2021 Toyota Mirai Long-Term Test Update: What Is It Doing To Us?

I’ve already put 2,000 miles on my hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai, and I’m rather disturbed by how much I am enjoying this car. Understand that I spent most of the pandemic Bogarting our sister publication Automobile’s long-term Hyundai Veloster N. I like cars that are small, sharp, and—most important of all—stick shifts. Yet here I am daily driving a big, cushy two-pedal Toyota—and I love it. What the hell is happening to me?

Worse yet, the Mirai is turning me into an electric car snob. Not so much from an ecological standpoint, mind you; given the current methods of hydrogen procurement, I’ll lose that argument to any plug-in EV owner. No, it’s the smoothness and silence of the electric drivetrain that have spoiled me. Not long ago, I reviewed a Honda CR-V. I hopped in, pressed the go button, and thought, What is that beastly sensation? All that noise, all that vibration? Oh, it’s an engine! How quaint! When the transmission shifted gears, I just about crapped a kitten.

For all those who are dreading the reduction in prominence (if not quite the outright end) of the internal combustion engine, let me assure you: One can get used to an electric powertrain very quickly, even one as humble as the Mirai’s. Today’s few fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) aren’t as swift as similar battery-powered EVs, and driving the Mirai with a lead foot kills your range. But Toyota chose wisely when it appointed this car with Lexus-like levels of comfort and refinement. Range anxiety aside, I’ve driven few cars that were more relaxing. For all my Veloster-fed go-faster urges, laid-back life in the Mirai seems to suit me.

One of the goals we set for this long-term test was to see if the Mirai could deliver its promised 402-mile range. So far, it hasn’t. I’ve run the car down as low as 1/8 full, and combining my miles traveled with indicated remaining range, we’re topping out around 365 miles. I’m eager to see how far away I can take the Mirai, so I’ve done a couple of preliminary trips up to Tehachapi, 90 miles into the high desert with no fuel stations en route. Those long upgrades really suck down the hydrogen, and that’s a problem for long-distance travel—if I want to leave my home in sea-level Los Angeles, I almost always have to go uphill.

So far, the biggest pain point with the Toyota Mirai has been fueling, though it hasn’t been as painful as I anticipated. I’ve had no trouble finding hydrogen stations, but whether they work is another story. I’ve dealt with stations that were out of fuel (requiring a 5-mile backtrack), several non-working card readers, and in one case—after a successful fueling—a nozzle that wouldn’t come off the car. (Happily, a first-gen Mirai driver in line behind me knew the secret: Bring grippy gloves and yank really hard.) Filling up takes about five minutes, as advertised by Toyota, but if there are two FCEVs ahead of me and only a single working pump, that’s a 15-minute wait.

Checking station availability is key, and the best resource I’ve found so far is Toyota’s own smartphone app, which has a stations map that ties into the California Fuel Cell Partnership site and reports station status and inventory. (The navigation system also has a fuel finder app, but it doesn’t indicate whether a station has fuel.) Despite what seems like a scarcity of stations, I rarely have to go far out of my way: There are plenty of stations on the routes I normally ply, and once range is down to 100 miles or so, I think about the days ahead when my travels might take me into the vicinity of a station. Aside from that one backtracking incident, I’ve rarely had to go too far out of my way to fuel up.

Speaking of the Toyota app (we were, weren’t we?), one of its other nice features is the ability to remote-start the car and turn on the air conditioning, which will come in very handy as we head into another hot San Fernando Valley summer. The Mirai “idles” in silence, and nothing comes out of the tailpipe but water, so no worries about annoying the neighbors.

Now that I have the routine down, my plan is to travel further afield—first 150 miles to San Diego, then 175 miles to San Luis Obispo, and eventually the 350-mile trip to San Francisco, with only two stations on the long trek between Ventura and the Bay area. Once I see how long-distance travel works, I’ll think about venturing outside of the hydrogen corridor that links Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Fricso. I’m also curious to see how seasonal temps affect my range (can I get more fuel on a cooler day?) and if some stations supply more fuel than others. Life as an early(ish) adopter has its pitfalls, but the Toyota Mirai is proving to be a comfortable cocoon from which to make my observations

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