Quick Drive: Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Feels Like the Future
Toyota Mirai, the first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to go on sale in the U.S., had something of an East Coast coming-out party at NYIAS 2016. On Day Two of the event, Mirai nabbed the World Green Car award, edging the new Prius which placed second and Chevy Volt, which notched a distant third. Meanwhile, Toyota has two test cars available to journalists at the event, and we took a quick drive in the car that indeed feels like the future.
Mirai’s dimensions will be familiar to U.S. consumers because it’s just a shade (1.5 inches) longer than a Camry while sharing the same size wheelbase and width to a few tenths of an inch. Getting inside the car, we felt comfortable and had the room to get situated. The car’s interior has a premium feeling, which, for a model retailing at $57,500 pre-incentives, is something of a mandatory requirement. SofTex does some of the heavy lifting here.
Though actually a synthetic material, SofTex has the environmental benefits and leather feel you expect in a car with its MSRP — even if incentives knock down the sticker well below $50,000. (In California, $13,000 can come off the listed price.) The control panel and display have the futuristic look seen inside the new Prius, and it was easy to get acclimated with cars buzzing around on a busy day outside New York City’s Javits Center.
Pulling into dense traffic, we got our first feel of the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, capable of 151 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration was smooth if not entirely confident, similar to the feel you get when a Camry Hybrid is in Eco mode. Unlike a battery electric vehicle, Mirai does not access the full torque quotient instantaneously.
Nonetheless, there was sufficient pickup when looping around to the West Side Highway and trudging our way through some midday NYC traffic. Mirai felt responsive during frequent lane switches and visibility was good while performing the various, tedious maneuvers of city driving. We did not get the thrill so addictive in BEV driving, but we did not get a chance to access the full torque, so we’ll reserve judgment on that front.
The quietness of the ride left a strong impression on us. Toyota has acoustic noise-reducing glass on the windshield, driver’s side, and passenger side windows, and we can attest to the effectiveness of the engineers’ efforts here. Our conversations with the helpful company rep went uninterrupted, allowing us to focus on the product and block out the noisy traffic.
Mirai’s biggest obstacle remains the lack of hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Even in California, where station production has been ramping up over the past few years, filling up hydrogen tanks remains a problem for early adopters. Maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t. From our first impression, it won’t be the fault of cars like the Toyota Mirai either way.