A pioneer of hydrogen cars, the Toyota Mirai is relaunched in a largely modernized version. The new generation is gaining in character, power and autonomy while reducing its price list. Developments which should attract more professionals to hydrogen technology. In the absence of stations and affordable rates, individuals will still have to wait before accessing them.
In France, you won’t get very far with a hydrogen car. France has only 5 refueling stations accessible to the public, including 3 in the Paris region. To refuel, you must also have signed a contract with the operator. Hydrogen mobility “for all” therefore seems very remote, even chimerical. However, very successful vehicles are already available. They can travel great distances without polluting the exhaust.
The Toyota Mirai is one of them. Landed in 2015, the sedan is a pioneer of hydrogen cars in Europe. If technology has still not democratized since, it continues its career through a second generation fully modernized. The Mirai 2021 thus adopts a new FCB130 fuel cell 30% more compact, half the weight and 10% more economical, for a slightly higher power. It delivers up to 128 kW of electricity (compared to 114 kW for the previous version) by exposing the hydrogen to the oxygen in the ambient air.
The stack has been moved from the floor to the hood, eliminating the mechanical noises commonly seen on the older generation. The space gained makes it possible to add a third tank to the sedan, bringing its total hydrogen storage capacity to 5.6 kg at 700 bars. A small additional kilogram allowing better autonomy, which now stands at 650 km (+150 km).
Reduced to a minimum, the small buffer battery trades NiMh technology for Lithium-ion. With 1.2 kWh of capacity contained in just 44 kg, it is mainly content to recover the energy from the braking and deceleration phases. Its small size frees up space at the rear for the electric motor. The Mirai 2021 becomes a propulsion, gains in power but loses in torque. It now claims 134 kW / 182 hp (+28 hp) for 300 Nm of torque (−35 Nm). 0 to 100 km / h is 9 seconds, 0.6 seconds less than the first generation.
Cut for its target
Despite these adjustments, the sedan is getting a little overweight. It displays 1900 kg on the scale, which is 50 kg more than the old Mirai. A slight overweight which is explained in particular by the size of the vehicle. It gains 85 cm in length (4.97 m) and 70 cm in width (1.88 m), but loses 55 cm in height (1.48 m). If the technical sheet has evolved well, what does it concretely bring on the road? We tested the new Toyota Mirai on an exclusively motorway 208 km loop. The first impression on board is the one one might get when stepping into a brand new taxi. Logically, the sedan has been totally designed to satisfy its target customers: taxi / VTC companies and large companies.
They alone can take on the constraints linked to hydrogen, such as the scarcity of terminals, their access restrictions and the high prices of vehicles. The new Toyota Mirai is however a little more affordable than the previous generation, it is offered at € 67,900 excluding bonus in “lounge” finish and € 74,900 in “executive” finish. This represents a price reduction of € 11,000.
Limited rear comfort
On the driver’s seat, the seat is rather comfortable, the position very close to the road. With its streamlined aerodynamic profile, however, the sedan imposes a low height under the headliner. My size is obviously incompatible (1.90 m) since the top of my head is clamped between the ceiling and the side handle. An imposing armrest separates the driver from his front passenger. It is extended by a large (12.3 inch), clear and responsive infotainment screen on which we activate Android auto. Behind the steering wheel, a modest but efficient 8-inch on-board screen relays all driving information.
The traditional “H₂O” button is placed above the left side ventilator. It is used to manually drain the water produced by the fuel cell, the only substance released by the vehicle. If the vehicle performs the operation automatically, the driver can choose to trigger it to avoid creating a puddle, for example in a garage.
In the rear, the bench can accommodate up to 3 passengers in theory. The presence of a voluminous central tunnel, however, deprives the passenger of the middle of any comfort. The driver and his companion must not be too tall, otherwise the knees of the people seated behind will be compressed. For a taxi, which usually accommodates a single passenger, this configuration should not be problematic. The trunk capacity, without a tailgate, could however be prohibitive. It can only accommodate 4 suitcases in cabin size.
New Mirai or Hyundai Nexo?
The new Mirai is equipped with driving aids such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist. These two tools, which we use for almost the entire test, are very successful. The sedan remains perfectly aligned in its lane and detects the presence of vehicles early enough to adapt its speed. The day of our test the highway is sparse, which allows us to maintain a constant speed of 130 km / h. The fuel gauge flexes slowly despite the brisk pace.
At the end of our 208.2 km loop north of Paris, the new Mirai has an average fuel consumption of 1.41 kg / 100 km. This is naturally higher than the 0.80 (Mirai lounge) and 0.89 (Mirai executive) kg / 100 km announced in the WLTP combined cycle. Despite a slight gain in fuel economy on the older generation, the sedan remains a little more greedy than its main competitor: the Hyundai Nexo. During a motorway test, we noted a consumption of 1.2 kg / 100 km aboard the Korean hydrogen SUV.
Good autonomy on the motorway
The instrument panel indicates a remaining range of 203 km and a half-full tank, which makes it possible to estimate the total range of the new Toyota Mirai at around 410 km on the motorway. A performance to be compared to the Hyundai Nexo, which seems capable of covering around 570 km under the same conditions. The SUV however benefits from larger capacity tanks: 6.33 kg against 5.6 kg for the Japanese sedan. The new Mirai remains more enduring than a battery electric vehicle, very few models currently being able to last more than 400 km at 130 km / h.
Marketed since February 2021 in France, the new Toyota Mirai will be delivered to its first customers in early March. The highly confidential order book is mainly made up of companies linked to the hydrogen ecosystem and the Hype taxi company. The latter will soon replace 600 diesel vehicles resulting from the takeover of the Parisian operator Slota, by Mirai. According to Toyota, only one individual bought it, it is a passionate engineer working in the hydrogen sector.
As you will have understood, the hydrogen car for everyone is still not relevant. The renewal of the Toyota Mirai is aimed exclusively at professionals accustomed to technology. A totally logical strategy in the current context. Refueling stations are far too rare, hydrogen is expensive (between 10 and 12 € / kg) and cannot compete with any other energy, even among the alternatives (electricity, LPG, natural gas, ethanol).
The supply of vehicles is limited and the few models in the catalog display prices between € 60,000 and over € 80,000, benefiting from a meager bonus of € 3,000. While it has undeniable advantages such as the possibility of refueling in 5 minutes and of traveling great distances, hydrogen still has to meet many challenges. The molecule must also convince on the environmental level. Today, its production is mainly of carbon origin and involves a great deal of energy loss between the well and the wheel.