2016 Toyota Mirai: First Drive Of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Sedan

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The 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car will get a huge amount of promotion and attention from its maker, despite the very low numbers that will be built in its first years.

In that respect, it's very similar to the first Toyota Prius hybrid back in 1997--a first sketch of what a future powertrain may promise.

But what's it actually like to drive, as a car?

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Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer turns out to be rather like a Prius, only quieter.

Divisive design

To put it politely, the styling of the Mirai is polarizing. Asked about its genesis, North American Toyota executives said only that they had not had any input into the design.

Others found it unappealing, with a number commenting on what was perceived as a cacophony of shapes, accents, curves, swoops, and angles.

The best view to our eyes is looking down on the hood when centered in front of the car.

The Miari's side profile is best viewed in a light color, where the clash between the exaggerated accent lines and the relatively small 16-inch wheels is less apparent.

The rear-end styling is rather less successful; it clearly has an aerodynamic purpose, but the various shapes look like nothing else, short of some of the darker corners of auto shows containing the most extreme concept cars.

Four seats

Inside, the seats are comfortable, though there are only four of them. The weight of a fifth passenger was deemed undesirable for range and performance. The seating position is fairly upright--rather like a Prius.

The interior materials are a mix of hard plastic, as in the Prius, and soft surfaces.

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The Mirai has no fewer than three separate color display screens in its dashboard. They're slightly less Space Age-y than the rather scattered displays in the current Prius, though you won't mistake the Mirai's interior for that of a conventional car.

A vehicle information center at the base of the windshield in front of the driver, and two more centrally positioned: a larger one for audio and apps data protruding from the top of the substantial center stack and console, and a second one lower down that displays climate-control system information below the shift lever.

Start it like a Prius

The starting procedure, too, is reminiscent of a Prius: Fasten seat belt, foot on brake, press button, wait for displays to power up, and move the lever that protrudes from the middle of the center stack to "D".

It took us a while, however, to work out that a round button marked "P" was the parking-brake release. The Mirai also has Toyota's three drive modes available: Normal, Eco, and Power.

Both cars move away from a stop powered by an electric motor, though of course the Prius will switch on its gasoline engine under harder acceleration or if there's not enough energy in its battery pack.

The Mirai accelerates smoothly, if not particularly fast, with a 0-to-60-mph time of just under 10 seconds. Like a Prius in electric mode, the dominant sounds are tire noise and a bit of whine in the background.

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