The Toyota Mirai is among the very first hydrogen-fuelled electric cars to be made available to the general car buying public to as a normal private purchase – as opposed to a short term lease scheme, where customers are obliged to hand it back at the end of the deal.
When limited UK deliveries begin in late November, the distinctively-styled saloon will be priced at £66,000, making it a hefty £32,605 more the Japanese car maker’s £33,395 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
That’s a lot of money, but the Mirai is arguably among the most advanced road cars on sale right now. Prospective UK customers can look forward to a £5000 government backed electric car subsidy as well as a comprehensive 24-hour, seven-day-a-week concierge service and an extensive five-year/100,000-mile warranty that includes roadside assistance and other goodies to soften the financial blow.
Alternatively, Toyota is offering its new model on a £750-per-month leasing scheme over four years and 60,000 miles. Full servicing, tyre replacement and fuel costs of up to £200 per month are included – all of which begin to make the Mirai an interesting proposition, especially for those seeking to dodge city congestion charges who live near one of the nine hydrogen fuelling stations in the UK.
Don’t expect it to match Prius sales any time soon, though. With production at Toyota’s Motomachi plant in Japan limited to just 700 cars this year, Toyota says initial volumes of the Mirai will be restricted to just 12 in the UK, followed by a further 18 in 2016.
The starting point for the Mirai is the Prius Plus. The two cars share the same high-strength steel platform structure, MacPherson strut front and double wishbone rear suspension and 2780mm wheelbase.
With exaggerated exterior styling elements, including two large air ducts that dominate the front end and heavily structured flanks, it’s certainly a distinctive looking car.
Given its environmentally friendly nature, it’s a fairly big one, too, at 4890mm in length, 1815mm in width and 1535mm in height. Without the need to package hot exhausts within the underbody, Toyota has provided its first commercially available fuel cell model with a flat undertray. With a drag co-efficient of just 0.29, however, its aerodynamic efficiency lags behind the competition.
The Mirai uses a single electric motor delivering 152bhp and 247lb ft of torque for propulsion. It is essentially the same unit used in the Lexus 450h and is mounted transversely in the engine bay along with the power control electronics, where it provides drive to the front wheels via a fixed ratio gearbox.
The fuel cell stack, which uses a combination of oxygen captured from the air and hydrogen to create electricity used to power the electric motor, is mounted underneath the front seats. Produced in-house at Toyota, it is claimed to possess a specific output of 2.0kW/kg – a 50% improvement in electrical energy-producing efficiency of Toyota’s initial fuel cell stack revealed in 2008.
The key to the high efficiency of the fuel cell stack, according to Toyota, is a patented 3D cell design. It is claimed to clear waste water away from the surface of the electrode faster than previous cell designs achieved. As such, there is an improved flow of oxygen to the catalyst layer and an increased production of electricity.
The fuel cell stack, which is housed in a titanium case and weighs just 57kg, can operate in temperatures as low as -30deg C. It is also claimed to possess a similar lifespan as a conventional internal combustion engine; the head of Toyota’s fuel cell development, Yoshikazu Tanaka, expects it to provide up to 300,000 miles before it requires an overhaul.
Two separate carbonfibre and glassfibre tanks are used to store the hydrogen on board – one mounted under the front seat and other behind the rear seat. Together they provide a combined capacity of 122.4 litres, enough to allow the Mirai to hold up to 5.0kg of hydrogen and provide a claimed range of more than 400 miles between refuelling, which takes between three and five minutes.
The relatively small 1.6kWh nickel-metal hydride battery used to store electrical energy recuperated on the run and produced by the fuel cell stack sits above the second hydrogen tank at the rear.
What’s the 2015 Toyota Mirai like to drive?
Given the complexity of the technology at play, the Mirai is extraordinarily straightforward to drive. As with the latest breed of battery propelled electric cars, you press the start button, draw the stubby gear lever mounted high up within the centre console into drive and set off down the road with a light nudge of the accelerator pedal.
Progress is ultra-smooth and, apart from a faint synthetically generated whine from the speakers under load, all but silent. Despite tipping the scales at 1850kg, the step-off acceleration is quite brisk, making the Mirai well suited to stop/start city traffic. However, the performance quickly levels off, providing it with a claimed 0-62mph time of 9.6sec and top speed of just 111mph.
By locating most of the weight intensive driveline elements, including the fuel cell stack, low down in its structure Toyota has succeeded in providing the Mirai with greater agility and back road poise than you might expect.
The steering is rather devoid of feedback but is quite direct in response and the chassis possess sufficient damping control to provide progressive body movements when you thread the new saloon over more challenging sections of road. I didn’t expect to say this, but the Mirai also rides quite well. There’s good small bump absorption around town, and it copes with larger surface irregularities with greater authority than the Prius.
Interestingly, Toyota considers fuel cell technology more suited to larger cars required to run longer distances rather than urban based runabouts used for shorter journeys, which it says are better suited to existing plug in hybrid technology.
This is reflected in its on-road characteristics. With standard double glazing on the side windows and a noise reducing device that helps to cancel out tyre roar, the Mirai isolates its occupants from wind and road noise with notable ability. Thanks to this excellent refinement and the elastic nature of its power delivery, the new four seater is a genuinely relaxing car to operate both around town and out on the open road.
What it lacks, though, is its own intrinsic character. Like most electrically propelled cars, the new Toyota proves a little too one dimensional to really illicit any excitement on the part of the driver. It is highly competent, no doubt. But it is not the sort of car you are likely to be itching to drive simply for the sake of it. Still, with its only emission being water, the Mirai makes a bold environmental statement that I’m sure many will be keen to pursue.
What’s the 2015 Toyota Mirai like inside?
The visual extremity of the interior carries over to the interior, which uses a modern looking dashboard boasting two different TFT displays – one tucked under the windscreen housing the speedo and power display functions among other information and another touch screen device set atop the centre console for the infotainment system. There’s also some less contemporary looking controls for the air condition and other switchgear sourced from various Toyota models thrown in as well.
The quality throughout the spacious cabin is similar to that of the outgoing third-generation Prius. There is a variety of differing soft touch and hard plastics as well as some less than dazzling graphics. It all feels solidly built, if a little cheap on haptic attributes given the high price. With the fuel cell stack sited in the floor space underneath the front seats, you sit rather high. This affords good vision to each corner, making the Mirai easy to manoeuvre around tight spaces.
The long wheelbase makes for plenty of room legroom in the second row of seats, although it is a strict four seater. Boot capacity is compromised by the mounting of the battery and second hydrogen fuel tank behind the fixed rear seat backs, totalling no more than 361 litres, or a whopping 609 less than the Prius Plus.
Should I buy one?
The Toyota Mirai is a breakthrough achievement – one that is sure to influence how car makers set about mapping out their electric car future. It delivers all the environmentally friendly advantages of a tradition battery powered car without the need to plug into mains power for extended periods. The hydrogen filling infrastructure in the UK is very limited and sure to limit its appeal, though.
As with the original Toyota Prius launched in 2000, it should find favour with both early technical adopters and businesses seeking to provide themselves with an environmentally friendly image. But with initial volumes severely limited, the Mirai is set to remain a rare showcase of the Japanese car maker’s fuel cell technology on British roads.
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