A lot of people attend motor shows to see the latest and greatest in luxury sports cars. However, if you don’t care about torque, top speeds or style, there’s the Toyota i-ROAD – an insanely cute three-wheeled smartcar that’s only slightly bigger than a motorcycle.
We took one out for a quick spin at the Tokyo Motor Show… and almost spun out in the process.
The Toyota i-ROAD is a personal mobility vehicle (PMV) designed for city dwellers.
It’s powered by a lithium-ion battery that provides juice to two 1.9kW electric motors mounted in the front wheels.
Being completely electric, it emits zero CO2 emissions during operation. A full recharge from a conventional residential power supply takes around three hours.
Toyota has been manufacturing the i-ROAD since 2013, but the latest version boasts significant improvements to weatherproofing and manoeuvrability. You can see it zipping around Tokyo in the video below:
The most striking thing about the car (if you can call it that) is its size. At under 2.5 metres long and 1.4 metres high, it’s significantly smaller than the average golf trolley.
It’s also a lot more nimble, boasting the agility of a motorcycle. Speed and range are another matter, however – it maxes out at a decidedly sluggish 60km/h and can only travel around 50km between charges. As mentioned, it’s designed for frequent trips to your local city or town centre. Road trips or freeways aren’t really an option.
During the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, Gizmodo Australia was invited to test-drive the latest iteration of the i-ROAD. Considering one of its key demographics are the elderly drivers, it was a surprisingly challenging experience.
As you’d expect from a car that measures 234 x 87 x 145 cm, the i-ROAD is a snug fit. It reminded me of clambering into a Daytona USA arcade cabinet as a grown-arse adult. (If you’ve never done this, we can’t be friends.)
To give you an idea of its size, up to four i-Roads can be parked in a single standard parking bay. While this is great for economic and creative parking, it’s not so great if you happen to be taller and wider than the average person.
On the plus side, the doors have an extremely wide axis to ensure they don’t get in the way while entering and exiting the vehicle, which is handy. It uses a full-size steering wheel but there’s no handbrake – instead, a second foot brake locks the vehicle in place.
So what is the i-ROAD like to drive?
The three-wheel design initially takes some getting used to. Turning sharply caused the un-powered rear wheel to slide outward which in turn prompted me to overcompensate with my steering.
There’s also the patented Active Lean technology to contend with. This calculates the required angle of lean, based on steering angle, vehicle speed and information from a gyro sensor. The end result is car that leans out of corners like an Olympic skier.
Toyota reckons this enhances the vehicle’s “sense of fun” but it can also make for a white-knuckled ride; especially on your first hard turn. I never thought I’d say that about a tiny battery-operated car, but here we are.
Mind you, I tested the i-ROAD in a wet, rainy car park which surely didn’t help with performance. In any event, it only took a handful of corners to get used to the unique way the car handles. (I’m not sure I’d ever want to take a corner at the maximum speed of 60 kilometres an hour though – I’d be worried it would tip over.)
The Toyota i-RIDE is currently being trialed in several European and Asian countries. There’s no word on whether we will ever see one in Australia.
Despite the snug fit, I’d love to have one for zipping around in. It would be especially handy for navigating the labyrinthine backstreets of Sydney and Melbourne. Here’s hoping an enterprising car rental service arranges a fleet for Australia.
Gizmodo attended the Tokyo Motor Show as a guest of Toyota.
This article has been updated since its original publication.