Toyota is set to become the first manufacturer to take the plunge into production-ready hydrogen-powered cars as it readies the Mirai saloon for a September launch in the UK.
Meaning ‘future’ in Japanese, the Mirai has already been on sale in Japan for a little while and it’s already surpassed Toyota’s order expectations three times over.
Hydrogen-powered cars are best thought of as traditional electric cars but, instead of batteries, they have hydrogen fuel cell stacks. A stack relies on hydrogen’s desire to bond with oxygen to make water – electricity is generated by forcing hydrogen through the stack to meet the oxygen.
Oh and, if you’re picturing the Hindenburg in flames, don’t worry – unlike the ill-fated airship, the Mirai features a pair of advanced three-layer high-pressure storage tanks made from carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic. The tanks can store enough hydrogen, says Toyota, to drive for 300 miles – far greater than any current electric car.
Unlike electric cars, you’re not obliged to spend hours charging it because, like conventional combustion engined-cars, you simply pull up to your nearest hydrogen filling station and replenish your tanks. Toyota reckons it takes just three minutes to fill the tanks – comparable with equivalent petrol and diesel cars.
Other than its novel method of generating electricity, much of the Mirai is fairly conventional. Its electric motor deploys 152hp and 247lb ft of torque, enough to sprint to 62mph from rest in 9.6 seconds and on to a 111mph top speed. Toyota claims the powertrain’s low centre of gravity makes for a grippy and engaging drive.
The car’s exterior design in profile has been shaped to reflect a drop of water – a reference to the fuel that powers the car. Prominent left and right grilles at the front handle airflow to feed oxygen to the fuel cell stack and for the cooling circuit, while adding visual weight.
Inside, a luxurious cabin reflects the upmarket nature of this car. A new seat building process claims to give seats that fit and hold passengers better while driving information is relayed to the driver via a 4.2-inch screen in the instrument cluster. Electric-running means that refinement is exceptional and Toyota claims there’s almost no noise from the powertrain.
As with all electric cars there are no emissions from the tailpipe except, for the fuel cell, a little harmless water. Toyota claims the hydrogen can be made from all manner of natural and man-made sources using renewable energy and, when compressed into the tanks, has a greater energy density than batteries.
Time to say hy to hydrogen?
Full UK-specification is yet to be confirmed but we’ll keep you updated with more details as we get them. The Toyota Mirai costs $57,500 in the US so should cost just under £40,000 when it arrives in the UK in September but, before then, take a look at the alternative-fuel rivals it’ll have to beat – the BMW i3, Vauxhall Ampera and Audi A3 e-tron.