You either love 'em, laugh at 'em or maybe you just don't like 'em I couldn't quite put my finger on the three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot either. That is, until I was able to rip one around the canyon roads of Malibu four years ago. A couple of things I took away from that experience: 1) everyone looks 'n stares at a Slingshot, and 2) it was a shitload of fun driving one. Recently in Las Vegas, Polaris debuted its next generation model with a brand-new engine, automatic option and a few other updates that piqued my interest. I'm also not one to turn down a good time
Top 5 Takeaways
1. It's not a car or a motorcycle
We don't often talk about Polaris and that's because they're mostly known for snowmobiles, side-by-sides, ATVs and UTVs. Based in Minnesota, Polaris is a multi-billion dollar company (yeah, kind of a big deal); however, the Slingshot is the one product in its portfolio that's a bit of an anomaly. What started out as an experimental project amongst a few engineers, has become one of the most bizarre novelty vehicles that 48 states acknowledge today (during my first test only 40 states recognized the Slingshot; New York and Massachusetts are the only two which still require a motorcycle license). It's classified as an "autocycle" - not a car, nor a bike, but something in between. As long as you have a valid driver's license, follow your local motorcycle helmet laws and don't live in Manhattan or Boston, you're ready to rock in a Slingshot, and bring a friend, too.
Note 1: I was curious about the need for airbags and other safety nets. I learned the Slingshot skids under a specific weight limit, so it doesn't need to adhere to all the safety and emission regulations you'd typically have to follow for a passenger car.
2. New engine built in-house; revs to 8,500RPM
One thing I tell people about the Slingshot is that it's not faster than most of the cars I get to drive, but it does feel like you're going hella fast! There's something about the open-air cockpit for sure; however, in the previous-gen, the 2.4-liter GM motor seemed like a bit of an afterthought and it felt like Polaris sourced whatever they could get. The all-new 2.0-liter ProStar four-cylinder engine is completely designed and built in-house. Now you might think that the fact they went with a smaller displacement means less power but in actuality, the ProStar is much more efficient and features an aluminum head and block, an 8,500RPM redline and has been rated at 203hp and 144 lb-ft of torque. It revs a lot quicker, like a small sport bike, sounds twice as mean with more of a "performance" tone, and its 0-60mph clocks in at 4.9-seconds - not lightspeed, but you'll keep pace with the FK8 Civic Type R. From every stop, I found myself spinning the rear tire through second gear even with the traction control on, so I don't think I was able to match the five second 0-60mph, however I didn't mind too much. Again, the Slingshot isn't something that you're going to race everything with but instead, enjoy the exhilarating rush it gives you.
Note 2: As for its 125mph top speed, I got mine up to 108mph on the flat, and 120mph downhill. I'll be honest, it was a bit sketch and I wouldn't recommend going triple digits often (lack of aero, you're on three wheels, more susceptible to wind changes - you catch my drift... ).
3. Five-speed improved; automatic now available
With the new engine came improvements to the five-speed manual transmission as well. Shifting felt quite nice - light yet still notchy. I could easily bang through gears all the way up to fifth and had very little complaints about it. But of course, the big buzz is the introduction of the AutoDrive automatic transmission. For a toy that only came in manual before, the automatic model will open up the door to a much broader audience that still can't work out that third pedal. I commend Polaris' effort; however, as a driving enthusiast, the auto felt sluggish and delayed. There also needs to be a manual mode or paddle shifters, which I'm told is a possibility for future models. But hey, I'm not the clientele for the automatic, so if you find yourself with the option of driving both, go with the manual.
Note 3: Polaris also introduced two driving modes with the new Slingshot: Slingshot mode and Comfort mode. It's supposed to adjust the shifting and acceleration to a more aggressive level, but I didn't notice a big difference.
4. Handling isn't my favorite trait
The driving dynamics of the Slingshot are, as you might expect, a tad weird. The Slingshot's suspension travel and body roll isn't terrible, but it doesn't quite turn-in and hug corners like a car, which shouldn't be a surprise. Its lateral grip isn't what I'm used to and I definitely had to be smooth with my steering inputs or I'd slip/chirp the back tire during aggressive driving. Despite this, I didn't feel like I was going to go off into a ditch and the Slingshot did stay pretty planted on the ground.
Note 4: Was scary trying to rev match as it would quickly kick the back-end loose every time. Don't recommend doing it unless you're a master driver.
Note 5: The brakes are adequate, but I did have to press pretty damn hard and give myself extra room. I have very little confidence in the factory Kenda tires. I'd swap those out in a hurry to improve both handling and braking.
Note 6: The turning radius of the new Slingshot is much improved, only needing 2.5 turns to lock as opposed to 3.5 in the outgoing model.
5. Not a really a redesign, but definitely updated
Okay I was a bit perplexed when Polaris told me it was completely redesigned. It looked more or less the same in regard to size, shape, wheelbase, having three wheels, etc. Once I got a chance to dive in a little deeper and see both old and new models next to one another, the refreshed Slingshot has a slightly lower stance and features a more modern front-end. Its most noticeable exterior change is the edgy LED head- and taillights. Inside the cockpit, I did feel it was a bit more polished and less cheap feeling, although it's not anything to go brag about quite yet. The leather wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel seemed to stand out most.
Note 7: Now standard is a 100-watt Rockford Fosgate system, but I'm not one to blast my Mariah Carey jams down the Las Vegas Strip.
Note 8: Accessories are big for the Slingshot, both factory and aftermarket. At launch, there will be almost 30 parts new owners can install, as well as three different trim levels to choose from.
The new Polaris Slingshot is a tough vehicle to critique because it's in its own category and you can't fairly compare it against anything. Do I get why Polaris built the Slingshot? After two separate driving experiences in both the old and new models, I can say I finally do. To my surprise, there are over 40,000 people that have fallen in love and purchased a first-gen Slingshot that seem to get it, too. Simply put, there's nothing else quite like it on the road. From a car enthusiast perspective, it doesn't quite stack up, but from an out-of-the-box fun and style perspective, Polaris hit a home run. The Slingshot turns heads more than a GT3 RS and it'll put a smile on your face every time you spin the rear tires (which I surely took advantage of). You don't need any special training to enjoy it, and now it's available in an automatic so there's virtually no excuse not to one a test drive one.
As for pricing, the detuned, 180hp/120 lb-ft of tq. SL model (which I didn't get to drive) starts at $26,499, while the 203hp/144lb-ft of tq. Slingshot R begins at $30,999 - a bit of a higher entry cost compared to the previous-gen; however, I feel the folks picking up the Slingshot (remember 40,000+ owners) aren't too worried about that, just as they're not worried about how fast the Slingshot goes, how it'll handle on the road course, or how many times they'll need to swap out the rear tire.