The 2021 Toyota Mirai is a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) and Toyota’s
newest flagship sedan. It won’t cost anything to refuel for about three years and the only emissions are water molecules. On top of that, it’s based on the same refined platform as the Lexus LS large luxury sedan. These are the considerable upsides.
Sadly, the new Mirai is only available in California and Hawaii right now. That’s because this car needs hydrogen to run and most of the few refueling stations are in the Golden State, with one on the island of Oahu.
“Mirai” means “future” in Japanese, a fitting name in light of the fact that hydrogen-fueled vehicles are considered the next step in personal transportation beyond hybrids and battery-powered cars. But plans to expand the supply infrastructure did not progress much in 2020. We could be looking at 2030 before there’s a decent network.
Even so, there are still 43 stations on the mainland. Some stretch from San Diego to Santa Barbara by way of Los Angeles, with a cluster in the Bay Area and a few in Sacramento.
At least paying for the hydrogen is taken care of for a while, since FCEV manufacturers throw in a generous amount of free fuel as part of the deal. And refueling only takes about five minutes. Compare that with a typical electric car powered by rechargeable batteries.
If this is anyone’s first foray into fuel cell vehicles, here’s a quick explanation. Hydrogen (stored in pressurized tanks) is fed into a fuel cell, where a chemical reaction creates electricity. This energy is stored in a battery, which powers an electric motor. There’s nothing to plug in. Everything happens under the hood.
At the other end of the fuel cell’s process, hydrogen and oxygen atoms hook up to become H2O, aka water, which is vented away out of the tailpipe. Driving a Mirai through a city center would actually leave cleaner air in its wake.
Hydrogen can be created domestically, using biofuels and/or electrolysis, adding to the Mirai’s overall sustainability. This new second generation of Mirai, which is a major improvement over the first generation, is also a fine illustration of Toyota’s strong commitment to fuel cell technology.
What’s new for 2021?
This is a completely fresh generation that debuts for 2021, so virtually everything has changed. Compared with the first generation, the new Mirai is more than 3 inches longer with a wheelbase that’s 5.5 inches longer. That brings benefits in ride quality. It’s also 2.7 inches wider and 2.5 inches lower. Naturally, the styling is also different, this time with more of a high-class Lexus look than its somewhat wacky predecessor.
Maximum range increases from 312 miles to 402. And although the 2021 Mirai has gained 172 pounds, overall weight distribution is an ideal 50:50. And the center of gravity is lower, making the car feel especially stable and balanced.
The new Mirai adopts a rear-wheel-drive configuration, as opposed to the previous model’s front-drive arrangement. Yes, that means a sportier driving feel, but a more practical upside is that Toyota could fit three hydrogen tanks (including one oriented lengthwise), contributing to the superior range.
Accommodation grows from four to five, although that extra seating spot is in the middle of the back seat. Trim levels grow from one to two. Perhaps the most crucial change is that the 2021 Mirai starts out substantially less expensive than before, by $9,050.
What we like
- No harmful emissions
- Best range for a production fuel cell vehicle
- Now more affordable than ever
- Generous standard equipment
- Smooth ride
- Arguably good-looking
What we don’t
- Limited availability
- Refueling stations still sparse
- Rear passenger space impacted by styling
$50,495 — $66,995
Keep in mind that California offers a Clean Vehicle Rebate up to $7,000. There are also federal tax credits up to $8,000. And Toyota includes $15,000-worth of hydrogen.
An AC synchronous electric motor develops 182 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. This goes solely to the rear wheels. The motor runs off a lithium-ion battery, which also stores energy harvested from braking.
Using methods followed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of working out miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), the 2021 Mirai is expected to achieve 76 MPGe in the city, 71 MPGe on the highway, and 74 MPGe in combined driving (XLE) or 67 MPGe city/64 MPGe highway/65 MPGe combined (Limited).
Maximum range is 402 miles for the XLE model or 357 miles for the better-equipped Limited trim.
Standard features and options
The 2021 Toyota Mirai FCEV comes in XLE and Limited trim levels.
XLE ($50,495) has 19-inch alloy wheels, black exterior paint, self-leveling LED headlights, LED daytime running lights/taillights, heated side mirrors, power windows/locks, keyless entry/start, heated/power-adjustable front seats (8-way for the driver, 4-way for the passenger), leather-wrapped steering wheel, black simulated leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-inch driver information display, selectable driving modes, self-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, Apple
CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, Amazon
Alexa compatibility, Wi-Fi, four USB ports, Bluetooth phone/audio streaming, Destination Assist (over-the-air directions), satellite radio, wireless charging, sound system with 14 JBL speakers, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, Active Cornering Assist, and all the driver assistance features that make up the Toyota Safety System 2.5+ package (see the Safety section below).
This trim is eligible for an Advanced Technology package ($1,410) that brings front/rear parking sensors with automatic emergency braking, top-view/curb-view/360-degree camera system, and illumination for the front footwells.
Limited ($66,995) comes standard with the contents of the Advanced Technology package, adding a fixed dual-panel moonroof with a powered shade, rain-sensing wipers, heated/ventilated front and rear seats, 8-way power-adjustability and memory settings for both front seats, power-adjustable steering column with memory settings, a head-up display, tri-zone automatic climate control, intelligent parking assistance, digital rearview mirror, ambient cabin lighting, Active Sound Control, powered rear window shade, manual rear side window shades, and a rear touchscreen for seat heat/ventilation/climate/rear shade/audio controls.
Limited trim may also be ordered with chrome-finished 20-inch alloy wheels ($1,120). And the option of Hydro Blue premium paint is exclusive to this model.
Along with the usual 3-year/36,000-mile new-car warranty, Toyota also covers fuel cell components with an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty and the battery pack for 10 years/150,000 miles.
As well as all the mandatory safety features, including eight air bags, the new Mirai comes with Smart Stop Technology that allows the brakes to be the overriding factor if a driver inadvertently presses both pedals at the same time.
The Mirai is also one of the few new Toyotas to receive the latest set of standard driver assistance features, known collectively as Safety Sense 2.5+. This includes a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, lowlight pedestrian detection, daytime cyclist detection, and intersection assistance. Plus lane departure alert with active steering assistance, sway warning and road edge detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-tracing assistance (adjusts the steering to keep the car in the center of marked lanes), road sign recognition, and automatic high beams.
Active Cornering Assist applies subtle braking to the inside rear wheel, helping the Mirai tackle corners as effectively as possible. Intelligent Parking Assist is a self-parking feature. And the Digital Rearview Mirror can flip between a conventional mirror or show a clearer, wide-angle LCD view behind from a rear-facing camera. It can also brighten the image at night or lower glare.
Safety Connect — featuring roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, and stolen vehicle location — is another standard feature.
Behind the wheel
This might well be the first fuel cell electric vehicle for many drivers. But fear not, the learning curve is gentle. Press the Start button, select D, check surroundings, and move off. The almost eerie noise-free operation might seem odd at first, having come out of a car with an internal combustion engine, but drivers will soon appreciate such golden silence.
The fuel gauge still has a little pump symbol, meaning hydrogen here instead of gasoline. One new destination to learn is the nearest filling station.
The ride is calibrated for smoothness and refinement, although the low center of gravity enhances the Mirai’s stability through corners. But don’t confuse this with a sport sedan.
There isn’t enough speed for that, dawdling from standstill to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds. But a particular joy of electric motors is that there’s always some torque to call upon. So the Mirai can flex some muscle even on uphill stretches.
It’s at times like these in the Limited model where the driver might become aware of the Active Sound Control feature actually pumping some artificial powertrain noise into the cabin. But it sounds almost natural and certainly not obtrusive.
On downhill stretches, clicking the gear selector into the Br position engages regenerative braking. It feels a lot like engine braking in a regular car when it’s put into a lower gear. In the Mirai though, it feeds more energy into the battery. In everyday use, the brakes feel normal and provide some feedback. Driving modes of Eco, Normal, and Sport each make a noticeable difference.
The cabin has a high-quality vibe, reflecting the Lexus-like exterior styling. The black simulated leather upholstery is soft to the touch, and even covers the dashboard and door panels — enlivened slightly by gray stitching. Limited trim offers ivory stitching with copper accents. The black theme continues with piano-finish trim pieces.
That longitudinal hydrogen tank does create a large central tunnel. So it’s best to just use the rear armrest or keep the middle rear seat for younger and smaller family members. Not that there’s a ton of headroom for adult-size rear passengers in the outboard positions, despite a sculpted ceiling. And anyone over 6 feet tall may also wish the front seats had a little more travel.
There’s also a button issue in the 2021 Mirai. Finding the one to turn off the too-eager lane-keeping assistance feature takes some searching. Yet the multi-function steering wheel in the Limited model has no less than 20 buttons. There are no conventional knobs for the infotainment system’s volume and radio station selection, just up/down buttons.
Final gripe for what is still an excellent and interesting car. Trunk space measures 9.6 cubic feet. That’s pretty small and the rear seats are fixed. There’s still space for a couple of golf bags, but it could have been finished a little better, considering the Mirai’s price.
Other cars to consider
2021 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell— Available only on lease to California residents. This Honda’s
range is 360 miles. High-quality interior and $15,000-worth of hydrogen is part of the deal.
2021 Hyundai Nexo— A hydrogen-fueled compact crossover offered in California. Range is 380 miles. The Hyundai
Nexo starts at around $60,000, with $13,000-worth of fuel.
2021 Tesla Model 3 — An all-electric vehicle with rechargeable batteries. So not a direct Mirai rival, but a zero-emissions vehicle that’s also available in so many more places. Maximum range is 353 miles and the Tesla
Model 3 starts at around $40,000. Updated for 2021.
2021 Hyundai Kona Electric — Another all-electric vehicle, this time in subcompact crossover form and with a starting price in the region of $38,000. Range is 258 miles. This is a great little machine and is available on both coasts
Although this is the Mirai’s second generation, a fuel cell electric vehicle is still for early adopters because the patchy hydrogen supply infrastructure certainly doesn’t make life easy. Potential buyers should make sure that their everyday movements and perhaps a road trip or two will take them within reach of a hydrogen filling station.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.