Driving is believing, the saying goes. And at first, we almost couldn’t believe it: this Mirai just drives as smoothly and zestfully as an electric car. Which, actually, it is. Only, it does not take its electricity from batteries, but from a fuel cell. That is indeed, the major difference. This means, that you can refuel it in minutes, and then drive for another 340 kilometers or so. Just like an ordinary petrol engined car. Only it emits water, and nothing else.
Driving it was a refined and thoroughly enjoyable experience, just read on…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
“zen” driving…in utmost luxury
Slipping behind the wheel seems quite familiar for anyone who has driven a Prius. One finds the same handy gearlever, the same starting knob, the same dashboard layout. It puts itself ever so silently in motion. The electric motor is completely inaudible, progress is silky smooth. Toyota zen, all over one again.
We thought at a frosty morning that there would be any starting delay for the fuel cell. We had none of it. Within seconds, the system starts up, without any whirrs or other noises. Off you go. In your futuristically styled Mirai. The centre console is beautifully uncluttered. With soft touch digital temperature control, your fingers lightly brush over it to set the right cosy temperature. You heat up the steering wheel rim and the seats. And you enjoy the silent progress.
You can choose “eco” or “sport” modes, according to your mood. We left it at “eco” most of the time. The system develops more than enough pulling power for any situation. And we only had to enjoy the well balanced suspension, the light, responsive, direct electronically powered steering.
The airiness of the cabin, the seating comfort of the well shaped seats, all this adds to the overwhelming feeling of well being. If this is the future, well, then it certainly looks bright.
The SofTex®-trimmed two-stage heated front seats are 8-way power-adjustable, with 2-position memory function and power lumbar support; The front passenger seat is also 8-way power adjustable with power lumbar support.
The sound system adds a further touch of excellence. It is an Entune™ 3.04, Premium Audio with JBL® w/Clari-Fi,™ Dynamic Navigation and App Suite, — includes 11 speakers including subwoofer, amplifier. With this utterly silent drivetrain, music is to be enjoyed. And how. Nothing disturbs you. Just listen to all the finesses of the track “Too late now” by the Bill Charlap Trio on their Album “Notes from New York”, or, oh yes, la superba and unforgettable Maria Callas, when she sings “Casta Diva”… let yourself be moved, by the music and this clever car…
The low waistline makes also for an airy cabin, and the dashboard is futuristically and dramatically styled, just to bring you in this futuristic mood. Overall finish is certainly premium, and the bold styling and curves of this Mirai do the rest. The TFT Multi-Information Display (MID), shows trip performance score, fuel consumption history, average fuel economy, fuel economy history, fuel cell stack power level, Lane Departure Alert (LDA), clock settings, trip history.
There is enough room for four, and their luggage, with adequate 361 L of boot space.
The Mirai does not really invite you to throw it around corners, but will not protest unduly against some spirited driving when you should happen to be in a hurry. It takes frost ridden and potholed (urban) streets well in its stride, amply showing the “savoir faire” of a world class manufacturer when it comes to designing chassis platforms and suspensions.
The Mirai has the Star Safety System™ — and includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA) and Smart Stop Technology® (SST)
Of course, all the safety accessories like Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) and lane assist functions are there, as well as parking aids fore and aft, with quite naturally a rearview camera. There is also Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA). The same can be said for lighting, and indeed this Mirai has LED low- and high-beam headlights with Automatic High Beams (AHB) with auto on/off feature.
Refuelling is a breeze…
The main question you ask is how easy it is to refuel a hydrogen powered vehicle. It initially seems a bit daunting and mysterious, and the fact that in our country Belgium there is only ONE refuelling station, situated near the Zaventem airport, adds to the (futuristic) drama. We got the car with a nearly full tank, and a remaining autonomy of some 275 kilometers. Enough to take you through half the country and more, and soon enough, we could plan our trips so that every three or four days, we would have to go to the capital of Europe anyway, and this was then a good opportunity to refuel.
In the beginning it took a bit getting used to go through all the stages of the refuelling process, but everything is clearly and logically indicated. It was then simply a matter of following the step by step instructions given by the terminal screen, after you had put in your card.
We already had read in the manual that the tank pressure was 700 bar, so we selected the correct nozzle (the right one, see the photo above) to recharge at 700 bar pressure. Just put in firmly the refuelling nozzle into the tank receptacle, squeeze the handgrip latch to lock the nozzle into place.
The pump will not start until the nozzle is properly engaged, preventing any hydrogen from leaking. Press the green start button at the terminal. The screen indicates then that refuelling is started.
Wait until the terminal screen indicates that the refuelling is completed, unlock the handle, disconnect the nozzle and put it back in its holder. Then pull the cover again over the receptacle of the car tank, close the tank cover and you are done.
The available range indicated on the dashboard on a full tank was a good 340 kilometres, but as the system bases its calculation on the historic average consumptions by previous (enthusiastic?) test drivers, it is only to be expected that this is somewhat shorter than the 550 km range proudly indicated on the sides of our test car.
As the Mirai emits water, which it normally releases on the road while driving, you can also empty the water tank by pressing a button on the dashboard, for instance when entering your garage at the end of the trip, and want to avoid that it drips on the garage floor.
The Mirai is an utterly enjoyable, totally “mature” and practical car, which lets you drive into the future with ease and confidence. It is now totally a matter of availability of infrastructure, price of hydrogen. A lot has to be done here still, but formidable possibilities will unfold, rather sooner than later, it seems. We recently read that for instance that Australian researchers found a way to turn Australian-made hydrogen into ammonia, meaning it could be shipped safely to the mass market of Asia. Researchers have developed a unique membrane technology which allows to extract again easily pure hydrogen from ammonia. A brave new world unfolds!
Hans Knol ten Bensel