i-Road: Toyota’s New Three-Wheeled Wonder

There’s a new sort of vehicle poised to be hitting the roads soon: the i-Road. Toyota’s hot new project looks weird, apparently drives great, and has gotten some serious attention lately. This new mode of transportation—not (quite) car, not jeep, not truck—has an uncertain future so far, as Toyota are apparently unsure how to market the thing. But tech publications from Wired to Cnet have been giving the early versions plenty of promising press.

What is it?

What exactly is this new automotive gadget? Well, no one’s entirely sure just yet, which is partially why the industry is still deciding on how to market it. The i-Road is a three-wheeled—two wheels up front, one in the back, sort of like an inverse tricycle—automobile powered by electricity. It’s made for lower speeds than your average car and is intended for in-town driving, not the highway. The wheels have an odd way of moving up and down during turns, giving it a vaguely biological appearance. The i-Road looks sort of like a Smart Car, only more squished and even more environmentally friendly.

What Does it Do?

The i-Road appears to drive in ways similar to your everyday car. Where it differs from your typical automobile is in its speed, turning system, battery, and feel.

  • Speed. Speeds are relatively low, topping out currently at 37 mph. If this thing takes off, you’ll most likely use it for driving around within town. At this speed, makers seem to think, drivers could make decent time while remaining safe and environmentally friendly.
  • Turning system. The i-Road’s turning system is just cool. When the driver turns the steering wheel, the car lifts one of its wheels higher, causing the vehicle to lean in that direction. Wired likens it to the way a skier shifts directions while gliding down the slopes.   
  • Battery. Here’s where things get exciting for the environment minded. This car is fully electric. With its small size and relatively relaxed speeds, charging this car up should take much less time than it does for your average electric car. If the i-Road takes off like some of us are hoping, there will be charge stations all over major towns and cities, making regular usage accessible to all motorists.
  • Feel. Writers who’ve tried this new gadget out have had great things to say about the way it drives. The turning mechanism is what many of them have gaga over, gleefully relating the feeling to downhill skiing and even motorcycling.

Is it Safe?

This is very compact little vehicle, and a collision with a large truck would clearly make a devastating impact. Nonetheless, the low speeds at which it travels make it safer than many other street-legal vehicles. And if they become the norm one day, it could reduce average traffic speeds overall, making traffic a safer environment for everyone.

So When Can We Expect to See Them?

This is a tough question. Toyota has already started to experiment in France and Japan, but things have not come stateside—minus a quick run in San Francisco—yet. Hopefully, as consumers start to clamor for green automotive tech, and electric charging stations start to spring up around the nation, i-Roads will be zinging around all of our neighborhoods soon.