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2021 Toyota Mirai First Drive: Hydrogen’s Never Looked This Good

2021-toyota-mirai-first-drive:-hydrogen’s-never-looked-this-good
Toyota Mirai Full Overview

Of the hundreds of cars I’ve driven for MotorTrend, none has felt quite as strange as the first-generation Toyota Mirai hydrogen-powered sedan. Long treks to finicky fueling stations, distinct whirring sounds from the car’s fuel-cell system, and curious looks in the parking lot marked the six months I spent with a 2016 Mirai. Vague handling, brakes that make a deflating noise, and a heavy feel when cornering contrasted sharply with the car’s instant power delivery off the line. More than three years later, I find myself in the seat of the second-generation 2021 Toyota Mirai hoping it’s more normal than its predecessor but just as memorable.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Fueling the Changes

Shedding its ungainly proportions, the new Mirai is longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor. Now it looks like a slightly snazzier Toyota Camry. Given that SUVs are so popular, it begs the question if Toyota should have reshaped the Mirai into a crossover for its second generation. Toyota says the sedan body style fits the Mirai’s new mission: a long driving range and strong performance. The reality is Toyota’s going to sell vastly more Mirais in markets that prefer sedans.

The first hint at the Mirai’s sportier intentions is the switch from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive. Ditching the old model’s Prius V-based underpinnings, the second-generation Mirai sits on a shorter version of the platform that underpins the Lexus LS sedan. This setup enables a roomier cabin that seats five instead of four. Although weight has increased slightly, the Mirai now boasts a near 50:50 weight distribution and a lower center of gravity.

Allowing the switch to rear-drive is a smaller, lighter fuel-cell stack that combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air, which produces an electric current and water as a byproduct. This time around, Toyota managed to fit the stack under the hood instead of awkwardly stuffing it under a raised section of the passenger compartment floor. The fuel cell stack case integrates with the power control unit, making things even more compact. Delivering 182 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, the new Mirai makes 31 additional horses but 26 fewer pound-feet of torque than its predecessor. Revised gearing, however, means torque to the wheels is increased from the previous generation. Completing the package is a new lithium-ion battery that stores excess electricity from the fuel cell and from regenerative braking. It’s smaller than the old Mirai’s nickel-metal hydride unit.

Another beautiful advantage of the Mirai’s rear-drive setup is it frees up space to store more hydrogen. The new Mirai stores a total of 11 pounds of hydrogen in three tanks (instead of five pounds in two like the old vehicle): one mounted longitudinally in the center of the car, one positioned transversely under the seat, and one below the battery. With this additional storage, as well as through better electric management, Toyota says it was able to increase driving range by 30 percent.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Hydrogen Handler

The effort has paid off, as the 2021 Toyota Mirai feels almost like a completely different vehicle. Although you won’t mistake it for a sports car, its light and precise handling makes driving on the highway or a twisty road both comfortable and enjoyable. It feels much lighter and nimbler around corners, too.

Perched on its Lexus-derived platform, the Mirai tackles most bumps on the road with poise. Road noise is well controlled, and Toyota also makes sure to block wind noise. Quieter air and hydrogen pumps translate to a more subdued symphony inside the cabin.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Fuel-Cell Fun

If the new Mirai has one driving characteristic in common with its predecessor, it’s the car’s smooth, instant power delivery off the line. The hydrogen-powered Toyota won’t stick you to the back of your seat like a Tesla does, however, and it’s not particularly fast as you demand more momentum. Toyota estimates it takes 9.2 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill. Most drivers will find the Mirai offers sufficient power for merging onto the freeway or passing other cars. As with modern battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), the Mirai’s power is delivered without any lag or clunkiness. Coming to a stop feels effortless, too. The new Mirai’s brakes bite immediately with a firm press of the pedal. This has to be one of the biggest driving improvements over the previous model.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Range and Refueling

There are now 43 open retail stations for hydrogen across California, up from 30 at the time we were driving a first-gen Mirai. You will still want to check the California Fuel Cell Partnership website to view the current supply of hydrogen fuel at a given station, though. I revisited my favorite fueling station and noticed a fancy new nozzle and a new set of instructions. Refueling the Mirai took a tiny bit longer than it would at a traditional gas station. The other 49 states in the union share a sole public hydrogen station in Connecticut.

Once you’re fully fueled up, you can travel up to 402 miles on a tank, according to Toyota. We’ll have to conduct our own test, as the previous Mirai didn’t quite live up to its official range estimate in our real-world experience. But if the new range estimate is accurate, the 2021 Mirai has a distinct advantage over most BEVs, a category Toyota is trying to conquest. Furthermore, the Mirai’s estimated range matches the EPA-rated driving range of the Tesla Model S Long Range Plus.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Hy-End Interior

Toyota also hopes the new Mirari steals customers away from gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. Interestingly, Toyota specifically mentions the BMW 530e as a primary competitor to its hydrogen-powered sedan. The automaker clearly has luxury intentions with the new Mirai but at the same time, Toyota says it wants to democratize its electrification technology so it’s not just available to the affluent.

The result is a new Mirai with an upscale but not luxurious cabin—think Buick rather than Cadillac. Run your fingers across the dashboard, and you’re treated to soft, premium materials. The swoopy dashboard, as well as the piano-black trim on the center console, harken back to the first-gen Mirai’s design. Also reminiscent of the old model: the low-set windshield and side windows that provide excellent visibility. No materials felt cheap on our XLE tester, and the synthetic leather seats proved plush and comfortable. One fun thing about the Mirai: you can push an H2O button whenever you want to purge water from the tailpipe. This means you won’t have to deal with water dripping onto your driveway when you get home. There are a few things we would change, though. Specifically, we had a hard time getting used to the lack of a traditional volume knob, and we wish the Mirai offered more storage cubbies for smaller items.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Not so Hy Pricing

Despite all of its upgrades, the new Mirai costs notably less than its forebear, with the 2021 Mirai XLE starting at $50,455—a decrease of more than $9,000.

It’s cheaper than the 2021 Hyundai Nexo, which starts at $59,960, too. The only other hydrogen car on the market, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, is a lease-only model. Toyota’s target, the more luxurious and powerful BMW 530e, starts at $58,195.

Keep in mind the Mirai’s price doesn’t include federal and state tax credits. California provides a $4,500 rebate for Mirai buyers, subject to income requirements. The federal tax credit is $8,000, but it expires at the end of this year, and it’s unclear if it will be renewed.

To sweeten the pot further, Toyota is offering $15,000 of free hydrogen fuel in the form of a prepaid credit card (lasting three years for lessees, and six years for buyers). The automaker also offers 21 days of free car rental services.

Buyers get premium features for the price, too. Standard goodies include synthetic-leather upholstery, heated front seats, an 8.0-inch instrument cluster display, power driver and passenger seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, and a 14-speaker JBL audio system. As in other Toyota models, the Mirai benefits from a full suite of standard safety technologies. Additionally, the XLE’s $1,410 Advanced Technology package adds a 360-degree camera, front and rear parking assist with automatic emergency braking, and illuminated footwells. You’ll have to upgrade to the Limited model, priced from $66,955, to add these items to the Mirai’s standard features list. The high-end Mirai also nets consumers heated and ventilated front and rear seats, a rear touchscreen control panel, three-zone automatic climate control, ambient lighting, and a power-operated rear sunshade.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Time to Buy and (Fuel) Cell

The 2021 Toyota Mirai goes on sale in California at the end of December. About 3,250 units will be rolled out in the state this calendar year alone.

Toyota’s ultimate goal was to make people desire the Mirai as a vehicle, not just a fuel-cell vehicle. Although the Mirai feels much more like a normal car than it did before, it still faces difficulties in the marketplace, such as America’s limited hydrogen infrastructure. But there’s no doubt the Mirai is vastly improved, and it puts Toyota one step closer to the hydrogen future it envisions.

Looks good! More details?

2021 Toyota Mirai
BASE PRICE $50,455
LAYOUT Rear-motor, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
MOTOR 182-hp/221 lb-ft AC permanent-magnet electric
TRANSMISSION 1-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT 4,250-4,350 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 114.9 in
L x W x H 195.8 x 74.2 x 57.9 in
0-60 MPH 9.2 sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON, CITY/HWY/COMB 76/71/74 mpg-e
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 44/47 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)
ON SALE December 2020

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