What Did We Get?
With sales starting late last year, the 2016 Toyota Mirai qualifies as the first fuel cell hybrid electric vehicle (FCHEV) available for public sale in North America. That's a big deal. The technology has been simmering in the background for a couple of decades, but Toyota has now reached the point where it feels comfortable selling it outright.
Similar progress has been made on the refueling side. There's now a small but growing number of retail hydrogen filling stations in the more populated parts of California.
A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is powered by an electric motor, but it does not replenish its on-board battery by plugging it into an electrical outlet. Instead, a device in the car called a fuel cell creates electricity. It does it by fostering a chemical reaction between compressed hydrogen gas stored in onboard tanks and oxygen from the surrounding air. The only emission is pure water.
Functionally, a FCHEV like the Mirai drives with the same punchy low-end torque and quiet smoothness of a traditional battery-only electric vehicle. But hydrogen fuel cell vehicles enjoy a couple of practical advantages. When it comes to refueling time and driving range, a fuel cell car is comparable to an ordinary gasoline car. It takes just five minutes to fill the Mirai's reinforced carbon-fiber tanks with nearly 5 kilograms of hydrogen. The EPA says that's enough to allow the Mirai to travel 312 miles, which is farther than any current electric vehicle on the market.
What Options Does It Have?
Configuring a 2016 Toyota Mirai is easy. It's offered in just one trim level, and everything comes standard. Ours carried a sticker price of $58,335.
There are incentives, of course. Toyota offers $7,500 in "Trailblazer Purchase Support," the federal government offers an $8,000 tax credit and the state of California offers a $5,000 rebate. All of that adds up to $20,500. Toyota loaned us this Mirai, so we didn't have to do all the paperwork.
But that's not all. The Mirai is allowed into carpool lanes, and the first three years of hydrogen fuel are complimentary. The Mirai is starting to look a lot more attractive now, isn't it?
For that you get a well-appointed front-wheel-drive sedan that feels like a Toyota Avalon, only slightly narrower. The seats are leather, but hidden fuel cell system components limit the backseat to a pair of buckets and a center console. Toyota's top-level Entune system with navigation is standard and there's dual-zone automatic climate control, too. Safety goodies such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are also part of the package.
Why We Got It
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been pitched as the next big thing for decades now. Toyota certainly thinks so, but Elon Musk calls them "fool cells." Until now we haven't really had the chance to see who's right in this debate. The Mirai changes all that.
We're fully aware that it's still early days. After all, the number of publicly available stations has only recently crossed into double-digits, and Mirai sales are strictly limited to buyers who live and work in the areas of California those stations serve. But new hydrogen stations are starting to pop up with regularity, and this should quickly expand the car's practicality and radius of operation.
In the meantime, we're going to treat our Mirai like any other car in the fleet. We'll commute in it daily, run errands on the weekends and take the occasional road trip when possible. If fuel cells really are the next big thing, we'll get our first taste of the future. Or maybe we'll prove Elon Musk right. Only time will tell.
Follow the Mirai's progress on our long-term road test page for our latest thoughts and impressions of this truly unique machine.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.