Nice car, if you can power it

toyota mirai full overview

Most of the updates to our long-term fuel cell-powered Toyota Mirai have been devoted in part (or all) to complaining about the unreliability of the nascent hydrogen refueling infrastructure, and that’s not really isn’t fair to the self. That said, to be fair to us, the Mirai didn’t give us much to complain about, at least those of us under 6 feet tall.

The reason we don’t talk about the car much is that we can only find so many ways to say the Mirai is comfortable and lovely. Forget the new fuel cell drive system for a moment: if we paid $52,000 for a car that costs us like the Mirai does, we’d say we got what we paid for.

How much Toyota, how much Lexus?

Credit for the Toyota’s classy personality has to be shared. Some opt for the electric transmission of the Mirai. If you’ve never driven an electric car (although the Mirai uses hydrogen, this hydrogen is converted into electricity to power the electric motors), you have to try one: there are no vibrations or jerks of the neck when the transmission changes gears (because there are no gears to swap). Aside from its pedestrian horn and a faint whine from the gear train, the Mirai accelerates (quickly) in near silence.

Attributing this quietness solely to the Mirai’s electric drivetrain isn’t fair to Toytoa’s engineers, as not all EVs are equally quiet. One of the advantages of an internal combustion engine – for those who design cars, that is – is that the roar of the engine masks a lot of background noise. Drive, say, Porsche’s Taycan, and you might be startled by the force of the wind and road noises, since there’s no engine to drown them out. Toyota has done a really good job here; the Mirai rolls down the road with Lexus-like levels of refinement.

We imagine that’s the second reason the Mirai is so sleek: it’s based on the same TNGA-L (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform as Lexus’ flagship, the LS. This completely blows our minds, because mechanically the LS and the Mirai have about as much in common as a donut factory and a county fair. (Nevertheless, we can make the connections if we really try; both are set up for the main rear wheel drive, and both need space for components – driveshaft/exhaust or hydrogen tanks – which flow down the spine of the car.)

We said from the start that the Mirai has a Lexus-like feel and handling, and with the Mirai’s steward having spent a lot of time with sister publication CarLexus LS500 in the long term, the family resemblance is obvious. The Mirai has the same solid, big-car feel, and its SofTex leatherette upholstery does a decent imitation of authentic Lexus skins. (We haven’t confirmed this, but we imagine SofTex is much the same as Lexus’ NuLuxe.)

Shorter Mirai Drivers are Mirai Happer Drivers

Typically, at this point in most of our long-term testing, we’ve mustered a litany of complaints, but not for the Mirai. Several of our 6-foot-plus friends creaked and groaned as they entered, even though the Mirai’s roofline is no lower than the Lexus LS’s. (Maybe they just spent too much time in SUVs.)

The problem is the bulky hydrogen tanks, which clutter the interior in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. One of the three fuel tanks runs down the center of the car, which explains the generously wide center console; occupant legroom is tighter than you’d expect for a car of this size. The rear seat has a hydrogen tank underneath and the hybrid-style buffer battery behind it, tightening it towards the front row. The effective result is that there’s less room inside the Mirai than you’d expect given its exterior dimensions, but the shorter employees aren’t complaining.

The Mirai’s third hydrogen tank is under the trunk, which limits luggage space (as does the lack of a folding seatback – as mentioned above, the battery gets in the way). However, that hasn’t been a problem; given the Mirai’s limited range and the fact that nearly all gas stations are clustered around three California cities, it’s hardly a car you would regularly pack for the Great American Road Trip. So far, the 9.6 cubic foot trunk has proven enough to haul suitcases through the airport as well as move a young aunt and a closet full of clothes from Orange County to Thousand Oaks.

In terms of quality, we had no issues, other than a set of wiper blades that needed replacing (which we blame the scorching summers in the San Fernando Valley for). Otherwise, we have nothing – the Mirai is as reliable as we’d expect a Toyota to be.

845 miles of range?

Range remains our only outstanding issue. We were kind of puzzled to hear about a Mirai here in SoCal going 845 miles on a single fill-up, until we read that hypermiling star Wayne Gerdes was behind the wheel. We know Gerdes, and there’s no fuel economy trick he doesn’t know – he could coax a Kenworth up to 40mpg. 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 the low to mid-70s.

So far, this does not happen to us. We keep tabs on our mpg-e numbers (for which we rely on the car’s on-board computer; hydrogen is delivered in kilograms, and there’s no way to check if the tank is full board, which makes calculations difficult), and the Mirai offers its best economy in slow but steady traffic. Under these conditions, we saw mpg-e numbers well into the 80s and sometimes even into the 90s with little effort on our part.

Mirai range in real world driving

Even though we live 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 highways 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 gives mpg-e in the low to mid-60s. car. The numbers are improving a bit recently; maybe the car is breaking in, or maybe we’re unconsciously slowing down after our recent fueling difficulties, but we’re still seeing 320-360 miles per tank, with a high of 369. Even leaving a few miles reserve when the range hits 0, we’re nowhere near 402. On the plus side, our back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that the issues are more related to the actual economy of the Mirai rather than less than full- UPS.

Speaking of hydrogen fueling stations, we’re seeing some improvements: several of the stations we use have more inventory, making them less likely to run out of fuel, and reliability seems to have improved, or at least up to to just before. we filed this report; last weekend all but one of the stations in the valley were down at the same time. We rushed to the True Zero station in Mission Hills and found three cars using its four pumps, with the fourth pump taking a brief wait. Circumstances weren’t ideal – it took two tries to fill the car, the second try after giving the station a five-minute rest – but the station handled the overload better than others we’ve seen. We were also pleased to see that a new station had 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 love the car and the biggest problem we’ve had is refueling, we can’t help but wonder what the Mirai would look like if it were powered by batteries. With easy home charging – and probably a bit more interior space due to the batteries being more flexible in packaging – we’d have next to nothing to complain about. We’re more than halfway through our long-term trial, and the Mirai has yet to convince us of hydrogen’s viability (although we remain optimistic and open to a change of heart). But it convinced us that Toyota can build a solid electric car. As long as the hydrogen continues to flow, we will continue to enjoy our Mirai.

This seems good! More details?