So you live in California. Well, hopefully you do, because otherwise this comparison between the 2017 Honda Clarity and 2017 Toyota Mirai will be completely academic. You see, this pair of hydrogen fuel cell cars can only be purchased in the Golden State, the result of it being a) one of the few places where people are eager to own such newfangled, eco-friendly cars of the future, and b) the only place where there’s any semblance of a hydrogen refueling network.
In any event, what’s the deal with these hydrogen cars, and which might be better for you?
2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
The Clarity was completely redesigned for 2017. Yes, "redesigned," as there was a previous-generation version that was even harder to come by. Compared to that predecessor, the 2017 benefits from a more advanced hydrogen fuel cell now located under the hood like a regular old engine, rather than its prior location between the front seats. The hydrogen fuel tank has also been replaced by a pair of smaller tanks that store more H2 at a higher compression, with the net result being a more functional, spacious and normal cabin for five people. There are also Clarity EV and Clarity Plug-In Hybrid models available. See all 2017 Honda Clarity models near you
2017 Toyota Mirai
The Mirai was all-new last year and carries over into 2017 unchanged. It is only available with a hydrogen fuel cell. See all 2017 Toyota Mirai models available near you
What Is a Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Car?
Before comparing and contrasting the benefits of the Clarity and Mirai, it’s probably best to explain just what the heck a hydrogen car is. Instead of a gasoline engine or an EV’s plugged-in battery pack, a hydrogen car has a fuel cell that chemically combines hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O) to create energy, the only byproduct being regular old water (or, as you might recall from Chemistry 101, H2O). The created energy is sent through an electric motor aided by a battery pack that’s replenished by the fuel cell and regenerative braking (much like a gasoline-electric hybrid).
Besides the lack of harmful emissions, the benefit of a hydrogen car is that you get a range and refueling time comparable to a gasoline car. There’s no range anxiety or lengthy recharges as with an EV, and with both cars, you get free hydrogen during your lease. The downside, besides a refueling network confined to pockets of Northern and Southern California (with a single station strategically placed in between), is that it takes a lot of energy to produce hydrogen in the first place. Effectively, you’re using electricity to split H2 from water in order to later create electricity and water again. It’s inherently inefficient.
You can only lease the Clarity and Mirai, so as you’ll only have it for three years, reliability is quite frankly less of a concern. Now, these are some pretty futuristic cars produced in low volumes, but if any two car companies are going to make such cars trouble-free, it’s Honda and Toyota.
As you won’t actually be paying for hydrogen, range is more important than a mile-per-gallon figure. As such, the Clarity is superior here, with an estimated range of 366 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. For what it’s worth, it also returns a miles per gallon equivalent (mpge) of 69 mpg in the city, 67 mpg on the highway and 68 mpg in combined driving. Its fuel cell powertrain produces 174 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque
The Mirai has a range of 312 miles, with mpge figures of 67 mpg combined. Its powertrain produces 151 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. In terms of acceleration, expect it to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in about 9 seconds, whereas the Clarity does the same sprint in about 8.
Both the Mirai and Clarity come standard with front-side airbags, full-length side-curtain airbags, a forward-collision warning and automatic braking system, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, and have hydrogen tanks designed to withstand substantial impacts and automatically handle any potential leaks. The Clarity has a driver-knee airbag and Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot camera, whereas the Mirai has rear-side airbags and a blind spot monitoring system (which includes lights in the mirrors and audible alerts).
Interior Design and Space
The placement of the Clarity’s hydrogen fuel cell under the hood makes a literal big difference here, as it contributes to a cabin that feels utterly normal. By contrast, the Mirai’s fuel cell is under the front seats, creating an awkwardly elevated driving position. You feel like you’re sitting on the Mirai rather than in it. Furthermore, it has only four seats, and passengers seated in the rear will have significantly less legroom than they’d have in the 5-passenger Clarity.
Really, the Honda comes across as a midsize family sedan, albeit one with better materials quality and a fancier design that evokes a higher-end vehicle (and one more worthy of its elevated price tag). The Mirai seems like a luxury Prius — its materials and construction are a bit better, but not on the level of the Clarity, and its design errs on the side of strange.
Trunk space is comparable between the two. The Mirai technically has an extra cubic foot (about 13 cu ft. versus about 12), but both suffer from the placement of their hydrogen tanks, which reduces space relative to a nonhydrogen car and prevents any sort of cabin pass-through.
Despite the futuristic powertrain technology, the Mirai and Clarity are very much in the here and now when it comes to in-car infotainment. Actually, they’re both a bit behind. The Clarity lacks the updated, more user-friendly touchscreens found in the 2017 CR-V and 2018 Accord, which have the volume knob and additional physical menu shortcut buttons the Clarity could desperately use. Meanwhile, the Mirai had the latest, quickest and easiest-to-use touchscreen in the Toyota arsenal … until the recently introduced 2018 Camry arrived.
In any event, the Mirai has an advantage in terms of functionality, but the Clarity comes with features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which Toyota doesn’t offer.
Much as the Clarity’s cabin makes it feel like the more normal car, so too does its driving experience. It accelerates smoothly away in silence, much like an electric car, whereas the Mirai has an unusual high-pitched whirring noise under heavy acceleration due to its different fuel cell design. The Toyota’s brake pedal is also harder to modulate, while the Clarity features superior steering and a smoother, more buttoned-down ride. You’re bound to like driving the Honda more.
Theoretically, both cars would be in the upper-$50,000 range, which would otherwise be nonsensical for a pair of sedans from Honda and Toyota. However, as you can’t actually purchase them, let’s focus on 3-year lease prices. The Clarity costs $369 per month, with $2,868 due at signing. You’ll also get 20,000 miles per year, which is very high for a lease, but with HOV lane privileges in traffic-snarled Northern and Southern California, Honda says owners go much further than you might expect. The Mirai costs $349 per month, with $2,499 due at signing. It’s capped at 12,000 miles.
So the Clarity costs $20 more per month and essentially an extra payment at signing, for a grand total of $1,089 more. Given its advantages in terms of interior space, driving experience, feature content (specifically Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), hydrogen range and exterior/interior style, we think it’s worth the premium, and ultimately a better value.
Although the Mirai is a bit cheaper, it’s hard to find another way in which Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle is superior. If you think a hydrogen fuel cell car would be the right kind of car for you (in California), then your best bet is the 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell.