Review: Toyota Mirai dresses up, but hard to fill up – USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — Let’s face it, everyone chooses from pretty much the same set of cars. Stand on any freeway overpass in America and watch what flashes by underneath —a blur of lookalike shiny steel boxes with wheels attached.
Now along comes something new, a car with strange yet not terribly attractive (in our opinion) looks. Heck, though, at least it’s different. And the underpinnings are just as controversial as its appearance.
It’s the new Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen fuel-cell car that turns out to just be so much more than just a rolling science project. Toyota could have gotten away with far less if the goal had simply been to try to meet the mandate in California and a handful of other states for zero-pollution cars.
It didn’t. Toyota took no apparent shortcuts. Mirai is an impressive car with a smartly styled interior and and whisper-quiet ride. Unlike Tesla, it’s not meant to be a performance car. At about 150 horsepower, it zips to 60 miles per hour in nine seconds. All in all, it seems to hold far more common with Toyota’s upscale Lexus brand than being part of the Toyota mainstream. That luxury connection includes its price, a hefty $57,500 plus $835 in delivery charges, before up to $12,500 in incentives.
Toyota clearly wanted to make a no-excuses statement that it’s serious about hydrogen as a clean vehicle fuel and is in the fight for the long haul. The trouble comes in when it comes to the other half of the equation —finding the fuel.
Stunning as Mirai is, there are only four commercial stations in southern California to fuel it. At least that double the total last month. There’s only one in northern California, in Sacramento. More stations are promised, but it appears they will ramp up slowly. Mirai is only being sold in California at the moment, although Toyota says it plans to sell in the Northeast starting late next year as 12 stations in five states come on line.
That kind of station coverage is still pathetic. Automakers are stepping up when it comes to producing the kind of hydrogen vehicles that many families would be proud to own and prices have fallen, but the infrastructure isn’t keeping up. Hyundai has already been fielding its fleet of hydrogen-powered Tucson SUVs and Honda just unveiled the next version of its Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell car.
We insisted on refueling the Mirai at a commercial station during our weeklong test. Toyota insisted that we, like all new owners, be met by a representative. Saeed Rezvani, Toyota’s alternative fuel engineer, led us through the protocol. It was no harder than fueling any other car. It took four minutes.
Besides time savings compared to charging an electric car, Mirai comes with another bonus: Up to $15,000 of free hydrogen fuel over three years.
That tankful should have gotten us 312 miles of cruising range before the next fillup, what Toyota believes gives hydrogen cars an advantage over most fully electric cars. But we’re not so sure. The tank showed itself to be half empty after 105 miles of mixed city and highway driving. And with so few stations — woe to us if one of them should be out of service — we doubt any Mirai driver would be caught with less than a quarter tank.
So what to make of Mirai? Great effort by Toyota. But it’s going to require a lot of effort and expense by those outside of its control.
What Stands Out
Looks: Love it or join us in hating it
Interior: As nice as any Lexus
Fueling: The Achilles’ heel
2016 Toyota Mirai
•What? A plush hydrogen-powered sedan
•When? On sale in California
•Where? Built in Japan
•How much? $58,500 including $835 destination charge
•What makes it go? A hydrogen fuel-cell stack coupled with nickel-metal hydride batteries good for about 150 horsepower of output
•How big? 16 feet
•How thirsty? Rated at 67 miles per gallon combined — even though it is burning hydrogen
•Overall: Beautiful car — but few places to refuel it