2016 Toyota Mirai Long-Term Verdict: Pulling Off the Hydrogen Highway
People ask me all the time why someone might opt for the 2016 Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, over a traditional battery EV. The conventional answer is that fuel cells require little change in an owner’s routine if they are accustomed to driving a gasoline car; refueling takes a few minutes at a station with a pump, and in theory you should achieve a similar driving range with the added benefit of emitting nothing but water from the tailpipe. But my response would differ. Despite the factors that should normalize hydrogen FCEVs, I found that driving a Mirai feels far more foreign than any other type of vehicle.
Typically, we drive our long-term vehicles for an entire year, but Toyota gave us just six months with the Mirai. Our Mirai rolled into the MT Garage with 7,947 miles on the odometer, and we added another 10,497 miles over the course of the loan. As we learned from Toyota, the average Mirai customer drives about 10,000–12,000 miles a year and has one other vehicle at their disposal. Only 15 percent of customers buy rather than lease the Mirai.
In some ways, the conventional answer to the fuel cell versus EV dilemma is true. Pumping hydrogen is much like pumping gas, save for the extra-cold temperature of the hydrogen dispenser nozzle. We spent an average of 4 minutes and 6 seconds refueling the Mirai on occasions when there was a quarter of a tank remaining, or 4 minutes 35 seconds when we had dropped down to just one-eighth a tank.
But the Mirai’s driving range proved somewhat disappointing. Although the EPA estimates the Mirai can travel 312 miles on a tank, we averaged a total driving distance of 279 miles, based on the sum of the miles driven before a fill-up and the indicated range remaining on the readout. We refueled the H2 tank more than 50 times, but the car cracked 300 miles of total driving distance in just six instances. After refueling, the average new range estimate came out to 272 miles on the display. In a similar vein, we achieved a fuel economy rating of 61.3 miles per kilogram during our time with the Mirai, though the EPA estimates a 65.9-mpk rating. One kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent to a gallon of gas.
Unlike gas stations, which are available at every corner, hydrogen stations are still few and far between. The nearest one to my residence is 12 miles away, and there are just 30 open retail stations across California as of this writing, though a couple of them opened after or slightly before the end of our time with the Mirai. In addition to the limited infrastructure, the experience of filling up varies slightly from station to station. They usually don’t prove problematic, but one pump requires watching a lengthy tutorial, and on a couple of occasions, stations encountered hiccups dispensing hydrogen fuel. In contrast, plugging in an EV is as easy as plugging in your cell phone nowadays, especially if you charge at home.
The Mirai is available in one fully loaded trim level with active cruise control, pre-collision braking, LED headlamps, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and heated seats with SofTex synthetic leather upholstery. Our model goes for $58,335, but if you lop off a $5,000 California rebate, the price drops to $53,335. (As of June 30, funding for the California tax credit has been exhausted, with priority now going to lower- and moderate-income applicants; a federal income tax credit with a maximum $8,000 value expired at the end of 2016 and has not been retroactively extended.)
Toyota provides free fuel for three years, worth up to $15,000. That extra moola comes in handy because hydrogen often costs $15 or more per kg, quite expensive when you consider the Mirai’s usable fill capacity is 4.72 kg. Compare that to a single charge for an EV, which will definitely cost you less than a tank of gas. But sweetening the pot a little more, owners get free rental car service for 21 days, and Toyota also offers free maintenance for three years or 35,000 miles.
Accordingly, we spent $0 maintaining our Mirai, with one small exception. After noticing our cabin air filter was dirty, we dropped $18.31 to fix the problem. (The filter is not covered by the complimentary maintenance program). The Mirai is the first hydrogen vehicle we’ve had in our long-term fleet, so it’s impossible to compare its maintenance cost to its direct competitors. But we can compare it to our long-term 2015 Kia Soul EV+, which cost $71.42 to maintain over 10,099 miles, and our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S P85+, which cost $0 to maintain but required $1,760 for new tires after 38,054 miles.
Getting the Mirai serviced was a surprisingly simple affair. True, you’ll only find four Toyota dealerships in Southern California and four in Northern California that service the vehicle, and there are special Mirai technicians, but we never had to wait long to get our Mirai in for a checkup. We didn’t have to make a formal appointment for either of our two visits while adhering to the 5,000-mile service intervals. Once the tires were rotated and a few inspections were performed, we were in and out of the dealership in an hour or two.
What will I miss most about the Mirai? I enjoyed its instant power delivery, which helps maneuver quickly through traffic, and its comfortable ride. Plus the car’s low beltline means expansive windows provide excellent visibility. Customers also get a uniquely designed, high-quality interior with a competent and responsive infotainment system, unique touch-sensitive climate controls, and comfortable SofTex seats.
But for as many good things as I can remember, there are bad ones too. First off: The Mirai has only four seats. Vague handling, a heavy feel when cornering, and mushy brakes diminish the driving fun. The Mirai’s value proposition is put in question when you realize you’re getting a vehicle with an uninspired driving experience at the same price you’d pay for a premium car even after all the perks. The Mirai also feels older (because it is older) than the Honda Clarity. Although the Mirai trumps the Clarity in ride quality, the Clarity benefits from better handling and a newer cabin. The few hydrogen cars on the market have noticeable drawbacks when it comes to driving enjoyment, and electric vehicles such as the Volkswagen e-Golf, Chevrolet Bolt, and Tesla Model S more closely fit the bill in terms of performance.
So how would I respond if someone asked what it would take for me to get into a FCEV over a BEV? I’d have to live within a few miles of a hydrogen station, have another vehicle or not travel outside of California very often, and be willing to make sacrifices in drive or ride quality.
Key stats about our time with a Toyota Mirai:
Total distance: 10,497 miles
More on our 2016 Toyota Mirai here:
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September 9, 2017 at 04:07AM
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