Threes are good, threes are good… Vanderhall Venice is a roofless front-drive trike – and huge fun. Words Basem Wasef.
One thing becomes clear while slinging the $30,000 Vanderhall Venice through the jagged canyons of Angeles Crest Highway: if this quirky three-wheeler loses its footing in a high-speed corner, my passenger and I will be dashed to bits. So I’m counting on you, Continental Extreme Contact Sport DWs, pushrod suspension links, electric steering components and every small batch-built bit I can shake my Persols at.
With the original Morgan three-wheeler dating back to 1909, the so-called backwards trike layout is nothing new. But Utah-based Vanderhall is eking out a slice of this nichey pie by offering a unique combination of retro style and greater drivability. The package includes a tiny windscreen, a nostalgic analogue dashboard and comforts such as a heater, ventilation and heated seats. Though the seats don’t recline (Vanderhall offers a cushion for shorter drivers), the driver gets an appropriately anachronistic wooden steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes.
As with most sub-1500lb vehicles, it doesn’t take a whole lot of grunt to unlock sports car performance. The Venice can shoot to 60mph in 4.5 seconds, reach a terminal velocity of 140mph, and pull 0.95g on the skidpad. It’s powered by a transversely mounted 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from GM, mated to a six-speed auto. An optional ‘bump shifter’ at your left hand enables Tiptronic-style changes with a proper forward-for-downshift, backward-for- upshift arrangement.
The timbre of the powerplant’s exhaust isn’t particularly sexy, but the turbo wastegate emits exciting wheezes and sighs when stressed, creating an aurally involving complement to the mélange of wind noise, road noise and low-pitched exhaust thrum (a louder set-up is available). There’s a bit of squishy lagginess between throttle inputs and powertrain response, and the GM four-banger tends to run out of steam as it approaches its 6500rpm redline. With peak power arriving at around 4500rpm, it’s best to shift at that point to maximise forward momentum. But the Venice exhibits very little evidence of torque steer, and the front-drive arrangement delivers surprisingly intuitive handling.
Abandon any preconceived notions based on curious-handling rear-drive three-wheelers such as the Can-Am Spyder: this one is a joy to fling around corners, especially smoothly paved ones, despite its 70:30 weight distribution. Brakes, particularly the optional 330mm Brembos, are remarkably effective thanks to the noseheavy set-up; they offer a supercar-like stopping distance of less than 85ft from 60mph.
Though it lacks stability control, the pushrod suspension’s low unsprung weight and an exceptional amount of mechanical grip enhance the feeling of connectedness to the road during high-speed cornering. The test car, on optional 18-inch wheels with 285/30 rear and 225/40 front tyres, offers adequate steering feel, though a smaller set-up would likely benefit both feel and compliance. Traction control can be easily disabled at the touch of a button – a moot point, since the engine lacks the ability to spin the grippy tyres.
While some may not find it classical enough for their tastes and others are likely to view its workaday drivetrain with disdain, the Vanderhall Venice’s combination of involving driving dynamics and head-turning style should be compelling enough to attract its own tribe of three-wheeler enthusiasts.