2021 Toyota Mirai first drive review: Like a hydrogen-powered Lexus

Take off the Toyota badges and slap a big spindle grille across the nose, and this 2021 Mirai sedan could totally pass for a Lexus. Inside and out, the new Mirai has a level of style and sophistication you wouldn’t expect from a mass Toyota. And the Japanese automaker hopes this premium focus will be enough to get people to experience the power of hydrogen fuel cells.

“Mirai” means “future” in Japanese, which I think is quite appropriate given the auto industry adage that not only is hydrogen the fuel of the future, but it always will be. In fact, with only about fifty gas stations in California (complete with somewhat erratic reliability), hydrogen as a fuel source makes a lot of sense on paper, but it’s still out of reach for most people. Even so, Toyota remains steadfast that this futuristic future will materialize and the large investment in making the Mirai shine is proof of the automaker’s commitment to hydrogen on a global scale.

For starters, look at this thing. Design-wise, the Mirai went from worst to first as well (snap your fingers). Style is subjective, of course, but I’ll quantify this updo and say that the 2021 Mirai is exactly 6.243% better looking than its predecessor, which was the ugliest car on the market.

Design comparisons with the Kia Stinger are not unwarranted, which is a compliment in and of itself. Dimensionally, the Mirai is roughly the same size as a Stinger: 195.8 inches in length, 57.9 inches in height and 74.2 inches in width. But unlike the Kia, the Mirai is not a hatchback or five-door car; the battery and one of the hydrogen tanks are located under and behind the rear seat. This means there is only 9.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity, roughly the same as the rear compartment of a Porsche Cayman. In other words, pack your bags or just throw your bags onto the large rear seats.

Speaking of which, while all Mirai have a three-sided bench in the rear, the higher-end Limited has a large fold-down center console with a touchscreen that allows passengers to control various climate and audio functions. You know, just like what you’d find in a Lexus.

The Mirai has one of Toyota’s best interiors.

Toyota

Overall, the interior of the Mirai is great. SofTex seats are heated and cooled for both front and rear passengers, while the dashboard, door panels and center console are lined with more of this convincing faux leather material, making them soft and smooth to the touch. All the buttons on the Mirai look and feel like they belong in a Lexus, with the exception of the silly little gear shift, which looks and feels like it belongs in a latest generation Prius. Oh, and there’s no volume knob, which I thought as an auto industry we decided was a bad idea.

Each Mirai has plenty of interior technology, with an 8-inch digital instrument cluster and 12.3-inch touchscreen atop the center console. The infotainment software on board is the same as what you’ll find in Toyota as the new Highlander SUV, with a somewhat cluttered home screen and lots of menus and submenus. Apple CarPlay is Android Auto they are standard, so you better stick with one of those. Each Mirai also comes with built-in navigation, JBL premium audio system, Amazon Alexa compatibility, wireless device charging, and Wi-Fi.

An entire suite of driver assistance technologies comes standard, including via Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5 Plus suite. All Mirai models get pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assistance, automatic high beam, adaptive full speed cruise control, traffic sign recognition and one of the most aggressive lane centering systems I have ever had. never experienced in a long time. (I couldn’t turn it off fast enough.)

Toyota

The rear-wheel drive architecture of the Mirai is shared with the larger Lexus LS (funny how it works). This is a change from the predecessor of this model. While switching drive axles from front to rear might seem odd for a relatively harmless sedan like the Mirai, Toyota says it has researched front and all-wheel drive layouts and found rear-wheel drive to be the best in packing and efficiency. But no, the Mirai won’t do a burnout. (I tried. Twice.)

Science time: Three carbon-fiber-reinforced hydrogen tanks send gas into a fuel cell stack under the hood, which mixes with oxygen to produce electricity that powers a 1.24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and a synchronous electric motor. All in all, the engine produces a maximum of 182 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, and the only byproduct of this fuel cell power is water, which squirts from a tailpipe while you’re driving. You can also manually empty the water supply by pressing the H2O button on the dashboard to the left of the instrument panel. Not sure why you would do it yourself when the car does it automatically. Then again, while testing a 2019 Mirai recently, I said to a friend, “Hey, do you want to see the car pee?” So yes.

The Mirai Limited gets these stylish 20-inch wheels.

Toyota

Toyota says the base Mirai XLE has a range of 402 miles, which is a 30% improvement over the old car. The high-end Limited is rated at 357 miles due to its increased weight and larger wheels, but it’s still a nice step up from the old, poor 312-mile Mirai rating. If you prefer to talk about efficiency in terms of equivalent miles per gallon, the Mirai XLE gets 74 MPGe combined while the Limited returns 65 MPGe. For the sake of comparison, a 2021 Volvo S60 plug-in hybrid is rated at 69 MPGe.

The Mirai XLE weighs 4,255 pounds, with the Limited tipping the scales to 4,335. With just 182 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of motivational force, the Mirai isn’t exactly fast. Toyota estimates a 0 to 60 mph time of 9.2 seconds, which sounds right to me. Sure, you get the instant torque delivery of an electric motor, but it’s still a lot of Mirai to move.

Once raised and in motion, however, the Mirai is good enough to drive. The steering is light and vague (it’s a Toyota), but the independent front and rear suspension, as well as the ideal 50:50 weight distribution, mean the Mirai is surprisingly competent on winding roads. Those Lexus basics shine when the Mirai is just cruising on the freeway, resulting in a smooth, buttery ride, even on my Limited tester 20-inch wheels with stock 245/45 tires. The cabin is always extremely quiet, and the JBL audio system can easily drown out any strange noise from the fuel cell transmission that might enter the cabin. I won’t go so far as to call the sporty Mirai, even with these bones RWD, but again, if you told me it was a Lexus, I’d totally believe you.

If you can get past hydrogen, the Mirai is a compelling sedan.

Toyota

Maybe it should just be a Lexus, given the Mirai’s 2021 price tag. With an initial MSRP of $ 50,455 including $ 955 for destination, the new Mirai is more than $ 9,000 less than the old model. But that’s still as much as a new GS 350. Upgrade to the Mirai Limited and you’re looking at $ 66,955. The addition of chrome wheels and a choice of fancy paint brings that high-end MSRP to $ 68,500.

Obviously, those numbers don’t tell the full story. When you buy or rent a new Mirai, Toyota will pay up to $ 15,000 in free hydrogen fuel. And don’t forget the $ 8,000 federal tax credit, plus another $ 4,500 from the state of California. This is a great way to make a car like the Mirai more accessible to people who may be on the fence about taking the plunge with hydrogen life. And hey, if this whole fuel cell thing doesn’t go as Toyota hopes, just put a V6 under the hood and call this bad boy a Lexus.

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