The biggest question I get when someone finds out I’m currently driving a Polaris Slingshot around is “what is it? Is it a car or a bike?” Our society loves to classify things, but the Slingshot refuses society’s labels; it’s the Prince (artist, not title) of vehicles.
You don’t buy a Slingshot because you want a car to do X, and you certainly don’t buy a Slingshot because you want a motorcycle that does Y. The thing is, it’s neither.
Its official classification is as an “autocycle,” which helps Polaris skirt some of the more stringent automotive safety standards when it comes to crash testing, while also not requiring a motorcycle classification on your driver’s license to pilot one.
Unlike other three-wheelers—most of which are powered by some sort of motorcycle engine—the Slingshot is powered by the same 2.4-liter GM ecotec engine used in cars like the Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion, which makes 173 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 166 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm. That power is delivered to the single rear wheel by a carbon fiber belt.
While that doesn’t sound like a ton, it’s a solid amount for a thing that weighs 1,700 pounds. At 150 inches long and just over 77 wide, the Slingshot is shorter than a base Mini Cooper, wider than a Lamborghini Gallardo, and lighter than a Smart car. It’s also only 51 inches tall, and the top 12 of that are the roll bars.
The Slingshot sits on three Kenda SS-799 tires, the fronts are 225/45 R18 and the rear a massive 305/30 R20. It also comes with power steering, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control which, mercifully, can be turned off—but we’ll get to that.
The steering is actually one of the biggest improvements between the latest generation Slingshot and the first one I drove two years ago. Initially, the Slingshot felt a little like a Ural sidecar motorcycle in that it didn’t want to track in a straight line and required constant adjustments to keep it in a lane on the highway.
The steering took a huge effort, like a workout that never ended, because it took so much strength to turn and because it took so many adjustments in steering input to keep it pointed where you wanted to go. You couldn’t even really drive one handed if you wanted to (not that that's the sort of thing you should be doing anyways).
The new models handle much better. Steering feels far lighter—whether you’re hammering it in tight twists and turns or navigating a parking lot—and the task of keeping it in a straight line goes back to your subconscious where it belongs.
I was so impressed, I asked Polaris’ engineers why it tracked so much better. They said the components are all essentially the same, but that they changed the calibration by tightening the tolerances in the steering system to feel better at speed and return to center better.
The brakes were also a big complaint with the first Slingshot. They just took so much effort to get the thing stopped, and you were never really sure it was actually going to stop. I remember getting back into my truck after driving it and I kept feeling like I was slamming on the brakes because I was used to applying so much pressure.
The brakes still take a great deal of effort, but the ABS doesn’t feel as intrusive and it’s been much easier to be more smooth on the brakes. And I’ve only had like one “oh sh-t, I’m about to run into something” moments.
Then there’s the traction control, which I’m a huge fan of.
With the TC on, the system allows for 20-percent slip, which it turns out is the perfect amount to help use the rear to steer during hard driving by my scientific testing methods (lots of trying to spin in circles). I took this thing up to the super tight stuff in Malibu and was able to back it in a little bit on the brakes, and then get on the gas and continue to use the rear to pivot the Slingshot and help steer. The tires hated me for it, but it was insanely fun and really only possible because the TC allows for such a perfect amount of slip (though I wish I could take the credit for just being that good).
Now with the traction control off, the Slingshot handles like something that’s super low to the ground, super light, and has only one contact patch at the rear. It spins. It spins and spins and spins for as long as you feel like beating up on the rev limiter. It spins in a straight line, it spins in between shifts, and it spins in circles.
The Slingshot is fun, but it’s far from perfect, and as far as it gets from practical.
It’s hard to get in and out of, miserable if the temperature strays too far from 70 degrees (especially when those all-weather seats heat up). Storage is next to none and the storage compartments behind the seats aren’t very practical for daily use. It’s also super awkward when you’re in traffic or at a light and someone is staring at you, because there is literally nothing but a few inches of air between their eyeballs and your face. I always turned down my music as I pulled up to any lights.
The base model Slingshot S starts at $20,000. Another $5,500 will get you into the SL model, which adds an incredibly useful backup camera, a Rockford Fosgate stereo system which lets you blare obnoxious music (something I think is a requirement when driving), and a much-needed windscreen. Another $2,500 and you’re sitting in a Slingshot SLR which adds a GPS system, Sparco steering wheel, shifter, pedal covers, and fancy style bits. Pile on $2,000 more and you’ll find yourself behind the wheel of this Slingshot SLR LE with a starting MSRP of $30,999. It has 10-way adjustable Bilstein shocks, a premium 200-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo, turn-by-turn navigation, and more fancy style bits.
The biggest improvement (after the stereo system because listening to loud, obnoxious music just feels right in this thing) are the Bilstein shocks which really improve handling when pushing the Slingshot, though the benefits I talked about earlier with the better tracking and easier input steering are felt across the board.
The Slingshot is its own version of weird. They say that a good car or bike makes fast speeds feel slow, but the Slingshot is just the opposite—making slow speeds feel really fast. While that does mean it won’t attract high-performance driving fans, it also means it does something so. much. cooler: It makes normal drivers feel like superheroes.
The other big question I get after “what is it?” is “is it worth it?” or “who buys these things?”
The answer to that last one is hard. I’ve always said that the Slingshot is not good at anything except making you smile and excited to drive it and, despite the improvements, I don’t really think the Slingshot has become much more appealing than it was from its release.
It combines the loudness and flashiness of a supercar with the driving feel of a giant go-kart and the traction of an elephant trying to run in the snow. Since I’ve had it, I’ve taken 30 people for a ride and all of them absolutely loved it, most making the 30-mile trip down from LA just to spin some donuts or blast over Ortega Highway.
The reality is that it still isn’t very practical for most people and, as a luxury item, it isn’t all that easy to store. More accurately, it’s going to be nearly impossible to justify or rationalize buying one but, if you do anyway, you’ll likely love it and be glad you did.
If having something weird, flashy, and fun in your garage is your sort of thing, I can’t think of anything better for the money. Two wheels will always be my first love, but I look forward to jumping in this thing every single time I get the chance and I’m still working through the list of ride buddies.