30 Minutes With: The 2017 Toyota Mirai

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Mirai
The 2017 Toyota Mirai.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My eighth car of the day made up for some small amount of the hydrocarbons I'd been spewing in the first seven...the 2017 Toyota Mirai.

Map of route from Quail Lodge to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade
Quail Lodge to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade (courtesy Google Maps).
Laureles Grade is about five and a half miles of non-stop twists and turns between Carmel Valley Road and CA 68, and thus perfect for a pack of automotive journalists and some high-grade machinery.

Side view of 2017 Toyota Mirai
2017 Toyota Mirai.
The Mirai (Japanese for "future") is a different kind of high-grade machinery from what I'd been driving.  It's a hydrogen fuel cell car.  The idea being to take an element of nature and use it to power a vehicle, with water vapor being the only tailpipe emission.  True green car enthusiasts will tell you that this is what makes the most sense, as hybrids use some fossil fuels, and electric vehicles require a charge that comes from existing power plants, some of which...burn fossil fuels.

The biggest problem is infrastructure.  Even here in California, a gas station with hydrogen pumps is pretty rare.  As a result, Toyota is only selling the Mirai in California...and then only through eight specially authorized dealers in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the Bay Area and Roseville (suburban Sacramento).

Despite (or maybe because of) the exclusivity, Toyota is being very aggressive about marketing the Mirai to prospective buyers...making a point of letting them know that the fairly stiff $57,500 purchase price gets whittled down by a $5,000 California tax rebate, offering a 36-month lease deal for $2,499 down and $349 a month and throwing in three years' worth of complimentary fuel.  And, if you look at the photo above, that white sticker just aft of the rear wheel...that's like gold here in California...it allows you to use the HOV lane when it's just you in the car.  The Mirai qualifies.  A simple hybrid doesn't.

Interior view of 2017 Toyota Mirai
2017 Toyota Mirai interior.
As for the driving experience, if you've driven a Prius, you know what to expect.  In fact, the interior is instantly familiar, with the exception of a few Mirai-exclusive bits.  Judging the driving experience of the Mirai on Laureles Grade is like reviewing a Bugatti Chiron on its fuel economy.

Bottom line:  If you believe nothing more harmful than water vapor should come out of your tailpipe, live in California, can swing the purchase or lease and are comfortable with the Prius' driving dynamics, the Mirai is your car.