You’ve ridden a motorcycle and driven a car before, but your brain is still trying to figure out what’s about to happen.
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: the Polaris Slingshot is not a car, and it’s certainly not a motorcycle. It’s an autocycle: a class of vehicle with three wheels. In 40 US states, autocycles require the driver to wear a helmet and a handful even mandate a motorcycle license. Even though the Slingshot has an official classification, you still don’t know what to make of it right away. Despite whether you’ve ridden a motorcycle and driven a car before, your brain is still trying to figure out what’s about to happen. Then you get in, and it starts to make more sense. The Slingshot is purely for entertainment, to put a smile on your face.
The Good: When Polaris built the Slingshot and put close to no weight whatsoever over the rear tire, they knew what they were doing. If you love burnouts (and who doesn’t?) the Slingshot will keep you occupied for days, or at least until you smoke your way down to the canvas and need a new rear tire. I launched the three-wheeler in a straight line, kept my right foot to the floor and spun the rear tire in first gear, through the shift and into second, wagging the tail and chirped the rear tire in third before I started picking up any real speed. When you throw turns into the equation, the Slingshot is just as happy to break loose; you just have to be ready for it. Of course, it’s much tamer if the traction control is left on — probably the smarter more cost-efficient option.
When you’re not scything your way through mountain roads, perhaps simply puttering through town, be prepared to for the head turns, thumbs up and the “what the hell is that thing?” questions at intersections. I included this under ‘The Good,’ but if you’re the introverted not-the-center-of-attention type, the Slingshot could be your worst nightmare.
Who It’s For: Usually, when a brand answers your question of “who is this for?” quickly and without hesitation, take the answer with a grain of salt. Usually, it means that’s who they want to buy the car, motorcycle or (insert product here), not who is really buying it. Sort of like how Cadillac and Lexus commercials would love for you to believe city dwelling ‘influencers’ are driving off their lots left and right, but in reality, it’s still dentists and realtors. However, all that is to say that when Polaris says ‘adrenaline and attention junkies’ are their customers, it’s spot on.
Watch Out For: The fit and finish of the Slingshot is nearly identical to the brand’s SxS off-roaders — in an open-air vehicle the rubber-and-weatherproof-everything is welcomed and makes perfect sense. Still, this isn’t an off-road four-wheeler or on a quad — going down the highway in a $30,000 vehicle it all seems out of place.
If there’s only one option you spring for, make sure it’s the upgraded performance brakes. The model I tested had the standard discs front and rear and not only were they uncommunicative, but it also took a startling amount of time to scrub off the proper amount of speed before going into a turn. In a vehicle this light that’s surprising, and it caught me off guard once or twice. Something that changes the direction this quick and accelerates like a small sports car should have the stopping power to match.
Polaris quotes the Slingshot’s top speed in the low triple-digit range, but on the highway, the bodywork started to flutter, especially in the choppy air behind other cars.
Alternatives: Finding ‘alternatives’ to the Polaris Slingshot in the traditional sense is actually quite difficult. Its closest competition is the Campagna T-Rex which is lighter, faster and handles better. However, the T-Rex comes from a boutique manufacturer with much smaller dealer network than Polaris. Outside of that, the Morgan Three-Wheeler maybe, but it’s not classified as an autocycle — no matter which state you drive it in, you have to wear a helmet (depending on the State’s helmet laws).
Review: There are only two places the Slingshot is completely in its element: on an undulating, tight, twisty road or cutting across downtown. It’s not meant to be a balls-to-the-wall track toy like a KTM X-Bow or BAC Mono, yet it’s not nearly as leisurely as a Morgan Three-Wheeler.
The balance of the machine is inherently biased towards the front, which means you’ll feel confident going into turns because all the weight is pushing the front wheels into the ground, creating incredible stability. But, and this is a big ‘but,’ if you push it too hard into a corner, the front end is quickly overwhelmed will and start to push wide — not something you want when there’s a mess of evergreen trees and steep drops fiendishly inviting you to the outside of the road. The smartest, safest and most fun way to drive the Slingshot is nowhere near its actual limit, but still at a brisk enough pace to get your pulse going.
Around town, even with a front end wider than most upper-echelon sports cars, the Slingshot was easy enough to point and shoot in and out of traffic. It’s the cars and people walking by trying to get a closer look that you have to watch out for. People went out of their way to get into mine — it’s genuinely something you have to prepare yourself for. The Slingshot dishes out smiles to passerby at every stop light and intersection. And to get even just a half-dozen New Yorkers to crack a smile during their daily routine is impressive in its own right.
Verdict: Despite inheriting a copy-and-paste style from Polaris’ off-road lineup and looking the part of a high-performance machine, the Slingshot doesn’t like to be driven as intensely as a side-by-side or a dedicated track toy. And if you are trying to compare the Slingshot to one of those boutique-built apex hunters, you’re missing the point — it’s not winning any races, and it’s not supposed to. As soon as you dial up the intensity to keep up with the guy on the Ducati, the smiles fade into intense stares and creased brows — that’s when the Slingshot steps out of its comfort zone, falters and loses its charm.
Highways and longer, faster roads are the Slingshot’s real Achilles Heel. In addition to the body panel fluttering, the engine, while decent enough around town and through quick bends, become irritating when cruising along between 60-70 mph. It belts out a deep bass, but it’s a constant white noise droning on in your ears, making you want to get off the highway as soon as possible.
You have to know what the Slingshot is before you get in it. It’s not a grand touring machine, a grocery getter or a high-strung thoroughbred — it’s a dedicated canyon carver and boulevard cruiser. If you expect anything more out of it, you’ll be quickly disappointed. That’s not to say the Slingshot is a failure. It’s pure entertainment. There’s not a doubt in my mind it’ll put a smile on your face within the first hundred feet. However, you also get the added bonus of putting smiles on the faces of the people around in the same, short distance.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The phrase ‘bog or boil’ is often used to describe launching characteristics, but in the case of the Slingshot, it’s more like boil or burn. No matter how the vehicle is launched, the 305/30R-20 rear tire spins like it’s on banana peels, burning all the way through second gear. Get it just right and a 5.5-second zero-to-60-mph time is achievable. Hold the accelerator to the floor and the quarter-mile wisps by in 14.6 seconds at 96 mph. ” — David Beard, Car and Driver
• “When Polaris looks at its two main customer types, it doesn’t see car or bike fanatics; it sees “adrenaline junkies” and “attention junkies.” The former enjoy driving at the limit of adhesion provided by the meaty rear wheel, while the latter would rather put their time into customization and show off their work while driving slowly.” — Abhi Eswarappa, Ride Apart
• “Forget anonymity—the Slingshot is an undeniable head-turner. If you’re an attention junkie, this is the vehicle for you. From stoplights to gas stations, to the restaurant parking lot, definitely pad an extra 30 percent to your commute time to answer questions, give thumbs up, and chat up the curious pedestrian.” — Jess McKinley, Ultimate Motorcycling
Engine: GM 2.4-liter inline-fourTransmission: Five Speed ManulaHorsepower: 173 HP @ 6,200 RPMTorque: 166 lb-ft @ 4,700 RPMDrive: Single Rear WheelPrice: $32,349 (as tested)
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