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Hydrogen power returns to Toyota’s line-up with a radically different second-generation Mirai

The past 10 years ought to have been nourishing ones in the realisation of that sustainable dream of personal transport, the hydrogen fuel cell car.

Despite the best efforts of many car makers, however, and principally due to external factors, they haven’t quite gone to script.

Big wheels were part of the new Mirai’s design brief, to add static appeal. These glossy black 20in items come on range-topping cars

It was back in 2014 when Toyota took the covers off its first-generation Mirai hydrogen production car (its name Japanese for ‘future’). A year before, Hyundai had started making fuel cell cars in low volumes, and in 2017 Honda’s second-generation Clarity FCV came along. Even lower-volume, toe-dipping hydrogen car pilot schemes had been run by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Mazda previously, but it was really only in the middle of the last decade that anyone got truly serious about what has become known as the FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle).

Turbulent market conditions have since eroded any funds that might have found their way into fuel cell development, though, while the enormous investments in electrification have left little money for longer-term projects. Hydrogen refuelling infrastructure has been slow to expand too, even across the developed world. The upshot? Mercedes, for one, cancelled its long-running hydrogen car production and development programme in 2020, while other brands scaled back their own ambitions.

For some, though, the dream lives on, as represented by this week’s road test subject: the all-new, second-generation Mirai. While rivals back away from hydrogen, Toyota remains committed to the technology as part of an all-encompassing vision for a workable zero-emissions transport system of the future that might include larger, longer-range passenger cars.

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It has redeveloped its proprietary fuel cell stack (which is backed jointly by BMW, and due to appear in the i Hydrogen Next later this decade), and has quite radically changed both the mechanical underpinnings and mission statement of the Mirai production vehicle whose market penetration, it hopes, can really begin to accelerate.

The Toyota Mirai line-up at a glance

The Mirai offers only one choice on power output and bodystyle, but Toyota has given it a showroom model line-up of sorts by packaging up equipment in a three-tier range.

Entry-level Design spec gets 19in alloys, cloth seat trim and JBL premium audio. Mid-spec Design Plus adds synthetic leather and extra active safety kit. Top-level Design Premium cars have 20in wheels, natural leather, a panoramic roof, a head-up display, wireless device charging and heated rear seats.