Opting for an electrified vehicle is generally a sign that you’re OK being a bit different than everyone else. But if you really want to be out there, considering a hydrogen fuel cell car like the 2018 Toyota Mirai is a pretty good way to do it. After all, saying "I drive a hydrogen car" has a way of intriguing people.
In terms of day-to-day driving, though, the Mirai’s really not that strange. It pretty much accelerates like an EV, refuels as quickly as a regular old gasoline car and comes packed with the latest infotainment gadgets and safety gizmos. Of course, it looks futuristic, if a bit garish, and emits nothing but water, so it’s not exactly normal.
The question, however, is does the Mirai make sense beyond its uniqueness and exclusivity? We’re not so sure. For starters, its design is a bit compromised — the fuel cell’s location under the front seats provides an awkwardly high seating position, and the back seat can only seat two people. The Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicle is a more practical, comfortable and generally more normal car. But then there’s the matter of hydrogen as a fuel. Its availability is only widespread enough in California (which is consequently the only state where you can get the lease-only Mirai), and it takes an awful lot of energy to produce hydrogen, essentially wiping out much of the environmental gain. True, you can refill much quicker than it takes an EV to recharge, but we’re not sure that’s been a major hangup for Tesla and Chevy Bolt owners.
So although opting for a Mirai will definitely make you stand out in eco crowds, we’re not entirely convinced that standing out in this particular way is the best way to go.
What’s New for 2018?
There were no updates made this year.
What We Like
Emits nothing but water; quick and effortless acceleration; that feeling you’re driving in the future
What We Don’t
Cramped 2-person back seat; odd high-mounted driving position; only available in California; limited hydrogen filling stations; questionable efficiency of hydrogen as a fuel
$58,365 (lease only)
The Mirai is a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. Instead of a gasoline engine or an electric motor, it has a fuel cell that combines hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O) to create energy with the only byproduct being — as you might recall from Intro to Chemistry — regular old water. That created energy is then sent through an electric motor, aided by a battery pack that’s replenished by the fuel cell and regenerative braking (much like a hybrid). The system produces 151 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque.
According to Toyota, the Mirai can travel an estimated 312 miles on a tank of hydrogen, getting the equivalent of 67 miles per gallon. It’s also worth noting you get 3 years’ worth of free hydrogen — of course, you’ll need to live in California, and likely near one of the few hundred hydrogen stations in Southern California and the Bay Area.
Another issue is hydrogen itself, which must be extracted from water or natural gas. That takes a lot of energy. So essentially, you’re using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, then using that same hydrogen to create electricity again. Just putting electricity into an EV’s battery pack is far more efficient, but from a convenience perspective, it’s much quicker (5 minutes) to refill with hydrogen than recharge a battery pack.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Toyota Mirai comes only in a single, loaded trim level. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, passive keyless entry with push-button start, automatic LED headlights, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, heated 8-way power front seats, a heated power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, SofTex vinyl upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, Safety Connect emergency communications, Toyota’s 8-in Entune touchscreen interface, a variety of smartphone apps, Bluetooth, a navigation system and a JBL sound system that includes satellite radio and a USB port.
The Mirai comes with an expansive array of standard safety equipment. Beyond the usual assortment of front airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, stability and traction control and antilock brakes, it goes above and beyond with rear side airbags, lane-departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking. The hydrogen tanks are also designed to withstand serious impacts and automatically handle any potential leak.
Behind the Wheel
Driving the Mirai doesn’t feel that different from an electric car. When driven at leisurely speeds around town, you get the same quiet acceleration and instant electric torque. Should you need to get up to speed quickly, the fuel cell produces a whining noise not found in either EVs or the Honda Clarity, but we certainly wouldn’t call it objectionable.
In terms of ride and handling, the Mirai feels solid when cruising down the highway — the result of it being quite heavy — but there’s not much feedback through the steering. The Clarity feels like the sharper and more natural car to drive. The Mirai seems more like a luxurious Prius.
The same could be said for the interior — there are higher-quality materials, but the general, oddly futuristic design with center-mounted instruments feels familiar. Unfortunately, the driving position is oddly high due to the fuel cell being located underneath the front seats. You may find you’re uncomfortably close to the roof. The back seat is also pretty cramped and can only seat two people — the Clarity is much larger and can seat five. The two cars’ trunks are comparable.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell — This is the only other hydrogen car you can widely buy, so this alternative is obvious. You can read more about the differences between these two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in our comparison, Honda Clarity vs Toyota Mirai: Which is Better?
2018 Chevrolet Bolt — The Bolt is considerably cheaper, available across the country, better to drive and, although it requires more time to replenish its energy, it’s inherently more efficient.
2018 Tesla Model 3 — When comparably equipped, the Model 3 should have a similar price tag as the Mirai. We’d say you could buy a Tesla rather than the lease-only Mirai, but given the Model 3’s massive wait list and production delays, this is probably an academic suggestion.
Used Tesla Model S — The Tesla is more expensive than the Mirai, but as a used car, you may be able to get one at a comparable price. It’s certainly the more appealing car.
As there’s only one version from which to choose, we guess we can advise getting the nifty Atmospheric Blue Metallic paint? Otherwise, really consider whether going with hydrogen is the smartest choice — logistically, financially and environmentally — then also drive the Clarity to be sure.