Toyota Mirai Saloon (2015 - ) MK 1 review
Just as Toyota was one of the pioneers of hybrid cars with the Prius, so the company is hoping to kick off the use of hydrogen cars by selling the Mirai. We test it in the UK.
Interested in buying Toyota Mirai?
There’s no doubt that the Mirai’s styling is every bit as radical as the technology hidden away under those eye-catching lines. Indeed, many of the features exist not just for the sake of style, but also because of the demands of the fuel cell. The grilles that sit below the ultra-slim headlights, for example, are designed to allow in as much cooling air as possible, while the flowing curves that are obvious when you look at the car’s profile make the car as aerodynamic as possible. There’s plenty to draw the eye too: not only does the car come with alloys as standard, it also has integrated indicators in the door mirrors, while every light – headlights, tail lights and daytime running lights – are composed entirely of LEDs. Aerodynamics have had more of an influence on this shape that the pen of any designer, but it certainly looks like nothing else on the road.
To our eyes, the interior is rather less attractive than the exterior. Although Toyota has chucked in pretty much every piece of luxury kit you can think of, the cabin and the materials don’t have the look and feel of a near-£70,000 car. However, it’s all perfectly comfortable, with more than enough room for six-footers in the front seats, despite sitting a little higher than you might expect. A standard-issue Toyota touch-screen system dominates the centre of the dashboard, while the air-con is controlled by a series of buttons on a slab-like panel below it. All in all, it’s pretty easy to use, while the overall design is every bit as distinctive as the exterior, although rear visibility could be better.
If there’s one area where the Mirai is less impressive than you might expect of a car this size, it’s practicality. Thanks to the way the bodywork tapers at the rear in the interests of aerodynamics, anyone over six feet tall in the rear seats will find their heads brushing the roof. The boot, likewise, has to sacrifice some rear space in the interests of the fuel-cell system. In this instance, it’s the hydrogen tank and batteries – which sit behind the rear seat – that eat into the space and leave some rather awkward shapes to pack around. Still, at the very rear, it’s wide enough to accommodate a set of golf clubs, while there’s plenty of room for the weekly shop or a couple of big sports bags.
Ride and handling
The suspension has been set up to major on comfort – and pretty effectively, too. Admittedly, there’s a firm edge to the ride at low speeds, and it picks up particularly on sharp ridges in the road; but, once you escape the city, it smooths out nicely. There are no complaints about the handling, either. The Mirai’s steering is nice and light, and combines with a decent turning circle to make the car easily manoeuvrable around town; then, once you’re on the open road, it’s safe, secure and inspires great confidence. Committed enthusiasts may want more feel from the steering and generally sharper responses, but we think the Mirai is well set up for the kind of short journeys it will regularly undertake.
The most remarkable thing about driving the Mirai is that there’s nothing remarkable about it. You just get in, press the power button, slide the stubby gear lever into Drive, release the foot-operated parking brake, and off you go. As with any electric car, all the motor’s considerable pulling power is available from the word go, so the Mirai feels wonderfully responsive, especially around town. What’s more, other than a slight whine under full acceleration, it does all this in near silence. In fact, you can’t help feeling that Toyota’s engineers must have popped over to their colleagues at Lexus for a few lessons in refinement, because the Mirai is just so hushed, even at motorway speeds. This supreme refinement – combined with the effortless way it performs – makes it a really relaxing way to get around.
The first thing to get your head around is that this tech isn’t cheap. The Mirai is about the same size as a Ford Mondeo, but costs £66,000, making it almost double the price of a plug-in Prius. However, Toyota’s four-year contract hire deal makes the car considerably more attractive, especially as the monthly cost of £750 includes not only all the servicing, maintenance and tyres, it also extends to about £200-worth of fuel. Which is pretty handy when you consider that Toyota claims you should be able to go twice as far as on the same value of petrol. The zero-CO2 emissions will also translate into major savings for company car drivers in cars of a similar value, while the car is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge, and is likely to remain so for some time.
This is the big unknown for anyone investing in a Mirai, as there is precious little information on the reliability of hydrogen cars. However, on the positive side, Toyota has an excellent record for producing reliable cars, and the Mirai is covered by same five-year/100,000-mile warranty as the rest of Toyota’s range, and has a five-year roadside assistance package. Like the first early adopters of electric-only power, the pioneers of hydrogen have to take a bit of a gamble on how durable this technology is, but the years of trials and testing on the fuel cell stack should pay dividends now the Mirai has finally arrived in production form.
Perhaps the biggest question from potential customers will be about the car’s safety, but Toyota claims that the Mirai is as safe as any other Toyota. The carbon fibre tanks that store the hydrogen are extremely tough, while the car is fitted with leak detectors and several safeguards to ensure that filling the car up is a safe operation. Otherwise, the car is well specified with safety kit, having a full complement of airbags, as well as stability control, a blind spot monitor, a pre-crash system and hill-start assist. It is yet to have been tested by industry standard crash safety body Euro NCAP.
The Mirai may be costly, but it comes in a single, lavishly equipped trim level that makes the cost that little bit easier to bear. Sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, DAB; you name it, the Mirai has it fitted as standard – along with a rear-view camera, automatic wipers, a heated steering wheel and electrically adjustable front seats. The one thing it that it doesn't feel is luxurious though, that high asking price goes towards paying for the revolutionary technology underneath, rather than the cabin that surrounds you.
Because you’re the kind of committed, environmentally conscious driver who can live with the trickier aspects of owning a hydrogen car, and who want to be the first to drive a car which uses what could very well be the fuel of the future.