2020 Polaris Slingshot review: Big changes, monstrous fun
The Polaris Slingshot is half car, half motorcycle with a sort of Batmobile-esque design. The 2020 Slingshot model packs a whole lot of muscle, a considerable fear factor, and is likely the most fun one can have without resorting to a straight up two-wheeler.
At a Glance
- Considered a “car” for driver’s licensing requirements in many states
- All-new engine and automated transmission
- Packs 203 hp and weighs less than 1,700 pounds
- Huge amounts of fun to drive
- More practical than it looks ... to a point
In most states, the Polaris Slingshot is considered a motorcycle for license plates, but it’s considered a car for driver’s licensing. The federal government calls it an “autocycle,” a nice quaint term that harkens back to early bicycles-with-motors à la Indian and Metz designs of the late 19th century. Unlike those, and the three-wheeled cars that came later, though, the Slingshot is a serious performance machine ... not to mention serious fun.
The 2020 Polaris Slingshot has had several improvements made to it. To start with, it has an all-new engine, this one built in-house by Polaris to replace the previous Chevrolet-made engine. The size drops from 2.4 to 2.0 liters, but on the higher spec models the punch increases to 203 horsepower (151 kW) and revs up to 8,500 rpm. It reaches peak horsepower at 8,250 rpm and makes its maximum 144 pound-feet (195 Nm) of torque at 6,500. The base SL model is (slightly) less fearsome, with outputs of 180 hp (134 kW) and 120 lb-ft (163 Nm).
A five-speed manual transmission is available for the Slingshot and might be fun for some drivers. Those of us who prefer two hands on the wheel of a machine like this, though, will appreciate the hard-shifting, fast pace of the automated manual single clutch transmission designed by Magneti Marelli. Some might wish for a middle of the road option that combines that automated manual with paddle shifters. For 2020, those people will be disappointed, but Polaris told us that it’s being considered and, reading between the lines, that it’s definitely coming soon.
The new automated transmission is a big deal for Polaris. Polaris learned that a large number of potential buyers were leaving dealerships empty handed on the basis that the Slingshot was only available with a manual transmission. As a transition vehicle, requiring no special licensing (in most areas) for driving, the Slingshot should have a wider market than any given two wheeler on the road. Yet sales were struggling. Largely, Polaris thinks, because of that transmission.
The Slingshot sits low to the ground, has only two seats, and standard car bits like the 7-inch infotainment display, steering wheel control buttons, and a digital gauge cluster seem oddly out of place here. The infotainment has limited options, but can give a lot of insight into the Slingshot’s operation and performance metrics as well as offering a backup camera, Bluetooth streaming, and satellite radio. The gauge cluster isn’t very configurable, but gives very clear output that remains visible even through a darkened visor. Steering-wheel controls include audio and cruise control, as well as a red-colored Slingshot button that, you guessed it, puts the Slingshot into Slingshot mode. This basically ups the transmission’s metrics for even more aggressive rpm levels. We got in the habit of just hitting that button on startup every time.
After two weeks with it, we learned that the 2020 Slingshot tends to create reasons for itself to be driven and that it’s more practical than one might expect. So for those looking for excuses to give their spouse in justifying a purchase, here's a few you could try.
To start with, it’s small and maneuverable, so finding parking and getting in and out of tight spaces is a breeze. The Slingshot requires the driver to pay attention at all times and there are no radio or conversation distractions because you just can’t hear them while driving. The engine alone drowns out most of the stereo (even with the 100-watt Rockford Fosgate sound upgrade), even at slower speeds, and because it's open to the air, there’s no fuel wasted on air conditioning. Finally, behind each seat in the 2020 Slingshot are relatively large storage containers that can be locked. These can hold two or three grocery bags each and the huge clamshell glove box on the passenger’s side can hold another. As a weekday grocery-getter, the Slingshot has you covered. We used it several times for that and more.
Now for the self-justification. The 2020 Polaris Slingshot is a huge amount of fun. It accelerates extremely quickly with all of its power transferring to the single rear 305mm tire via a belt. This means that the already harsh automated transmission (which isn’t a downside, for those wondering) creates even more jerk thanks to the belt drive and the single wheel propulsion. That might sound crazy, but it’s a big part of the appeal. That jerkiness reminds you of the power being harnessed by a single slab of rubber on the road. And it means corner slides and the like are always at the ready.
It doesn’t take long to learn to control the Polaris Slingshot and get the most out of its design. It’s very low to the ground, has wide, sharp-turning front wheels, and huge amounts of power for its size and weight. The Polaris Slingshot R we drove had the full 203 hp available and weighed less than 1,700 pounds (771 kg) with a full tank of fuel.
Similar to other death-grimace-inducing vehicles I’ve driven (like the Alfa Romeo 4C), the Polaris Slingshot drives adrenaline at a rate that keeps the fun factor very high. On the freeway, the mood swings to “keep alert” levels, and if you really wind it up the kidney-rattling ride quality of the tight-suspensioned Slingshot starts to appear.
The point of the Slingshot, of course, is to have a blast. The Slingshot S starts around US$21,000, though we suspect most will be buying in the US$31,000 range, which is where the R we drove starts, and most will be purchasing as a second or third vehicle. But it’s small, easy to store, and terrible amounts of fun to go out in. Assuming you don’t mind a touch of helmet head.
Product Page: 2020 Polaris Slingshot