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Thursday, 20 August 2015

Toyota has started the next revolution for UK motorists

THE other day I got to try out a real technological groundbreaker – but it wasn’t a car.

Nope, I was playing Pong on an Atari – it wasn’t the first computer game, but it was the one that really caught the world’s attention. It seems weird to think that in 1972 playing a crude electronic representation of table tennis was at the cutting edge of killing time with a friend, but we wouldn’t have got to Angry Birds and Grand Theft Auto V without it.

On the way home from toying with Atari’s finest – and having a nostalgic test drive of Super Mario Kart on 1992’s Super Nintendo while I was at it – I overtook what I reckon must be the motoring world’s Pong on the motorway.

Time really hasn’t done the original Toyota Prius any favours. In the same way the Atari looks impossibly simple in a world where you download slick games straight to your smartphone, the original Prius looks positively prehistoric next to say, a Focus or an Astra of the same era. Then again, that’s the price you pay for being first out of the blocks with something new.

The Prius might look gawky now but it offered us the first chance to drive something other than a straightforward petrol or diesel – a hybrid - and it paved the way for today’s BMW i8s, Vauxhall Amperas, ‘h’-badged Lexus limousines and KERS-assisted Ferraris. Toyota now offers six different hybrids of its own, including a third-generation Prius that’s a lot more Call of Duty than Pacman.

But Toyota isn’t prepared to leave it at that. For as long as anyone can remember it’s been perpetually locked in a technological arms race with Honda, and both reckon the next big thing is fuel cells. In a nutshell, cars that can refill in an instant with hydrogen, somehow make it into electricity without any need to cue the Pathé newsreel of the Hindenberg disaster and then tootle along leaving only water vapour in their wake.

Honda’s already been at in the States with the FCX Clarity, and now Toyota’s taken a tentative leap into the British market with the Mirai.

The Japanese giant is playing it cautious – perhaps not surprisingly, given the £56k price tag and the almost non-existent hydrogen fuel network here at the moment – and you can tell by its slightly edgy styling that it’s going to be another machine that’ll date horrifically.

Chances are you won’t be ordering one of the first cars off to roll off the boat this month – not when it costs nearly twice the price of a Range Rover Evoque – but you’d be a fool to bet against it.

Toyota and Honda are bankrolling fuel cell cars, and they’ll be everywhere in 15 years’ time. The Mirai will look crude in no time, but the revolution’s got to start somewhere.

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