Toyota's urban mobility concept is facing public trials in Japan, and the first responses point to an exciting future

What is it?

In the words of its creator Akihiro Yanaka, the Toyota i-Road combines “the manoeuvrability of a motorbike, with the economy and stability of a small family car.”

A tandem two seat three-wheeler, it tilts into bends while being steered from the rear by a tiny single wheel. Propulsion comes from a pair of electric motors located within the front wheels. In the UK it would be classified as a scooter, allowing it has a slightly disappointing 28mph top speed – for Japan this climbs to a more exciting 37mph - and has a range of just over 30 miles when driven with a bit of restraint, and 25 miles if you can’t resist extracting the most of its darting charms. It takes three hours to recharge.

The i-Road is intended purely as a set of urban wheels and promisingly, Toyota plans to trial it in both Toyota City, near Nagoya, and Grenoble in southern France as part of a 70-strong fleet of tiny electric tandem two-seaters entering service in autumn next year.

The other vehicle, known as the COM, is a four-wheeler similar in concept to Renault’s Twizy, if less sexy looking. The i-Road, by contrast, looks very sexy indeed. Styled by Koji Fujita, this is the concept as it appeared at last year’s Geneva motor show, from its ‘50s locomotive style Cyclops headlight to the slender casings that cap its tilting front wheels and the horizontal strip of its tail-lights. It’s less than 2.5m long and rides on a 1700mm wheelbase, but the critical statistic is its 850mm width.

That’s about the same as a motorbike, making the i-Road very easy to thread through city streets, while allowing no less than four of them to occupy the parking space of a single car. 

Its mechanicals are no less interesting than its looks. The slender front wheels are jointed to a yoke system that allows them to tilt – imagine a see-saw with a pair of vertical struts descending to the wheel hubs from either end – while the rear wheel steers at a variable rate depending on your speed, turning more tightly for a given lock at lower speeds. Manoeuvrability is the key.

With two motors up front the i-Road needs quite a complex control system in order that they don’t fight each other in a straight line, besides enabling one to spin more slowly than the other in a turn. With only two kilowatts apiece to dispense – that’s a little over 5bhp – minimising the i-Road’s weight has been critical, the three-wheeler weighing around 300kg in concept form. However, this example uses an aluminium chassis that would be too expensive for a production version, which would probably resort to steel.

Weight-saving is why it does without a heating and ventilation system but there’s some weatherproofing, the upper glass sections of the three-quarter-height doors stopping a few inches short of the roof. The lower portions of the doors are glass too. This arrangement is sufficient to allow you to drive without a helmet, making the i-Road much more instant to use.

What's it like?

Yanaka says part of his inspiration for the i-Road was the movement people make when they’re skiing through a turn, and if you’ve ever taken to the slopes you can see what he means.

Not only do you feel the exhilaration of swooping into a bend – even at these relatively low speeds – but it also looks a little like it’s slaloming when you see it from the roadside. Tilting feels curiously natural, although Yanaka says that those unfamiliar with motorbikes, or skiing, sometimes feel intimidated. But it feels completely stable.

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It’s also very easy to drive – ride? – there being just two pedals (plus a foot-operated park brake) a pushbutton transmission and simple instruments. The steering wheel is almost square, there being little need for shuffling because the i-Road’s lock tightens at lower speeds. That means that you have to judge how slowly you need to go to round a tighter corner – too fast and it will scribe a wider line – but at least it has a reverse gear.

Yanaka says that the development prototypes will have a tighter lock than the concept, which might struggle in tight places. But the joy of this machine comes at higher speeds – it’s easy to imagine the thrill of cutting through traffic that motorbike riders enjoy, as well as the pleasure of sweeping through corners. And this despite its modest performance, although this is part-masked by its enthusiastically instant step-off.

Should I buy one?

You can’t buy an i-Road yet, although a lucky few will soon be able to enjoy its considerable charms in Grenoble and Toyota City.

But there’s a long way to go before it makes the showroom floor, Toyota execs reckon that it needs a good three-to four years of development before it can hit the road in numbers. The company is a long way from deciding whether to go ahead with it, although those field trials will help.

But the reaction of Yanaka’s translator is a clue to how appealing this engaging transportation device is. After an afternoon of watching smiling hacks climb out of the i-Road she was persuaded to have a go herself. “Now I know what all the excitement was about,” she said after swooping about for a couple of laps.

Toyota i-Road

Price NA; 0-62mph NA; Top speed 28mph; Economy NA; CO2 0g/km; Kerbweight 300kg; Engine twin in-wheel motors; Installation in-wheel, front-wheel drive; Power 5.4bhp; Torque NA; Power-to-weight 0.6bhp per tonne; Gearbox Single speed automatic

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JJ Joseph 25 March 2014


Who would buy one of these? The price will be the same as any other small/Smart car, the parking costs will be the same as a full-size car, it's too slow to drive on most urban roadways, and it's likely banned from motorcycle spaces. A normal 50cc scooter is faster and cheaper, and gets free parking, too.
MikeSpencer 16 October 2013


The cabin of the i-Road certainly looks snug.

Toyota COM (Images 7-9). Where's the side impact protection?

Paul Dalgarno 16 October 2013

Don't see the point

Afraid I just don't get it. Yes in cities, but even a public transport hater such as myself would rather take a bus/tram/rickshaw than have the ownership hassle of one of these. I can't see a market for them other than a small handful of people that would never recover the development costs. Sounds and looks like fun though.

We don't have a forum here anymore, but while in Lanzarote I saw what I thought was an excellent idea. Basically a set of traffic lights with warning lights as you approached, that if you exceeded the speed limit it turns the lights red, and you have to stop - brilliant! Don't know if it was hooked up to a camera for fining red light runners though.