2017 Toyota Mirai: We had only an hour together …
Price: $57,500. Ouch. But leases for $350 a month, plus free fuel for the three-year life of the lease (up to $15,000) makes it more of a bargain than you'd think.
Marketer's pitch: "The future. Available now."
Conventional wisdom: Save your money; the future looks expensive.
Reality: … but sometimes an hour is really all you need.
A Mirai-cle chance: When the organizers of Philly Greenfest invited me to check out the hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered Toyota Mirai at their recent event, I leaped at the opportunity.
This passenger vehicle that's only on the road in California right now is like a unicorn. Toyota officials say that only 2,000 have been put on the road, and those vehicles are limited to buyers and lessees who live near fueling stations and who otherwise would be able to fit them into their lives.
About 10 stations offer hydrogen in the San Francisco area, and nearly twice that many in Los Angeles, plus one in Santa Barbara, and another in Coalinga make traveling the Golden State a little easier.
Toyota plans to bring the Mirai to the Northeast in 2018, but refueling stations will be centered around New York City.
What it is: The Toyota Mirai uses an electric motor powered by hydrogen in fuel cells. The vehicles get refueled with hydrogen at gas station-style pumps, and no cord or charging is required.
The only emission? Water.
And as for volatility, Toyota has given the fuel tanks all sorts of reinforcements and an automatic shutoff in the event of a mishap, although gasoline is fairly flammable as well.
Short-term test: Though I tried to negotiate an overnight or two with the Mirai, I had to settle for an hour's drive before the event officially opened to the public.
I managed to put more than 15 miles on the odometer on I-95 and Philadelphia's city streets, with Sturgis Kid 4.0 as my copilot; he could really qualify as my research assistant on this car, for all he's been telling me about the Mirai over the last year or so.
Up to speed: Like other electric-powered vehicles, the Mirai has no lack of oomph for entrance ramps. I found myself breaking the law long before I expected to; Toyota claims a 0-to-60 time of 9 seconds, and I think it's quicker than that.
The 153-horsepower-equivalent (114 kW) motor provides that power with a pretty neat and fairly unusual sound. There was a bit of a scream for a short time (from the Mirai, not Mr. Driver's Seat or Sturgis Kid 4.0) and then back to nice and quiet.
On the road: Handling is nimble, although I never put the Mirai through its paces on winding roads. The fuel cells' position under the rear seat lowers the center of gravity so that cornering is a delight.
The Mirai also flattened out a lot of Philadelphia roadways' "special features." Giant highway seams and road craters are handled deftly by the suspension.
Finally, when slowing down from highway speeds, the Mirai sounds like nothing if not a jet coming in for a landing. I like it.
Inside: Toyota knows it has a fairly expensive vehicle on its hands — although Sturgis Kid 4.0 reported that costs of the vehicle production have dropped by 95 percent since its inception — so it has provided Lexus-level leather seating to go with the titanium fuel cell separators.
Comfort is primo. I enjoyed the same Lexus "Ahhhhhh!" that delighted me in the RX350 and the IS350.
Information, please: Drivers are treated to the Prius-style gaugepod, which means a digital display in the center near the windshield, and graphical representations of the motor's functioning.
Shiftless: Nope, still no transmission needed. The joystick comes à la the Prius as well.
Friends and stuff: The two rear seats (the center is swallowed by a giant console) were snug for legs and feet, reported Sturgis Kid 4.0, who now stands 6-foot-2. All passengers sit up fairly high as well, a nice feeling, yet headroom is still fine.
Fuel economy: A 310-mile range is advertised. We never had to refuel, which was good, because the nearest station is in New Jersey, a Toyota rep said.
As for cleanliness of the fuel, steam reforming of methane is the most common way of producing hydrogen right now, according to Toyota. Using natural gas negates some of the clean energy benefits, but probably not more than burning the fuel (or worse, coal) for electricity to run an electric car.
Where it's built: Toyota City, Japan.
How it's built: Very carefully, I'm sure. Only three are made a day, according to Insideevs.com.