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Chevrolet Camaro 1LE vs. Honda Gold Wing Tour vs. Polaris Slingshot Grand Touring Comparison Review

Motorcyclist logo Motorcyclist 5 days ago Davey G. Johnson

 

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Tackling California’s Central Coast on four, three, and two wheels.

It’s impossible to imagine California without a thin ribbon of asphalt tracing the majority of its coastline, yet the first segments of California State Route 1 weren’t laid until a little more than a century ago. The road from Dana Point—just south of Motorcyclist’s offices—up to Leggett in the state’s Emerald Triangle, has only been signed as a contiguous route since 1964. Highway 1 runs through the state’s two most vital cities, and on the right day, nearly any given rural stretch of 1 could credibly lay claim to the title of the nation’s most sensually rich road.

a man riding a motorcycle on the side of a mountain road: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

It’s a road that always has something fresh to offer an eager rider, and one that’s impossible to entirely absorb. With that in mind, we asked ourselves what sort of vehicle might offer a person the best chance at taking in the totality of the Golden State’s ragged edge. Have motorcyclists, out of passion or habit, been missing out on a better way to experience California’s coastal roads? To find out, we took three very different machines, any of which can be purchased for around $30,000, out to the Central Coast south of Big Sur.

a close up of a piece of luggage: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

When Chevrolet launched the Camaro 1LE 30 years ago, it was available only to V-8-intending consumers. Today, the handling-focused package is merely limited to hardtop cars. Engine options run the gamut from a supercharged V-8 down to a healthy turbocharged four. Hewing to our price target, we opted for the latter. The 1LE can be had as cheap as $30,495. The 2.0-liter engine pumps out 275 horsepower, a 55-horsepower increase over the original manual-transmission V-8 1LE. In terms of handling, it acquits itself excellently against Mazda’s Miata, and the ever-improving Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ duo, but in a straight line, it smokes the lot of them, as a proper pony car should.

a blue car driving on a road: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

Representing the Motorcyclist home team is Honda’s Gold Wing, recently the recipient of a long-overdue rethink. Honda managed to excise a startling 85 pounds from its heavyweight tourer. Some wags have taken to calling the latest Wing “the ST1800,” lamenting a loss of cargo space while bemoaning (or embracing) the big bike’s sportier mien. You can spend more on a motorcycle than the $27,500 that Honda’s asking for the dual-clutch transmission Tour model we tested—a Panigale V4R will set you back $40,000, and this year’s H-D CVO Limited dings the wallet to the tune of nearly 44 large—but as far as mainline bikes go, the Honda’s a pricey one.

a person riding a motorcycle on the side of a road: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

The odd duck of the troika resembles a Lego Batmobile built by a kid who lost a wheel under the bed and decided to improvise. It is, of course, the Polaris Slingshot Grand Touring. Like the Camaro, it carries a GM four-cylinder up front, in this case, a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter unit good for a claimed 173 horsepower. Like the Honda, the state of California demands that you wear a helmet when operating the Polaris because it’s legally registered as an autocycle. Most states, however, don’t require an M endorsement to drive it. Because it’s registered as a bike, the Slingshot’s exempt from numerous weight-adding, purity-sapping safety regulations. For example, it lacks an air bag—a feature that’s optional on the Wing.

What the $30,999 Slingshot unquestionably has is curb appeal. Aside from its matte-black hood, there’s little to distinguish the Camaro from the endless parade of rented Americana that plies the coastal highway. An ’80s GL1100 Aspencade was a rolling event, festooned as it invariably was with panel paint, whip antennas, and upholstery likely cribbed from a booth at Shakey’s Pizza. Honda dialed back the Gold Wing’s large-and-in-charge majesty with this go-round, and in turn created a very handsome, if slightly anonymous-looking, motorcycle.

a motorcycle is parked on the side of a dirt road: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

The Slingshot, in contrast, is not exactly a looker, but with four projector-beam lamps up front, it’s arresting—in a metalflake mechanoid creature-of-the-night kind of way. We’d suggest that Polaris followed function with form when it came to the Slingshot’s aesthetics, but we’re not entirely sure if that’s true. Cycle fenders would make the reverse trike easier to place in corners, but they’d tone down the outrageous looks. And while the Chevy and Honda faded into the landscape, every person we met had questions about the Slingshot. Tourists and park rangers alike took to quizzing us on it. Our answers were invariably something akin to, “Yeah, it’s sort of a car.”

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On paper, the Honda, with its Porsche-aping, stump-pulling flat-six engine, lack of a clutch lever, heated seat, and Apple CarPlay integration, is sort of like a car too, but it’s worth remembering that the Gold Wing was conceived as a heavyweight sportbike, and that heritage is most evident in the latest model. Some in the group bemoaned our tester’s lack of a classic manual transmission, but Honda does offer an optional foot shifter for those who want the DCT but prefer to select gears the old-fashioned way. One rider in our group even strongly preferred the dual-clutch to a traditional transmission, at least in this application.

Honda’s new “double wishbone” front suspension, a variation on a design Norman Hossack pioneered in the 1970s, does an excellent job excising jarring front-end impacts from the rider’s experience, at the expense of a bit of feel. Road Test Editor Michael Gilbert noted that he found himself judging the edge of adhesion based on experience, lean angle, and tire load, a trade-off, we think, that’s appropriate for the bike’s intended audience. While it’s no CBR, the Gold Wing changes direction well, and holds a line through a corner like the Tokaido Shinkansen.

a person riding a motorcycle on the side of a road: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

Around a track, there’s no question in our minds that the Chevy would be the fastest of our trio. GM’s Alpha platform was built from the ground up to take on German sports sedans, and it’s absolutely up to the task. If the turbo four isn’t the most charismatic engine in the Camaro stable, it acquits itself with impressive motive grunt. The 1LE package adds direct steering, copious grip, and a satisfying shifter, making for a sublime man-machine interface with the road; but the road’s only one component of the coastal-drive experience. What about interfacing with one’s surroundings?

Here, the Camaro, with its gun-slit windows, and bearing the overpowering aroma of GM’s finest interior glues and off-gassing plastics, falls short. It’s undoubtedly the value and comfort leader in our group, equipped with heated and cooled seats, but the separation for your environment is conspicuous: Grand vistas are reduced to slices of verdant green and marine blue, while the scent of coastal oak and salt air gets crowded out by chemical aroma. We were also reminded that GM interiors seem to have a memory for unpleasant smells. Need to air yourself out in the breeze? Try the Slingshot on for size.

Only the Grand Touring model gets a roof, and to aid ingress and egress, it features a pair of flimsy center-hinged panels. Tall Slingshot prospects may want to opt for a roofless example, because your long-of-torso 5-foot-11 author spent his time in the trike slouched down in the diamond-quilted bucket seat, using a balled-up hoodie for lumbar support. But when the road gets good, the spots where Polaris has put in the effort become clear.

a motorcycle is parked on the beach: Motorcyclist© Jeff Allen Motorcyclist

The unassisted brakes are linear and race-car-firm in operation. The wheel comes alive in your hands, offering a barely muted stream of information from the road surface to your palms. The light clutch is predictable in its takeup, and the shifter slips into position with satisfying precision. It becomes clear that the Slingshot was built for two things—parked-up wow factor and boogie. Out in the coastal air, with our hands busy at the controls, rear tire slipping hither and yon, the Polaris unquestionably came across as the most visceral vehicle in our motley group. But en route to the good stuff, its inherent compromises remind you that while the Slingshot may have some skills to its credit, but it’s still fundamentally a toy.

Honda has managed to let in everything you want from a long ride up the coast while filtering out what you don’t. The GL1800 is sure-footed, gutsy, and luxurious. It’s equally at home pootling along behind a column of tourists or, with a twist of the throttle, kicking down a few gears and rocketing past the line of gawkers when a passing zone opens up. In sport mode, the suspension firms up, the transmission holds gears longer, and throttle response intensifies, making the Wing a credible sport tourer. And yet for all that, the wind protection is better on the bike than it is in the Slingshot. You give up a roof, but the Honda’s fairing and electrically adjustable screen offer a more thorough respite from chilly blasts than the trike’s startling bodywork and flat Plexiglas half-windshield. Simply put, the Honda is not only the most thoughtfully engineered machine in the test, it’s also the one with which to best experience the California coast.

If our experiment proves anything, it’s that when it’s truly worth being out in the world, it’s worth being out there on a motorcycle. That the Gold Wing does so much, and does it so well, is merely icing on the cake.

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