The future is here. No, really, it is, because that is what Toyota’s first mass-production hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) is called. The Mirai (which is Japanese for “future”) is what motoring should look like in the not-too-distant future, if Toyota would have us believe.
If you are wondering what an FCV is, here is a quick primer. It takes hydrogen stored in a car’s on-board tank and combines it with atmospheric air. The resulting chemical reaction in the fuel-cell stack produces electrical energy, which then powers an electric motor that drives the wheels. Unlike conventional cars, which emit carbon dioxide and other nasty greenhouse gases, the only thing to come out of an FCV’s tailpipe is water vapour (because that is what happens when you combine hydrogen and oxygen).
The interior of the Mirai, too, is suitably space-age. As with its exterior, there is all manner of angular sculpting inside, with its chrome-trimmed dashboard being particularly handsome. The centre console is a monolithic slab of glossy black plastic and it is where the stubby gearlever (that resembles an arcade game joystick) resides, along with the climate control’s LCD screen. The air-conditioning system’s temperature is adjusted by sliding your finger along a touch-sensitive track, like in the Lexus IS. Oddly enough, the least futuristic thing about the Mirai’s interior is its clock, with its white LED “calculator” readout.
For its advanced nature, the Mirai is a patently unremarkable car to drive, inasmuch as an electric car is “normal”. Granted, three laps around a makeshift circuit constructed in a parking lot (we were not allowed to drive it on public roads) is hardly a lot of driving, but initial impressions are that the Mirai is curiously undramatic to drive, and that is not a bad thing.
Select D with the “joystick”, release the foot-operated parking brake and you are away – it is as easy as that. Aside from the instant “golf buggy” acceleration and near-silent running endemic to all electric cars, it handles exactly how you would expect a regular saloon to, which belies its advanced powertrain.
The Mirai has 154bhp and 335Nm, which makes for zippy starts off the line. While it is not the most surefooted car around, it also does not feel overly heavy and should handle everyday driving situations with aplomb.
In more instances of “normalcy”, the Mirai has a claimed 650km cruising range and a “refuelling” time of just three minutes (even at its quickest, an electric car takes half an hour or so to fully “fuel up”).
It also has a 361-litre boot that Toyota proudly touts can hold up to three golf bags (granted, the 470-litre boot in the Corolla Altis can hold four golf bags). Less practical is how the Mirai is a strict four-seater, with the space where the middle seat should be taken up by an armrest. When we quizzed the Mirai’s deputy chief engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka about this, he replied a four-seater was more befitting the vehicle’s premium nature.
While some hard plastics might disagree with that notion, there really is no arguing with the Mirai’s upmarket price tag. Even with generous Japanese government subsidies that take some 40 percent off the Mirai’s 7.2 million yen asking price, it is still nearly twice as expensive as a Prius hybrid (itself not exactly cheap). This should put the Mirai out of reach of all but the most committed, well-heeled early adopters.
As with Tanaka-san’s notion about the Mirai’s positioning, Toyota’s claims of the Mirai being a mass-produced car must be taken with a pinch of salt as well. In its first year of production, Toyota is making just 700 of them, which is a minuscule amount when you consider Toyota made 8.7 million cars in 2012. So, it might seem to the cynical observer that Toyota is jumping the gun by producing a car that the world does not want (at least not yet).
Even if there were long queues forming outside Toyota dealerships for the Mirai, the world isn’t yet ready for hydrogen FCVs. Even in the Mirai’s home market of Japan, there are just 20 hydrogen “petrol” stations, and the carmaker’s “second home” of the USA has just 13 nationwide. Singapore has a grand total of zero, and there are no immediate plans to build any.
But it is clear that the Mirai is not meant to be as common as a Corolla. Rather, it is meant to be a showcase of Toyota’s technological know-how. We obviously won’t be seeing the Mirai on the road in Singapore within the next few years, but when (or more accurately, if) it does land here, one thing will be clear: the future will have arrived.
ENGINE Synchronous electric motor
MAX POWER 154bhp
MAX TORQUE 335Nm
0-100KM/H 9.6 seconds
TOP SPEED Not available
CONSUMPTION Not available
CO2 EMISSION 0g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
To be announced