2021 Toyota Mirai Yearlong Review Update: Nice Car, If You Can Fuel It
Most of the updates for our fuel-cell-powered long-term Toyota Mirai have been devoted in part (or in their entirety) to complaining about the lack of reliability in the fledgling hydrogen fueling infrastructure, and that really isn’t fair to the car. That said, to be fair to us, the Mirai hasn’t given us much to complain about—at least, those of us under 6 feet tall.
The reason we don’t talk much about the car is that we can only find so many ways to say the Mirai is comfy and lovely. Let’s forget about the novel fuel cell drive system for a moment: If we paid $52,000 for any car that cosseted us the way the Mirai does, we’d say we got our money’s worth.
How Much Toyota, How Much Lexus?
Credit for the Toyota’s posh personality must be split. Some goes for the Mirai’s electric drivetrain. If you’ve never driven an electric car (although the Mirai uses hydrogen, that hydrogen is converted into electricity to power electric motors), you must try one: There’s no vibration and no jerking of the neck as the transmission swaps speeds (because there are no speeds to swap). Aside from its sonorous pedestrian warning sound and a soft whine from the gear train, the Mirai accelerates (swiftly) in near silence.
To credit this tranquility solely to the Mirai’s electric drivetrain is not fair to Toytoa’s engineers, because not all EVs are this peaceful. One of the advantages of an internal combustion engine—for the people who design cars, that is—is that the thrum of the engine masks a lot of background noise. Drive, say, Porsche’s Taycan, and you might be surprised by how loud the wind and road noises seem, because there’s no engine to drown them out. Toyota has really done a good job here; the Mirai cruises down the road with Lexus-like levels of refinement.
We imagine that’s down to the second reason the Mirai feels so classy: It’s based on the same TNGA-L (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform as Lexus’ flagship, the LS. This completely blows our mind, because from a mechanical standpoint the LS and the Mirai have about as much in common as a donut factory and a county fair. (Still, we can make the connections if we really try; both are set up for primary drive to the rear wheels, and both need space for components—drive shaft/exhaust or hydrogen tanks—running down the spine of the car.)
We’ve said from the get-go that the Mirai has a Lexus-like feel and demeanor, and with the Mirai’s steward having spent plenty of time with sister publication Automobile‘s long-term Lexus LS500, the family resemblance is plain to see. The Mirai has that same solid, big-car feel, and its faux-leather SofTex upholstery does a decent imitation of the genuine hides in the Lexus. (We haven’t confirmed it, but we imagine SofTex is pretty much the same stuff as Lexus’ NuLuxe.)
Shorter Mirai Drivers Are Happer Mirai Drivers
Generally by this point in most of our long-term tests, we’ve assembled a litany of complaints, but not so for the Mirai. Several of our 6-foot-plus friends have griped and groaned when getting in, even though the Mirai’s roofline isn’t lower than the Lexus LS’. (Maybe they’ve just spent too much time in SUVs.)
The problem is the bulky hydrogen tanks, which crowd the interior in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. One of the three tanks runs down the center of the car, which explains the generously wide center console; occupant space at leg level is narrower than one might expect for a car this size. The back seat has a hydrogen tank beneath it and the hybrid-style buffer battery behind it, crowding it toward the front row. The effective outcome is there’s less room inside the Mirai than you’d expect given its external dimensions, but the shorter staffers aren’t complaining.
The Mirai’s third hydrogen tank is under the trunk, which limits luggage space (as does the lack of a folding seat back—as mentioned above, the battery is in the way). However, this hasn’t been an issue; given the Mirai’s limited range and the fact that nearly all the fuel stations are clustered around three cities in California, this is hardly a car one would regularly need to pack for the Great American Road Trip. So far the 9.6-cubic-foot trunk has proved adequate for taking suitcases to the airport as well as moving a maiden aunt and a closet-full of clothes from Orange County to Thousand Oaks.
Quality-wise we’ve seen no problems, aside from a set of wiper blades in need of replacement (for which we blame the blistering summers in the San Fernando Valley). Otherwise, we have nothin’—the Mirai is as reliable as we expect a Toyota to be.
845 Miles of Range?
Range remains our one outstanding issue. We were rather bemused to hear about a Mirai here in SoCal traveling 845 miles on a single fill, until we read that hypermiling star Wayne Gerdes was behind the wheel. We know Gerdes, and there isn’t a fuel economy trick he doesn’t know—he could coax a Kenworth up to 40 mpg. Gerdes and the Toyota team averaged 152 mpg-e (miles per gallon equivalent). We don’t necessarily need 800 miles of range, but we’d like to see 400, and to do that, we’d have to average in the low to mid-70s.
So far, that isn’t happening for us. We keep an eye on our mpg-e figures (for which we rely on the car’s trip computer; hydrogen is delivered in kilograms, and there’s no way to verify if the tank is filled to the brim, making the math difficult), and the Mirai delivers its best economy in slow but steadily moving traffic. Under these conditions, we’ve seen mpg-e numbers well into the 80s and sometimes even the low 90s with little effort on our part.
Mirai Range in Real-World Driving
Despite living in Los Angeles, we don’t spend all our time in traffic. We drive in the suburbs, with frequent starts and stops, steep hills, and freeway drives at 5 or 10 mph over the limit—in other words, the kind of driving people in population centers do all the time. Driving like we normally do yields an mpg-e in the low to mid-60s. We do a rough range estimate by adding the distance we drove on the last fill-up to the car’s indicated remaining range. The figures are looking a little better recently; perhaps the car is getting broken in, or perhaps we’re subconsciously slowing down after our recent fueling difficulties, but we’re still seeing 320 to 360 miles per tank, with a high of 369. Even allowing for a few miles’ reserve when the range hits 0, we’re a ways from 402. On the plus side, our back-of-the-envelope math indicates the issues are more to do with the Mirai’s real-world economy rather than less-than-full fill-ups.
Speaking of hydrogen fueling stations, we’re seeing some improvements: Several of the stations we use are carrying more inventory, making them less prone to running out of fuel, and reliability seems to have improved—or at least it did up until just before we filed this report; this past weekend, all but one of the stations in the Valley were on the fritz at once. We rushed up to the True Zero station in Mission Hills and found three cars using its four pumps, with the fourth pump taking a brief timeout. Circumstances weren’t ideal—it took two tries to get the car full, the second attempt after giving the station a five-minute rest—but the station did cope better with the overload than others we’ve seen. We were also excited to see a new station just opened about a mile from where the Mirai is domiciled—but the first time we went to use it, it was broken.
Considering how much we like the car and that the biggest issue we’ve had is with fueling, we can’t help but wonder what the Mirai might be like if it were powered by batteries. With easy home recharging—and presumably a bit more interior space due to the more flexible packaging of batteries—we’d have nearly nothing to complain about. We’re more than halfway through our long-term trial, and the Mirai has yet to sell us on the viability of hydrogen (though we remain optimistic and open to a change of opinion). But it has convinced us that Toyota can build a solid electric car. As long as the hydrogen keeps flowing, we will continue enjoying our Mirai.
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