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2019 Sondors EV promises three-wheeled cruising for $10,000

A three-wheeled electric vehicle aiming for a $10,000 price tag? Color us intrigued.

Ashley Esqueda/CNET

The Sondors EV is a three-wheeled, crowdfunded prototype from the Malibu-based company of the same name. The hope is that it will galvanize folks to invest in the company, so it can make a fully functional production model. After that? Mass production of an EV aimed at becoming your daily driver, at the ridiculously inexpensive price of $10,000. Sounds pretty good, right?

My grandma always used to say, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." So that's why I jumped at the chance to take the Sondors trike for a test spin. A world-exclusive first look? Don't mind if I do.

I just got home from a morning full of driving the sole prototype, and I walked away feeling both excitement at what CEO Storm Sondors is attempting here and soberingly realistic about the challenges this autocycle faces.

Sondors is mostly known for its lineup of electric bicycles, which it launched after multiple crowdfunding campaigns for the bikes in 2015. After navigating through the jungle of indie manufacturing on a large scale, Sondors decided it was ready to take a leap into the EV market and spun up a separate company: Sondors Electric Car Company. A crowdfunding campaign to create a prototype surpassed the $1 million mark -- a remarkable accomplishment followed by an equally remarkable six-to-seven-month build time for that prototype -- which brings us to my test drive.

From this angle, you'd be hard-pressed to assume that the Sondors EV is anything less than a standard four-wheeled car.

Ashley Esqueda/CNET

The catch? Since this is the first prototype EV the company has ever produced, I was limited to a top speed of 25 mph, and couldn't take it on public roads. For this test drive, we were relegated to the confines of a parking lot in beautiful Zuma Beach, California. Going in, I reminded myself to take both the best and worst experiences with a grain of salt, since this was about as early as I could possibly get behind the wheel.

First: It's beautiful. According to the Sondors EV website, it's Italian designed, and inspired by Storm Sondors' love of grand touring. The only way I could accurately describe it is that it looks like the future, if that makes sense. It's rare to come across something that actually gives off a futuristic vibe. Sondors went with a kind of "sports car in the front, Tron in the back" look. It got tons of questions from passersby, and people seemed genuinely excited and curious about what it was. Rounding the front fender to discover the lack of a fourth wheel was a pleasant surprise for most folks, including myself.

Sitting inside, I found the trike to be pretty spacious, with ample headroom for a tall girl such as myself (I'm a hair under 6 feet tall) and enough space in the single rear seat for anyone needing less legroom (kids, pets, shorter adults). There was a decent level of polish -- red leather accents on the dash, doors and steering wheel matched the red stitching adorning the seats. A small LED screen sat high on the dash behind the steering wheel, ready to offer me information as I started up the vehicle. Sondors reminded me that final placement and design of interior features could change in the production vehicle, but for a prototype, I felt the overall impression was comfortable, well-conceived and reasonable to accomplish in a $10,000 base model. On the flip side of that coin, a lot of things either weren't functional (AC, power windows, stereo), or not there at all (rearview mirror, front-trunk storage). But the basics were in place, and after a short tutorial, I was ready to do a couple laps around the parking lot.

There are some reasonable goals for the base production model in the way of hard specs: a starting range of 75-100 miles per charge using a 33-kWh battery, 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds and a weight of around 1,800 pounds. I can't really verify those specs at this early stage as they're still goals, but I can speak to the feel of the prototype. Sadly, it doesn't have the same giddyup off the line as your typical electric car -- even though the goal is 170 horsepower and 323 pound-feet of torque in the production model, the single rear-wheel electric motor currently in the prototype felt less powerful than those numbers. Overall, the acceleration left me wanting a bit more excitement, even when I jammed on the accelerator from a total standstill. Grabbing a quick quarter-mile time isn't really the goal of this particular vehicle, though, so I can understand why the drive wasn't as exhilarating as launching off the line in a costlier Leaf or Bolt EV. Again, it's expected a first build wouldn't drive the way a finished model would... but you can't blame a girl for wanting a cheap thrill when gunning it!

Almost everyone who walked or cycled by stopped to take a closer look. It's a head turner!

Ashley Esqueda/CNET

It was very surprising to know the motor was housed in the rear of the EV, because the trike still feels like it's somehow being pulled from the front, as opposed to being propelled from the back. There's one thing a trike tends to excel at, though, and that's turning radius. Even though this was a first prototype, the Sondors EV was capable of nice, tight right turns. Left turns were a bit wider, though, which Sondors attributed to a prototype setting it said would be adjusted and equal to right turns in the final model.

The drive wasn't bad at all -- in fact, I really enjoyed my time testing the trike. But it wasn't thrilling, either. The blind spots are downright brutal in the production model (even worse than my Hyundai Veloster, which I didn't think was possible), but it's likely they'll improve visibility in future iterations. There was a lot of road noise in the cabin, even at lower speeds, not to mention the fleeting swirls of cold air from outside, since it definitely wasn't insulated or sealed the way a finished production vehicle would be. As expected, there were some issues with bumpiness and vibration while accelerating, but part of that was almost certainly the less-than-ideal surface of the parking lot. I believe Sondors can minimize those issues in a true production model, but this time around, my overall ride experienced a few rough patches.

I also may have accidentally tapped the kill switch on my way out of the driver's seat, a move that rendered the trike immobile after my test drive -- there's an activation sequence required to start it up again, which the parties present didn't realize at the time. Whoops.

As I became a bit more confident that the prototype wouldn't fall apart, I started pushing a little harder to see how the trike felt and found my imagination winning me over a bit. I could see myself puttering around town in this, popping by the chiropractor and stopping to mail a package at the post office. And if it really did end up being $10,000, it would be a welcome alternative to more expensive EVs -- even better, I wouldn't have to worry about helmet hair or exposure to harsh weather like I would on a motorcycle.

Not bad for a car that's essentially in alpha, but that explains why parts of it didn't work.

Ashley Esqueda/CNET

That's the kind of reasoning Sondors hopes to inspire in potential investors, both for its production-model crowdfunding effort and mass production plans. This isn't meant for the track at Willow Springs -- it's an inexpensive daily driver that plugs into a standard 110-volt or 220-volt outlet at night.

Convenience and simplicity is the name of the game: a trike allows Sondors to save weight, complexity and cost, as well as bypass a lot of the red tape required when manufacturing a standard car. The company plans to put a lot of time and energy into safety features, since those things are important to consumers regardless of how many wheels you're using. However, options like regenerative braking and advanced driver safety systems like adaptive cruise control are off the table for now, as they add too much to the cost of the final product.

So, let's presume this Sondors trike makes it to mass production. How, I asked, would the company handle warranties and repairs, since it wouldn't have dealerships or service centers? CEO Storm Sondors says it's a question of making the vehicles as easy to repair as possible, so that owners could potentially do it themselves with some instruction from the company. According to Storm, each sourced part would have its own manufacturer's warranty, plus the vehicle itself would also have a separate warranty to cover any issues that arise. As for collision repair (a problem currently plaguing Tesla), the supply chain and cost of the trike would hopefully mean faster, simpler repairs -- or just replacing the entire vehicle altogether.

Many companies have come before and failed at bringing a futuristic trike to the masses. It only took Aptera five years to go from hopeful inception to disappointing liquidation (pour one out for Aptera, everyone). Elio Motors still lives in some weird limbo where it only partially exists. What makes Sondors different?

"Timing," says Storm. "Ten years ago, there was no way for us to be able to mass produce lithium ion batteries, and mass production on an affordable scale with an affordable price. Aptera and others who came before me... they were just early."

There are a lot of "woulds," "hopefullys" and "coulds" here, though, and Sondors has some ways to go before this dream starts moving closer to reality. One of its StartEngine websites says Round 2 of funding is set at a $20 million goal, and another asks $2 million specifically to build the final production model. I'm incredibly curious what a production-spec Sondors EV will look or drive like. Even though the prototype was the equivalent of an alpha tester, it still piqued my interest and tickled my imagination enough to want to keep a close eye on its progress.