The Polaris Slingshot is a three-wheeled, open-cockpit plaything thatíll satisfy the needs of shoppers set on ownership of the latest novelty toy, and long-time motorcycle owners after a new way to take in an open-air driving experience, among other things.
It looks as if designers were instructed to break up more than four square inches of smooth bodywork with vents, angles and slashes.
Heck, Slingshot looks like something drawn by a 10-year-old gearhead with sharpened pencil-crayons and a ruler. It attracts crowds of cellphone-wielding teenagers and, in all, it looks drastic and extreme.
Turn heads at a low price point
Case in point? Iíve driven $200,000 Porsches with park-bench sized rear spoilers that didnít cause as much of a stir from the general public. At $31,000, Polarisís latest on-road toy is a bargain for drivers who want to get noticed.
But letís dispense with the important part first: the Polaris Slingshot is not a sports car.
Oh, and itís not a bike either.
Sure, itís a little of each: itís a car, in that you donít need a motorcycle license to drive it, and that it has a steering wheel, and that it has an interior, and that you feel funny walking away from it without remote locking the doors, since there arenít any.
And itís like a bike, in that it has rubber seats, that you shouldnít take it through a car-wash, in that you need a helmet to drive one, and that itís one-wheel drive.
This is a toy
But Slingshot is a toy. A compellingly-priced alternative to an open-top, fair-weather sports car. A unique way to access the open-air thrills, speed to spare, and silly-good fuel mileage of a motorcycle, if youíre tired of motorcycles. Your very own open-wheeled race-car, perhaps.
You climb in over the exposed tube-chassis segments, plopping in behind the rubbery steering wheel and belting up the inboard-mounted seatbelts.
There are two cupholders, a stereo, cruise control, tilt steering, a backup camera, and three waterproof storage bins (one behind each seat, and a third set up as a glovebox, big enough for your wallet, hat, cell-phone, and a few other at-hand knick-knacks). Thereís a USB port and 12-volt power outlet inside that glovebox, too.
Fit, finish and detailing call a boat or an ATV, not a car, to mind. Much of the cabin implements are rubberized, heavy-duty, and designed to withstand the sun and rain. This is a street-legal power-toy, after all.
Firing it up
Insert the key, and Slingshot fires up via a centrally-mounted ignition button. The engine? Straight out of your grandmotherís G6: a 2.4-litre ECOTEC unit with 173 horsepower, driving a five-speed manual transmission, then a driveshaft, which powers a final-drive unit modified to accept a belt-drive assembly.
Said belt is notched, reinforced with carbon fiber, and spins the single rear wheel (or vaporizes it, if you turn off the traction control. Whee!)
Much of the driveline is an asset. The engine only has to motivate about 1,700 lbs. for Slingshot duty, meaning the power to weight ratio is sports-car proper.
The clutch is light and forgiving, but doesnít feel like itís made of cheese whiz. The shift action is pleasingly light, well-greased and precise. Itís proper fun to shift fast, but forgiving in traffic.
Slingshot fires up with a dense hum that turns a head or two, but isnít obnoxiously loud, despite the compact exhaust system which exits beneath the passenger footwell. At lower revs and light load, it sounds like a quiet motorcycle.
Taking it for a rip
At full rip, a delightful roar escalates as the short initial gears come and go at redline. At maximum revs, thereís a discernible hiss from the exhaust, which sounds like itís choking a little, which makes your writer wonder if the engine might be thankful for the addition of some high-flow exhaust parts.
And donít miss the frequent ďWhoop whooooooooooop whooooooooooooooooopĒ from the transmission coming in through the floor. Along with the raw engine note, this thing sounds like a proper motorsports toy.
And it goes. Quickly. Gears one through three are short, and help blast the Slingshot along in city traffic with mischievous snappiness. Itís not street-bike fast. In fact, you should likely avoid a Mustang GT or Camaro SS at a red light, too, but, but for pleasing responsiveness and smooth performance throughout, it hits the mark.
The drive is car-like, in many ways. The turning circle is similar to a compact car, the steering feel is instant and sports-car like, with plenty of low-speed assistance but not enough to make it feel soggy.
On twisty roads, the instant turn-in and sharp responses call the Scion FR-S or Mini Cooper S to mind.
With only one rear tire, Slingshot can be throttle-steered easily around corners if youíre delicate, and calls a high-powered, short-wheelbase V8 sports car to mind.
It rotates, slightly and with friskiness, but never feels like itís about to put you on a speed-date with a piece of infrastructure, if youíre being reasonable.
Really smash the throttle in first, and the engine output only slightly outguns traction, so you get plenty of forward momentum, but minimal squirming. Very tight, aggressive cornering sees the rear end lean heavily about the wheel, which may take some getting used to.
But ultimately, as hard as your writer pushed it on public roads, Slingshot simply felt like a nimbly-bimbly little rear-drive coupe.
Ride quality is absolutely sporty-first. On rougher real-world, in-town roads, the Slingshot rides like a hardcore track-toy: rigid, busy, and calling machines like the Porsche 911 GT3, or Corvette Z06, or Ariel Atom to mind. Shocks are stiff, and the chassis is as rigid as a gluten-free pancake.
And with three wheels, youíll always hit potholes with at least one of them. So itís a busy highway ride, too.
So, the jiggling beneath, combined with the sound of the driveline and wind passing through your helmet, reinforce the uniqueness and rawness of the experience. No squeaks or rattles to report, either.
Brakes perform with urgency and the ABS system engages smoothly, though the pedal feel takes some learning, if youíre coming out of a sporty car. Simply, the effort required to generate a sudden stop is fairly aggressive, and the pedal travel is fairly long.
An experience unto itself
A few other details are notable.
First? The seats are a soft and rubbery plastic material with plenty of give, and prove to be considerably more comfortable than they look, at least for your semi-athletic writer, whose back is in good shape. Thing is, they donít breathe, so if itís hot outside, a torrent of back-sweat on par with Niagara Falls is in your immediate future.
Second, the headlights, which consist of halogen projectors, are good, not great. Light output is bright and focused, though peripheral roadside illumination is fairly poor, and the reach of the setup is adequate at best. High beams are decent, though shoppers interested in regular after-dark drives may wish to consider some accessory lighting add-ons to taste.
Finally, the plastic partial windscreen is a little distracting at first, as it rests mid-way in your view, though your writer appreciated the near-nil presence of bugs and rocks and road debris entering his helmet and face, even on highway drives.
Complaints? The tall rear body section limits rear visibility, making proper mirror setup and careful shoulder-checks absolutely vital. Further, the backup camera is wide-angle and high-resolution, but all but impossible to see in direct sunlight, a definite oversight in an open-topped ride designed for sunny days.
Ultimately, Slingshot is an experience, as much as itís a way to get around and enjoy the open road. Almost nothing else youíll find for the money is this unique and striking.
Itís a little weird, a little different and a little unconventional, but itís got the sounds and the moves and the looks and the shifter, and the open-topped magic to put a grin on your face on every drive.
Polaris Slingshot SL
Engine: 2.4-litre GM ECOTEC four-cylinder, 173 horsepower
Drivetrain: rear-wheel belt-drive
Observed mileage: NA
Transmission: five-speed manual
Features: Bluetooth, backup camera, push-button start, full stereo, USB port, cruise control
Whatís hot: fantastic looks, incredibly unique, goes like stink, open-air driving experience
Whatís not: ride can become rough on some surfaces, rearward visibility is challenging, standard headlights are adequate, nothing more.
Starting price (Slingshot): $26,999
As tested (Slingshot SL): $30,999
Read More Here: VIDEO: Open-wheeled fun on the Polaris Slingshot | The Chronicle Herald