Toyota’s zippy i-Road offers a high fun factor

This alternative vehicle, to be tested in Tokyo, may face roadblocks if Toyota wants to sell it in Canada

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      At the 2014 Tokyo Motor Show, back in November, Japanese manufacturers revealed a number of alternative vehicles and personal transport devices designed to provide consumers with a choice in terms of around-town transportation. All battery-powered, they ranged from the absurd and virtually unrideable Honda UNI-CUB to the Segway-like Winglet to the three-wheeled Toyota i-Road. Of the various contraptions on display at the show, the i-Road seemed to be the most practical and most likely to see the light of day. I got to ride/drive it, and it was one of the most entertaining vehicles I’ve ever been in.

      Clearly, others agree. Toyota took its i-Road to the Geneva Motor Show, which just wrapped up, and it was a huge hit. As well, the company recently announced that it will be conducting consumer trials of the i-Road in Tokyo through mid-June. The company will provide vehicles to approximately 20 participants, ranging from members of the general public to trend and industry experts. To quote Toyota: “feedback will be collected concerning driving feel, user satisfaction, ease-of-use in urban areas, and impact on destination choices.”

      Part motorcycle and part automobile, the i-Road is unique in that it has an active front suspension setup that allows occupants to “lean” the vehicle through corners like a motorcycle while being fully enclosed and weather-tight. A lithium-ion battery pack feeds electric motors that drive the front wheels, and range is about 50 kilometres. The i-Road has a top speed of 45 to 50 kilometres per hour and features surprisingly nimble performance.

      But what really distinguishes it is the front suspension. In a nutshell, a “central turning point” located in the front of the vehicle is connected to a rotary gear and linkage that runs across the front of the i-Road; when the driver turns the steering wheel, a computer control unit calculates how much force is needed to move the vehicle forward and what lean angle is required to navigate turns. It all happens in nanoseconds, and it’s almost completely smooth and seamless.

      The i-Road can handle up to 26 degrees of lean angle, and at first it feels like you’re about to fall over—that this contraption can’t possibly handle tight turns at any kind of speed. But it does, and the vehicle remains stable, smooth, and perfectly level. The vehicle’s brakes change the body stance as well as slowing the i-Road down if you come into a turn a little too hot; at rest, it’s upright.

      The i-Road isn’t wonky or strange to operate. There are two doors, two seats—motorcycle-style—and you simply get in, close the door, hit the power button, and press the pedal, and off you go. Unlike just about every alternative mode of transportation I’ve ever driven, the i-Road is neither peculiar nor boring. That said, creature comforts are absent—there’s no heater, and aside from its high fun factor, the i-Road isn’t something you want to spend a lot of time in.

      This type of technology isn’t entirely new. Peugeot introduced its gas/electric hybrid HyMotion trike a couple of years ago, and Piaggio has had a three-wheeled scooter on the market for several years now, powered by an internal-combustion engine. Each manufacturer has its own take on three-wheeled transport, but all of these vehicles perform essentially the same function.

      The question is, will the i-Road be for sale in North America? At this point, Toyota says it has no plans to put the i-Road on the market here, but on the other hand, it’s providing a small number of i-Roads for a ride-share program in Grenoble, France.

      Were Toyota to contemplate marketing this intriguing little runabout in Canada, one of its biggest hurdles would be the bureaucracy and recalcitrance of Transport Canada. Unless it has to do with safety, this arm of the government doesn’t take kindly to innovation, and many a good idea has ended up in the round file at Transport Canada. The Segway, for example, went nowhere; it’s actually illegal to operate one on Canadian streets, and it’s wound up in the same vehicle classification as a forklift. It seems to me that if we’re serious about alternative transportation, one of the first things that need doing is an audit/overhaul of Transport Canada. These guys need to change their way of thinking.

      If you want to see the i-Road in action, there are plenty of short videos on YouTube.




      Apr 19, 2014 at 2:47pm

      More and more stupidity and less and less logic and commonsense..:((