2021 Toyota Mirai
- Around $70,000
- End of 2020
What to expect
- Sleek styling should make the previous Mirai a distant memory
- Claimed 30% range increase to nearly 400 miles
- New rear-wheel-drive platform
- Kicks off the second Mirai generation for 2021
What is it?
It's quite a shock that the redesigned second-generation 2021 Toyota Mirai exists at all. The first-generation Mirai was never destined for mass sales success. For one, its future-car-as-seen-through-the-lens-of-'90s-anime styling proved a hard pill to swallow. It was expensive, too, but even setting aside looks and cost, there just aren't many places in the country where you can refuel a hydrogen-powered vehicle. Today, public hydrogen fueling stations only exist in Oahu, Hawaii, and populous city centers in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego.
The odds then were decidedly against the original Mirai, but Toyota has decided to plow ahead with a second-generation model that will at least address the styling concern. Thanks in part to a new rear-wheel-drive platform, the 2021 Mirai has elegant proportions, with a long hood complemented by a sleek, coupe-like canopy. There are elements of Camry, Avalon and even a bit of Supra in the nose, while the back end recalls the fastback profile of the Kia Stinger and the ducktail rear lip of the Tesla Model S. An improved interior with some Lexus flair is also in the cards, and Toyota says that the more upscale cabin will be quieter than that of the previous model.
Mechanically, the new Mirai promises a 30% improvement in driving range over the previous model's 300-mile capacity, which would put it around 400 miles of range, give or take. That's a big number for an electric vehicle, which is what the Mirai technically is — its electric propulsion system just uses hydrogen for fuel rather than a battery pack. While a full feature set has not yet been announced, every Mirai will have a 12.3-inch touchscreen, navigation and a 14-speaker JBL audio system.
Why does it matter?
Toyota is betting heavily on a hydrogen-powered future. While the prevailing idea is that battery electric vehicles (BEVs), such as the Tesla Model S or Nissan Leaf, will supplant gasoline-driven autos, Toyota recognizes the current limitations of the technology. Sure, homeowners can easily install special charging stations to fuel their BEVs, but apartment dwellers often cannot add these stations to their carports. And while advancements have cut charging times drastically, even high-output stations such as Tesla's Supercharger take much longer to juice up a battery than the five minutes it takes to replenish the Mirai's hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen is also a clean fuel — the only byproduct of its use is water — making it perfect for high-traffic cities suffering from air pollution.
But how to get consumers to embrace hydrogen? Clearly, the frumpy first-generation Mirai was not the answer since Toyota had to throw significant incentives behind it to generate any interest. The redesigned 2021 Mirai charts an entirely new course as a luxury vehicle with head-turning looks. The big question is whether this new Mirai can inspire a wave of interest in hydrogen-powered cars that might lead to further fuel cell explorations.
What does it compete with?
The Honda Clarity fuel cell sedan is roughly the size of an Accord, so there's plenty of room all around for passengers. But it has a few extra upscale design touches around the cabin to justify its price tag. There's also the Hyundai Nexo, with its spaceship styling cues wrapped around a highly practical SUV body style. In terms of driving range, the Clarity tops out at 360 miles, per the EPA, while the Nexo can cover up to 380 miles. You can see the significance of Toyota's claim of 30% better driving range for the new Mirai — if that holds true, the Mirai will be the new leader in the class, jumping from 300 miles to 390 or so.
What else should I know?
In addition to the supply problems mentioned above, hydrogen is extremely expensive. In our long-term test of a 2016 Toyota Mirai, we calculated that it cost four times more per mile than our long-term Toyota Prius of the same vintage. However, 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. It is unknown if this program will carry forward once the 2021 Mirai is released.
With more range, rear-wheel-drive underpinnings and sporty styling, the redesigned 2021 Toyota Mirai charts a new course for hydrogen-fueled cars. No redesign can change the fact that hydrogen fuel remains a scarce and expensive commodity, but the new Mirai looks set to drive unprecedented shopper interest in this segment.