The world of three-wheeled vehicles is a bit odd. There are few rules as to whether you should sit inside as a driver or atop as a rider, be powered by the front or rear wheel, or be classified as a motorcycle, car, or autocycle.
This ambiguity has produced a variety of vehicles in this field, ranging from the Can-Am Spyder to the new Yamaha Niken, the latter of which actually leans like a motorcycle, to the Polaris Slingshot, Morgan 3 Wheeler, Campagna T-Rex, and Vanderhall Venice—all of which you sit inside and drive like a car.
While we agree that three-wheelers are not motorcycles, we love odd things from various corners of the powersports world and think many of them are great options for people who want something motorcycle-adjacent. With that—and my love for drifting the Polaris Slingshot, in mind—we were thrilled to explore this world more. Bring me all of the weird things!
Like the Slingshot, the Venice has two wheels in the front, one at the back, and you sit inside a cockpit and drive it like a car. Unlike the Slingshot, the Venice is powered by the front wheels, with the back simply meant to provide balance and add braking force. Vanderhall claims the weight is distributed 70/30 front to rear and that the Venice has a dry weight of 1,375 pounds. The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah claims a wet weight around 1,600 pounds.
The Venice is powered by a General Motors 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 Ecotec engine, which Vanderhall claims produces 180 hp and 185 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, but for an extra $995 you can add a sequential manual shift mode which adds a bump shift lever to the body of the tub on the driver’s side.
The Venice uses a compact pushrod system with Fox coil-over shocks for the front two wheels and the back, which is connected via a single-sided aluminum swingarm with a mid-mounted spring. The Venice rides on two 225/40-18 tires up front and a wide 285/35-18 tire at the rear.
The Venice also gets ABS, traction control, power brakes and steering, and cruise control. Additionally, Vanderhall includes a few creature comforts like a heater and heated seats and a 1,000-watt Bluetooth-enabled sound system.
Optional upgrades include wheels, tires, brakes, leather upholstery, a luggage rack, stainless steel footplates, and a cupholder. Our unit had the sequential shift, stainless traction plates, and stainless dead pedals, which brought the final price up to $32,520 from its base of $29,950.
The Vanderhall rep brought the Venice down to our office to drop it off and go over it with me to better help me understand some of its quirks. Like how the windshield could shatter if I put any pressure on it, which he then advised me never to touch, and how the row of toggle switches in the center of the dash served no purpose, though they may be given some someday.
I asked why Vanderhall went with front-wheel drive, a decision that would essentially eliminate all of my drifting fun, and he answered that they couldn’t get the Venice to track well in a straight line because of all the power it made. I felt like this wasn’t the time to remind him that the Slingshot made similar power figures.
Once I finally had the machine to myself, it was time for a spin. While it might not have the ability to roast the rear or drift around corners, the Venice is far from a boring ride. The purr of the exhaust note jetting out of the sides of the tub near the driver come to life like the low aggressive growl of a jaguar, and simply starting it had me immediately excited about the week ahead. Its 180 hp and 185 pound-feet of torque make for a whole lot of go, especially in something so lightweight.
The sequential shift bump lever is satisfying to yank back on to grab a higher gear, and the Venice coughs and lurches as it tries to handle the power as it picks up speed quickly. Add in the whine and whoosh of the turbocharger, and the whole experience tells you you’re going fast. But, as was with the Polaris Slingshot, the Vanderhall Venice is more about feeling like you’re going fast than the actual pursuit of speed.
However, and more sadly for the people at Vanderhall, it’s much worse at speed than the Polaris.
Making the Venice front-wheel drive basically eliminates the ability to hoon, something that is normally a massive selling point for many three-wheelers.
It also has shocking amounts of understeer. In parking lots, this meant it had a worse turning radius than my quad-cab, long-bed Toyota Tacoma, but in the winding roads of Southern California this meant for less than confidence-inspiring handling. Yes, it feels zippy in the curves, but not like you can push it because the feel is so vague.
Then there’s the traction control system which—unlike the Polaris system which gently intervenes and reduces power by 20 percent to help find traction—abruptly cuts at the fueling which hacks at both performance and driver confidence like a butcher at a piece of meat. Abrupt and long enough that you have time to look down at the dash to see if you’ve broken something or run out of gas.
With the Venice not really hitting the spot for performance driving, I turned instead to making it my daily driver—where I found more quirks and oddities. That big pretty windscreen that I wasn’t supposed to touch didn’t actually do a very good job at blocking the wind and I constantly found myself trying to find some angle that kept my eyes from watering—especially on the freeway. Then there’s the Bluetooth sound system, which is controlled through a small knob that only controls pausing or skipping songs, leaving the volume to be controlled by the media player (in this case my iPhone). I didn’t expect the sound quality to be great, but was surprised at how much it struggled with anything except high notes.
As other reviews I read noted, the low-profile fenders catch any and all rocks picked up by the compound tires—so much so that crossing road blemishes creates a chorus of rocks pinging off their undersides in a cacophony of sounds no driver wants to hear from their vehicle. This effect also makes you exceptionally aware of how exposed your face and eyes are.
I spent a lot of time behind the wheel, wondering why something with so much attention to aesthetics could have so many areas that looked unfinished. Everything from the dashboard down was left exposed, only not in the “reclaimed wood beams and concrete floor” way. Wires sprout from the harness and the steering column brings a harsh contrast to the beautiful wood steering wheel.
All said, I accepted that the Vanderhall Venice was basically best at blasting around beach cities, taking night drives up winding mountain roads to look at stars, and for taking cute pictures. Which is why, when it came time to shoot it for the review, we chose Palm Springs for a slow cruise around the town in search of pretty photo stops.
I generally really enjoyed my time in the Venice—at least in the vacuum of it being a free loaner and my liking new, odd things. I was often excited to get in it, to take people for rides, or to enjoy the power-to-weight ratio it brings. That said, there are a lot of things I would change.
The brakes have incredible bite. My initial complaint with the first Slingshot was that it required so much leg strength to operate the brakes, but the Venice is the exact opposite. There mere thought of the brake pedal sends your torso lurching forward, and it’s nearly impossible to apply them smoothly.
Then there’s the transmission which, while it has a bit of a lag on upshifts, has much more lag on the downshifts which also has very poor rev-matching—making for pretty violent gear changes unless in the very bottom of the rev range.
The general tub itself is quite narrow, which makes for pretty cramped sitting if driving with a passenger. It made taking a lady friend quite cozy, which isn’t the worst thing, but it was quite difficult to sit side by side with a male friend without sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Then there’s the sound, which is both intoxicating and overwhelming all at once. The exhaust note is interesting and pleasant, while the turbo whine and blow-off can become overwhelming pretty quickly. They’re initially attractive, but the frequency of the blow-offs and volume of both become grating after a few days. The overall experience is exceptionally loud.
The Venice is beautiful from 30 feet away, dripping with cool from inside the cockpit, and will bring you all the attention of the Slingshot—only this time from stylish adults rather than kids hoping you’re Batman.
It sounds amazing, the turbo blow-off is initially incredibly satisfying, and it does a decent job into fooling you that you’re moving quickly when pushed (especially if you stay on second-gear roads).
Unfortunately, it seems as if Vanderhall focused a little too much on being a more accessible Morgan 3 Wheeler lookalike (something I’ve still yet to drive), which becomes a big detriment to user satisfaction after the initial swooning wears off.
The appearance and sound of the Venice got plenty of attention, which quickly turned to its performance—where I found myself constantly making excuses for it when asked about it.
“No, it doesn’t have a very high top speed.”
“No, it doesn’t handle that well.”
“No, you don’t feel very connected to the road, it’s actually pretty vague.”
Overall, the Vanderhall Venice would benefit greatly from a manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, brakes with far less bite, a little more room, and just a little more attention to the experience of driving the thing over being seen in it.
If being seen is your thing and you want something weird, different, and kind of classic while also current, you’ll probably really like a spin in the Vanderhall Venice. But it’s 2018, we should be able to look cool and have a great user experience as well. And priced around $30,000, it’s pretty hard to recommend the Vanderhall Venice.
Photos: Zach Cohen
Clothes: Cohen & Sons