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Small cars with wallet-friendly fuel economy figures are a common sight on public roads. However, a few three-wheeled vehicles muddy the lines between quirky compact cars and motorcycles. Check out some of the most noteworthy three-wheelers that bridge the segment gaps, like the Polaris Slingshot and Reliant Robin. 

What are the small three-wheeled cars called?

Small cars with three wheels and motorcycle-like features are commonly referred to as “three-wheelers” or three-wheeled vehicles. These are a few three-wheelers that blur the lines between car and motorcycle. 

  • Polaris Slingshot
  • MEV tR1ke
  • GM Lean Machine
  • Reliant Robin
  • Morgan 3-Wheeler
A series of Polaris Slingshot three-wheelers show off their small car size and motorcycle-inspired open cockpits.
Polaris Slingshots | Tommaso Boddi via WireImage

In some cases, like the Morgan 3-Wheeler and Polaris Slingshot, occupants sit in an open cockpit, not unlike a roadster. However, other applications, like the GM Lean Machine and Reliant Robin, employ an enclosed cabin for one or four riders, respectively. Moreover, vehicles like the MEV TR1ke and Morgan 3-Wheeler are more than motorcycle lookalikes; they make their power from motorcycle engines. 

How expensive is a Polaris Slingshot?

The entry-level 2023 Polaris Slingshot S starts at $21,499, similar to small cars like the 2023 Toyota Corolla. However, higher trims push the Slingshot’s starting point considerably.

  • Slingshot S: $21,499
  • Slingshot SL: $27,499
  • Slingshot SLR: $30,399
  • Slingshot R: $33,999
  • Slingshot Roush Edition: $37,349 
A gray Polaris Slingshot three-wheeler hits the road.
A Polaris Slingshot | Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Slingshot’s wide footprint and 1,651-lb curb weight make it seem more like a small car than a motorcycle or autocycle. However, in some states, operators will require a motorcycle license and a helmet. For instance, Polaris says Massachusetts requires a motorcycle endorsement on a driver’s license to drive a Slingshot, despite its wider, more stable platform and steering wheel. 

Is the MEV tR1ke a small car or motorcycle?

The MEV TR1ke bridges the gap between a small, fast car and a full-on motorcycle. It rides on three wide tires with an open cockpit and a steering wheel. However, the tR1ke packs a Yamaha R1 motorcycle engine that will rev up to 10,000 rpm for race bike thrust and soundtracks.  

What is the GM Lean Machine?

The brainchild of General Motors (GM) engineering legend Frank Winchell, the GM “Lean Machine” is a cambering vehicle, meaning it leans into corners. According to Hemmings, Winchell concluded that the narrow platform had to lean into corners for stability, like an animal leaning into a corner at speed. 

Moreover, the automaker said the slippery, small car could manage as much as 120 mpg from its 185cc Honda engine at an average cruising speed of 40 mph. Unfortunately, GM produced only three of the small, single-seater vehicle.

How unstable is a Reliant Robin?

The Reliant Robin is a small, three-wheeled car with nearly three decades of production between three iterations. However, the boxy three-wheeler rode on skinny tires with a single front wheel. As a result, the Robin was prone to rollovers more so than a three-wheeler with two front tires. 

A Reliant Robin shows off its small car, three-wheeled platform.
1978 Reliant Robin | National Motor Museum via Heritage Images via Getty Images

Who makes the Morgan 3-wheeler engine?

Before the classic British marque discontinued it in 2021, the Morgan 3-Wheeler produced its power and unique soundtrack courtesy of an air-cooled S&S 121 cubic-inch V-Twin engine. The twin is similar to the large-displacement mills enthusiasts squeeze into Harley-Davidson Dyna frames to build fire-breathing sport cruiser motorcycles. 

However, even with an American motorcycle engine, the small car seems more like a mascot for a Royal Air Force fighter wing than a Pacific Coast Highway cruiser.


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