2021 Toyota Mirai first drive review: Like a hydrogen-powered Lexus


Take off the Toyota badges and slap a big ol’ spindle grille on its nose, and this 2021 Mirai sedan could totally pass for a Lexus. Inside and out, the new Mirai has a level of style and refinement you wouldn’t expect for a mass-market Toyota. And the Japanese automaker is hoping this premium focus will be enough to convince people to give hydrogen fuel-cell power a try.

“Mirai” means “future” in Japanese, which I guess is pretty appropriate, given the auto industry adage that not only is hydrogen the fuel of the future, it always will be. Indeed, with only about 50 filling stations in California (complete with somewhat spotty reliability), hydrogen as a fuel source makes a ton of sense on paper, but is still out of reach for most folks. Even so, Toyota remains steadfast that this futuristic future will futurize into fruition and the big investment into glowing-up the Mirai is proof of the automaker’s commitment to hydrogen on a global scale.

2021 Toyota Mirai: Sharp-lookin’ sedan with hydrogen power
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For starters, just look at this thing. As far as the design is concerned, the Mirai went from worst to first like that (snaps fingers). Styling is subjective, natch, but I’m going to quantify this updo and say the 2021 Mirai is exactly 6,243% better looking than its predecessor, which was the ugliest car on the market. 

Design comparisons to the Kia Stinger are not unwarranted, which is a compliment in and of itself. Dimensionally, the Mirai is about the same size as a Stinger — 195.8 inches long, 57.9 inches tall and 74.2 inches wide. But unlike the Kia, the Mirai is not a hatchback; the battery and one of the hydrogen fuel tanks are positioned under and behind the rear seat. That means there’s only 9.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity — roughly the same as the rear compartment of a Porsche Cayman. In other words, pack light, or just throw your bags on the spacious rear seats.

Speaking of which, while all Mirais have a three-across bench in the back, the top-end Limited has a large, fold-down center console with a touchscreen that allows passengers to control various climate control and audio functions. You know, just like what you’d find in a Lexus.

The Mirai has one of Toyota’s best interiors.

Toyota

Overall, the Mirai’s interior is great. The SofTex seats are heated and cooled for both front and rear passengers, while the dashboard, door cards and center console are lined with more of this convincing faux-leather material, making them soft and plush to the touch. All of the Mirai’s buttons look and feel like they belong in a Lexus, except for the stupid little gear shifter, which looks and feels like it belongs in a last-generation Prius. Oh, and there’s no volume knob, which I thought we as an auto industry decided was a bad idea.

Every Mirai gets a lot of cabin-tech, with an 8-inch digital gauge cluster and a 12.3-inch touchscreen atop the center stack. The onboard infotainment software is the same as what you’ll find in Toyotas like the new Highlander SUV, with a somewhat cluttered home screen and lots of menus and submenus. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, so you’re better off sticking with one of those. Every Mirai also comes with embedded navigation, a JBL premium audio system, Amazon Alexa compatibility, wireless device charging and Wi-Fi.

A whole bunch of driver-assistance tech comes standard, too, by way of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5 Plus suite. All Mirai models get pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high-beam headlights, full-speed adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and one of the most aggressive lane-centering systems I’ve experienced in a long time. (I couldn’t turn it off quickly enough.)

Toyota

Toyota says it found rear-wheel drive to be the best for packaging and efficiency. But no, the Mirai won’t do a burnout. (I tried. Twice.)

The Mirai’s rear-wheel-drive architecture is shared with the larger Lexus LS (funny how that works). That’s a change from this model’s predecessor. While swapping driven axles from front to back might seem odd for a relatively innocuous sedan like the Mirai, Toyota says it investigated front- and all-wheel-drive layouts and found rear-drive to be the best for packaging and efficiency. But no, the Mirai won’t do a burnout. (I tried. Twice.)

Science time: Three carbon-fiber-reinforced hydrogen tanks send gas into a fuel-cell stack under the hood, which mixes with oxygen to produce electricity that powers a 1.24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and synchronous electric motor. All told, the motor produces a maximum of 182 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque and the only byproduct of this fuel-cell power is water, which sprays out of a tailpipe while you’re driving. You can also manually empty the water reserve by pressing the H2O button on the dashboard to the left of the gauge cluster. I’m not sure why you’d ever do this yourself when the car will do it automatically. Then again, while testing a 2019 Mirai recently, I did say to a friend, “Hey, wanna see the car pee?” So, yeah.

The Mirai Limited gets these snazzy 20-inch wheels.

Toyota

Toyota says the base Mirai XLE has a range of 402 miles, which represents a 30% improvement over the old car. The higher-end Limited is rated at 357 miles due to its increased weight and larger wheels, but that’s still a nice step up from the old, ugly Mirai’s 312-mile rating. If you’d rather talk about efficiency in terms of miles per gallon equivalent, the Mirai XLE gets 74 MPGe combined while the Limited returns 65 MPGe. For the sake of comparison, a 2021 Volvo S60 plug-in hybrid is rated at 69 MPGe.

The Mirai XLE weighs in at 4,255 pounds, with the Limited tipping the scales at 4,335. With only 182 hp and 221 lb-ft of motivational force, the Mirai isn’t exactly quick. Toyota estimates a 9.2-second 0-to-60-mph time, which sounds about right to me. Sure, you get the instant torque delivery of an electric motor, but that’s still a whole lot of Mirai to move around.

Once it’s up and moving, however, the Mirai is pretty good to drive. The steering is light and vague (it’s a Toyota), but the independent front and rear suspensions, as well as the ideal 50:50 weight distribution, mean the Mirai is surprisingly competent on winding roads. Those Lexus underpinnings shine when the Mirai is just cruising on the highway, resulting in a buttery smooth ride, even on my Limited tester’s upsized 20-inch wheels with 245/45-series tires. The cabin is super quiet at all times and that JBL sound system can easily drown out any weird fuel-cell drivetrain noise that might make its way into the cabin. I won’t go so far as to call the Mirai sporty, even with these RWD bones, but again, if you told me this was a Lexus, I’d totally believe you.

If you can get behind hydrogen life, the Mirai is a compelling sedan.

Toyota

Perhaps it should just be a Lexus, given how the 2021 Mirai is priced. With a starting MSRP of $50,455 including $955 for destination, the new Mirai is more than $9,000 cheaper than the old model. But that’s still about as much as a new GS 350. Step up to the Mirai Limited and you’re looking at $66,955. Adding in chrome wheels and a fancy paint choice brings that top-end MSRP to $68,500.

Of course, those numbers don’t tell the full story. When you buy or lease a new Mirai, Toyota will throw in as much as $15,000 in free hydrogen fuel. And don’t forget about the $8,000 federal tax credit, plus an additional $4,500 from the state of California. That’s a great way to make a car like the Mirai more accessible to people who might be on the fence about taking the plunge on hydrogen life. And hey, if this whole fuel-cell thing doesn’t pan out like Toyota hopes it will, just shove a V6 under the hood and call this bad boy a Lexus.



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