2016 Toyota Mirai Fuel-Cell Car At Los Angeles Auto Show (Video)

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The 2016 Toyota Mirai, seen here in its production form, is the first-ever hydrogen fuel-cell car to be offered for sale by a major automaker.

It goes on sale in Japan next month, and will arrive in North America in the second half of next year.

The four-seat mid-size sedan is effectively an electric car, with a 153-horsepower motor powering its front wheels.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Toyota Mirai Priced At $57,500, With $499 Monthly Lease

But instead of storing electricity in a large battery pack, the owner refills the car's reinforced high-pressure storage tanks with hydrogen gas, which the car then converts into electricity in a fuel cell.

The big advantage of fuel-cell cars is their ability to refuel in 5 minutes or less and gain about 300 miles of range--something electric cars can't currently do, even with the highest-power DC fast charging.

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

Enlarge Photo

Toyota has been very clear on two points.

First, it doesn't believe that electric cars have a future as family vehicles, meaning mid-size sedans and crossovers, and larger vehicles yet.

Second, it sees the Mirai--which means "future" in Japanese--as establishing a new and transformative powertrain technology for the new century, just as the Prius did in the mid-1990s.

DON'T MISS: 2016 Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car: First Photos From Test Drive

The styling is, to put it politely, polarizing. That's similar to the Prius too.

Toyota says the lines are meant to evoke the process of taking air from the atmosphere in through the front of the car, and converting it into the clean water vapor that is the car's only exhaust.

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

Enlarge Photo

There are only four seats inside, to avoid any penalty in weight or performance from a fifth occupant.

We've driven the Mirai, and it's essentially like an electric car with a few extra noises--compressor and injector noise from some of the plumbing that moves the hydrogen through the fuel cell.

MORE: 2016 Toyota Mirai Power-Out Jack Could Run Your Home In Emergencies

If we had to sum up the experience of driving the Mirai, it would be: Kinda like a Prius, but quieter.

The big challenge for fuel-cell vehicles, of course, is the present lack of hydrogen fueling stations.

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

Enlarge Photo

Toyota and Honda are both loaning money to third-party fuel providers to establish the first of what's projected to be a network of 100 stations in California.

That's enough to support more than 10,000 hydrogen vehicles--but it points to the slow pace of growth for this latest clean vehicle technology.

RELATED: 10 Questions On Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars To Ask Toyota, Honda & Hyundai

Nonetheless, Toyota firmly believes in hydrogen as the right solution for zero-emission vehicles.

They've built the car, but while buyers may take it for granted that the Mirai will share all the virtues of a Toyota, they're more likely to want to know where they can fuel it.

Stay tuned on that one.

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