- FuelCellsWorks Puts a supersonic red 2021 Mirai Limited fuel cell sedan to the test
Overview: The 2021 Mirai has all of the maturity that a car buyer could hope for in the second generation of a vehicle that is helping to bring about the zero-emissions revolution.
Toyota clearly has taken to heart a lot of the feedback it received from vehicle owners of its first iteration of the Mirai, while maintaining its historic commitment to efficiency, reliability, and safety. The result is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCEV) worthy of Toyota’s technical genius and further proof that FCEVs are ready for primetime.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells Explained
The Mirai remains in the vanguard of light duty FCEVs. Unlike battery electric vehicles (BEVs) the Mirai gets its energy from hydrogen, and unlike fossil fuel extraction which is limited to some parts of the world hydrogen can be created almost anywhere. Hydrogen can be extracted from algae, landfills, high temperature plasma chambers, or even water just to name a few sources. This makes it an energy source that offers the nations of this world energy independence from fossil fuels, and it provides an easily accessible path to achieving a zero emissions economy globally. When the Mirai is turned on, the hydrogen goes from its holding tanks into the fuel cell stack where its electrons are peeled off and sent to power an electric motor; meanwhile the protons pass through a membrane to the other side of the fuel cell stack. On the other side of the stack, the electrons meet up with their long-lost protons and, through simple physics, also combine with lonely oxygen atoms to produce water vapor.
Perhaps the greatest visible improvement of the 2021 Mirai is to be found in its complete exterior makeover. Gone is the angular appearance of the first generation Mirai. The 2021 Mirai has been sculpted to reduce wind drag which also gives it a softer aerodynamic appearance than the previous generation. It is also about three inches longer and wider than the first generation Mirai.
The 2021 Mirai comes in two trims, the XLE and Limited. Where the fuel cell stack, power output (128kW), number of storage tanks (3 vs 2 in the 2020 Mirai), and other technical aspects are concerned, both trims are identical. While the 2020 Mirai had four seats the 2021 has five seats. Aside from the XLE weighing 80lbs less than the Limited trim, thereby offering a greater driving range, the primary difference between the XLE and Limited is found in minor creature comforts such as the Limited’s heads-up display (HUD), three climate zones, and rear seat sunshades. With a package upgrade to the XLE one can receive front and rear parking assist and the “bird’s eye view” system, at which point the two trims are identical where safety features are concerned. The bird’s eye view system uses four cameras to create a picture of the Mirai and its surroundings and then displays that on the 12.3 LCD screen. Toyota also includes 24 months of Toyota Care, plus six years of free fuel when a Mirai is purchased.
Fuel Cells Works was given a supersonic red 2021 Mirai Limited for review and it proved to be a wonderful vehicle to look at and to drive. Eager to see what it could do, I took it for a drive in curvaceous and hilly Mendocino County. It coped with curves beautifully and went up hills with minimal effort. The car weighs a bit over 4,000lbs and with its 20-inch tires it was able to provide a driving experience that was not only comfortable but thoroughly enjoyable. Even going uphill, the Mirai operated silently. When no fossil fuel-based vehicles were near me, I was able to immensely enjoy the quiet operation of the fuel cell stack and the air as the Mirai passed through it. Even driving a BEV does not quite compare to the Mirai in that regard. The Mirai’s rated 0-60MPH speed of 9.2 second is accurate. My best time was 8.56 seconds and my worst was 9.65 seconds. I was also able to average between city and highway driving 70 miles per kilogram, which is in-line with Toyota’s rating of 65 MPGe. The one curiosity on the whole drive was that 90% of the time going down a hill the regenerative braking would kick in to recharge the battery, but in the remaining 10% of the time the regenerative braking would take a break. During those times I found it necessary to apply the traditional brakes in order to be a law-abiding citizen; otherwise, the Mirai was quite happy to easily pickup tremendous amounts of speed. While the first generation Mirai tended to feel a little sluggish, the 2021 Mirai feels wholly its own FCEV with a maturity that instills in a driver a reassuring sense of capability and safety.
Perhaps one of the best parts of the Mirai, and FCEVs in general, is raising up the hood. In Ukiah, California I assembled a group of intelligent and well-educated locals, and showed them the Mirai’s fuel cell stack. Their facial expressions and subsequent words spoke solely of amazement mingled with admiration. Partly this is because so few people on this planet have seen a fuel cell stack first-hand, but also because fuel cell stacks are true engineering achievements. Whereas most people have seen an internal combustion engine which is dirty, noisy, and fills up the front of a vehicle, a fuel cell stack is clean, slender, and very easy on the eyes. Everyone in the group gave the Mirai top marks where technology and overall build quality are concerned, but lamented that the backseat and trunk space is not as spacious as what ought to be found in a four-door sedan.
Beyond the limited cabin space, another area that could use some improvement is in the driver vehicle interface. In that regard it would help to borrow from the Prius Prime playbook even if not everyone is happy with touchscreen controls. With the Prius Prime Advanced a person selects 99% of options from the large center screen. This makes it easy to see the map and things like climate control and audio options, but in the Mirai the control buttons and its 12.3in screen placed on the upper dashboard feel disjoined instead of forming a uniform user interface. While vital information like speed, fuel level, and milage in the Mirai are displayed on the same screen, the size of that screen is inadequate for easy consumption. Thankfully, the 12.3in screen is bright, highly responsive, and offers functionality similar to that of a smartphone. Hopefully the 2022 Mirai will get some minor adjustments to greatly improve the driver interface.
The most important aspect of the Mirai is the one noted towards the beginning of this review: the only emission the Mirai produces is water, which does no harm to the environment. BEVs are going to be part of reaching a zero emission future simply because they are a reasonable choice for people whose vehicle mobility needs are limited, such as someone who drives a grand total of 5 miles a week. However, for the vast majority of people FCEVs are by far the superior option to traditional internal combustion (IC) and BEVs. The fueling stations for FCEVs can typically be found at current Shell stations and other locations where people have been filling up for years, which means it is not necessary to memorize new locations as so often happens with BEVs. (While I was filling up the review Mirai, a Mirai owner pulled up to the fuel pump on the other side and made the observation that hydrogen fueling should be everywhere since gas stations are everywhere.) FCEVs also have a similar fueling time and fueling manner to IC vehicles. In other words, with FCEVs a person can maintain her or his current life style. The only real change is that with hydrogen vehicles only emitting water vapor, that not only means zero emissions but also no more oil changes or smog checks. FCEVs drive, feel, and look like traditional vehicles but they produce no harmful emissions at all, and unlike BEVs they do not require excessive recharge times.
The 2021 Mirai is a testament to the superb engineering design of Toyota vehicles being efficient, reliable, and safe. However, it has the two additional major benefits of being very quiet while offering a genuinely enjoyable zero emission experience each and every time a person gets into one. With that combination of features Toyota offers a clear and fully viable path to mass market adoption of zero emission vehicles and a regenerative world thanks to hydrogen fuel cell technology and Toyota’s ongoing pursuit of perfection.
Fuel cell zero emissions
Life time supply of no oil changes or smog checks
Free fuel for the first six years when purchased and three for the first three years when leased.
Not a drain on the energy grid
70 miles per kg of driving (real world)
About $12K in combined rebates and tax credits
Room For Improvement:
Heavy at over 4,000lbs
Limited back seat and trunk space
Complex driver vehicle control systems
Not as aerodynamic as other Toyota vehicles
MSRP: $49,500 – $66,000
Range: XLE 402 miles, Limited 357 miles
Fuel Cell Maximum Power: 128kW
Horse power: 182
Main Display: 12.3in touch screen
6 years or $15,000 in free fuel (whichever comes first)
Model reviewed is the 2021 Mirai Limited United States release. Mirai’s available for sale in other countries may vary from the above.
Jesse Lyon, Contributor
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Fuel Cells Works, its directors, partners, staff, contributors, or suppliers. Any content provided by our contributors or authors are of their own opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.