(Pocket-lint) - Depending on where you're from Mirai means "future" or "miracle". However, the Toyota Mirai, one of the first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, isn't in the future: it's available in the here and now. Yet it would be a minor miracle to spot one on the UK's roads, as only 50 of the cars will make it over to Blighty when they're available, making it a car as rare as many supercars.
Only the Mirai couldn't be accused of looking like a supercar. More like Darth Vader after a punch-up, his helmet a bit squished in. It's very much the Japanese effect; the Mirai's design has Toyota's 2015 design aesthetic written all over it, coming across as a not very Euro-friendly looker.
But looks aren't really the biggest of the Mirai's concerns. No, for that we have to look at the provision of hydrogen fuel. In the UK there are currently just four public stations that can provide the 700-bar pressured fuel: in Swindon, Heathrow, Hendon and Teddington. It's no more expensive than petrol or diesel though, and with a three-minute fill-up, it's far, far quicker than an electric car to top-up too.
If you have a round-robin commute in that part of the M25 then the £66,000 Mirai might appeal to your emissions-free inner self. It might be even less cash if the government steps in with a generous grant programme (for electric vehicles it's up to £5,000, for example) but nothing is set in stone yet.
Having driven the Hyundai ix35 and the concept BMW 5-Series GT Fuel Cell, we were still excited to get to get behind the wheel of the Toyota Mirai, which is the kind of car to sit slap-bang in the middle of those two others. But is this Toyota a mere pricey experiment that will need an actual miracle to have a genuine future in the UK?
Our initial experience of the Mirai is lining up on the tarmac at Fuji Speedway, which feels out of context: this is a run-about comfort car, not a racer. Ok, we know the Mirai is as rare as some supercars, but taking it on the track just feels alien, especially without being able to test it to the max.
It's a darn easy drive though. Think of it like a hydrogen version of the Prius, perhaps, and you're not far off the mark; it's smooth and easy going and doesn't require much thinking. The steering is a bit light, though.
The fact the Mirai powered by hydrogen fuel is almost inconsequential: it just goes and, bar for some spaceship-like noises (that sound a bit like plane ailerons moving) when you really hit the throttle, it drives just like a normal car. Which is a good thing, as we don't want to feel like we're driving a spaceship - not unless it can fly too, anyway.
Those noises are down to how power is delivered from the hybrid battery technology. Although the Mirai isn't electric like today's plug-in vehicles, it generates electricity by mixing hydrogen fuel with oxygen, which then drives and electric motor. Regenerated energy is stored in a battery, that last part is much the same concept as an electric or hybrid vehicle. It's a slightly different experience to combusion in that power is available at a higher torque though (here it's 153bhp maximum, with 247lb/ft from 0rpm, achieving 0-62mph in 9.6-seconds), pushing the car forward smoothly and with ample thrust.
A trio of drive modes - eco, normal and power - are selectable via the individual eco and power buttons on the lower dash, which do as you'd expect really: power gives a bit of extra pep, while eco tries to conserve consumption. And with 300-miles available from a full tank, you'll need to keep an eye on how much fuel you have left if you're a bit far-out from Swindon.
We call it a lower dash, as it really is low down. The auto gearstick knob sits above the screen that displays the in-car temperature and aircon controls. The panel is rather wide and a little in the way, too, partly because one of two fuel tanks occupies a space somewhere beneath, which we found made our left leg press against the panel's edge the majority of the time. It's not particularly comfortable as a result.
Higher up, just in the line of sight, is where the more futuristic and fun dash exists. This digital display presents speed and other in-car conditions, from temperature to remaining fuel. It's dark and hidden out of sight when the engine is off, and we like the subtlety of this display - it's not at all distracting during driving. To complement there's a large central screen for satnav and audio controls - we weren't allowed to play with these though, under strict instruction - which is becoming a more commonplace tech appearance in cars these days.
There's another, larger, button marked "H20" tucked away towards the steering wheel which, as the chemists among you will know, stands for water. And water is the sole waste product of mixing hydrogen and oxygen, so that's what you get here - ejected from the rear. It's almost like letting the car relieve itself, but unlike peeing in public this is entirely clean; the Mirai is emissions-free and that water by-product is even clean enough to drink, so we're told.
As the first production hydrogen fuel cell car to make it to the UK the Mirai does feel futuristic. But without the fuel station infrastructure in place just yet it feels futuristic to the point of being ahead of the curve. And with looks like these, we suspect most will snub the idea.
The Toyota Mirai represents progress, but for now it's progress before practicality.