THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: An unparalleled, open air motoring experience.
- What’s Bad: The inherent safety of a motorcycle.
I had no idea what to expect from the Polaris Slingshot when it arrived at my house. I knew that it was based around an automotive drivetrain and that it had three wheels. I knew it looked like something Bruce Wayne would uncover in the basement of Wayne Enterprises and Lucius Fox to take it for a spin.
In the great province of Ontario, there is an ongoing pilot project that permits three-wheeled vehicles on the basis that drivers require a standard automobile licence and an approved helmet to operate a vehicle like this.
(I’m still not certain what an approved helmet means, so I wore my carbon fibre, FIA-rated Bell HP5 that’s intended for professional sports car racing, figuring it offered the greatest amount of passive safety. And I’m not certain whether the authorities would recognize the FIA helmet rating, but that’s another story.)
Mechanically, it’s pretty simple. The chassis is a steel and aluminum spaceframe with high quality fiberglass bodywork. Under the clamshell hood, there’s a 2.4-litre ECOTEC four cylinder engine making 173 horsepower and 166 pounds of torque. It makes peak power at 6,200 RPM and peak torque at 4,700, so you’ll have to use all the revs for maximum acceleration.
It’s paired with a conventional a five-speed manual transmission. When was the last time you drove a five-speed manual? Nearly every manual offering is a six- or seven-speed today.
If you remember the Pontiac Solstice, then you know this drivetrain, but with the Slingshot, it has just 793 kilograms to motivate, which makes this one quick machine. Polaris says the Slingshot is capable of zero to 100 km/h in a tick or two under five seconds. Not quite motorcycle quick, but the Slingshot is certainly quicker than a significant majority of cars on the road.
There are a pair of 225-width, 18-inch Kenda tires up front and the single 255-wide, 20-inch Kenda in the back. They’re relatively common tires sizes and, if you’re looking for other handling characteristics, the aftermarket options are near endless.
Brakes are single piston calipers that clamp 298mm diameter vented rotors all around – or in all three locations – and aren’t my favourite feature. As I discovered in one of my first drives – thanks to the careless maneuver of an Uber driver – weight transfer under emergency braking takes away the rear tire’s contact patch and if you’ve got any steering input at all, you’ve got instant, but subtle, oversteer. Care is always required and you have to be poised to countersteer to keep the Slingshot pointed in the right direction. ABS is standard equipment.
The amount of braking power assist is acceptable, but there’s doesn’t seem to be enough bite from the brake pads. There is more than enough tire up front to support heavy braking, so I’d be changing the front pads to something a little more aggressive straight away.
In slow corners, power-on oversteer is available anytime you like. For someone who likes a lively kind of car, the Slingshot is very exciting and sliding it through corners is an added bonus. Chassis feel is muted and even if you’re an experienced corner carver, you’ll want to be prudent.
I will suggest that there needs to be a little more caster dialed into this suspension. The Slingshot just doesn’t have a lot of self-centering and the steering doesn’t want to come back on centre. I find I’m constantly turning it back on centre and unwinding the wheel actively rather than it returning to centre on its own.
The cockpit is a mix of familiar automotive controls combined with the simplicity of something like a four-wheeler or a personal watercraft. The seats have fore, aft, and seatback angle adjustments, and are comfortable for long trips, but don’t have the aggressive bolstering of a seat from a performance-minded automobile. Since there is no roof, everything is finished with weather resistance in mind, should you get caught in the elements.
It’s clear that Polaris paid attention to ergonomics because seating position is comfortable and the relationship between the seat, wheel, pedals, and shifter is near ideal. Forward visibility is limited by your choice of helmets and, for those of us of average stature, the top of the windscreen cuts a line through the middle of your view of the road.
Of course, you can’t see everything. With the Slingshot’s considerable haunches, you can’t see much behind you or beside you. As painful as it is to admit, you simply can’t adjust the mirrors for that blind spot-free view rearward, making shoulder checking absolutely necessary. Thankfully, a backup camera is standard equipment.
It’s easy for Polaris to do a really cool car steering wheel, but there is another consideration. While they could have specified a Momo, an OMP, or a Sparco wheel and put it here, I think a lot of drivers will get in and out of the Slingshot using the steering wheel as leverage. Thus, the Slingshot has this tough, hard plastic wheel. The turn signal stalk is a bit of a reach off the steering wheel, which strikes me as odd since Polaris nailed the rest of the ergonomics.
The infotainment unit is straightforward and speakers are capable of blasting your favourite Nickelback track loud enough for people in the next town over to hear your excellent taste in music. You can have the unit flashed for navigation or you can do what I did and run Waze on my phone, playing through my earbuds on low volume so that I could hear both the navigation prompts and any important sounds from nearby traffic.
Speaking of which, none of the sounds that emanate from the Slingshot are subtle. Between the EcoTec, drivetrain whine, and wind noise, the driving experience is a constant aural assault, and the Slingshot is never muted.
A five-speed transmission is a rarity today, but five gears are all the Slingshot needs and the ratios are a perfect match for its performance envelope. The pedals are wonderfully spaced for heel and toe, and there’s almost a dead pedal to the left of the clutch. It’s more like then end of a frame rail where you can rest your left foot.
What I enjoy about it is that it’s as easy to use as a motorcycle to a certain degree. You just park it, take the key, get out, and walk away. There’s no locking it up and there’s no worrying about what you’ve left inside the Slingshot because, as a matter of course, you don’t really leave anything inside. And if you do, you can lock the glovebox and the two helmet storage bins behind the seats.
This is a completely unique vehicle and compared to something like a Lamborghini Huracan, which may or may not have similar styling elements, this is a bargain, plus it delivers a completely different motoring experience. It’s that striking styling that attracts exotic car levels of positive attention from a wide swath of motorists and pedestrians.
As well, it appeals to a lot of drivers for a host of reasons. I’ve heard of motorcycle riders not being able to ride any longer and getting into a Slingshot because it’s the closest thing they can find to a motorcycle experience, and that I appreciate. I’ve also heard stories about people running through the gamut of exotic and muscle cars, and getting bored with them. Then, they find the Slingshot and are thoroughly enjoying the drive. That, I completely understand
Driving the Polaris Slingshot is simply a blast. It’s entirely different than everything else that I’ve driven and, if this is your kind of thing, go for a test drive, and jump in with both feet. You’ll be in for a treat.