Mechanics & Locomotion

Aug 1, 2017

FUNKY DNA

What happens when a Prius falls in love with a Yamaha? You end up with a Toyota i-Road. It may sound like a joke, but the feeling about this vehicle is nothing like a joke.

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Unlike a bike, it will not try to fall over every time you stop. And you won't get your feet wet, too. The Toyota i-Road has all the benefits of a motorbike, along with the comfort of a car.

The main frame for the Japanese constructors' project is to meet the demands of the cities of the future. With the populations growth and the inevitable expansion of the cities areas, traffic will surely become much more intense and mobility will be a headache for anyone who tries to move from point A to point B during rush hours.

With a top speed of 35 mph (56 km/h), some might think the i-Road wouldn't be able to keep up with traffic, but that is not the case. For instance, just last year, the New York, United States, speed limit was lowered to a crawling 25 mph (40 km/h). On a workday you're lucky to average half that.

The i-Road is a zero-emissions electric vehicle with a small footprint (both carbon and physical). It can weave in and out of traffic with a manoeuvring system that combines active lean with rear-wheel steering.

It is powered by two electric motors of 1.9 kW — one in each front wheel — making this a front-wheel drive vehicle. Plus, its lithium batteries are fully rechargeable within three hours, using a standard 110-volt wall socket which grants it a cruising range of 30 miles (48km) – more than enough for the average round-trip commute in a large city.

The wheels themselves move up and down independently of each other and are electronically synchronized to the steering wheel. This enables the vehicle to lean into turns, with the optimal degree of lean governed by a gyro sensor that measures steering angle and speed.

The transmission is a single-speed automatic – just press D for drive and R for reverse. Combined with the motorized rear wheel steering, the i-Road has a turning radius of 10 feet (3 metres), so it can squeeze into a space the size of half or even a quarter of a full-size car.

The Toyota i-Road measures about seven-and-a-half feet long (2.3 metres) and just under three feet wide (0.9 metres). It weighs a spritely 600 pounds (272 kg).

Its fully enclosed cabin is accessed by large doors on either side and the large sloping windshield makes the rear window look like a gross mistake. According to pilots who have driven the i-Road "it feels like flying a small prop plane". The canopy offers great visibility, which is more than we can say for the rear windscreen.

A single headlight illuminates the road ahead, while a pair of taillights are mounted high on the body on either side of the rear glass. The single reverse light is underscored by a small bump, the purpose of which is solely to convey an exclamation mark.

Inside the cockpit, a column of three push buttons control the transmission, and the conventional steering wheel sets the familiarity with any regular car driver.

The digital instrument panel glows a cool blue, with large digits indicating charge, mileage, and gear. Overall, the interior plastics felt cheap and thin, likely part of an effort to keep price and weight down.

Upon starting the car, a series of calibrations go into effect, as the car adjusts to the driver's weight. A small "READY" light indicates when it's good to go. The steering wheel features active feedback, which vibrates to let the driver know if they are leaning too hard into a turn, giving them a chance to respond and correct. If the vehicle continues to sense a hazard, it will automatically level off. The moment you hit the brake, the i-Road pops upright.

As a cheap and minimal car it is, the driver's seat is not comfortable. And the vehicle is also equipped with a second seat which is useless given the space inside the cockpit.

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