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The Polaris Slingshot Is Way More Fun Than You're Willing to Believe

Road & Track logo Road & Track 11/14/2018 Kyle Kinard
This trike isn't for everyone. That's exactly the point.© Polaris This trike isn't for everyone. That's exactly the point.

Prepare yourself before sliding into the bucket seat of a Polaris Slingshot. There will be reactions. Big ones, small ones. Kids shrieking with joy. Grownups shooting glances as sour as month-old milk. A leathery-tan grandma with cigs in her waistband may ask for a ride. If you've already got a passenger, she'll offer to sit in your lap. Introverts need not apply. 

The Slingshot’s calling card is its duality, imparting lust or revulsion depending on the onlooker, but always sparking chatter. Apart from the driving experience, the Slingshot is sold on theater, and the rubbernecking gawks that follow in its wake. Get with the Slingshot’s Daft Punk visual funk, or get lost.

The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore© Polaris The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore

Why the fuss? Because the Slingshot is flamboyant. And because three-wheeled vehicles have always been side-eyed, viewed as compromised in a world where the good stuff is laser-focused. Bikers gaze upon the Slingshot and see training wheels. Cagers see a roadster that stepped on a landmine. Nine-year olds, the true arbiters of taste, see a haunchy Transformer that licks blood from its teeth. The Slingshot is all those things in some measure. It doesn’t handle like a bike or a Miata. But just look at the thing. You've got a strong opinion about it already.

Ostentatious charms aside, the Slingshot warrants a test drive, even from critics. Its fore half is objectively good. The top-line SLR LE trim tacks on performance goodies, namely pimpy 18" front wheels and single-adjustable Bilsteins. While those shocks feel limited on travel, they’re well-calibrated. The coilover springs are canted inboard as part of a double-wishbone setup that’d look at home on a formula car. The result: a front suspension with decent compliance, plenty of spring, and lots of edge. Communication, too-pangs of road feel jut up from the 225-section front tires and bolt through the electric steering rack to the Sparco wheel. Road texture washes through your forearms in grainy waves, like white-knuckling your clothes dryer at full tilt. The steering is taut, high-effort, and direct, somewhere between manual-rack Miata and rental kart. Not clairvoyant, but involved. Good.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a road: The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore© Polaris The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore

The rear of the Slingshot is a different can of worms. In the same way front-drive sports cars can overburden their front tires-steering, braking, and laying rubber through the same two contact patches-the Slingshot's rear tire shoulders a lot of load. The third wheel, a burly 20-incher with 305/30 rubber, rides on a caveman-simple swingarm. The suspension feels rudimentary, that single rear roller tasked with sorting the vertical and lateral loads normally split between two outboard wheels. The result feels as sophisticated as a tree stump.

The three-wheeled setup means you can hardly avoid potholes. Fun fact: Michigan’s state bird is the pothole. For me, this often meant crunching that hefty rear suspension through pits I straddled with the front wheels. You feel the resulting thwunk in your brainstem, amplified by anticipation. Every rut, crack, or crater is a miniature march to the guillotine. Slingshot driving is odd psychology.

a close up of a car going down the road: The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore© Polaris The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore

Don’t forget, the Slingshot’s rear end has to propel the damned thing, too. A carbon fiber-reinforced drive belt routes power from the GM-sourced naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder. Specs are modest-173 hp at 6200 rpm, 166 lb-ft. at 4700 rpm-but the Ecotec mill motivates just 1750 lbs. Don’t expect fast. Zippy is more like it, thanks to a five-speed 'box with tight gearing. (A nearly identical engine and transmission powered the Pontiac Solstice.)

So this Polaris is just as compromised as every other three-wheeler. Don’t write it off. The Slingshot is too much fun for that, exactly because it has three wheels. Picture the front half of a Miata with a 170-horse belt sander bolted to the back. This is the Slingshot experience distilled.

That stilted rear end simply can’t put power down under hard driving. Enjoy it. With traction and stability control engaged, the Slingshot allows 20 percent slip at the rear before cutting throttle. Use this everywhere. Stop sign? Chirp tire. Roundabout? Mini slide. On-ramp? Limit-humping micro-drifts.

If you’re brave (and foolish), disable the e-nannies. Drifts get driftier. Chirps get chirpier. Burnouts last eons. In corners, the rear swings like a pendulum, breaking away in great languid arcs like a drunk golfer’s back-swing and squirming quickly back to center when you abruptly lift throttle. It can get away from you, too. The Slingshot likes donuts.

a lot of smoke around it: The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore© Polaris The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore

Accessible insanity is most of the reason to own a Slingshot. Because being prodded by constant temptation is fun, and begs the driver to be involved. Not "I ordered my GT3 with three pedals" involved. More like some backchannel to youth, to the old days when you stole road signs just because they were there. The Slingshot is pure mania, and pure fun if you can give in to the silliness of it all.

So should you buy one? Tough question. Most people won’t get past first impressions. The Slingshot is too flashy, too impractical, just too out-there for most. At $31,000 for the SLR LE, you can't call it cheap, either. Lesser trims are more affordable, true, but I fear for the vertebrae of Slingshot pilots who skip those adjustable Bilsteins.

Maybe look at it this way: people spend 30 grand on Harley touring bikes. Those are less exciting, purchasedto an extentto fulfill obligations to self-image. But then, a brand-new Miata with the good diff is cheaper. So is a world-class sportbike.

a person riding on the back of a fire: The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore© Polaris The Polaris Slingshot Is Fun You Can't Ignore

No, that’s all too logical. Don’t rationalize it. Buy a Slingshot if you want to grin. If you want batsh*t between every stop sign. If you want to show up to the Self-Conscious Citizens Farmers Market and watch people spit-take their green juice at the sight of something so audacious.

Like I said, Slingshot driving is an odd psychology. You either have the confidence to dance like a fool, or you don’t. Folks of the former sort will buy a Slingshot. As for me, a guy with a grayscale wardrobe and a lethal dose of self-loathing? Wearing a full-face helmet helped me take on the role of Slingshot warrior. Which, honestly, is a shame, because the lid hid my mile-wide grin from the world.

 

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