Toyota Mirai

A pointer to a fuel-cell future, if anyone is interested

TOBY HAGON

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

ITS NAME means ‘future’ in Japanese, which says plenty about the latest Toyota eco warrior. Like the Prius two decades ago, the Mirai two decades ago, the Mirai is trying to lead the way for hydrogen fuel cells as the world glacially eases towards a zeroemissions automotive future.

Like the Prius, its design is about slipping through the air cleanly (though its Cd is an unremarkable 0.29) and being as light as possible.

Specially designed 17-inch alloy wheels save 2kg, but that seems superfluous when the Mirai weighs a podgy 1850kg. Blame the twin hydrogen fuel tanks (under the rear seat, and behind the rear seat), the hydrogen fuel cell (which performs a chemical reaction to produce electricity) and the batteries borrowed from the Prius.

Yet as much as there’s tricky tech going on beneath the skin, the Mirai is otherwise about being normal. There are four seats, a steering wheel and pedals. And, with the exception of the very unfuturistic foot-operated park brake, there’s a modern flavour to the interior, from the touch buttons for the ventilation system to the Prius-inspired central instrument cluster and stubby gear selector.

Despite generous space for four people, the boot is short and truncated, accommodating only 361 litres of luggage and unable to be expanded with folding seats due to the positioning of the hydrogen tank.

You start the Mirai with the press of a button, at which point things light up inside but no mechanical components come to life. Step on the throttle and response is immediate and generous. The 113kW of power is less relevant than the 335Nm, something that shifts this heavy vehicle to 100km/h in 9.6sec.

On the move, the Mirai drives almost identically to an electric car, with near-instant throttle response. Performance is acceptable rather than exciting, and it’s accompanied by a subtle sound that’s like a cross between a whir and fast-paced clicking (it’s something to do with the hydrogen fuel cell).

Our brief drive wasn’t enough to explore the dynamic spectrum but it highlighted that the biggest smile you’ll get from the Mirai is because you’ve saved a polar bear, not because you’ve nailed an apex.

Overly light steering ensures it’s light-on for soul; get too eager through a corner and the weight becomes obvious. Mirai is about getting somewhere efficiently and calmly rather than enjoying the eco-friendly drive.

So while the Mirai is still years away from being sold in Australia, if at all (it depends largely on refuelling infrastructure), it’s difficult to see its circa-$80,000 price tag appealing to anyone other than those utterly devoted to the environmental cause, of which Australia has proven in the past there are almost none.

Gas guzzler

Refuelling hydrogen cars is a huge challenge in Oz because there are no public refuelling stations. In 2015 Hyundai installed a refuelling unit at its Sydney HQ, and more recently Toyota built one onto the back of a semi-trailer to support its three ‘roadshow’ Mirais. The refuelling unit cost about $500,000 and is accompanied by a diesel generator and a Hino prime mover.

Can be refuelled like a regular car; 550km range; decent performance Lack of refuelling infrastructure; cost; space taken up by tanks PLUS & MINUS Model Motor Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Price On sale Toyota Mirai Electric + hydrogen fuel cell 113kW 335Nm @ 0rpm Single-speed 1850kg 9.6sec (claimed) $80,000 (estimated) Not for Australia