2018 Polaris Slingshot
There we were, chasing down Bowser on the back straight at Choco Mountain. As we battled toward the finish line, he stuffed us with a block pass in the final right-hand corner, crushing all hopes of taking home the Flower Cup. But that was only a Nintendo-fueled daydream. The reality was that we were driving our 10Best evaluation loop in the newest, seemingly video-game-inspired three-wheel offering from Minnesota-based Polaris, the Slingshot SLR LE.
Is it a motorcycle? Not so much. Is it a car? Not really. Expanding its target sales demographic, the legal eagles at Polaris have pushed legislation to create a new class—the autocycle—allowing potential buyers to ride/drive the Slingshot without a motorcycle endorsement. At the time of this publication, 43 of these United States have bought into this classification, allowing the more than 25,000 trikes sold to be piloted with just a basic driver’s license.
Standing Out in a Crowd
There’s no getting around town unnoticed, as the futuristic styling of the Midwest tripod gets more stares than Lady Gaga in her meat dress. The jagged body lines covered in Ghost Gray paint with Lime Squeeze accents make it resemble a vehicle from Nintendo’s Mario Kart, and it sounds like one, too. Beneath the plastic clamshell hood, propulsion is derived from a General Motors–sourced 2.4-liter inline-four. The naturally aspirated four-banger is good for 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque, exhaling through an exhaust system that exits forward of the passenger-side footwell. We’d anticipated a more exciting aural note, but instead the engine moans a dismal soundtrack. A vehicle that looks as wild as this should have the snarl to match.
Like us, the folks at Polaris must be fans of the manual transmission, as a shift-it-yourself five-speed is the only transmission available in the Slingshot. The Aisin-supplied gearbox is familiar hardware, formerly found in the extinct Pontiac Solstice, which also used this engine. The shift lever navigates the gates with modest precision, and clutch takeup is predictable. The powertrain is all carlike until the end of the stubby driveshaft is reached. There, a 90-degree bevel drive (imagine a differential with one axle shaft) spins a carbon-fiber-reinforced belt to deliver torque to the single rear wheel.
At the Track
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. For reference, these times are similar to those of the less powerful and heavier 10Best Cars champion Mazda Miata, besting it by 0.3 second to 60 mph and tying it in the quarter-mile. With slightly less than 35 percent of the Polaris’s 1689 pounds over the rear wheel, the lack of any significant load transfer is the primary restrictor in getting any traction at the rear. Although Polaris claims the Slingshot is good for a top speed of approximately 130 mph, we decided to stop pushing any further when the hood started shaking violently at 110 mph.
The electrically assisted steering is accurate but offers little feedback and requires constant attention to maintain a smooth cornering radius. A sluggish fixed steering ratio of 16.8:1 paired with a rather small steering wheel makes for busy handwork when things get squirrely, and they do. We were surprised that the tail end remained glued to the tarmac during steady-state maximum cornering on the skidpad, but there’s an alarming amount of playfulness during throttle inputs at a corner apex, even with the safety nannies active. Disable the stability-control system and kneading glazed twists is effortless. The unassisted brake system provides a very natural feel when scrubbing speed. Making heat are SLR-specific, fade-resisting, two-piece brake rotors. Stand on the center pedal and the Slingshot stops from 70 mph in 166 feet. We suspect the tires played into such a mediocre stopping distance for a vehicle so light—Kenda would not be our first choice in performance rubber.
Accommodations and Efficiency
Sliding into the waterproof seats requires some contortionist maneuvers to clear the steel tubing. There is an initial sense of being slung out of the Slingshot during aggressive cornering because there are no doors and the upper seatbelt mounts are at the center, leaving your outboard shoulder feeling unrestrained. Such fears prove short-lived; once nestled into the buckets, you find the bolsters do an adequate job of limiting lateral movement of your torso, even though they’re on the soft side, presumably to accommodate various body types. Shorter pilots will find the top edge of the standard-spec windscreen directly in their sightline, which is a slight annoyance—both lower and taller versions are offered. We can say that, despite a seating position that’s only a few inches off the ground, the windscreen does a respectable job of deflecting sand and road debris up and over at highway speeds.
In our hands, the Slingshot returned 25 mpg through several stints of spirited driving. Additionally, our brave photo assistant, Charley Ladd, endured the 200 miles of our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop—driving the Slingshot at sustained elevated speeds is where the roofless three-wheeler is at its least enjoyable—to record an average of 28 mpg. Although 270 miles of cruising range is within reason, don’t plan on carrying much luggage. The lockable bins aft of the bucket seats allow only enough stowage for a helmet or a backpack.
Once the drive line clunks and engine drone grow tiresome, the Rockford Fosgate stereo system, part of the top-of-the-line SLR LE model, will rock the eardrums of the occupants, even with a helmet on at 80 mph. The audio functions are controlled by Polaris’s own infotainment system, Ride Command, which offers Bluetooth connectivity and navigation. Even while wearing gloves on a chilly morning, we found the system easy to operate.