Vehicles with a trio of wheels are an oddity, unless we’re referring to three-wheeled taxis – dubbed tuk-tuks in Thailand and auto rickshaws in India. My only previous hands-on exposure to such a contraption was via the retro-laced Morgan Three-Wheeler in 2014, and I’m having flashbacks to that road test as I first lay eyes on the equally offbeat Vanderhall Venice.
Vanderhall brings its three-wheeler cars to the UAE
Never heard of Vanderhall? Here's some quick background info on the company: it's based in Provo, Utah, and was established in 2010 by Steve Hall, whose background was in computer-aided design for gas industry company Novatek. Hall spent five years prototyping the three-wheeled vehicles he had visualised, and by 2016, there were three "autocycles" on offer.
The brand recently launched in the UAE, with the Dubai-based Blanford Capital signing up as the local importer. There's no dealership as yet, but you can find a pop-up stand in the Dubai International Financial Centre where there's a car on display and sales staff to field inquiries.
We test the Venice, which costs from Dh155,000 and is backed by a two-year limited warranty and two-year roadside assistance. Although it looks otherworldly, there are some mainstream elements to the car, namely the 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine and six-speed automatic transmission, both of which are sourced from General Motors. Peer under the bonnet of a Chevrolet Malibu and you’ll find the same motor. One benefit of the Vanderhall’s mass-market drivetrain is that parts are readily available, and maintenance is unlikely to be expensive.
Fire it up, though, and the Venice sounds nothing like a Malibu. The exposed twin side pipes emit a barrage of decibels, and noise levels escalate once you get under way, with a chorus of whooshing and whistling from the turbocharger wastegate. The Venice ekes out 194hp and 275Nm, roughly on a par with the Toyota Camry, but the key to the three-wheeler's eye-widening acceleration is that it weighs only 665 kilograms – less than half of the latter.
Unlike the tail-happy Morgan Three-Wheeler, which sends drive to the solitary rear wheel, the Venice is front-wheel-drive, and one consequence is that it feels far more stable and planted than the barnstorming Brit. There’s also the fact the Vanderhall has a much beefier wheel/tyre combo, with 285mm wide rubber at the rear, and a pair of 225mm hoops at the front. After an initial feeling-out process, it becomes clear the Venice serves up no nasty surprises – you never feel as though it’ll spit you off the road or fall over (like the Reliant Regal in Mr Bean skits), which was my initial concern.
Get comfortable in it and the Venice is great fun. You can fling it through corners, safe in the knowledge the thing will just stick and rocket out the other side. That said, the thin-rimmed wooden steering wheel is slippery, especially if your palms get sweaty, so you need to grip it with more pressure than ideal. The brake pedal has beautiful weighting and progression, and the Venice pulls up straight even under heavy braking. All this helps to build confidence in the car, so one’s initial circumspection begins to evaporate.
Of course, get out into the cut-and-thrust of Sheikh Zayed Road and you again begin to feel a little vulnerable, as your eyeline is level with the wheel arches of the hulking SUVs looming all around. There’s little in the way of occupant protection and you sit very exposed, with the sidesill barely waist-high once you’re in the driver’s seat; you can reach down and touch the tarmac. One other thing to remember is that other motorists may not see you in their mirrors as the top of the Vanderhall is barely a metre high.
The Venice has slightly flimsy build quality and minimal passive safety, plus your eardrums are assaulted by engine/road/wind noise and your head gets buffeted by the wind. However, its raw fun factor and eyeball-smacking looks are adequate compensation. If the conditions are right (I tested it on a sublime 24°C day), it's pure exhilaration.