

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A filter in the Mirai’s air intake serves as a purifier, capturing SO2, NOx and PM2.5 as they head to the fuel cell stack. A nifty graphic even shows you how much air you’ve purified on your trip to make you feel all green and wholesome

Of course, regardless of the styling, ride and interior, you’re unlikely to buy an FCEV without considering all of the factors involved in owning one, chiefly that they’re quite expensive and the charging infrastructure in the UK is minimal. The Mirai may be able to do 400 emission-free miles on a full tank of hydrogen, but there are still only a handful of places in this country where you can fill that tank.

Progress has been made when it comes to the price: at £49,995 for the entry-level model (our top-spec Design Premium Pack test car is £64,995), the Mk2 Mirai is fully £10,000 cheaper than the original, despite being substantially improved in almost every aspect. Business contract rates, including servicing, start at £435 per month for the entry-level Design trim – a whole £300 per month cheaper than the old car. 

While that's a substantial cost reduction, that still puts the Mirai out of reach for many. Toyota is expecting a substantial increase in sales due to the lower price, but the vast bulk are again likely to be sold to fleets that operate in areas near refuelling stations (expect to see a lot being used as private hire cars on airport runs to Heathrow, with its handy hydogen fuelling station). 

7 Toyota mirai 2021 uk fd cabin

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Should I buy one?

But then the Mirai isn’t intended to sell in vast numbers: it remains an ambassador for Toyota’s hydrogen technology, which the firm is also using for buses, trains, boats and houses. Heck, it’s building a whole hydrogen-powered city in Japan.

And while some sceptics remain convinced that hydrogen will never be viable for mass-market production cars, in the form of the new Mirai its future looks better than ever.

21 Toyota mirai 2021 uk fd on road nose


James Attwood

James Attwood, digital editor
Title: Acting magazine editor

James is Autocar's acting magazine editor. Having served in that role since June 2023, he is in charge of the day-to-day running of the world's oldest car magazine, and regularly interviews some of the biggest names in the industry to secure news and features, such as his world exclusive look into production of Volkswagen currywurst. Really.

Before first joining Autocar in 2017, James spent more than a decade in motorsport journalist, working on Autosport, autosport.com, F1 Racing and Motorsport News, covering everything from club rallying to top-level international events. He also spent 18 months running Move Electric, Haymarket's e-mobility title, where he developed knowledge of the e-bike and e-scooter markets. 

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HiPo 289 12 May 2021

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle tech seems to make sense for trains or very heavy vehicles, but it seems odd that Toyota are still pushing a FCEV car.  If the hydrogen is made from natural gas (methane), then it's just another fossil fuel.  If the hydrogen is made by using renewable electricity to produce green hydrogen, then the energy losses involved in converting electricity into hydrogen and then back into electricity in the fuel cell, make the car massively less efficient than just putting the electricity straight into an EV battery. About 60% less efficient, by some measures. So why are Toyota still trying to do this?  Perhaps because the fossil fuel industry would have a role in hydrogen infrastructure, whereas they would be relatively sidelined if we all buy EVs.  It's not surprising that one of Toyota's partners in this is a Japanese oil company. 

xxxx 5 May 2021

pikkoz you nailed it, problem is Toyota will plough on losing millions along the way.

jason_recliner 5 May 2021

Sheer brilliance.  Autocar's first six star car?  It just might be.