Cruising in a Polaris Slingshot, heads turn, jaws drop, and questions are shouted. But I guess that's to be expected when you're in something that looks like the terrifyingly awesome offspring of an illicit tryst between a Star Wars X-wing and a motorcycle.
At $20,000, there's no doubt it's an affordable option for fun. The question is, does it perform as well as it looks?
Chris Doucet, the company's commercial director, is seated next to me. He is immensely proud of his baby, and rightly so. Polaris sees this vehicle as a paradigm-shift and is quick to point out a history of "establishing beachheads" on new products. It's hyperbolic PR speak, but for once, it's accurate. For any new product to be successful at establishing a new segment, it needs three things: stellar execution, approachability, and a void to fill. So Mr. Doucet and I hit the road to see if the Slingshot really lives up to the hype.
It's a superbly executed machine.
The vibe is brilliant.
My overwhelming impression while flying down the road is that this feels like it has all the character and practicality of a 1950s British roadster (tons, and none, respectively), combined with the unapologetic brashness of an Italian supercar.
The rationale makes perfect sense.
The whole reason there's a single wheel in back is to qualify the Slingshot as a motorcycle, thus sidestepping a bunch of governmental safety regulations and keeping it light. The total weight's well under 1,800 lbs, which pays dividends in every single performance metric you could possibly care about.
It's both fast and safe.
The engine is a GM-sourced Ecotec four cylinder that puts out 173 hp, but because it's not exactly hauling a bus, it feels more like 300 hp. If the computer thinks you're being overly flirtatious with the throttle, the traction control system is so subtle that you'll hardly be able to tell it's saving you. And the same goes for stability control.
The engineering is clever.
The engineers had to find solutions to some unique challenges presented by having just one rear wheel. All cars lean in corners, but in a three-wheeler, any lean means the only tire in back drives on its edge, which is obviously terrible for traction. They specifically set up the front suspension to keep the chassis flat during cornering. Combine that with the fact that the rear-end only needs half the time of a normal vehicle to settle down after a turn, and you've got a seriously nimble machine.
The handling is fantastic.
In the midst of a corner, I'm surprised by how steady and predictably the Slingshot behaves, though ultimate grip is limited by subpar tires (easily swapped). When it changes directions, however, I realize the Slingshot's true performance edge: upgrade the tires and drive through a tight slalom course, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if this kept up with some of Germany's finest, even at 1/3rd to 1/4th the cost.
It's approachable in three different senses.
It's very easy to understand.
When you climb in, you're immediately greeted by a very familiar cockpit that promises a completely visceral experience. Cruising at highway speeds, the road doesn't feel that close until you look to your side and realize that your butt's just a few inches from the pavement. There's no door, and it seems like you could simply reach out and brush the highway with your fingertips.
It's not carved from a single block of unobtanium.
Even if you tick every option, it'll only set you back $24,000. For that you get several places to stash your gear, seats that are completely waterproof, a radio, a backup camera, and bluetooth integration. Forget the much more expensive Morgan; for some people, this is a viable alternative to buying a Miata as a second car to use on the weekends.
It's very easy to drive fast.
It's so well balanced and mild mannered that anyone, almost regardless of experience, can approach 90% of the Slingshot's capabilities very easily, unlike the vast majority of performance vehicles that require years of driver training before you can extract a car's true potential.
It's in a category and price point all its own.
There aren't a lot of three-wheelers on the market, and the majority are set up to be driven like a bike rather than a car. There's a vast chasm between the few cheaply made kits from builders you probably wouldn't trust with your money, let alone your life, and much more expensive options like the Cammpagna T-Rex and the Morgan 3-Wheeler, both of which have price tags that could get you multiple Slingshots. Polaris's new ride fits snugly in the middle of that void.
Will the Slingshot establish an entry-level three-wheeler segment where others will follow?
Polaris found a gap in the marketplace and filled it with a well-executed and very approachable vehicle, so it certainly checks the right boxes. It's not perfect, by any stretch: a motorcycle license is required to operate, some of the panels feel a little plastic-y, and as you increase speed, the performance advantages becomes less obvious.