Toyota Mirai review: A quick spin on Australian roads

Is the world's first mass-produced hydrogen-powered vehicle fit for Australian roads?
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The Toyota Mirai is the world's first mass-produced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to drive it on Australian public roads.

A quick 15-minute loop on a mix of freeway and suburban roads in eastern Melbourne showed us just how 'normal' the Mirai is to drive - if you can get past the 'creative' exterior design.

Getting behind the wheel, it isn't too dissimilar to a Prius inside - though the Mirai feels a little more premium, thanks to its swathes of leather and soft-touch materials throughout the entire cabin.

The cars on test were European-spec examples, and the light-coloured leather our car was specified with helped to give an airy and upmarket feel, while the gloss-black trims give a nice contrast.

I personally haven't had much experience with electrically-powered cars, bar our BMW i3 94Ah long-termer, but other than the crazy exterior design and futuristic interior, the Mirai is surprisingly conventional to drive.

Powering the Mirai is a hydrogen-fed fuel-cell stack paired to an electric motor, which produces 113kW of power and 335Nm of torque.

While Toyota doesn't quote a 0-100km/h time, the Mirai is capable of reaching a top speed of 180km/h while using a claimed 0.9kg/100km of compressed hydrogen. Toyota claims a range of up to 550km from its two tanks that offer a total of 5kg hydrogen storage.

The company claims the average cost to refuel the Mirai overseas is around AU$60, which is equivalent to refuelling a petrol-powered vehicle with a 47-litre tank based on the current average price of 91-octane unleaded in Melbourne, at $1.27 per litre.

It feels spritely, with genuine urge, thanks in no small part to the healthy 335Nm of torque available as soon as your foot hits the accelerator pedal.

There is obviously no engine noise, thanks to the absence of a conventional motor up front, however, the electric motor does make a loud whirring noise under heavy throttle.

Once at speed the Mirai is quiet, composed and very comfortable. There is little wind and tyre noise entering the cabin, even at highway speeds, while imperfections in the road are handled with finesse.

The front seats are almost couch-like in how soft they feel, although they offer plenty of back and thigh support.

In terms of handling, we didn't have a chance to take the Mirai on any twisty roads, but during our short time with the car the steering was nice and tight, with good feel around centre.

Going for another loop as a passenger, the rear row proved as comfortable as the front for my 185cm height.

The Mirai features a four-seat interior layout, with a large rear centre console taking the place of the middle seat.

It's a similar layout to most high-end limousines, but despite the smaller legroom compared to those cars (think long-wheelbase versions of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series) the Mirai offers plenty of room for passengers in the second row, while the seats themselves are soft yet supportive. However, the Mirai cannot match the Toyota Camry for rear knee, head and toe space.

Another space-related gripe is the boot, which is relatively small for a vehicle this size, at 360 litres. This is, of course, thanks to the hydrogen tanks positioned beneath the boot floor.

Mirai means 'future' in Japanese, and Toyota's interpretation of the word seems to be on track. Here is a vehicle that runs on a readily-available and renewable fuel, that can also match the majority of conventionally-powered competitors in terms of performance and driving range.

On top of that, the only substance it emits is water vapour - meaning the only climate change you're contributing is a little extra humidity.

Currently in Australia there is little to no infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles, and to implement the technology could prove to be a costly investment.

The Mirai itself isn't a bargain, either. In the US, Toyota's hydrogen sedan retails for around US$57,500 ($76,897). And, for my money, it's not much of a looker.

It's unlikely we will see the Mirai in Australian showrooms anytime soon, though at least we know that when Australia does finally adopt fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs), they're not too different from the cars we drive today.

Hopefully the Mirai's plush interior and adventurous interior design also trickles down into the company's mainstream models soon too.

It's hard to come to a proper conclusion for the Toyota Mirai after only half an hour or so in the car as both a driver and passenger. However, it does demonstrate that hydrogen power is yet another viable option for the future of automotive mobility, and that the Japanese manufacturer is more than capable of producing a luxurious-feeling car that also is good to drive.

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