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The 2022 Toyota Mirai Limited: As California as it Gets

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

From Silicon Valley to Silicon Beach, it's no secret that the Golden State is famous for being a hub for all things innovative and experimental. However, the Mirai might just be more of a California girl than you might think...and not necessarily for the right reasons, either. Special thanks to The Motoring Club for the car and Melzer Creative for the media.

This technical evaluation is based on the Nielsen Norman Group's 10 Usability Heuristics, the tried and true valuation method.

💸 Price: $67,025 | 🚙 Body Style: Sedan | 🏎 Powertrain: Fuel Cell

Match Between System and the Real World

The design should speak the users' language. Use words, phrases, and concepts familiar to the user, rather than internal jargon. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

A lot of the Mirai’s composition mirrors today’s internal combustion (IC) vehicles. The powertrain placement, “exhaust”, basically the “guts” of the car are all in sync with how any IC is laid out internally. Alignment with what today’s drivers are most familiar with is the key to getting even the biggest of laggards to give hydrogen a chance. There is one quirk, however, that’s totally unique…this car pees. Yes, it’s exactly what you think I mean. Without going into the whole spiel on the engineering, basically, water is the “waste” product once the fuel cell has finished its process. Hydrogen is the main input, electricity is the output, H2O is the byproduct. You can see the water stream out from under the Mirai at the end of your drive. Quirky, but hey, better than spewing out a pollutant.


Consistency and Standards

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform and industry conventions.

Although the current hydrogen-infrastructure leaves little to be desired, when it comes to “refueling”, this process couldn’t be simpler. One of the core elements of HCD is change management. There’s 5 major categories when it comes to innovation adoption: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. In order to successfully shift the majority to alternative fuels, we must create products and interfaces that incorporate what’s most familiar. Toyota did a great job with this aspect of making owning a fuel cell vehicle slightly less intimidating by copying the gasoline refueling process and pasting it on the Mirai. It’s not easy to convince a multi-generational population with diverse innovation adoption levels to incorporate anything besides what they’ve been accustomed to for decades. The gas station experience with the same hardware is a subtle but important touch that sparks confidence with even the laggards that they, too, can contribute to a healthier planet.


Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

Shortcuts — hidden from novice users — may speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the design can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

The interface kit isn’t a Toyota in-house design. It’s a kit made by JBL, though, not a signature design for the Mirai. I’d expect as much for the money, but nope. You’ll find this exact same digital experience on the RAV4, Corolla, the whole gamut. You’ll even notice that said kit will help you find one of the 10,000+ California gas stations…no, not specifically one that hosts hydrogen. Just a gas station in general. For a car that does carry some impressive powertrain technology, the UI leaves a lackluster feel...although, I will say, the startup imagery is quite lovely.

The backseat experience also feels rather luxurious with the embedded center console controls. I’d like to see that carry over upfront as well. This could be a great car to be picked up in as an environmentally conscious Director of a company, especially with the incentives. I'd recommend it as part of the rideshare fleet, but not as part of the loaner car fleet.


Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

Interfaces should not contain information that is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in an interface competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

Let’s start with the exterior design. At first glance, the Mirai has strong nods to both the Prius and the Lexus ES. These both track, as the Prius was the Mirai’s initial predecessor (both in design and as Toyota’s innovator of the house), while the ES embodies that sense of technical luxury with the elongated wheelbase that really glides to make an entrance. However, something both the ES and Prius share and mutually exclude from the Mirai: a brand-specific, custom infotainment setup. Both are relatively standard: CarPlay/Android Auto, an interface that inherits the brand’s overall design elements, etc. So, of course, one would think the Mirai shares this as well, especially considering the price point. There's bits and pieces about the holistic design that hit, and pieces that miss.


Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from Errors

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no error codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

This goes back to what I was saying earlier about the lack of communication when it comes to the unstable hydrogen infrastructure. The problem is vaguely stated, regularly, but with no real solution other than “just check in a week”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: gimme an app… like “Toyota Connect” or something…but give me a who and what I can access so I can solve my own problems here and not be left in the dark. I can’t recover from an error I can’t diagnose or even recognize.


Help and Documentation

It’s best if the system doesn’t need any additional explanation. However, it may be necessary to provide documentation to help users understand how to complete their tasks.

So, I have a story for you. When I was about to return this car, I went to a local ARCO station (that I had to Google from my phone…*sigh*) to refill the hydrogen. It was a mild surprise that this station was fresh out. No big deal, on to the next one…and the next one. All three stations were entirely out of hydrogen. I thought, “this couldn’t be a coincidence”. I asked the attendant inside what was going on, and they had no idea. Apparently the hydrogen supplier’s communication with ARCO consists of the real estate and that’s pretty much it. Once the space is bought, there’s no synergy or further conversation between the two organizations. Beyond that, you can call the number on the hydrogen supplier’s tag to ask all the questions you’d like…such as, oh, when you might be able to fuel your car back up and drive home? Guess what? They don’t have a timeframe for you either. To summarize: all of California is out of hydrogen, the supplier has no idea when that’ll change, and the vendor doesn’t even know there’s a shortage to begin with. Sick.


User Control and Freedom

Users often perform actions by mistake. They need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted action without having to go through an extended process.

So, the main reason the Mirai lives exclusively in California is due to the hydrogen infrastructure being so new. The entire golden state has a little over 60 or so gas stations that actively supply hydrogen currently, compared to over 10,000 gas stations in CA reported in 2020. Drivers who sign up for this lifestyle know that it’ll come with some new challenges. User control and freedom is all about empowering drivers with a back-up plan. To me, this means having some sort of easily accessible Plan B for every driver who’s had to just learn that their daily driver will metaphorically be on cinder blocks for God knows how long because that one gas station within a 10 mile radius from their house has once again run out of hydrogen indefinitely. But don’t worry, I’m sure that 19-year-old gas station attendant will remember to give you a call when that changes, like you asked. It’s not Toyota’s fault that the hydrogen infrastructure is still growing and is consistently inconsistent. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room in their digital infrastructure to provide better communication directly among drivers and with suppliers so that the end result isn’t 20 Mirai owners leaving their alterna-Lexus in the ARCO parking lot and taking an Uber home. For 70k? Not the experience I signed up for. Give me a way to see all of this information and connect with other drivers, suppliers, or at least a Toyota hydrogen liaison, and that would be the elevated experience I’d expect for the price tag. What’s that saying? “There’s an app for that”.


Contrary to the idea that fuel cell is an admirable but ultimately futile effort in cars, I personally think that it could be in time as the infrastructure grows. We just need a lot more communication and trust as the end users to help mitigate some of the risk while it's in its infancy. The Mirai proves to be sleek yet simultaneously quirky. I'd like to see it as even more of a deviation from the standard gas-powered lineup Toyota traditionally offers. This technology is radical, I'd like to see that same eccentricity carry over into the end-user's domain.

Overall Usability Score: 47/100

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