Meet the Elio. This diminutive three-wheeled vehicle is currently accepting pre-orders and will sell for a mere $6,800 each. The brainchild of Paul Elio, the Elio company is headed by former executives from DaimlerChrysler, Lear, and other technology and investment industry leaders, meaning Elio probably has the horsepower to become a real contender in the American auto market. Plus, aside from its unique looks and low price, the Elio is packing tons of features that would have been previously unheard of in such a small vehicle, and fuel-efficiency that will make all but pure electric drivers green with envy (pun fully intended).
Elio claims the vehicle, which is not a hybrid, but a pure internal combustion engine, will make 84 miles per gallon of regular, unleaded gas. You read that right: 84 mpg. That’s more than twice the rated mpg for other tiny gas cars like the Smart ForTwo, Scion IQ, and Mini Cooper. Coupled with a large-for-the-size gas tank that has a capacity of 8 gallons, the Elio can go roughly 672 miles between fill-ups. That means you could drive from Detroit to New York, Key West to Atlanta, Los Angeles to Albuquerque, or Chicago to Little Rock, all on a single tank of gas. Indeed, Los angeles to New York is possible in under 4 full tanks which, even if we round up the price of gas to $4, would equate to just $128 for your cross country trek. Given numbers like that, you can see why the Elio is already drawing a lot of attention just for its amazing frugality.
Powering that amazing fuel-efficiency is an inline, 3 cylinder, 1 liter, 70 HP, fuel-injected, SOHC gas-powered, liquid-cooled, automotive engine. In other words, unlike some kit or plan-built three-wheelers of the past, the Elio uses an actual car engine, not an underpowered motorcycle motor. That equates to a top speed reportedly in excess of 100 MPH, and an acceleration from 0-60 of under 9.6 seconds. That’s not terribly fast acceleration, but it’s not bad, either, and puts it right in line with many hybrids or other efficiency vehicles.
But, the Elio is so much more than just a cheap, fuel-efficient car. Designed as a three-wheeler, it sports two wheels in the front and one in the back to maximize cornering stability. That unique design should also turn quite a few heads and start a lot of conversations at red lights and fuel pumps. Each Elio also comes equipped with a Safety Management System that includes three airbags, a reinforced roll-cage frame, anti-lock brakes, and 50% larger crush zones than “similar vehicles” (whatever those might be). The engine is mounted toward the front two wheels, which also act as the drive wheels, and the entire vehicle has a very low center of gravity, all of which equates to strong and stable handling. Based on their own preliminary tests, Elio expects to receive a 5 star safety rating.
The big question is “what sort of room will one have inside of this thing?” Because it seats only two and in tandem, you may feel a little claustrophobic if you are prone to such fears, given that you can literally roll down the windows and hang your arms out both sides of the car at once without leaning. Just remember, as a three-wheeled vehicle, the Elio can register as a motorcycle in many jurisdictions, so its dimensions are somewhat similar. But unlike a motorcycle, the Elio has a fully enclosed, climate controlled (AC/heat/window defroster) driver compartment with standard AM/FM radio, power windows and door locks, and a windshield wiper. You also get all of the safety features of a car, like air bags, a roll cage, a seat belt, crumple zones, etc. It also has a small trunk that you can expand by folding down the back seat for larger items like golf clubs. And you are getting all of that, plus that insane gas mileage and unique design for $6,800; less than most motorcycles.
Elio is taking reservations now with different amounts securing you different locations on the waitlist. The Elio is supposed to start shipping in the fall of 2013, so it will be interesting to see how it is received, how quickly Elio can fulfill its orders, and how end-user experiences compare with the manufacturer’s descriptions. Still, if it lives up to even most of the hype, the Elio should be a unique, fun glimpse at a new class of American automobiles likely to grow in popularity just as other micro-minis have over the last decade.