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2020 Vanderhall Edison 2 quick drive review: A zippy, zany EV that's hard to love

Vanderhall's electric three-wheeler is unlike anything else on the road today -- for better and for worse.

One thing's for sure: You won't mistake the Edison for anything else on the road.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The world looks very different when your butt is 6 inches off the ground. Sitting at a stoplight in the Vanderhall Edison 2, I'm bumper-level with midsize SUVs. I can reach my hand out and touch the pavement. And I'm pretty sure the sides of my bathtub are thicker than the shell of this thing.

Part go-kart, part golf cart, the Edison 2 offers a driving experience all its own. Based on the Vanderhall Venice three-wheeler, the Edison swaps out that model's General-Motors-sourced turbo engine for a 28.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack, which sends power to a pair of 52-kilowatt electric motors. Vanderhall says the Edison 2 produces 140 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, which is a relative crapload of oomph, considering this trike weighs just 1,400 pounds.

Unlike the Polaris Slingshot, which sends power to its single rear wheel, the Vanderhall Edison uses a front-wheel-drive setup. Routing power to two contact patches instead of one is arguably better for stability under acceleration, though launching the Edison is hardly a smooth event. Smash the throttle and the Federal 595 RS-RR summer tires struggle to keep traction, plus there's a ton of torque steer. Vanderhall says the Edison 2 can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which actually feels somewhat conservative. Then again, with hardly any layer between you and the outside world, every experience, fast or slow, is amplified.

On that note, it's worth mentioning that, while nearly all states classify the Vanderhall as an autocycle, some still refer to it as a motorcycle. This means you might need a motorcycle endorsement on your license. And while a helmet is not necessarily required, I highly recommend wearing one.

Brisk acceleration notwithstanding, this Vanderhall doesn't like to be driven hard. There's great weight to the electric power steering, but it's almost too communicative -- you feel every single nook and cranny through the pushrod front suspension. The nose-heavy, front-wheel-drive Edison is eager to understeer while cornering, and the freewheeling single rear wheel doesn't offer much grip. The brakes are strong and easy to modulate, and though there's a noticeable amount of regen when you lift off the throttle, it's not powerful enough for the kind of one-pedal around-town driving I've come to enjoy in EVs.

Really, the Edison is at its best while cruising around town or along easy winding roads. I could see this thing being lovely for a sunny Sunday jaunt up to Malibu on California's Pacific Coast Highway, but that's about it. You can take the Edison on the highway, but the small, thin windscreen does little to protect you from the outside world, and the crashy suspension makes it rough over expansion joints. Stick to side streets. Trust me.

If you do plan to go the distance in your Edison, you'll be happy to know it can travel about 200 miles on a single charge, according to Vanderhall. On a standard 110-volt outlet, it takes as long as 18 hours to fully charge the Edison. Thankfully, you can opt for a 6-kW onboard charger -- a $2,950 option -- that allows you to plug into a Level 2 outlet, which cuts charging time down to roughly 4 hours.

Even with no roof and no doors, you and your passenger will feel very cozy inside the Edison.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The Edison's charging port is conveniently located under a fuel-filler cap on the rear deck, making it easy to access from either side. Of course, it's not like there's a lot of real estate to cover -- at less than 6 feet wide, the Edison is relatively petite.

Getting in the Edison isn't the exercise in gymnastics you might think. I'm relatively short, at 5 feet, 8 inches tall, but I have no trouble throwing a leg over the side and sinking into the seat. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach, and the seats themselves move fore and aft. The Edison isn't what I'd call comfortable, but it's perfectly fine for short trips. You kind of slouch behind the wheel, and the side sill is the perfect height to rest your elbow on at a stoplight. Vanderhall notes the Edison has 4 more inches of interior width than the Venice, but it's still going to be a relatively tight squeeze for two-abreast seating. Choose your passenger wisely.

To call the Edison's interior spartan would be an understatement. I love the look and feel of the steering wheel, and the three small gauges are clearly labeled. There's a push-button starter to the left of the instrument cluster, and in the middle of the dash, two small toggles for the hazard lights and Bluetooth-equipped audio system. Small storage compartments behind the seats are large enough for a purse or a backpack, and a tiny, lockable glove compartment on the passenger's side can hold your phone, wallet and... not much else. The round side mirrors are easy enough to adjust with your hands, and hey, the Edison even has heated seats, activated by the cutest little switches on the side sills.

The Vanderhall Edison 2 starts around $35,000.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

I love the exposed mechanicals -- lean to your left and you can see the 19-inch wheels turn, the suspension components moving with changes in the pavement. And because of this design, the Edison really turns heads wherever it goes, even with nearly silent operation. Its style is sort of retro cool, and I dig the way the LED headlights are set behind the grille. The Edison isn't exactly pretty, but it's not ugly, either. I much prefer its shape to the overwrought, attention-grabbing Polaris Slingshot, at any rate.

The Vanderhall Edison 2 is on sale now, and at $35,000 to start, it isn't particularly cheap. That's similar in price to the recently improved Slingshot, which is now a truly visceral experience all its own. Unfortunately, the Edison in no way compels you to drive it with gusto. While conventional, the larger, heavier and slower, gas-powered Mazda MX-5 Miata is much more entertaining to drive at all speeds.

I understand there's an inherent cool factor here; a weird, quick, electric roadster sounds great in theory. And if the Edison in some way improved upon the experience offered by the gas-powered Venice, I might be able to see the light. But as it stands, the Edison is an even more compromised -- and more expensive -- version of the already-a-tough-sell Vanderhall roadster. It's like nothing else out there, but that doesn't make it compelling.