Some of us are car people. Others are bike people. Some may even do both. Yet there is something out there for those that are seeking a different kind of automotive experience altogether. What is it? Well, it’s called the Polaris Slingshot. You know, that futuristic three-wheeler that you may have seen rolling around town. Yeah, that thing. And we are here to tell you, it is an absolutely amazing machine, and for reasons you might not suspect.
The Slingshot wasn’t the first reverse trike on the market, yet it is by far one of the most attainable. It sports a relatively low price tag, although more than that it packs a ton of bang for the buck. For those that don’t know already, a reverse trike is one with two wheels in the front and only a single wheel in the rear. Why would anyone do that? Well for starters it comes to performance. The triangle that the three wheels form has created one of the best handling platforms for such a small vehicle. And while that is the predominant reason for this design it also allows Polaris to sell the Slingshot as a Motorcycle. This means different regulations that you would typically find on a convertible.
So it’s a 3 wheeled motorcycle, does it ride like one? The answer is ‘ish’. While you don’t ‘ride’ the slingshot as much as you drive it, the experience does still have aspects that remind you of your 2-wheeled toy. The way the cockpit is open and exposed is something that really takes many by surprise. You get that exposed wind in your
hair helmet feeling that accompanies most motorcycles, but you do it from behind a steering wheel. I know what your thinking, anyone with a Miata can get that feeling. Wrong. It’s not the same. Matter of fact it’s drastically different. The windshield on the Slingshot acts as a small buffer, sending the wind over you instead of directly into you, like a motorcycle fairing. And the sides of the Slingshot are so open you can see the road racing by as your cruising around, adding to that element of being exposed. You also don’t get that dreaded swirl of air that convertibles are known for, making the experience a million times more enjoyable.
The exposed nature of the Slingshot isn’t the only thing that aids in its unique experience, that comes from actually driving it. First, there is the fact of how low it is. Seriously, it’s like a go kart. It’s actually so low that you find yourself sitting lower than most people’s side mirrors, a slightly unnerving feeling on the freeway. Yet that feeling you get correlates well with that of riding a motorcycle. You get that sense of invisibility that happens while riding a motorcycle, forcing you to stay much more aware. This easily makes the entire experience much more engaging than just driving.
The nature of the chassis is to follow the lines on the road, this means the Slingshot has a tendency to move around, following the lines of the road much like a motorcycle. While that may sound like a bad thing, I’m here to tell you it isn’t, it’s just another element that ties the slingshot closer to its 2 wheeled familia. So it exemplifies features of its motorcycle cousins in the best ways, but how about the other half of its family, cars.
This is where things get interesting. The front half of the Slingshot is all automotive. It features a double A-arm suspension setup like most sports cars, as well as a 2.4-liter inline four sourced straight from Chevrolet. This is mated to a brilliant little five-speed transmission, but we will touch on that in a moment. So the front end is very car-like, and it performs as such. The front end of the slingshot is absolutely sublime. While power steering comes standard it does a great job of keeping some weight in the steering wheel. This gives the Slingshot a very direct feeling, making turn in immediate while allowing a massive amount of feedback. Pair this with the extremely low-slung seating position and you get an intense feeling of what is happening beneath you. It’s a connection to the road that you will struggle to find in any other market.
The rear does add a unique quality to this, a feeling that traction is there if you want it, and gone when you don’t. When approaching a corner the front loads up nicely on the brakes, then after turn in you get a distinctive roll to the body in the rear while the front end stays glued to the asphalt, a trait no doubt tailored to its triangular footprint. The subtle roll makes me reminisce about racing go-karts, where the weight shifting to the outside wheel allows the kart to corner much faster. Polaris took the equation of lifting the inside rear tire and just deleted it entirely. Transitioning through switchbacks is the only time the Slingshot feels at all sluggish, with a mild flat spot in-between transitions. This is of course an over analyzation, something that you will get used to in one short drive.
That crisp little inline 4 makes a decent amount of power for something that weighs just under 1800lbs. With 173hp on tap, backed up by 166ft-lbs, the Slingshot isn’t here to win any drag races. Yet it makes enough power and delivers it in the right ways that it can easily keep a grin on your face for days. On the freeway, the Slingshot is easily capable of cruising at speeds well over the speed limit, with the sweet spot being around 80mph in 5th gear. But where that engine truly shines is in the twisties. The delivery from the engine makes you want to drive it, and I mean really DRIVE it. It entices you to keep the revs up, feeling happiest when in its full torque curve which starts at 3500RPM with peak torque hitting at 4700RPM.
Part of this experience comes from the 5-speed manual that all Slingshots have. The clutch is absurdly light and easy to use and the 5-speed makes rowing through the gears a breeze. It’s the right amount of notchy and has that perfect not-to-long-not-to-short throw. Seriously, it’s almost into Honda territory. Almost. The clutch while light does have an odd engagement zone with a slightly lengthy travel. But even with that it is incredibly forgiving, and only takes a small period of adjustment.
Polaris has done wonders to make all of these small components work together. The ergonomics in the cockpit are just about perfect, depending on your height. Under 6ft tall and you can make the interior fit like a glove, over 6ft and you find yourself with your knees bent in awkward angles. You’ll also find yourself attempting to adjust your seat several times over, hoping that you’ll magically be able to slide the seat a few more inches backward.
Once you have given up hope on the extended leg room you will find that everything else in the cockpit is well sorted and beautifully placed. When relaxed the shifter sits just in front of your right hand, making shifting anything but a stretch. And the steering wheel is set so that even with the seat all the way back you can comfortably have both hands on the wheel. The steering unit isn’t telescopic but it does tilt, allowing for a more refined driving position. Gone are the days of moving your steering wheel and no longer being able to see the gauges. Polaris has incorporated the gauges so they shift with the wheel, something every other manufacturer needs to take note off.
Speaking of gauges, The set used in the Slingshot is just right. The Slingshot is not by any stretch of the imagination a luxury vehicle. It is however a really big, really fun toy. The gauges used are youthful, well styled but not over the top. They give you the information you need and cut out what you don’t. Most notable is the two large easy to read analog dials for both speed and RPM. Inside your speedometer is a small LCD display that is there to give you a little more communication about what is going on. This means the Slingshot can track standard things like odometer and two trip meters, but it also has things like average fuel consumption, range until empty and temperature. To scroll through to your desired function is a simple one button toggle, ingeniously located directly in front of the shift knob.
The entertainment unit used on the Slingshot isn’t half bad either. It sits square between both pilot and passenger, making access by either a complete breeze. With 4 buttons on each side the system looks more complex than it really is. I’ll be honest, I didn’t play with it much because, well, I was more inclined to listen to the engine than to the radio. I did however connect my cell phone via Bluetooth, and that process was simply handled through a series of button presses. If you have a passenger that wants to be DD(designated DJ) then you can easily have them pop the glove box where a USB connector is hidden, allowing for a quick and easy connection.
Speaking of the glovebox, this thing has a massive one. Seriously, the storage is actually really impressive for such a small vehicle. The glove box, which houses that USB port and a 12v port, is enough to store most any run around goods. At one point I had a second pair of clothes, a hat, a second visor for my helmet and my lunch. I think you can get the point, it’s pretty big. Fortunately for you if that’s not enough room there are two bigger compartments behind the seats for storage. That gives the Slingshot a total of 83 dry liters of storage, an impressive amount of space for the little reverse trike.
So what is the Slingshot like to own? For lack of a better word I would have to say unique. It’s a rare enough creation that no matter where or when you stop with the Slingshot you will soon be approached with several questions by curious eyes. This isn’t a bad thing unless you are in a rush. From there even traffic turns into a parade at times, with people often waving with curiosity or wonderment. This can of course cause quite the unnerving situation when you have people in a minivan not paying attention to what they are doing just to get a better look at you in your futuristic looking reverse-Trike.
From there the driving experience is the definition of fun. The Slingshot does such a great job of tuning you into the road and what is going on around you that it completely removes the monotony of driving. Just going to work or the grocery store becomes a joy. Then when the time comes for you to do a more purposeful drive the Slingshot will surely be high on your list of ‘grins per gallon factor’. As we have said before the Slingshot’s performance is spot on, allowing you to feel right at home and never discouraging you from a spirited mountain road. Aiding in that sublime driving experience is the thrilling mechanical sounds that come from all over the slingshot. First and foremost you can hear the engine bellowing a beautiful stock exhaust note the entire time you drive. But the real treat lies in the way the final belt drive unit makes awkward squeaks and creaks, all in the best way possible. It adds to the Slingshots visceral experience, once again bridging the gap between car and motorcycle into an entirely new category.
Something that was very different than expected was the passenger experience. First of all, anyone and everyone we took for a ride enjoyed the experience of the Slingshot more than we expected. But an interesting note was the lack of communication from driver to passenger. This isn’t a convertible and that wasn’t more apparent than when you tried to hold a conversation, or even relay important information. At speed with helmets on it is almost impossible to hear your passenger and vice versa. If I had one of these as my own, a helmet to helmet com unit would be 100% necessary to take the rider experience to the next level. Seriously I’m not sure if it’s just because of the car-like seating position but I don’t think I’ve ever shouted ‘what!?’ and ‘Huh!?’ that much in my entire motorcycling career. Yet even with that deficit, the Slingshot was an absolute crowd pleaser. Several times we had passengers that had never even heard of a Slingshot before, and by then end they were almost ready to buy one. Surprisingly the most common comment about the experience was about ‘how smooth’ the Slingshot drove. Which brings me to my last point.
The Slingshot is bar far one of the most hardcore vehicles you can own. Apart from going full two-wheeled territory the Slingshot is completely bare bones fun. Yet it is also incredibly civilized, and really is something you could easily daily drive if you were so inclined. I commuted via motorcycle for years, yet now I find myself commuting via cage because frankly I have too much to haul around. But with the Slingshot I was able to recreate that hair in my helmet experience that I absolutely love while carrying my work supplies with ease.
With a starting price at just $21,999, you will have a hard time finding anything that can match the Slingshot for fun. The closest competitor would easily be the famed Mazda Miata, which comes in at a base price $3,000 more than Slingshot. With that being said, like any new vehicle on the market, it is well worth your hard earned money to upgrade to the SLR model that we tested, which sits at $28,499. I know I know, its currently the most expensive model in the Slingshot range which sounds like the silly move to make. Yet there is one single reason you want the SLR, and that is the seats. No question about it, the heavily bolstered seats are by far the biggest improvement over all the other models by a long shot. Not only do they keep you firmly planted while winding through corners, but they also offer a great amount of support for the longer freeway jaunts.
Now that isn’t the only thing that sets the SLR apart from the pack, quite the opposite. With an all new Sparco package the SLR gets a new set of pedals, shift knob and steering wheel, all of which add to a better feeling cockpit. The SLR also comes standard with the entertainment package, which includes a display that doubles as the radio controls and a rearview camera, with a set of Rockford Fosgate speaker boxes on the outsides of both the driver and passenger foot wells. The unit is very self-explanatory and easy to use while the rear view camera was an absolute must. Due to the seating position on the Slingshot it was much easier to check the camera than to run over curbs and lamp posts. While the speakers do provide adequate sound for anything under 60mph it did leave me wishing for more. After all it is incredibly hard to overcome wind noise. I would likely ditch the speaker boxes for some more lateral leg room and elect to use my headset for music. You know, since I’ll already have one for communicating with any potential passengers. I have a feeling Polaris saw this problem coming because the entertainment system is already set up to pair to any Bluetooth helmet communicator.
The SLR also comes equipped with much bigger wheels and tires, giving it a sinister look. The front two wheels are 18×7.5’s with 225 Kendas while the rear is a massive 20×11 wrapped in a stunning 305mm tire. This gives the Slingshot a ton of grip at all
four three corners. Impressive still is the fact that you can get that rear wheel to spin without traction control on, a feat that should not go unnoticed. Lastly, the SLR features an open air intake that allows for a little more grumble, and the body gets some unique SLR flair.
The Slingshot is by far one of the most entertaining vehicles I have ever driven. It fits into a void that I didn’t know we had until I drove one for the first time. Not only does the Slingshot differ drastically from both cars and motorcycles, it does so in the most perfect of ways. The Polaris Slingshot will not fill the void for a playful car, or your perfect bike. It will however, fill a void for something you didn’t even know you wanted. The Slingshot is entirely different from what you are used too in the best kind of way.