The Toyota Mirai is a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), which makes it a rare breed anywhere in the world, let alone the cleantech hub that is Southern California. Its electric drivetrain and traction battery make the drive feel a lot like normal electric vehicles, while the hydrogen fueling carries forward the 5 minute gas station fueling experience.
- Range per tank: 502 kilometers | 312 miles
- Curb weight: 1,848 kilograms | 4,075 pounds
- MPGe: 66 City / 66 Highway / 66 Combined MPGe rating (EPA cycle)
- Electric Motor Power: 114 kilowatt | 153 horsepower
- Electric Motor Torque: 247 lb-ft
- Motor Type: Permanent Magnet AC synchronous
- Hydrogen tank capacity: 122.4 liters total (fore tank: 60 liters, aft tank: 62.4 liters)
- Battery capacity: 1.6 kWh
- Battery type: Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH)
- Base price: $58,365
Mirai means “future” in Japanese, and the exterior of the car reflects its aspirational nature. The futuristic aerodynamic lines of Mirai scream out that it is the rogue of the family, the non-conformist of the bunch. It looks and feels like a Prius that ran off 2 generations ago to do its own thing and has spent every spare minute since watching Back to the Future over and over. Or I may just be having flashbacks to Toyota’s Back to the Future themed Mirai for SEMA a few years back.
The exterior is normal enough to blend in, but at a closer look, it is polarizing. The sweeping bank of lights across the rear of the vehicle accentuate the sweeping line that arcs from the nose to the tail. During the day, the lighting arrays are muted, but at night, they pop out to cut bold lines into the exterior of the vehicle.
Up at the nose, two vertical strips of white LED lights carve out a compact, aggressive look almost as if it knew it had something to prove. Mirai is a fighter. He’s the new guy in town who knows he has the coolest tech in town while completely owning the fact that he’s an outsider. History isn’t changed by those who go with the flow, but rather, by those who are willing to stand up and be different. To challenge the status quo.
Mirai definitely has its work cut out for it on that front, able to refuel at just a handful of fueling stations with the bulk of the research and design money invested into it yet to be absorbed by larger volumes of vehicle sales.
The interior of Mirai is very functional and has all the features drivers need, and then some. The speedometer and driving displays are positioned farther up on the dash, just below the transition to the road. The position of the display cluster makes it easy to keep an eye on critical vehicle functions while driving without the need to glance down at a traditional behind-the-wheel gauge cluster.
Infotainment and climate controls are similarly functional, wrapped in a package that’s clearly not current-generation Toyota hardware. We spent time in the 2016 model, but much of the same hardware carries forward with the 2018 Mirai. The smooth surface buttons for most of the controls on the center console are reminiscent of the first-generation Chevrolet Volt.
As a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, the Toyota Mirai has a driving experience that’s unique. From a powertrain standpoint, a 114 kilowatt (153 horsepower) electric motor has been tasked with turning the wheels, and with 247 lb-ft of torque, it is spritely off the line. Don’t read too far into the specs and assume that all electric cars are the same, as the Mirai still takes 9.4 seconds to go from 0–60 miles per hour.
In day-to-day driving, the Mirai drives much like Toyota’s eco-brand-defining Prius. The fuel cell stack has a noticeable hum, punctuated by the occasional gurgling or clicking as it converts hydrogen from the onboard tanks + oxygen flowing in from the outside into electricity and water, its only direct emission.
The water generated by the fuel cell is automatically released by the car through a small port at the rear of the car. The water can also be manually purged before entering garages or other areas where it’s not convenient for water to be leaked out onto the ground by pushing the H2O button, located to the left of the steering wheel. The button initiates a manual purge of the water system, which takes approximately 15 seconds. It’s one of a handful of mindset changes with the Mirai and helps to highlight that water is the only direct emission from FCEVs. No tailpipe, no combustion, no exhaust. Just water … awkwardly dripping out the back of the car.
The day-to-day utility of the Toyota Mirai is very similar to any other four-door sedan with the exception that it only seats 4. A fixed arm rest console splits the rear seats, making it feel like a luxury limousine. The unfortunate tradeoff is the loss of the extra seat.
Mirai’s two hydrogen tanks provide for an EPA-estimated 312 miles of range that is more than sufficient for those living near a hydrogen fueling station. This is the biggest drawback of the Mirai, though — the inescapable leash that ties it to the nearest fueling station. Battery electric vehicles have the ability to charge up from any 110 volt outlet if needed, with the ability to add Level 2 public charging infrastructure for a few thousand dollars.
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles have only one source — fueling stations — and there aren’t many of them. As of the writing of this article, there are 35 public hydrogen fueling stations in the United States, all of which are located in California. California Energy Commissioner Janea Scott shared that new funding would boost this number by 50% — up to around 50 fueling stations — by the end of 2019. In parallel, 250,000 new public plug-in vehicle charging stations are being installed.
Without going down the rabbit hole, hydrogen fueling stations are between $3–5 million each to install, depending on the volume they can handle and pressure at which they can push out hydrogen (H35 or H70). Lower cost fueling station technology is a key breakthrough that will be required for FCEVs to be successful, among other challenges.
Fueling up the Mirai (if you live near a refueling station) is one of its selling points for buyers. Battery electric vehicles emit no tailpipe emissions but take anywhere from one to 24 hours to recharge, depending on the battery capacity and charging speed. The Mirai aspires to live up to its name, which translates to “future,” with regards to fueling. Refilling the tank takes just 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the output pressure of the hydrogen fueling station.
The process was clearly designed to feel like filling up with gasoline or diesel, with the same relative steps that need to be executed to fill up. With gasoline, there are different octanes of fuel, but with hydrogen, there’s only the one type to worry about. However, stations can operate at two different pressures — H35 or H70 — which dictate fueling time. H35 stations operate at 35 Mega Pascals | 350 bar | 5,000 psi, while H70 stations operate at 70 Mega Pascals | 350 bar | 10,000 psi.
The cost to fuel the Mirai represents another sticking point. Toyota is currently offering free fueling on the Mirai for the first 3 years, up to a maximum of $15,000. The EPA estimates that in normal driving conditions, the Mirai will cost $1,250 per year in fueling costs. That’s higher than Toyota’s Prius Prime which the EPA estimates will consume $650 per year in fuel.
If hydrogen FCEVs continue to scale up, these costs should come down, but with states like California mandating that 33% of hydrogen sold for transportation be generated from renewable sources, the future pricing of hydrogen is anything but clear. For the time being, fueling costs will not be a selling point beyond the first 3 years.
Yeah, So About Hydrogen…
Hydrogen and fuel cell vehicle advocates are quick to highlight how a fuel cell vehicle transforms hydrogen into just electricity and water, and that’s all true. But come over here for a minute and let’s roll up our sleeves and have a heart-to-heart about hydrogen, because it’s not all that it seems on the surface.
For a much more in-depth analysis of the headwinds faced by hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, dive into our exhaustive piece on the matter, but here are a few of the significant financial and technical barriers hydrogen FCEVs face in the near term:
- 3× higher well-to-wheel emissions per mile than conventional hybrids (like Toyota’s Prius)
- Expensive buildout of fueling station network
- More expensive in-car tech than battery electric vehicles
- Must fuel at a “gas station” (rather than at home)
- Inability to fuel/charge from rooftop solar
Toyota continues to be bullish on hydrogen fuel cell technology, with experiments in slashing emissions at its facility in the Port of Long Beach / Port of Los Angeles with its hydrogen FCEV Alpha Truck. To learn more about the Toyota Mirai FCV, head over to it’s online homepage or spend some quality time with Toyota’s full spec sheet for it.