2017 Toyota Mirai review – first drive
Alex Rae’s first drive 2017 Toyota Mirai review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The Mirai delivers all of the conveniences drivers want in an environmentally freidnly vehicle but its technology is completely hampered by a lack of infrastructure that will take at least a decade to change in Australia. By the time we do receive the proper infrastructure the current Mirai will be one of many offerings from other manufacturers, but for now we can only hope that the few cars Toyota has brought into the country will convince politicians and big corporations to invest in its future.
2017 Toyota Mirai
Pricing N/A; Warranty N/A; Engine Hydrogen Electric; Torque 335Nm; Transmission 1-speed automatic; Drive front-wheel-drive; Dimensions 4889mm (L), 1816mm (W), 1534mm (H); Seats 4; Kerb weight 1850kg; Fuel tank 5kg; Fuel consumption 0.9 kg/100km combined cycle; Fuel hydrogen; Spare space-saver.
THE MOST CONVINCING argument in support of electric vehicles is undoubtedly the lack of any emissions. Whisper quiet and gentle on the climate, the appeal of owning an electric vehicle has spread like wild fire across urban commuters. Cost aside, there is the issue of recharging, which takes around 12 hours at minimum at anywhere but a super-charging station, and range is limited compared to conventional fuel vehicles. Toyota believes it has achieved the perfect solution with its zero-emissions, quick recharging and long-range Mirai.
Toyota Mirai (Japanese translation: ‘future’) is the companies hydrogen fuel cell technology vehicle featuring zero-to-full fuelling in 3 minutes, about 550kms range from a tank (5kg, not litres) and, best of all, the only emission spat out the back pipe is water.
The Mirai is another electric vehicle as it’s not technically propelled by hydrogen like a hydrogen rocket is. The hydrogen is simply fuel that powers a generator which in turn sends electricity to the electric motors.
Looking at the bigger picture of EVs, any battery powered EV (such as a Tesla) needs to be charged-up from the grid (or off the grid at home), and will almost always receive that electricity from a conventional coal power plant. The Mirai doesn’t charge from a power point and instead charges on-demand as you drive, essentially replacing the power plant hundreds of kilometres away with a small generator on board the vehicle and two hydrogen fuel tanks.
It’s a smart solution to the argument that EV power isn’t clean due to having to burn coal to generate it and, unlike fossil fuels, we aren’t going to ever run out of hydrogen… in fact it’s the most plentiful element in our universe, but in Australia there’s only one refuelling station, and it’s owned by Korean manufacturer Hyundai.
It’s a snag for Toyota and other manufacturers looking to embrace the ‘zero’ emissions fuel technology Down Under as we just don’t have the infrastructure or plan to have it anytime soon. Getting the vehicles here to show and tell to potential backers and having the fuel readily available to drive them was a chicken and egg issue for Toyota, so it spent around $1 million to build a portable refuelling station which sits on a truck.
The development allows the company to roadshow the technology around the country to government and private organisations and, hopefully, pave the road for a hydrogen fuelled future in Australia.
Toyota Mirai is available for sale in the USA and is priced from US$57,500 and around 1500 of the cars have been sold so far, but hydrogen fuelling stations already exist in the USA and Europe. It will be a while until we see the Mirai available for sale in Australia however Toyota has not completely ruled out the idea that we could see the next-generation Mirai as one of the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for sale here.
What’s the interior like?
The interior features a four-seat layout and room space is like the Corolla. The finish and appointments feel luxurious, and the rear features leather heated seats that are soft and comfortable to sit in.
The test loop was a short 15-minute drive but there’s no reason the support the seats provide would feel tiresome on longer drives. There is however an issue with rear passenger foot space, as one of the two hydrogen fuel tanks sits under the floor, and headspace isn’t terrific in the back either.
There’s only one 120W 12v socket in the back for charging gadgets but it’s not a restriction of the Mirai’s power generator, as it is capable of charging household items via a pure sine wave GPO (general power outlet) socket in the boot. The boot itself won’t hold a bounty of gear but will ferry a couple of small bags in its 360 litres of space.
Up front the seats are again comfortable and heated and leg space is much better than the back. The windows are automatic up-and-down all around and the cabin doesn’t feel any different to a normal car, bar the dash which displays hydrogen power indicators and a H2O purge button next to the steering wheel. Pressing the purge button will force the Mirai to dump any water vapours out of the exhaust rather than doing it automatically when the car is turned-off – good for keeping that immaculate garage floor spotless.
What’s it like on the road?
The driveline is based on the system found in the Lexus RX450h, and as such the Mirai feels similar to drive. That it drives like a normal car and beside a lack of engine noise, you’d be hard pressed to pick the difference between it and a conventional petrol driven vehicle.
Road noise did seem noticeable at times because of the lack of an engine grunting upfront and under hard acceleration onto the freeway there’s a churning from behind the firewall as the hydrogen system rushes to supply extra energy but, on the whole, the system feels well sorted and is much like driving a Prius or other hybrid.
The Mirai does feel its weight a little in steering and braking, weighing 1850kg, but acceleration when flat to the floor feels quick enough and matches its electric spec of 335Nm. There’s plenty of oomph for overtaking for instance and a top speed of 180km/h is achievable (although not tested), which means this thing is faster than fast enough for those who want to keep their licence.
The test loop was short and upon arriving back to Toyota’s headquarters in melbourne we were able to hit the H2O purge button and watch our guilt-free water emissions spit out the back tail pipe – about a teaspoon’s worth it turns out.
The test drive Toyota organised for us was one of the first times the Mirai was driven in Australia and it proved that the car performs at a similar level as other conventional fuel cars do now.
What about the safety features?
While not ANCAP rated, the Mirai features dual front side-mounted airbags, front and rear head airbags, blind spot and lane departure warnings, accident avoidance system, stability and traction control and ABS brakes.
As for the fuel itself, hydrogen is pretty flammable – think Germany’s infamous Hindenburg – but thankfully the hydrogen, which is pressurised at over 10,000 psi inside its tank, would vaporise into the atmosphere rapidly before igniting if a tank was punctured.