Driving the 2021 Toyota Mirai: A Lovely, but Lonely, Push for Hydrogen

Driving the 2021 Toyota Mirai: A Lovely, but Lonely, Push for Hydrogen

Fuel-Cell Tech Is Neat, Yes. But Convenient? No.

  • The 2021 Mirai has been completely redesigned
  • Maximum range increased by 30% to 402 miles
  • Built on the same rear-wheel-drive platform as the Lexus LS
  • Kicks off the second Mirai generation

What is the Mirai?

If you believe that there are multiple timelines and in each there exists an alternative universe to this one, then perhaps in one of those timelines, using hydrogen to power an electric battery is as commonplace as gasoline engines are here. For us, the 2021 Toyota Mirai is sci-fi stuff — a car that uses compressed hydrogen gas to create electricity and power an electric motor, emitting only water as you drive quietly to your destination. It feels like an escapee from one of those alternate universes, where hydrogen stations are commonplace and the landscapes are well-watered by automotive emissions.

While the first-generation Mirai was an interesting — albeit quirky-looking — front-wheel-drive sedan, the redesigned Mirai features rear-drive underpinnings and a stylish new exterior. It's longer and wider than its predecessor, and maximum range is increased by roughly 30%. The cabin undergoes a thorough rethink as well, with luxurious materials throughout and (finally) seating for five.

It's lonely, though, to be outside your timeline. The Mirai, along with the Honda Clarity and Hyundai Nexo, can only be fueled at hydrogen fueling stations, which are currently few and far between. At the time of writing, there are just 43 public stations in California and one in Oahu, Hawaii. Unless the three automakers can lobby operators to increase the number of accessible fueling stations, the Mirai's universe, even with its 400-mile range, is a rather small one.

How does the Mirai drive?

The Mirai may have a lab's worth of chemistry under its hood, but it doesn't drive like an experiment. Since the wheels are driven by an electric motor, the Mirai feels like any other EV. Hitting the accelerator delivers immediate and adequate forward momentum, but nothing that's going to put a dent in the faux leather headrest. There's also no noticeable transition from when the battery power gives way to fuel-cell cruising. It's just smooth sailing on seas of your own H2O. There's not enough regenerative braking after throttle liftoff for one-pedal driving, but the brake pedal feels natural in operation.

With the fuel cell upfront and the electric motor and fuel tank in the rear, Toyota was able to get a near 50-50 weight distribution. This balanced weight distribution — along with the Lexus LS-based underpinnings — makes the Mirai feel stable and nimble around corners and at speed. Steering, on the other hand, is light as angel food cake, which is more preferable in baking than driving. Even in the Sport setting, which Toyota says tightens steering and sharpens acceleration, the Mirai remains smooth but not quite sporty.

How comfortable is the Mirai?

The switch to the RWD platform didn't just make more room for the drivetrain. The new Mirai's cabin is larger than the previous generation, allowing for roomier seats and an airier cabin. The thrones themselves are softly padded and heated on the XLE trim. You'll have to step up to the Limited if you want them cooled as well.

The Mirai's ride is nearly silent, with just the whir of its pedestrian warning sounds and clicks and hisses of electronics behind the dash to keep you company. Oh, there's also the annoying beep of the speed limit monitor included in the Road Sign Assist driving aid. You're going to want to turn that one off. 

How's the Mirai's interior?

Step into the Mirai's cabin, and you'll first notice the sculptural dash and horizontal 12.3-inch touchscreen. The dash kicks up at the edges like a pair of cat's eye sunglasses, while the center stack runs a ribbon of Toyota's SofTex synthetic leather down the console. Almost every touchable surface that isn't a control panel is covered in SofTex, and the material lives up to its name with a texture so smooth you'll be asking the steering wheel for its skin-care routine.

The front seats are a good mix of supportive and cushioned without morphing into overstuffed blobs, and the back seats have shaped bolsters and a reasonable amount of legroom. The Mirai now seats five, but nobody's going to volunteer for the middle seat.

How's the Mirai's tech?

The Mirai comes with a solid list of tech features, starting with an 8-inch LCD digital gauge cluster and the aforementioned central touchscreen. The latter features Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, and we can attest that the standard 14-speaker JBL stereo system can drown out all of the Mirai's electric whirs. Fuel usage can be tracked in the instrument panel or on the touchscreen, but amusingly, the embedded navigation system only lists gas stations, not hydrogen filling options.

Safety and driver assistance options abound, from a very good multi-view camera to Toyota's newest suite of safety features. Dubbed Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, the system now features pedestrian detection, which recognizes bicyclists and foot traffic in addition to four-wheeled traffic. Adaptive cruise control must be engaged above 30 mph but can bring the car down to a full stop and resume from one. It also recognizes the turn signal and can adjust speed to aid in passing and changing lanes.

One note on the Mirai's tech interface. It is easy to find the menu for the various safety-enhancing features — it's just a few clicks over in the main gauge cluster menu — but you do need to know Toyota's acronyms for the various features or you'll never be quite sure what you just engaged or disengaged. A picture symbol for lane centering assist next to "LTA" would not be unwelcome here, Toyota.

How's the Mirai's storage?

For a big car, the Mirai has a tiny trunk. This is partially because of the placement of the electric motor and fuel storage tank, and partially because of the thick rear decklid to protect said fuel storage tank. The end result is a trunk that measures 9.6 cubic feet and a small opening to get to it. Interior storage doesn't add much to that. The center console can hold a phone or two and a wallet, and there are the usual cupholders and map pockets, but you're not going to be hauling much home from the local DIY store in the Mirai.

How economical is the Mirai?

Ah, now we get to the troubles and the temptations of the Mirai. First off, while the 2021 Mirai costs less than the outgoing model, it's still nearly double the cost of a Prius, and hydrogen — if you can find a working station — is expensive. During our long-term test of a 2016 Toyota Mirai, we calculated that it cost four times more per mile than our long-term 2016 Toyota Prius. Toyota currently helps defray this cost by providing new owners or lessees a card good for three years of free hydrogen up to a maximum of $15,000, and this program will continue for the 2021 Mirai as well. It's still not a budget move, but the Mirai exists as encouragement for other manufacturers and city planners to invest in the infrastructure for hydrogen. It's a car you buy as a statement of belief, not for the most logical dollar-per-mile outlay.

What are the Mirai's trim levels?

The previous-generation Mirai came in only one trim level, but for 2021, you can get the Mirai in XLE and Limited forms.

XLE

Feature highlights include:

  • 19-inch alloy wheels
  • LED headlights
  • Heated mirrors
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Auto-dimming rearview mirror
  • Eight-way power driver's seat and four-way power passenger seat
  • Heated front seats
  • Imitation leather upholstery
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • 12.3-inch touchscreen
  • Navigation system
  • 14-speaker JBL audio system
  • Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa connectivity
  • Wi-Fi hotspot

Every Mirai comes with a suite of advanced safety features. These include:

  • Forward collision mitigation (warns you of an impending collision and applies the brakes in certain scenarios)
  • Lane departure mitigation (warns you of a lane departure when a turn signal isn't used and can automatically steer to maintain lane position)
  • Lane keeping system (makes minor steering corrections to help keep the vehicle centered in its lane)
  • Adaptive cruise control (maintains a driver-set distance between the Toyota and the car in front)
  • Blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert (warns you if a vehicle is in your blind spot during a lane change or while reversing)

The optional Advanced Technology package adds:

  • Parking sensors (alert you to obstacles that may not be visible behind or in front of the vehicle when parking)
  • 360-degree camera system (gives you a top-down view of the Mirai and its surroundings for tight parking situations)

Limited

Builds on top of XLE features with:

  • Advanced Technology package
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • Automatic wipers
  • Power-adjustable steering wheel
  • Three-zone automatic climate control
  • Digital rearview mirror
  • Eight-way power passenger seat
  • Heated and ventilated front and rear seats
  • Rear touchscreen control panel
  • Ambient lighting
  • Rear sunshades
  • Automated parking system (steers into a parking spot with little or no driver intervention)

The sole option for the Mirai Limited is a set of 20-inch wheels.

Edmunds says

The 2021 Toyota Mirai is an electric car for a small audience. Stations that supply its hydrogen fuel are limited in number and largely unavailable outside of California's urban centers. But the redesigned car is pleasant and attractive, and its green cred is untouchable. Plus, you get to thumb your nose at Tesla drivers having to plug in and wait for their cars to charge.