The 2021 Toyota Mirai Is Much Less Ugly, Rear-Wheel Drive And Still Runs On Hydrogen

There’s a new Toyota Mirai out for 2021, and visually it’s a vast improvement over the previous Mirai, which was, to be charitable, a lunch-tossingly ugly vehicle. Fascinatingly, it’s gone rear-wheel drive this time, which almost never happens, but it’s still definitely a hydrogen-powered car.

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The new Mirai ditches all the awkward curves and folds and tumor-like vents for a “coupe inspired” design that’s clean and sleek. As much as you think Toyota would have been tempted to make this a battery-electric vehicle, Toyota is doubling down on its hydrogen development. And you can still only buy it in a very limited number of places.

This new Mirai is based on Toyota’s premium global RWD platform, which should be nice for handling and driving feel, and Toyota wants to get about 30 percent more range from the new car than the old one, which should put it around 350 miles per tank of still-hard-to-find hydrogen.

Pricing hasn’t been released yet.

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There’s a lot to like about hydrogen as a fuel, if only it was as abundant here on earth as it is out in the universe, where it’s the most common element. But the truth is the electric charging infrastructure has been growing far faster than the hydrogen infrastructure.

Some of the issues are regulatory—Toyota told me there’s many stations in the Northeast that just can’t be open for legal reasons, and it’s still the case that in New York and New Jersey you can’t drive a hydrogen vehicle in a tunnel, which is, of course, a problem.

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The 2021 Mirai is a vast improvement in design, no question. And it runs with the torque of an electric car, but weighs less and takes far less time to refuel/recharge. On paper, it seems to have many advantages, or at least be competitive with an battery electric out there.

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Too bad we don’t live on paper, though. The lack of fueling options can’t be ignored. There’s a reason this is, by far, Toyota’s lowest-selling vehicle. Because hardly anyone is in a position to actually own one. Even the 6,000 or so that exist in the world are 99.9 percent leases, so nobody really even owns one, anyway.

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At an electrification event near where I live in North Carolina, I asked Toyota engineers and product people flat out why this isn’t a battery EV designed to compete with, say, the Tesla Model S.

And Toyota’s smart, well-spoken representatives painted a compelling story for hydrogen: it’s vastly quicker to refuel hydrogen than it is to recharge batteries, the cars weigh a great deal less, fuel cell technology is mature and more efficient, with only water vapor as exhaust, and so on.

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It’s an appealing story until you try and figure out where your local hydrogen station is (pretty much if you’re anywhere but California, it’s very far away) and it’s not like they’re just getting started—Toyota has been working on hydrogen cars since they started developing hybrid cars.

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And while hydrogen cars I do believe are as safe (perhaps safer) than battery electrics when it comes to fire, those very safe tanks are still bulky, and the components of hydrogen cars do not lend themselves to the extraordinarily efficient packaging of a battery vehicle, not by a long shot.

The Mirai has a lot of hardware in addition to the usual EV drivetrain components
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So, yes, this new Mirai seems so much better than the old one. Will it move the needle in favor of hydrogen cars? That’s hard to believe, but it’s got a better shot than it did before.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)