The Toyota i-Road is part-motorcycle, part-electric car and all giggles. It could also fill an important mobility gap here in Singapore…
Fuji Speedway, Japan — The Toyota Corolla might be the best-selling car in history, but maybe the Toyota i-Road is more in line with what Singapore could use, especially in the quest to become a car-lite society.
It looks like a bit of mental doodling by Toyota engineers but it came to life in 2014. Now for society to think hard about how it would fit in. Having driven it, we have some ideas. Here’s what you need to know:
What’s the concept?
It’s an Electric Vehicle. Carmakers have been busy trying to build EVs to directly replace our fossil fuel ones, but Toyota reckons those are never really going to work because they take hours to charge. Its long-term vision of zero emission cars is the Fuel Cell Vehicle, which runs on hydrogen and takes three minutes to refuel. But EVs still make sense… if they look like the i-Road.
Since EVs tend to have a short range, just build one for short trips. That’s the i-Road in a nutshell. Accordingly it’s not very fast (60km/h) and can’t go very far (50km on a single charge at best), and can’t carry more than two people.
So what can it do?
Think, man, think. Imagine a fleet parked in the average HDB multi-storey carpark. You could hop on one and ride to an MRT station and then let public transport take over. Or if the nearest Sheng Siong is a kilometre from your house, maybe you could let an i-Road haul you there and back with your week’s groceries. Or maybe you live within a km’s radius from your kid’s school… You get the picture.
Ah, so it’s for car-sharing?
Could be. Toyota hasn’t actually decided what to do with the i-Road. It’s being used in urban mobility and car-sharing trials in Tokyo and in Grenoble, France. (Fun fact: Andre the Giant was born there. Don’t think he would fit in one, though.)
It looks a bit… topply.
When no one was looking, I tried to push it over. I couldn’t. That’s either down to having muscles like a girl (likely) or Toyota’s engineering (more likely). It has a low centre of gravity and weighs 300kg, so it’s not like a strong wind would blow it onto its side. It also has some kind of active leaning technology, so it banks into turns like a skier or motorcycle.
So it’s just a three-wheel bike with a roof, then?
Not quite. For one thing there’s a seatbelt and you’re enclosed, so you don’t need a helmet. And it has a steering wheel, a parking brake and two pedals. The display is a simple speedo and state-of-charge screen, there are signal stalks and wiper controls from a car, and just three buttons for the transmission: R, N and D. A child could drive this thing.
What’s it like to drive?
Fun enough to make you feel like a child, actually. The way it leans into turns makes it feel like you’re at the helm of a fighter jet, banking your way between obstacles.
The front wheels provide drive and it’s the rear wheel that actually does the steering, so when you twirl the steering wheel it actually swings around corners from the back, making it feel like you’re drifting it like a pro. It’s impossible not to laugh. But in case the leaning over makes you freak, you can step on the brake and it just pops itself upright.
Is it comfy?
The seat is actually very small and flimsy, and the doors feel like tupperware. The back seat doesn’t look like it would fit an adult, actually, so you’d be better off taking two i-Roads back to your block after a date with your wife (but that means you can race). But maybe the weakest point is that there’s no air-con. No cabin blower, even.
Your sole climate control option is to unclip the magnets that hold up the plastic window and pull it down.
Wait, wait, wait…No air-con??
Unfortunately, no. But you’re stuck in the mindset that an i-Road is meant to replace your car. It’s not. It’s for that final mile home or neighbourhood journey. You can stand a two-km trip without air-con, surely? You’d be less sweaty than if you were walking.
True. So when can I buy one?
Don’t know. Maybe never. Toyota isn’t selling them. But it would be great to see a car-sharing operator put a few dozen in, say, Ang Mo Kio, to see what happens.
Didn’t Renault try to sell something similar in Singapore?
You’re thinking of the Twizy, and yes, it was brought in here so Renault distributor Wearnes Automotive could try to get it classified as a motorcycle. The fatal mistake in that plan was that the Twizy’s four wheels meant it would be classified as a car here. It was also too proky to be considered a bike.
Could the Toyota i-Road be sold here as a motorcycle?
Potentially. The 60km/h top speed might be an impediment, but it does only have three wheels. And it’s actually slimmer than some large motorcycles, so it could slip between traffic like one. But if you want a three-wheel bike, just buy one (the Italians make a few).
The Toyota i-Road fills quite a narrow mobility gap, but driving one is so effortless that it’s meant to replace walking, not some other vehicle. Sure, you could picture it being parked in a garage as a rich man’s toy. But in a car-lite society, that’s what cars are for.
Toyota i-Road Specifications
Length 2,345 mm
Width 870 mm
Height 1,455 mm
Wheelbase 1,695 mm
Tyre size (Front)80/90-16 (Rear)120/90-10
Turning radius 2.3m
Kerb weight 300kg
Powertrain 2 electric motors
Maximum speed 60km/h
Battery type Lithium-ion
WATCH THE i-Road IN (BRIEF) ACTION