It looks like a three-wheeled hornet from another planet. And had everything gone according to plan, this radical ride, first unveiled last January, would have started production by the end of 2006 and reached dealers this spring. But the skeptics prevailed, and at the eleventh hour, the Volkswagen GX3 was no more. Disaster averted, or opportunity lost? We took an exclusive drive to find out.
You almost lie down in the GX3, with both legs comfortably stretched out in the long tunnel leading to the narrow pedal box. A five-point seatbelt straps you into the thinly padded bucket, which has a fixed backrest and side bolsters. Although you might expect handlebars, a hand-operated clutch, and a twist-grip throttle, the GX3 has foot pedals for the clutch and the brakes, a gear lever located between the seats, and a tiny, suede-rimmed steering wheel that looks and feels as if it came from a racing car.
The test mule's engine delivers only 80 of the promised 125 hp, but most of the other key ingredients are to VW standards. The steering rack is from the Lotus Elise, and the brakes are adapted from VW's European-market Golf and Polo. Lotus also had a hand in the unequal-length control arm front suspension. The front tires are a pretty standard size at 215/45WR-17, but the single rear semi-slick is a 315/30YR-18. The fourteen-spoke aluminum rear wheel is located on a lightweight, single-sided swing arm with a compact coil-over damper. For cost reasons, VW opted for a chain to relay power to the rear wheel, despite the fact that a driveshaft would have been classier and a belt would have been quieter.
Although VW planned to market the GX3 as a motorcycle (to qualify for high-occupancy-vehicle lanes), the GX3's footprint is closer to that of a car. The two-seater is 73 inches wide, 148 inches long, and four feet tall. It rides on a 106-inch wheelbase and sports a broad 64-inch front track, so you can't weave through busy traffic. Nonetheless, the feeling this tarmac-hugging street spider conveys is as intimate as that provided by conventional motorcycles. You can always sense the detailed texture of the road surface and its tiniest irregularities. You soon learn to look out for gravel, puddles, and diagonal seams. You try to dodge potholes and brace for transverse ridges. In the GX3, even smooth-looking asphalt can feel uneven, and longitudinal grooves can bounce you off course without warning. Crests, expansion joints, manhole covers, and crosswinds are also liable to seriously deflect the flight path. All of these encounters tend to happen at sports car speeds, and since VW claims that the GX3 can pull up to 1.25 g of lateral force, even eight-tenths efforts will make your heart thump and your cheeks go wobbly.
The flyweight GX3 drives like a high-performance, high-tech soapbox. With no occupants on board, it tips the scales at a fit 1257 pounds. For better balanced lateral weight distribution, the fuel tank, the 2.8-cubic-foot cargo cubicle, the swing arm, and the battery are all located on the passenger's side of the vehicle. According to VW, the airy plaything can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 5.7 seconds with its designated 125-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. The company also claims a top speed of 125 mph and average fuel consumption north of 45 mpg.