Mercedes-Benz unveiled its functionally similar F300 Life-Jet in 1997, and General Motors displayed the very clever Lean Machine way back in 1982. But the i-ROAD city car – Toyota calls it a personal mobility vehicle – is different in a very noteworthy way: It’s headed for production.

Fascinating Cars of 2013

Editor Matthew Phenix and deputy editor Jonathan Schultz revisited the most fascinating cars of the year. Click here for a full list of honorees.

The fully enclosed tandem two-seater, unveiled as a concept car at the Geneva motor show in March, measures just 33.5in wide, about half the width of a conventional automobile. Power comes from a pair of 2.7-horsepower electric motors, one in each of the front wheel hubs. Those wheels are articulated to allow the entire vehicle to lean into corners, motorcycle-style, for maximum stability. Toyota claims the 662lb i-ROAD can cover 30 miles on a full charge, and because a smaller electric car means a smaller battery, its lithium-ion array will recharge in just three hours, plugged into a conventional household outlet. In October, Toyota announced that it would build a production version of the i-ROAD. Yes, quantities will be modest and availability will be limited to Japan, but the move has global significance. In urban environments where, increasingly, every inch matters, Toyota’s commitment to small and smart city transportation is a very big deal indeed.

Second Opinion

A 100hp electric golf cart equipped with the kinetic energy-recovery capabilities of a Formula 1 car. No, the one-off Renault Twizy F1 will not be scorching the world’s urban cores any time soon, but if only it could. – Jonathan Schultz