Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Mirai means ‘The Future’ in Japanese. ‘Heritage’ is a dirty word around this car, which is all about progress and innovation, although the history of Toyota‘s fuel-cell tech goes back 20 years, when the first fuel-cell working vehicle was produced, based on the RAV4 and called the FCEV Fuel. What you see here is 20 hard years of intensive R&D by the company, to make sure its production vehicle would be the market leader, in the same way the Prius trumped all when it arrived in 1997 – a year after the fuel-cell car…
One word: bonkers. Is it futuristic? Or is it a strange amalgamation of massive vents to cool the fuel cell and bulging bodywork that ends up somehow being slightly Eighties? We simply couldn’t decide. Inside, it doesn’t match the Tesla for Apple-style design cues; it looks far more like a conventional road car, with swipeable temperature controls and a hybrid-style infographic showing the powertrain at any stage. Elsewhere, however, is a mixture of black leathers and plastics that looks comfortingly familiar and strikes a tone of ‘normality’; it all helps the driver feel unafraid to drive this advanced piece of kit; an important point in luring the uninitiated to strange technology.
The Mirai behaves like an electric vehicle, with maximum torque of 347lb ft (335Nm) from standstill, and regenerative braking. However, and it’s a big caveat, its behaviour is the closest to a conventional fossil-fuel car we’ve experienced. You hardly notice the regenerative brakes; retardation is progressive and subtle. It doesn’t feel overly heavy either. The power button really vamps things up while Eco mode is not a pleasant characteristic but saves even more trees. Such is the standard behaviour of this car, you have to remind yourself there’s only water coming out of the tailpipe, something you can do frequently by pressing the button to dump H2O out of the back, which makes for giggles at the sheer weirdness of it. Also, we couldn’t quite get to grips with the artificial noises that accompany accelerating and braking, and are meant to make the conventional driver feel right at home, but we admire the attempt.
A strange one this. It’s a big heavy four-seat saloon, so driving passion in the traditional sense does not apply. However, this disruption on the scene screams Toyota’s passion for engineering excellence and scientific discovery. We adore the fact that Toyota spent 20 years getting this right, that the company will undoubtedly lose money on every car sold, that it is launching into a market where there aren’t enough filling stations (3 in the UK) and won’t be for 10 or maybe 20 years, but that they know they have to be here, with this car, right now. We love a trail blazer.
£66,000 (potential Govt grant of £5,000)