To an average consumer who struggles to understand that plug-in hybrids run on both electricity and gasoline, the concept of a fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) must be mind-blowing.
“You’re tellin’ me that this thing uses compressed hydrogen gas, converts it into electricity right there under the hood, and then nothin’ but water comes out of the exhaust?” Boom!
Yet here we are, science-fiction fans. Three FCEV models are on sale in California, where a small but growing network of hydrogen refueling stations exists. And if you live on Oahu, Hawaii, you can get one of those cars: the Toyota Mirai.
Among modern FCEVs, the Mirai was first, arriving for the 2016 model year. Looking all kinds of weird, the Mirai seats four people in a high-riding sedan with a design inspired by catamarans knifing through the sea.
Honda followed for the 2018 model year with a redesigned Clarity Fuel Cell. Like the extremely low-volume FCX Clarity it replaced, the Clarity Fuel Cell is a car you lease rather than buy. Honda won’t sell one to you, unlike Toyota with the Mirai. The aerodynamic Honda seats five people and has a trunk, though it certainly looks more like a hatch.
If you’re thinking about getting an FCEV, and you don’t want a Hyundai Nexo, these are your two choices. Let’s figure out which one is best in this Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vs. Toyota Mirai comparison.
Toyota says the Mirai’s styling (bottom) is inspired by a catamaran. Meanwhile, aerodynamics dictated the comparatively conservative Clarity Fuel Cell’s design. (Photo: Honda and Toyota)
The best things about the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
Neither of these cars is attractive in a conventional sense, but we like the Clarity better than the bizarre Mirai. That’s going to change, though, and soon. The redesigned 2021 Mirai is going to be quite a looker if the concept version is any indication.
Beyond styling, the Honda offers 360 miles of range compared to the Toyota’s 312-mile estimate. Given California’s sketchy hydrogen station infrastructure, this is critical.
Honda also provides more interior room and seating for five people, while the Mirai’s cabin is smaller and accommodates only four folks. Honda reports that 80% of the Clarity Fuel Cell’s interior materials are ecologically responsible, and the cabin benefits from remote pre-conditioning before driving as well as a Plasmacluster air purification system.
Both cars offer $15,000 in free fuel during the first three years of ownership, as well as 21 days of free car rentals if you need to take a trip. But only Honda promises luxury car rentals. And only the Honda comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
Inside, the Honda (top) uses luxury-grade, eco-conscious materials rendered in an understated design. The Mirai’s touch-sensing controls and discordant lines are wild by comparison. (Photo: Honda and Toyota)
The best things about the Toyota Mirai
You can buy or lease a Toyota Mirai, which gives you the luxury of choice. The base price is $58,500, but Toyota discounts it by $7,500 with a “Trailblazer Rebate” and the state of California kicks in another five grand. The lease payment is $459 per month with nothing down, just like the Honda.
Toyota bests Honda with free maintenance during the first three years or 35,000 miles. The Mirai’s front passenger is more comfortable thanks to a standard 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and the Mirai includes a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, which is vastly superior to the right-side-only LaneWatch camera in the Clarity Fuel Cell.
More of your junk fits in the Toyota’s bigger 12.8 cu.-ft. trunk, too, and the Mirai comes with Wi-Fi Connect service and a free 6-month/2-gigabyte trial period. It’s worth noting that it can get chilly in California, making the Mirai’s heated steering wheel and wiper de-icer handy on the rare occasions they’re needed. But they’re irrelevant on Oahu, aren’t they?
When it comes to cargo space, the Toyota Mirai (bottom) wins. When it comes to passenger space, the Clarity Fuel Cell takes the cake. (Photo: Honda and Toyota)
Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vs. Toyota Mirai. Which is better?
Within the three-model FCEV competitive set, our favorite is the Hyundai Nexo. But if you’re trying to decide between the Clarity Fuel Cell and the Mirai, we recommend the Honda. Unless aloha is a part of your daily routine.
Why? Mainly because it provides 48 more miles of driving range. And when hydrogen refueling stations are few and far between, with odd hours of operation, and occasional unscheduled downtime, well, you’re going to need ‘em.
Plus, the Honda is also roomier inside, equipped with a cabin rendered primarily in luxury-grade eco-conscious materials, and the Clarity Fuel Cell includes several features that make daily life easier.
But Honda had best not rest for too long. As we mentioned, the 2021 Toyota Mirai promises to leapfrog the Clarity Fuel Cell, and soon.