2016 Vanderhall Laguna Roadster: More Than a Toy

The automotive world is changing.   Electric cars have ranges of almost 400 miles, hyper cars are hybrids, and autonomous driving technology is available to the general public.  In our modern, millennial minded world it is not enough for a vehicle to simply be good; it has to be different. To stand out from the crowd is synonymous, for some, with excellence. This trend has given birth to not only a new breed of cars but also a rapidly expanding new market segment.  The emergence of the Can-am Spyder and Campagna T-Rex showed that a shift towards non-car street legal machines had begun.
Today, we find ourselves with a new kind of gasoline powered entertainment; the auto-cycle. The autocycle has found surprising amounts of success in recent years and are often technically classified as motorcycles (however this tends to change from state to state).  Today they have become popular for their exclusivity, exotic looks, and the extreme driving experience they offer.  The auto-cycle has given the driving world much of what it’s been looking for, but there’s one thing they haven’t been able to deliver thus far; luxury.  That’s why Steve Hall decided to produce the Vanderhall Laguna Roadster.

On paper, the Vanderhall Laguna immediately begins to show its uniqueness.  A 1.4 liter turbocharged engine that normally resides in a Chevrolet Sonic can be found under the hood.  The 200 horsepower and 200 foot pounds of torque that it produces are chauffeured by a 6 speed automatic/paddle-shift or 6 speed manual transmission to the front two wheels.  Vanderhall says the FWD application provides more grip and stability as well as reduced complexity of the drive train.  The Laguna weighs a feather-light 1,550lbs dry largely due to its entirely carbon fiber body and all aluminum chassis.  Multi-piston Brembo calipers as well as 330mm rotors provide more stopping power than a driver could hope for, and the 235/35Z R19 front and 315/30z R20 Toyo tires (Continental Extreme tires are also available) provide enough gripping surface to reassure even the most timid of drivers that the Laguna is more than easy to control.  The pushrod suspension is communicative through the chassis.  While the suspension is “racing inspired”, it is a bit softer than expected and handles everyday speed bumps and pot holes surprisingly well.
While the technical specs look quite impressive on paper, they aren’t nearly as spectacular as the exterior and interior design aesthetics.  Vanderhall spent a stunning amount of effort, time and energy into making this auto-cycle look more unique than anything on the road; and it shows.  The short hood and round buggy headlights show hints of the Caterham 7 and the entire front fascia shows an expert balance of retro and modern design themes.  The softly rounded body lines gently guide viewer’s eyes towards the back where the single 20 inch wheel and exposed coil-over and large brake assembly remind them of the rarity and exclusiveness that surrounds the Laguna.  Once the doors are opened with the racing-inspired pull straps, beautiful high-gloss carbon fiber teases the eye as it adorns the shift knob, air vents and dash.  The quilted leather seats are welcome drivers with surprising comfort, and a generous amount of legroom is available that can be adjusted manually.  An unexpected digital gauge shows current speed, rpm and gear on the dash.  Various trim levels and special editions of the Laguna are currently available including the Bespoke and Pebble Beach edition and models start at $49,950.  The price may prove to be a barrier to entry for some, but Vanderhall informs us of their plans to debut a café racer styled model priced at $29,000 next November.
Vanderhall is persistent in their claim that the Laguna is targeted towards the power sport segment which would logically make it a “toy”.  Calling the Laguna a toy, though, feels like telling your spouse that you know exactly where you’re going when you really don’t; it invokes a small amount of guilt.  To be in the Laguna doesn’t  feel as though it is something one would refer to as a power sport vehicle.  There is an undeniable air of comfort and luxury which almost makes the driver forget that they’re in a 3-wheeled futuristic joy rider.  Vanderhall engineering rep Ted Zaleski described the driving experience well when he said that “anybody who has driven a normal car would find nothing foreign about operating this machine”.  
The automatic transmission can be put in normal driving mode and the power assisted steering is easy to control while ABS and traction control make it safe. Cruise control, air conditioning and heated seats as well as an adequate cargo storage space and a two- speaker Bluetooth radio provide creature comforts that make long distance travel more than feasible in the Laguna.  While the side-pipe exhaust is surprisingly loud, the Laguna doesn’t demand extreme driving. On the contrary, it encourages cruising as opposed to being driven hard and feels most at home when floating down a beachside avenue.  That being said, at high speeds and through corners it feels planted, stable and comfortable.  Doing 80 miles per hour down the highway is almost uneventful and feels identical to being in a regular convertible car with the removable hard top off with the exception of every car around you craning their necks to get a better look at the funky future machine that just passed them.
That’s what the Laguna is for: drawing attention.  The power-train isn’t overly impressive.  The handling is nimble and planted but not revolutionary.  The performance aspects of driving the Laguna are not the focus.  What makes the Laguna special is the look on spectator’s faces as you cruise by.  The pedestrians point and smile, sports bike riders give you the thumbs up, even luxury car drivers can’t help but smirk and nod.  The Laguna is engineered to create emotion rather than fast lap times. This Vanderhall is certainly not for the introverted.  Owners of this grandiose machine should be prepared to be asked about it everywhere they go and to give the explanation of what they are driving again and again.  If you want to feel like Howard Hughes, cruise through any downtown street in a Vanderhall Laguna and take note of which cars passing by people take notice of.   They won’t just be admiring the Laguna, though; they’ll be taking notice of the person driving it too.   
I would like to thank the following people for their help and contributions: Ted Zaleski, Daniel Boyer, and The Westin Hotel in The Woodlands, Texas (Particularly Phillip the Valet).

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  1. stigshift Avatar

    That vehicle makes about as much sense as crotchless diapers. However, unlike crotchless diapers, I really, REALLY want one.

  2. Alcology Avatar

    Half and half.

  3. tonyola Avatar

    It looks cool, but something needs to be done with that nose styling – the eggcrate grille just doesn’t work.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      That’s probably my favourite bit of the whole design!
      Kinds reminds me of the TR4.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        And it reminds me of the WW2 era Bedford MW 4×2 3-ton truck, 72385 delivered in WW2.

  4. mdharrell Avatar

    Vanderhall apparently calls the removable top a “cap shade.”

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      I saw the one in the article (I presume; the guy said there were only two in existence) with the cap shade in place. It isn’t a full roof. Just a single piece of carbon fiber, and it didn’t keep out any weather at the sides or rear. Also, no way to transport it except by installing it…hope the weather stays the same all day.

  5. Borkwagen Avatar

    Would it have been that much harder to put the drivetrain in the back and make it MR? The FWD excuses are about as convincing as Saab’s torque-steer excuses for the 9-3 Viggen.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Harder, no. But not good for the long term survival of the company. Or the customers.

    2. Daniel Boyer Avatar
      Daniel Boyer

      Weight transfer(acceleration shift weight from the from to the rear), combined with cornering, shift the center of gravity creating the same instability afforded in other autocycles-By using FWD the weight transfer is minimized, additionally it help to keep more weight forward effectively neutralizing a lot of the effect of having just one point of contact in the rear. All of the early prototypes were rwd and all of them had a point where stability was an issue.

    3. JayP Avatar

      Slingshot – $20k, rwd, plastic everything.

  6. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    How does it compare with the Polaris reverse trike?

  7. Maymar Avatar

    At least the sticker shock isn’t as bad as I thought (I swear I saw $77k quoted on their website), but still, at $50k, I’m not sure I could take this over a Morgan 3-Wheeler, even if this is the better road tripping option. Also, with as much work as they’ve undoubtedly done do it, it’s hard to ignore how much Chevy Sonic is in this thing (great $15k car, but I feel like the $29k model is about the limit of what you should be asking from those bits).
    Really, the inadvertent point I’m taking away from this is that the Sonic’s engine can reasonably sustain 200hp, and those are getting cheap used, and I can’t afford a Fiesta ST anytime soon.

  8. Professor Lavahot Avatar
    Professor Lavahot

    I’ve been wanting to see more of these concepts ever since the VW GX3 concept tanked!
    Also those weird things that Corbin Motors came up with!
    And the Indycycle I read about in Car and Driver like 20 years ago!
    This is better than all of those, I hope they can get it off the ground as well as Morgan (the Morgan EV is still the prettiest one of the bunch, IMHO).
    I do think it really needs some kind of fairing over the tail; something to balance out it’s nose-heavy profile. Maybe even a tiny trunk for a single bag of groceries!
    I’m no extrovert, but I would enjoy driving something like this. I’d really enjoy building something like this, if I had the time and skills.

  9. mr smee Avatar
    mr smee

    Really like it on one hand, really meh on the other. So the 3-wheeler concept is to get around all the laws/regs for cars that would push manufacturing/certification costs through the roof? I think what I really want is something between a Morgan and a Miata, that is to say, a cheap, primitive, 4-wheeled sports car that delivers low-speed thrills and makes no pretense to being an all-weather, all things to all people vehicle.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      That’s what I was hoping for when Kia suddenly started building the Lotus Elan. Maybe the pick up some basic ideas about cheap fun, add some reliability, and create a worthwhile niche? Alas, didn’t happen. Hyundai Coupé doesn’t really count, in my eyes.

  10. CherokeeOwner Avatar

    Boy, that sure looks nice. Not as “Transformery” as the Slingshot, nor a throwback like the Morgan 3-Wheeler. I’d take it for a ride.