Toyota Mirai

Toyota’s latest version of its hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle Mirai resembles a Lexus, as far as exterior styling goes.

Toyota has staked a chunk of its money, reputation and market share on a different kind of electric vehicle. It’s a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle named Mirai – the Japanese word for “future.”

Just more than six years ago, sales of the first-generation Mirai began in California – the only state in the union where you can buy one.

Now, we have a second-generation Mirai, and it’s clear Toyota has rethought the whole thing. The 2021 Mirai draws its exterior styling and road manners from Lexus. This Mirai is a midsize sedan that has an undeniable presence.

The interior, especially in the top-trim Limited we tested, is also decidedly upscale. You could swap out the Toyota badges for Lexus and I doubt anyone would question it.

The Mirai has 182 horsepower and 221 pounds-per-foot of torque. Getting from 0-60 mph should take about 7.5 seconds.

Strictly speaking, the 2021 Toyota Mirai is EV. It’s just that instead of plugging it in, you fill it with liquid hydrogen gas. It goes through a catalyst that strips electrons from the hydrogen molecules, and those electrons power the car. The only emission from the tailpipe is water vapor. Filling the tank with hydrogen takes about the same amount of time it takes to fill a gasoline-powered car’s fuel tank – five minutes or so – compared with an EV’s 40 minutes or more to get 80% charge from a DC fast-charging station.

All of which is great, except for infrastructure. There are only 42 places in the entire state where you can refuel a hydrogen car, with another 15 on the drawing board.

Not only is 42 of anything not enough in a state of 40 million people, 42 is not enough to adequately cover a state that is 840 miles from north to south. So far, hydrogen refueling stations are mostly clustered in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Chancy proposition

Most of the time, a hydrogen refueling station is not like a gas station with eight or more pumps from which to choose. In most cases, it is a gas station with just two pumps set aside for hydrogen. That can result in long lines when there’s hydrogen. And sometimes there’s not hydrogen. I asked that my week in the Mirai be delayed because of a hydrogen shortage last summer that made finding refueling stations in operation a chancy proposition.

Even with rescheduling, on the afternoon the Mirai was delivered, the Alt Fuel app showed only one of three refueling stations in my area were online. So, the delivery driver refueled there. That meant the car used 27 miles of its range to get to my house. It was showing 217 miles of range, a shockingly low number, given that Toyota claims up to 367 miles for the Mirai Limited (the somewhat lighter base Mirai is capable of up to 402 miles, according to Toyota).

After a 25-mile drive to the day job, it was showing 192 miles. I used the app and found that both pumps at the refueling station on the way home were back online. Six minutes later, I arrived at the station to find only one of the pumps actually working. It wasn’t in use. If it had been, there would have been a wait. In fact, while I was fueling, a driver in a first-generation Mirai arrived and had to wait for me to finish.

I’ll admit to ignorance. I had no idea that night what a kilogram of hydrogen was equivalent to in terms of gallons of gasoline or recoverable range. I just swiped my credit card, connected the high-pressure nozzle to the tank and pressed the green button.

The total tab: $23.87. I regained 60 miles of range.

Now, if I were in a gasoline-powered car that got mediocre mileage – say, 20 mpg – that would be 3 gallons of gas. And even at the prevailing price today of $4 a gallon, I’d have paid $12. So, hydrogen cost me double.

Normally, I’ll drive a car until there’s a quarter of a tank left, then refuel. Doing that in the Mirai would cost me $82.50 at $16.45/kg. Yikes. Now, this is something a Mirai buyer won’t have to worry about for a while. Toyota gives every new Mirai buyer $15,000 worth or six years (whichever comes first) of free hydrogen fill-ups. For leases, it’s $15,000 worth or three years. The test vehicle, belonging to Toyota, didn’t come with a card to tap into an account like that, and that’s fine. I’m not complaining about the price. I’m trying to figure out why it bought so little.

At 367 miles on a full tank of hydrogen instead of 252, the range regained for the price paid would have been a better equation. Could the Mirai have been driven hard before it got to me, causing the trip computer to base an estimate on more of the same and the resulting terrible efficiency? Who knows?

But that doesn’t really make sense, either. Toyota cites an Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 67 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) city and 64 MPGe highway, and my trip summary that night showed an average of 62. That isn’t far off enough to explain a 115-mile range discrepancy on a full tank of hydrogen.

The 2021 Toyota Mirai Limited is a beautiful car with cool technology that drives nicely. I like it a lot. I want to love it – even at an as-tested price of $68,540. But between a limited infrastructure and an unpredictable driving experience in terms of range, to say nothing of uncertain hydrogen availability nearby at any given time, it’s just too hard being this type of green.

Mike Hagerty, vice president of membership for Western Automotive Journalists (waj.org), has been writing about cars since 1997. Read more of his reviews on his website (MikeHagertyCars.com) and follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/mikehagertycars) and Facebook (facebook.com/mikehagertywritesaboutcars).

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