Review: Polaris Slingshot aims at the gap between car and motorcycle

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It's easy to see from this angle why the Slingshot brings the Batmobile to mind(Credit: Aaron Heinrich / Gizmag)

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When Polaris unveiled the Slingshot in 2014 as a 2015 model, even the company itself was hard-pressed to categorize it. So much so that some states wouldn't let it be licensed until Polaris worked with them to either define a new category, which became autocycle, or allowed it to be licensed as a motorcycle. Either way, no one then or since has denied just how different this vehicle is.

Visually, there's no way anyone's going to confuse the Slingshot with a motorcycle. That long hood, two wheels up front, side-by-side seats, and steering wheel are dead giveaways.

But it's also not a car. The lack of side doors, a trunk, any kind of top, no safety features – other than three-point seat belts and individual rollbars behind each seat – and a single rear wheel leave you wondering ... what is it?

And that's probably its greatest defining feature – its ability to attract the kind of attention that makes people stop you and ask exactly that. The best response we could come up with is that it's a three-wheeled go-kart on steroids.

Powered by a 2.4-liter, inline 4-cylinder GM Ecotec engine coupled to a five-speed transmission, the Slingshot weighs in at just over 1,700 lb (790 kg). Producing a claimed 173 hp (127 kW) and 166 ft. lb. of torque (225 Nm), there's more than enough power to weight regardless of what you want to call it.

The speedo goes up to 130 mph (209 km/h), which we didn't get to, but it definitely had no problem hitting 90 mph (145 km/h) in fifth gear with plenty of room left before it would reach the 7,000 rpm redline. Braking comes via ABS, and we had no complaints there.

It takes corners like it's on rails, thanks to a double wishbone suspension and anti-sway bar upfront, as well as a 5-inch (12.7-cm) ground clearance. A generous amount of rubber doesn't hurt either. The base model comes with two 17-inch front wheels and a single 18-inch wheel in the rear, while the Slingshot SL and SL LE editions have two 18-inch forged aluminum front wheels with a 20-inch rear wheel.

We slid the back end out a couple of times trying too hard to do so, and that was with the traction control on. But chances are the average person isn't going to be coming into a controlled intersection hitting a green light at 30 mph, while trying to bank a hard left to stay in the proper lane.

We drove our demo Slingshot on freeways, neighborhood side streets, straight country roads and twisty foothill asphalt. If there wasn't a constant grin on our face, we weren't aware of it. It seemed to be equally at home anywhere we took it.

We thought that its low-to-the-ground stance would evoke some butt-thumping rides on rougher pavement, but the suspension did a nice job of evening most of it out. We also weren't expecting it to be a super-silky ride anyway.

Other features include a simple-to-use cruise control that worked as you would expect, and fairly generous storage, including a big glove compartment and locking cubicles behind each seat that are big enough for a couple of helmets or a few small bags of groceries.

This isn't to say it's not without its issues, primary of which is the extensive heat that comes up into the passenger compartment from the engine bay. A passenger wearing open-toed sandals actually got too uncomfortable, and we worked up a sweat just driving around on a warm summer day. This is definitely a problem we think Polaris should fix, either by increasing the cabin ventilation or making the firewall thicker between the engine bay and cabin.

We had the Slingshot SL model, which comes with the entertainment system and backup camera. The former also allows you to sync to your phone with Bluetooth, and pair a music player via a cable in the glove compartment. However, if the sun is shining at any kind of angle you can't see anything on that screen. That means the backup camera is essentially useless unless you're in the shade, or the sun isn't fully out.

A solution might be to put some type of visor above the screen, but we gave up trying to use the backup camera and were just really careful reversing out of parking lots and driveways.

We likewise weren't wild about the gas gauge. It consists of a series of bars across the top of the digital screen embedded in the speedometer, where you can also see your overall mileage, trip meter and related readouts. When the gas tank is full – slightly under 10 gallons (38 liters) worth – all of the bars are black. They each turn white as you drive until the low fuel light comes on.

This sounds good in theory, if you could see those bars. But again, any kind of sun shining on that part of the dash makes it nearly impossible.

We also didn't care for having to wear a helmet, despite the fact that you don't need a motorcycle license to drive a Slingshot in California. State laws vary, and the dealer where we picked up our demo said some owners have told him they've gotten tickets, so check state and local laws beforehand.

The closest vehicle you'll find to the Slingshot is the V-twin powered 3-wheeled Morgan, but at 82 hp (61 kw) and 103 ft. lb. (140 Nm) of torque, it's underpowered in comparison. It's also more expensive with a base price of US$36,000. By contrast, the base Slingshot is listed at $21,499, the SL model we tested that was stock comes in at $25,499 and the most expensive LE model starts at $26,999.

There are a few factory accessories available to add some performance and personalization, but customizers and DIY owners have already taken on the task of coming up with their own variations. We anticipate more to come.

It will be interesting to see how this unique vehicle holds up over time. The body and interior is all plastic, the drive is via a carbon fiber belt, and that back tire is taking up most of the friction and traction. While the general maintenance schedule seems pretty realistic, a vehicle like this could have a tendency to be driven harder than it's designed to be, and wear out accordingly.

For anyone looking for a toy you can take on a quick trip up into the hills or for a cruise around town on a balmy night, or if you just like the attention something this unique can create, then the Slingshot may be for you. Just don't call it a car or a motorcycle.

Product page: Polaris

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