Few vehicles in recent memory have sparked as much interest, skepticism, hype, derision and outright fascination as the Elio Three-Wheeler. But what’s it like to actually drive one? Here’s reader Tohru with a story and video to tell you just that!
The Elio has been a fairly controversial vehicle in automotive circles. Reactions to it on Jalopnik range from Tavarish comparing it to Solar Roadways and Kony 2012, to Kat Callahan’s unabashed enthusiam, to Patrick George’s cautious open-mindedness. The commenters on those stories have been even more critical. However, none of them have driven the Elio. Last weekend, I did. Here’s the story.
The Elio has not had a smooth road to get to where it is today. It started back in December 2012, and many people immediately dismissed it as a flash-in-the-pan vaporware that was just going to spend a lot of investor money without doing anything. There have been more recent issues - pushing back the release date only the most recent. However, Elio has kept moving along and are now producing their 5th prototype with their specific engine in it.
With the P5 in the works, this allows Elio to take the P4 to more places to introduce it to prospective buyers. Last weekend, it was at the Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wisconsin. Iola is very much a classic car meet, with the show grounds primarily showing cars from the 40’s through the 70’s (the restriction for the 2015 show was 1989 and older). Yet, this was the location for the Wisconsin debut of the Elio. Jerome Vassillo, VP of Sales for Elio, said during a presentation that the show grounds was full of vehicles that were an answer to the vehicular questions and problems of the time, and that the Elio was the answer to those questions in 2015. Let’s see how that holds up.
(Subtitling and video editing by Dogapult.)
While I did not get to drive the Elio at speed or on public roadways, the general gist of my rambling hands-on video is that this is very much a usable automobile. Being a prototype from January 2014 that has seen a lot of public use, it has flaws - the door handle is cracked, as is one mirror standoff and a piece of trim on the decklid. However, inside it you feel that it is something that you could hop into and drive to work... or drive across the country. The Elio is not vaporware - it’s real. Driving it feels a lot better than some of the vehicles I have owned that were made by much bigger companies.
Though as many answers as I recieved from interacting with the car and attending the presentation put on by Jerome, I still had many questions about the car. After mentioning this on various social media outlets, I found that the public does as well. So, I asked very nicely and was granted a 15-minute interview with Jerome Vassillo, VP of Sales for Elio. The video link is below, but for those at work or who don’t want to listen to my somewhat-nervous rambling (in my defense the video was done in one take with no rehearsal), I will also discuss the video below the video in a tactic stolen shamelessly from Doug DeMuro.
(Videography and subtitling by Dogapult. Only part is subtitled intentionally - when the background noise is too high. I know I need to get a plug-in mic for next time.)
In the video, I start off by rambling about how the Elio is one of few vehicles that genuinely looks like what we imagined cars of 2015 would look like in 1990 (the Chrysler 200 is another one), and how it wouldn’t stand out if Ridley Scott went all George Lucas on Blade Runner and added an Elio in post-production. Sorry about that.
The questions get up to speed around the two-minute mark, discussing the snow-handling capabilities of the Elio. Jerome says that it carries 70% of the weight on the front wheels, and it has the ground clearance of a Ford Focus (roughly 4.7”). He states that if a Focus can get through it safely, the Elio can as well. He also tells us that the skirted wheels do not collect large amounts of snow and ice like we had originally anticipated, and that it’s surprisingly stable in the snow and much more predictable than he thought it would be - during the winter photoshoot, he had to hit the handbrake in order to step the rear out of line. Finally, he said that it has a corrosion-resistant chassis and composite panels to help counteract all the salt WisDOT likes to coat the roads with. The traction control will be able to be turned off for situations where the vehicle is stuck, but the stability management system is likely to be only able to be turned down and not off.
(Photo credit: Elio Motors. Jerome is the driver in this image.)
Another key focus of the interview was the crash characteristics of the vehicle. One of the most common types of accidents is the offset/small-offset “headlight to headlight” accident, which in the Elio will tear the wheel off completely and possibly leave the vehicle unable to be exited if the single door is jammed or it rolls onto the left side. Jerome said one of the reasons for the large front windows is to make emergency egress in an accident easier. He acknowledged that a rear-seat passenger is kind of stuck in a little storage bin behind the driver, but they are proposing pop-out side windows and a glass roof for the second wave of production models in 2017. We also talked briefly about insurance rates - I voiced the opinion that the Elio may have high insurance rates because it may be cheaper to replace it than to repair it (the first generation of Kia Rio was very notorious for this, insurance was sometimes twice the cost of a Cavalier or Neon). Jerome feels it will be cheap to insure because the parts will be inexpensive. This point, I feel, may have to wait for a complete answer until after the insurance companies make their decision on it when it comes into production.
(At 6’ tall, I can be comfortable in the back of the Elio, but it is snug.)
We did touch briefly on customization and options. The Elio is designed for a lot of post-purchase customization, in line with the Smart (the former Smart USA president is on the Elio board of directors). They are anticipating a massive options list, as anything made by one of their suppliers that will bolt into the Elio will be available for the Elio.
Finally, the miscellaneous questions:
- “Will it baby?” Yes, the production model will have the LATCH system for baby seats. The P4 does not have it installed.
- Can it do a burnout? “Yes. *laughs* It can do a burnout.”
- If you put a lunch tray under the back wheel and lock the handbrake, can it do donuts? “That’s a great question. I don’t know, let’s try it!”
- “Why is the door on the left?” So the shifter is on the right and not on the left, and so the door doesn’t hit tall curbs in old cities.
- Where will it be able to be serviced in areas like Wisconsin that do not have PepBoys? “We haven’t come up with the solution yet, but we are working on the solution.”
- Factory ‘Busa swap? “Motorcycle engines are kinda against the idea of what the Elio is about - simple automotive access...” but they are looking into turbocharging, supercharging, and twincharging.
- Factory LS swap? “That’s a good question. At this point it kinda violates the 84 MPG, $6800, but as the company grows, who knows?”
After the interview, Jerome and I discussed the possibility of doing another video once the P5 is ready. Nothing is set in stone yet, but keep an eye on us here at Upper Midwest for another possible exclusive.
Until then, that’s all I have for today. Thank you very much for reading to the end, and have a great weekend!
Tohru (real-life name Damien) is the Bureau Chief of Upper Midwest, a site dedicated to the auto enthusiast in the northern flyover states of America. He once slept in the back of his truck in February to cover the Chicago Auto Show. He currently has two cars, a truck, a cat, and a roommate.