Toyota, the world’s largest car manufacturer by sales volume, is no stranger to innovation. Aside from Tesla, the company is arguable one of the world’s leaders in developing and promoting alternative ways of powering the trusty old car that we’ve all come to know and love. From plugin hybrids, to fuel cell vehicles, to 100% pure electric vehicles, Toyota has been at the forefront of automotive research & development. The end goal? To design the ideal car that strikes the right balance in terms of commercial viability, practicality, and eco-friendliness.
The company’s latest jab at making this dream a reality is its new concept electric vehicle dubbed the i-Road. In a nutshell, the i-Road is a high-tech, three-wheeled motorcycle/smart car from the future that runs entirely on electricity. It comes as the newest baby born out of previous concept models such as the i-Unit, i-Swing and i-Real. It seats two passengers in tandem at the maximum, although for bigger guys doing so is a huge stretch.
Similar to the Tesla Model S, or actually all the other electric vehicles for that matter, the i-Road packs a lot of tech in its measly 870mm wide, 1,455mm high and 2,345mm long frame.
For starters, it has what Toyota calls Active Lean Technology. Basically, it is the i-Road’s self righting front-wheel configuration that consists of a geared actuator connected to each of the front wheel’s suspension arm. An ECU or electronic control unit then manages the degree of of lean of each front wheel, and using a combination of steering angle, gyroscope and vehicle speed, the system induces lean while cornering or keeps the vehicle steady at low speeds. Therefore, in cornering, as the angle of lean of one wheel increases, the other lowers by the same amount. In a straight line, road imperfections such as rough patches, rocks and holes are filtered out automatically, giving the driver a smoother ride. Pretty neat, especially for the i-Road’s size.
Adding up to this, the i-Road also features a full enclosure setup to differentiate itself among traditional motorcycles out there. This helps a lot to protect the driver from harsh weather conditions and shields the driver from scratches and dirt that may come form direct contact from the outside. And oh, no need for helmets because of this, which should be a big plus for all the ladies out there who hates messing up their hair.
The i-Road’s two front wheels are powered directly by a 2.7hp, in-hub electric motor which are fed by a lithium-ion battery pack. Toyota claims this should allow the driver at most 50km from a single charge, before again needing at least 3hours of wall socket time.
TechCrunch reporter Kyle Russell recently took the i-Road for a spin, and his initial impressions are quite interesting. According to him, the i-Road, although not a speedster by any means, is very fun to drive around. It’s very similar to skiing or cycling around especially when you lean while taking sharp turns. Russell also notes that the minimal noise insulation of the vehicle allows for a more engaging drive as you get to hear some of the road noise and the motor whirring around.
Personally though, I am yet to see the practical application for such type of ride. Although Toyota in particular sees the i-Road for personal mobility purposes (that is, bringing a person or two from point A to point B with as less hassle and carbon emission as possible) I think it is still more economical to just use a slightly bigger vehicle that can at least pack a few things inside a compartment. Then again, for people that live in places such as Japan or Europe, the i-Road might make more sense as parking there is a huge headache and the roads are much smaller.
Rumored to be already production ready, Toyota is yet to announce pricing and availability for the i-Road.
This post has been sponsored by Toyota, but all thoughts are our own.