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Road tests

Toyota i-ROAD

We drive tilting, rear-steering electric three-wheeler rival to Twizy

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Toyota's commitment to urban personal cars goes back years, starting with the i-Unit exoskeleton concept of 2005. Tilting cars aren’t new, either, but Toyota’s combined the two ideas with an unprecedented degree of intent. The i-ROAD drives like nothing else and is charming and compelling. When it goes on test next year, we bet there’ll be a long queue of willing pilots – just as there was on our first drive.

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Think of Toyota, and images of competent and reliable small hatchbacks spring to mind. But the i-ROAD is a different kind of Toyota: it’s a tilting, rear-steering, all-electric tricycle – and Auto Express has driven it.

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It’s a cross between a moped and a car, with the innovative tilting drivetrain and rear-wheel steering key to its agility and the narrow 850mm width key to its credentials as a city runabout. What’s more, the i-ROAD is 2,350mm long, so you can fit four in a normal parking space.

A lithium-ion battery drives two 2kW electric motors in the front wheels, giving a range of 31 miles and a 28mph top speed, with Japanese versions amped up to do 37mph. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the i-ROAD still accelerates hard when you push the throttle.

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The amount of torque on offer actually lifts the body of this 300kg car so it feels as though you’re flying rather than rolling. Turn the wheel and the i-ROAD swoops from side to side with a smooth and delicate motion. As you slow down, the rear steering quickens up so you have to get used to turning the wheel less for squeezing through traffic.

“It takes a while to become accustomed to the way it works,” says Akihiro Yanaka, the lead engineer behind this project, “but anyone who has ridden a scooter gets used to it very quickly.”

This tandem two-seater puts a smile on your face like few other cars – even our Japanese translator begged fora drive, and returned saying: “So that’s why everyone comes back with a smile on their face.” It goes into limited production next year ahead of field tests at Toyota City near Nagoya in Japan and Grenoble in France.

You’ll be able to make a booking to hire an i-ROAD using your smartphone or laptop, and charges for a typical five-mile journey will be about £4. Safety is largely down to the vehicle’s low speed and manoeuvrability at the moment, although Kanaka admits that for production Toyota will need to look at a more crashworthy structure and stronger doors, as well as full weather sealing.

No prices have been revealed yet, but the i-ROAD isn’t expected to be especially cheap. We reckon it’ll cost at least £10,000 – that compares to £7,000 for a Renault Twizy and £6,000 for a three-wheeled Piaggio MP3 scooter.

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