Toyota i-Real: the weirdest road test ever?
Well, let's clear up any confusion straight away. This isn't a conventional CAR road test. We didn't pile on hundreds of miles in the i-Real. We didn't pitch it into a group test against Stephen Hawking's chair. And we didn't strap our timing gear on to extract performance figures. But we were among a handful of select journalists to have a go in one of the weirdest cars at the recent Tokyo Motor Show. The i-Real is Toyota's dream of how we can scoot around crowded city streets in the future. It's a concept car, true, but it's one that works and Toyota wasn't scared to let us have a scoot around its show stand in Japan. That's more than can be said about most heavily guarded and precious concepts in the Makuhari Messe exhibition centre.
Did it, err, corner on rails then?
Surprisingly, for a concept car, the i-Real is a proper jump-in-and-drive device. I hesitate to use the word car. But it is that simple. Slip into the comfortably padded seat, grip the two joysticks built into each armrest and off you go. Either joystick controls the i-Real, so left- and right-handers will be equally at home. You push the stick forwards to go forwards, left to go left, right to go right and pull back to stop. Logical, eh? And that's it. There are a few small extra buttons that we weren't allowed to use to select reverse and increase the speed if you want to head towards the dizzy 20mph top speed. Jump in, push the lever forward and you pull away on a seamless and joyously silent wave of electric power. We negotiated a crowded motor show stand and the i-Real is blissfully easy to steer, the chair responding faithfully to inputs. At city speeds, you sit high and the axles move closer together so you take up less road space and enjoy good visibility. But up the pace (relatively speaking, of course), and the whole contraption hinges lower to the ground, pushing the twin front wheels further forward and reducing the centre of gravity. With that instant slug of acceleration, you can dart into gaps and shock pedestrians who, frankly, are pretty gobsmacked to see you. And it's amazingly simple to use. You never feel like you need stabilisers and you quickly adapt to the angles you can adapt through corners. I could just about imagine myself using it to pop down to WH Smiths to collect the newspapers on a Sunday morning. Although a paper bag might be required to ensure my anonymity.
Could be pretty dangerous then!
Ah yes, but Toyota has thought of everything. The i-Real chirrups and makes tweating sounds on demand to warn pedestrians that a silent weird thing is about to overtake them, while the backrest lights up with an array of intriguing illuminations to alert other pavement users to your presence. Bicycles are already allowed to use pavements in some parts of Japan, so the i-Real is designed to fit on crowded walkways. Will the idea ever take on? It's easy for Europeans to scoff at this sort of far-flung fantasy, but Japanese culture is more accepting of daring innovation and experimentation. This is the fourth in a series of electric chairs from Toyota and, as Gavin Green noted in his show report, there must be some significance in the i-Real name. If the future is this easy to use, bring it on I say.