Test Drive

2017 Vanderhall Venice Review: We Find Out How Insanely Fun It Is To Drive An Auto Cycle

The folks at Vanderhall have built a seriously fun car. Just remember to call it an auto cycle.

Back in 2015, we had a chance to ride shotgun in a new type of vehicle called an auto cycle. It was a three-wheeled vehicle called the Laguna from Utah-based company Vanderhall. Unfortunately, the initial reviews for the Laguna were pretty harsh, criticizing the car for its high $75,000 price tag. Matt Farah drove the car and was disappointed at what was offered for the price. Luckily, Vanderhall has a new model that solves many of the gripes people had with the Laguna.

Right off the bat, this new car is already a huge improvement in price. It's called the Venice, and pricing starts at just $29,950. This puts it in the same range as a brand-new, well-optioned Mazda MX-5 or a used Lotus Elise with a good amount of miles on it. It may cost around the same price as affordable sports cars, but the Vanderhall Venice really competes in a different league to anything else on the market. The Vanderhall is unlike other three-wheelers because it is a front-wheel-drive layout, the rear-wheel is simply there for stability. This may sound like a detriment, but the Venice is plenty fast. The car has a dry weight of 1,375 pounds, so it feels lively through the corners.

Vanderhall told us that it experimented with different drive configurations, but found that front-wheel-drive offered the most stability. The car was incredibly fun at about seven tenths, but we could feel the back wheel step out a bit when we pushed a little harder. Vanderhall says that its customers are interested in cruising rather than doing track days, so for that purpose the Venice fairs well. We quickly got over the front-wheel-drive as soon as we stepped on it and heard the 1.4-liter turbocharged GM EcoTec engine. This is the same engine that would be found in the Sonic, but it sure as hell didn't sound like it. This thing crackles and pops like a turbo race car.

In the Sonic, the turbocharged four-cylinder makes 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. In the Venice, these numbers are 180 and 185 respectively. With so little weight to haul around, the Venice is able to hit 60 mph in under four seconds, which is much faster than sports cars in this price segment. Even though it would probably be quite capable on an autocross, we think that the Venice is more suited to weekend cruising. Vanderhall says that it offered a manual transmission, but there was only a five percent take rate. As a small manufacturer, Vanderhall decided to just offer the car with an automatic (cue the angry gasps of enthusiasts).

We were a bit disappointed to hear that there was no manual offered, but Vanderhall found a clever way to make us forget all about that third pedal. The model that we drove came equipped with the optional manual mode. The old Laguna used a steering wheel from GM with paddle shifters that really didn't suit the car's character. The Venice has a sequential shifter to the left of the driver, which was a bit odd at first. After we got used to it, it became a ton of fun to use. Pulling the shifter back shifts up a gear, while pushing it away shifts down. The six-speed automatic was extremely smooth in automatic mode, but turned into a true performer in manual mode.

We frequently accelerated and decelerated just so that we could use the shifter more. The placement of the shifter makes you feel like you're driving an old-school LeMans car. Since paddles are no longer required, this freed up Vanderhall to put an old-school wooden steering wheel, which added to the vintage feel of the Venice. One of the praises for the Laguna was the well appointed interior, and the Venice also succeeds in this area. Unlike the Laguna, which used the gauge cluster from a Sonic, the Venice uses basic black gauges for a classic finish. The dashboard is very basic, like a Shelby Cobra, but there is a Bluetooth system to play music and a small storage bin.

The rest of the dash features some unmarked switches that handle basic functions and there are two air vents that blow hot air only. There are also heated seats, which make the Vanderhall easy to drive even in cold weather. Storage is limited to two little cubby holes behind the seats, so pack lightly when driving the Venice. We had to mull over our drive in the Venice before we could render a final verdict on this auto cycle. What we determined is that this is an extremely fun car for a very specific customer. A Venice driver is someone who wants the thrills of a motorcycle, without all of the inherent danger.

The Vanderhall also looks way cooler than its three-wheel rival, the Can-Am Spyder. The Can-Am is much more affordable starting at $17,000, but the Venice is more of a car than a motorcycle. The Polaris Slingshot is a closer rival, and has a lower starting price of $22,000. However, the Slingshot is about 300 pounds heavier and is not as fast to 60 mph despite being RWD and having a five-speed manual transmission. The Polaris looks like something out of the future, while the Vanderhall has more of a classical beauty. We prefer the smoother look of the Venice and the added stability of the front-wheel-drive layout. The Morgan Three-Wheeler is another fierce competitor, but costs around 50 percent more than the Venice.

We have no doubt that the Three Wheeler would be an absolute blast to drive, but the Venice has 100 extra horses compared to the 80-hp Morgan, with only a 200 pound weight disadvantage. The Morgan is equally special with a hand-built feel, but costs around $45,000, $15,000 more than the Vanderhall. The Venice has corrected almost all of the problems that the Laguna had, mainly the price. We really don't see anything at this price point that is more fun to drive. The Venice would work well as a third car, or an alternative to a motorcycle. The Laguna was too expensive for the average Joe, but the Venice is extremely attainable and even has financing available.

Ownership wouldn't be all that tricky, because basic oil changes and other services can be handled at a local GM dealership. Even in the 911-filled streets of Malibu, we were the stars on the road. Several people came up to us while we were being briefed on the car to ask what is was and where they could buy one. A Mita or an Elise would both be more comfortable and better on a race track, but neither draws so much attention. People will love when you show up to car shows in the Venice, and that is a good feeling. We had a blast driving the Venice and we can't wait to see what else Vanderhall has up its sleeve.

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