Battery electric vehicles are the industry’s big bet on a zero-emissions automotive future. New EVs are popping up left and right, hoping to court a broader range of customers who would’ve otherwise bought a gas-burning car. However, there are a few companies (three of them, actually) that are working toward another form of climate-friendly commuting: the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
The 2021 Toyota Mirai joins the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Hyundai Nexo crossover as the only fuel cell vehicles currently available to the public. Redesigned for this model year, the second-gen Mirai makes a compelling case for itself, with much-improved styling and Lexus-like refinement. Hydrogen only works for a small portion of customers – according to the US Department of Energy, there are only 45 public hydrogen filling stations in the US, and 44 of them are in California – but for those few, the Mirai is absolutely worth looking into.
A Stunning Transformation
Let’s not mince words here: the first-gen Mirai is a truly hideous vehicle. But goodness gracious did Toyota outdo itself with this new car, which looks drop-dead gorgeous. Gone are the chunky, mismatched proportions of the previous car, replaced by a long, elegant sedan.
Toyota wiped the board clean for this design, opting for a rear-wheel-drive platform borrowed from the Lexus LS flagship. The car’s front end features an extra-long hood, complemented by triangular headlights with long strips of LED running lights. Below a Toyota badge is a rather large grille, not too far off the Avalon’s. Take a peek from the side profile and there’s a pseudo-coupe design going on, like a Japanese take on the Audi A7. We also appreciate the rear three-quarter view with its single taillight element and broadened fender flares. The best detail, however, is this Hydro Blue paint, which ties the design together beautifully.
Toyota wiped the board clean for this design, opting for a rear-wheel-drive platform borrowed from the Lexus LS flagship.
Toyota made big changes inside, too. This is easily the most Lexus-feeling Toyota (if that makes any sense) that we’ve ever tested. Every major touchpoint feels great, covered in either soft faux leather or textured plastic. This Limited model also includes fun rose gold trim – er, maybe it’s copper – that traces the door panels, parts of the dash, and even around the cupholders.
And yet it’s the vast amount of screen real estate that catches the eye first. Every Mirai includes a 12.3-inch center touchscreen infotainment system that works alongside an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster. Top-range Limited models also get a nicer range of features such as three-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a head-up display.
We’re keen on the infotainment’s display size, but just like in other Toyota models, it isn’t our favorite system to interact with. Information is all over the place, and the menu layouts are super confusing. Also, the purple-themed graphics look way behind the times for an otherwise futuristic-feeling car.
Fortunately, there is plenty of interior comfort to relax after interacting with the frustrating infotainment package. Front seat occupants get 38.4 inches of headroom and 42.2 inches of legroom – both of which are plentiful for anyone not starting for the Lakers.
With the sloping roofline, the backseat loses a bit of headroom, to 37.4 inches, but it’s still solid compared to the Camry’s 38.0 inches. Likewise, the 33.1 inches of rear seat legroom is just three inches shy of this car’s cousin, the Lexus LS. In contrast to the spacious cabin, the trunk measures just 9.6 cubic-feet – way down on the Camry’s 15.1 cubes – thanks to the Mirai’s onboard hydrogen tanks.
Hydrogen vehicles occupy the middle ground between electric and gas cars, at least in that you fill them up at something resembling a pump. The Mirai takes its go-juice from a hydrogen station – brimming the tank takes slighter longer than time spent at a normal gas station.
Or tanks, rather, because there are three of them – each reinforced with carbon fiber and glass fiber-reinforced polymer to ensure they’re basically indestructible. Seriously, Toyota engineers went as far as to shoot the tanks with guns and set them on fire to make sure they’re rock-solid. They did this, obviously, to ensure that the exceptionally flammable hydrogen supply is protected in the event of an accident.
Hydrogen vehicles occupy the middle ground between electric and gas cars, at least in that you fill them up at something resembling a pump.
Under the hood rests a fuel cell stack, which looks somewhat like a four-cylinder engine, at least with the cover on. A flurry of government-sanctioned bright orange wires route power from the fuel cell directly to the floor-mounted lithium-ion battery, which has a capacity of only 1.24 kilowatt-hours – there is a constant flow of energy from the cell, so the battery can be small. From there, electricity moves to a single electric motor on the rear axle, ultimately sending power to the back wheels.
The highlight is an EPA-rated range of up to 402 miles per fill up, which is a 30 percent improvement over the first-gen car. Less exciting are the is the electric motor’s output of 182 horsepower and 221 pound-feet. This car weighs 4,335 pounds in Limited spec, which is a big sum for that electric motor to push around. With the go-pedal pinned, sixty miles per hour comes in 9.2 seconds.
Slow, But Tranquil
On the roads between Orange and San Diego Counties, the Mirai feels just like any non-performance EV. Torque output is instant, but relaxed after the initial punch. When greeted by an uphill highway onramp, you will need to floor it just to get up to speed. As us how we know.
Through the wonderfully twisty Ortega Highway, we switched from Normal to Sport driving mode, which heightens the Mirai ever so slightly, with firmer steering feel and a more reactive throttle. The Mirai takes corners with significant body roll, where you really feel the car’s weight shift left and right. The brakes do their best to slow things down, but the car’s 4,335-pound mass makes the job a tough one. Ultimately, this is a big, heavy sedan that doesn’t love to be pushed around.
Once up to speed, the big sedan is serene as can be, with very little noise coming through the chassis or tires.
But let’s pause for a moment and remember that nobody is buying this car to be a canyon all-star, which it is certainly not. This is meant to be a non-polluting commuter car that takes you to and from work in comfort. And in this specific discipline, the Mirai excels.
Once up to speed, the big sedan is serene as can be, with very little noise coming through the chassis or tires. At highway speeds, there is some pronounced wind noise, but that should be expected of a car without an engine note to hide such things. The Mirai does offer an artificial noise that pumps into the cabin under acceleration, though it sort of sounds like ghosts are haunting the car. Turn that off and instead rely on the JBL sound system to drown out the wind.
Also making commuting a little easier is standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 Plus. Both XSE and Limited Mirai’s come loaded up with every piece of safety kit Toyota offers, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure assist, and adaptive cruise control. We threw on the cruise control for a stretch of highway driving and came away impressed with its behavior. That said, on one occasion the lane-departure assist kicked in so hard that we thought we popped a tire.
Is Hydrogen The Right Solution?
The Mirai is a car that works for a very small faction of people in the world, and Toyota is the first to admit that. The US is the biggest FCV market by far, and even here, almost every sale will take place in California. Toyota projects that it can sell roughly 3,200 units, making it extremely low-volume, at least by this company’s standards. Specific areas in the Northeast will get the car eventually, but limited to rear-wheel drive, we wonder how popular the Mirai will be.
The Mirai is a car that works for a very small faction of people in the world, and Toyota is the first to admit that.
Those interested in the Mirai have to meet a few qualifications – namely, proximity to fueling stations – and can either lease or purchase the car. Starting at $49,500, the 2021 Mirai is actually $9,000 cheaper than its predecessor. For this generation, Toyota adds the Limited model, which is $66,000. Looking at competitors, the Hyundai Nexo costs $58,735, while Honda’s lease-only Clarity Fuel Cell starts at $379 per month. For three economy brands, these are not cheap vehicles by any stretch.
With that in mind, the Mirai sets itself apart by offering a decidedly more luxurious product for similar money. It isn’t crazy to suggest that, especially with this car’s LS underpinnings, the Mirai deserves to wear a Lexus badge. And after driving the car for a few hours, we might say so ourselves. The 2021 Toyota Mirai is a solid alternative take on a zero-emissions product.
Mirai Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Toyota Mirai: First Drive Review
2021 Toyota Mirai Limited