A vehicle that moves like a skiier, looks and leans like a motorcycle and is easy to drive as a conventional car is Toyota's vision for the future of urban mobility.
Toyota put us behind the wheel of its amazingly funky i-Road following its reveal at the Tokyo Motor Show. Driving it comes with an added bonus - it's enormous fun.
At 850mm wide, the three-wheeled i-Road is small enough to be driven like a scooter through traffic and can seat two people in tandem inside its tiny cabin - which looks a bit like you're inside an X-Wing fighter.
Powered by an electric motor, with a range of 50km and a three-hour recharging time, this Personal Mobility Vehicle (PMV) has a top speed of 45km/h at present - the speed limit for three wheelers in Europe, where you don't need a licence to take one on the road - but Toyota says it will produce a 60km/h-capable version.
The i-Road's party trick is its Active Lean technology, which automatically balances the vehicle when cornering or tackling uneven surfaces.
The system uses a lean actuator and gearing mounted above the front suspension, linked to each of the front wheels.
In motion, it looks like an Olympic skiier powering down hill, leaning over and seeming to raise each knee alternately.
An ECU calculates the required degree of lean based on steering angle, gyro-sensor and vehicle speed information, with the system automatically moving the wheels up and down in opposite directions, applying lean angle to counteract the centrifugal force of cornering.
While it looks radical, it's amazingly intuitive to drive, with a standard steering wheel and pedals and no need to lean your body at all. You just point, turn and go, and start smiling.
Push it too hard into a bend and the steering wheel vibrates to advise you that you're applying too much g-force, but it simply will not fall over.
It really is as much fun to drive as it looks.
A Toyota engineer indicated that the vehicle is production ready now, but said no decision had been made on an on-sale date. Let's hope it's soon.
- Interested in buying TOYOTA ? Visit our TOYOTA showroom for more information.