– by Jon B
We live in an interesting time. A time where science and technology are at the forefront and in the automotive world, the leading edge in alternative fuel technology at the moment is electric vehicles with manufacturers like Nissan, Tesla, Ford and General Motors putting out their versions of what an electric car should be. Notably absent is the Japanese giant that is Toyota with a reincarnation of its RAV4 EV with battery technology borrowed from billionaire Elon Musk. It should’ve been a raging success – the combination of Toyota quality, durability and reliability and Tesla’s battery and motor technology. Alas, Mr. Toyoda has other plans and the release of the Mirai is an example of his vision of future.
Me-rye. It’s Japanese for “future”. Toyota thinks that battery electric vehicles should be limited to the short distance, city driving (although Elon has proved otherwise) and suggests that fuel cell vehicles are what the public wants. Toyota suggests that those that are used to petrol-powered vehicles will warm up to fuel cell cars as the range and refuelling times are similar. Excuse me Toyoda-san, there’s the slight issue of actually having hydrogen stations where one can refuel in the first place. Nevertheless, the focus of the article is the Mirai and not a discussion of which form of fuel or energy the future should use.
Toyota is a conservative company, yet they seem to go to the extreme opposite when they really want people to notice. The Mirai is unmistakable with its large grille openings that resemble an evil grinning cute animé animal that’s plotting to take over the world and a rear taillight assembly that evoke images of Robocop with red Elf ears. The curves and flowing lines along the side of the body is meant to characterise the flow of oxygen from the front of the car, to the hydrogen fuel stack in the middle and lastly to water at the rear of the car. Blacked out A and C pillars give an illusion of a floating roof, and when painted in pearl white, mimics a Stormtrooper’s toupee. The vehicle doesn’t look large in the photos but unlike the first Prius, the LEAF or the Volt, it is a midsize car with lots of space inside. The exterior dimensions are within spitting distance of the Camry.
Here is where I normally say “under the hood lies an engine of some volumetric size” but with the Mirai, Toyota has fitted the fuel cell stack underneath the car to give it a low centre of gravity. The inverter, air filter and 12V battery sit under the hood with the electric motors sitting beneath them, providing motive power to the front wheels. The Mirai is equipped with two hydrogen tanks to store the hydrogen gas. Now it’s not as simple as liquid petroleum where you can calculate the volume of the tank and how much petrol it can hold. With hydrogen, it’ll depend on the pressure of the stored hydrogen that’ll affect the volumetric density. It’ll also depend on what pressure the hydrogen fuelling station dispenses hydrogen. Nevertheless, the Mirai’s tanks are capable of storing hydrogen at 70 MPa (~700 bar or ~10,000psi). The higher the pressure, the smaller in volume the tank can be. However, it may increase the weight of the tank as there may need to be more materials to construct the tank (such as thicker walls). Toyota claims a world’s top level tank storage density of 5.7wt% but it doesn’t say how much the tanks weigh. In addition, the Mirai has a NiMH battery above that tank, behind the rear seats. And that makes it a fuel cell hybrid vehicle. Toyota has used their expertise in hybrid technology to produce a fuel cell hybrid vehicle and it works similar to a Prius. The fuel cell stack can power the electric motor which then power the front wheels or it can power a smaller electric motor that charges the hybrid battery and stores it for later. Of course, the battery can power the electric motors and move the car and it has regenerative braking to convert kinetic energy into potential energy. I’ll be interested to see how this all plays out on the road but that’ll be for another day when I get a hold of a press vehicle. For now, the specifications read as such: The fuel cell stack produces a diesel-like 153hp and 247lb-ft torque which is enough to propel the 1,850kg (4078.5 lbs) Mirai to 60mph in 9.0 secs. The two hydrogen tanks can hold a total of 5.0 kg of hydrogen (approx.) which allows the Mirai to travel up to 480km (300 miles) between fill ups. Top speed is 178km/h (111mph) and the Mirai can start from temperatures as low as -30°C (-22°F). The Mirai does have a unique dealer-installed accessory that allows the Mirai to power a home with a DC-outlet mounted in the boot. It has a maximum output of 9kW and capacity of approximately 60kWh. No word if this will be offered in Canada or the United States.
The interior of the Mirai is clean and organic and can be ordered in contrasting colour schemes. There is continuity between the front door panels and the dashboard at the point where they meet. The only thing that sticks out, quite literally, is the centrally-located touch screen for the car’s infotainment system. It’s a phenomenon that’s spreading through the European manufacturers like a bad case of acne. In the Mirai, it appears the virus has sprouted a foot with a carbon-fibre-like shoe. Fortunately, the US-spec Mirai will come with knobs for “Volume” and “Tune”. The instrument cluster is mounted high and centre on the dashboard and contain two very sharp 4.1” TFT screens that display the vitals. The climate control has a separate integrated screen with touch-sensitive buttons and a slider for the temperature adjustment. While it does give a clean look while parked, the lack of physical buttons make it hard to discern the different functions while driving.
The seats are draped in Toyota’s proprietary synthetic material called SofTex. It is 50% lighter than traditional leather and emits 90% fewer VOCs, so you’ll be hard-pressed to get a whiff of that new car smell. In the Mirai, it’s convincing enough that it can pass as synthetic leather. On some of Toyota’s other vehicles upholstered in SofTex, it has an unpleasant plasticky feel.
I must say that the seats are very comfortable, especially the rear. You are cosseted in a generously bolstered seat with heating for cold days. A centre console with storage and cupholders separate you from your rear-seat buddy and the mid-size rating of the Mirai means abundant legroom and shoulderroom. There is a gap between the front and centre console so you could move between the rear seats if you need to exit on the opposite side of the vehicle. The headliner is covered in a suede-like material, similar to the material found on Lexus vehicles of similar price.
If one thinks about the components needed for a petrol vehicle and those needed for a fuel cell vehicle, it’s amazing that the Mirai has very few compromises in the packaging and layout of the car. It has to store the fuel cell stack, two hydrogen tanks and a high voltage battery, all of which are not under the hood. The compromise is a smaller boot than a typical midsize car but still usable. Similar to an electric car, the Mirai has a nearly flat underbody to allow airflow to move as smoothly as possible underneath the car. It has no visible exhaust pipe but water does exit at the rear of the vehicle. To minimise the risk of icing the owner’s driveway or garage, there is an “H2O” button to the left of the steering wheel to expunge any water in the pipe before the car is parked at home. Oh, and before you ask, Toyota does not recommend drinking the water that the Mirai produces. It is technically potable but because the underside of the car is exposed to all the dirt and dust that accumulate on the public roads, the water can become contaminated.
The Cost of Parking the Future in Your Driveway
You knew that being the first one in your block with the newest tech toy is going to be expensive. Remember when 46” flat screen TVs cost $20,000? The costs will drop but for now, Toyota prices the Mirai at US$57,500. No Canadian pricing has been announced. It does seem pricey compared to the price of the Prius when it was first launched in the US and Canada (US$19,995/Cdn$29,990) but the Mirai is equipped with Lexus-levels of equipment such as electrically-assist tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power front seats with driver memory. In the U.S., the Mirai will be available in four colours – Nautical Blue Pearl, Crystal White (pearl white), Elemental Silver and Celestial Black.