When Toyota first unveiled the Mirai concept car, it had big plans and equally lofty ambitions for its fuel cell sedan. Styled to look like nothing else on the road and engineered to deliver maximum fuel economy the Mirai certainly has the potential to meet its goals. But does it fall short? to find out I visited the Chicago Auto Show’s “Concept Car Garage” event and went behind the wheel to see whether it could live up to the hype and achieve its goal of delivering green driving fun.
The exterior styling of the Mirai is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand its not that attractive thanks to its function over form approach to exterior styling, and some of its strange styling elements. On the other hand it is a bold styling exercise that does do a good job of making the Mirai look very futuristic. As stated earlier, the Mirai embraces a function over form theme with each part playing an important role. The big front air intakes for example help channel air into the fuel cells though they do generate a rather long front overhang which can make the car look unbalanced from some angles. The rear fascia helps maximize aerodynamics and is reminiscent of the current generation Toyota Prius. Toyota claims that the side profile is reminiscent of the air to water reaction that takes place in the fuel cells. While I’m still pondering whether it indeed achieves that effect or not, I do like the 17-inch light weight alloy wheels which help improve fuel economy.
The interior of the Mirai is a bit on the plain side, but it still packs several innovations that makes it stands out. The seats for example are produced by a clever “form in place” method where the seat cover is place in a mold which is then injected with urethane foam that helps produce both an ideal location, and comfort. During my time in the Mirai, I noticed that seat comfort was quite good with decent amounts of support, though I wish they could’ve had more lower back support. The dashboard of the Mirai features a 4.2 inch high definition TFT LCD that resides just below the drivers eye line. This slick display showcases a wide range of information including vehicle speed as well as a separate multi-function display that can show navigation information, audio and navigation settings, as well as a hybrid system display.
Below this is a piano black center console that houses the touch sensitive air conditioning controls. The controls are surprisingly easy to use with our favorite feature being the groove that denotes the temperature sliders. Other controls however also reveal some of the ergonomic flaws that exist in the Mirai. For example, the tiny transmission lever (borrowed from the Prius) can be a bit finicky to use, and sometimes takes a bit of effort to get into drive. Some of the build quality also does not quite match the precision that you would expect from a car that is close to $60,000, but its focus on innovation and technology helps make up for these quirks to a degree.
Driving the Mirai is a unique experience, and is on par with some of the other fuel cell powered vehicles that I have driven in the past. While the event did feature a 10 mph speed limit, the Mirai was undeterred by this, and still delivered a decent driving experience. Power comes from a 153 horsepower electric motor which wields 247 lb-ft of torque and allows the Mirai to deliver an impressive amount of acceleration. The steering feel is predictably numb, but it still does allow the Mirai to have an impressive amount of response and control. The biggest limitation of the Mirai however is not its average performance numbers, but rather the lack of a stable national hydrogen fueling infrastructure. Currently California is the only state in the country with such a capability boasting about 20 or so fueling stations. This relative lack of fueling facilities is the chief reason why the Mirai is only sold in California with other states missing out on Mirai sales.
At the end of the day the biggest question here is whether the Mirai is a solid long term value. With a base MSRP approaching $60,000, it puts the Mirai in a price point that is usually reserved for luxury vehicles and performance oriented vehicles. However, they cannot match the whisper quiet ride and the fuel savings that serve as the Mirai’s strong suits. Unlike conventional electric vehicles, the Mirai’s running costs are about the same as that of a conventional electric car, which eliminates the ability to recoup the higher costs over time.
Despite this, the Mirai still has a unique level of appeal, and caters to a segment of the market that craves a vehicle that is cutting edge, while still delivering the exceptional fuel economy that makes it stand out in the green car segment. It will be several decades before the rest of the world makes the switch from fossil fuels to renewable fuel sources, but the Mirai does provide a compelling glimpse into this future, and could serve as a figurative first step towards the realization of this goal.