When it comes to 3-wheel cycle cars (aka “autocycles,”) these special vehicles strike a welcome and particular chord in the heart of this author. For those that aren’t familiar with this type of vehicle, it is essentially the best of both worlds between a motorcycle and a car, with each one trying to do something different depending on how much car or motorcycle DNA is in it.
Autocycles were invented before traditional four wheeled cars, and for a time were a sales phenomenon, especially in Europe. The Morgan 3-Wheeler is arguably the most iconic and historic of these particular vehicles, even though the current iteration of that model is based off an American penned design, the Liberty Ace, (fun trivia fact,) but the folks at Polaris, are eager to introduce autocycle buyers to their unique interpretation of the subject.
With a more approachable price tag, as well as futuristic styling, the Slingshot appears to have the tools to succeed, but can these virtues translate into a solid driving experience for buyers in practice?
Part Batmobile, Part Torture Chamber
To find out, we had the chance to spend a brief bit of time behind the wheel of the Slingshot during its appearance at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show in the event’s Concept and Technology Garage segment. The first item that really stands out is the exterior styling, and there is no mistaking this thing for anything else when out on the open road. The look is very futuristic, with the front fascia in particular adopting a look that is part Batmobile, and part Mario Kart entrant thanks to its jagged bodylines, as well as its sleek center mounted headlights.
While the look is more in your face than say more conservative entries like the Morgan 3-Wheeler, and even the Vanderhall model lineup, the Slingshot does a better job of getting its occupants noticed by passersby, and that is a good thing for better or for worse. The latter becomes apparent when one enters and exits the Slingshot, with occupants having to do moderate gymnastics to get in and out, which is partially due to the Slingshot’s steel tubing intruding into the passenger compartment. It’s in this particular department where the Morgan and the Vanderhall may stand out to pickier buyers, with the Morgan allowing easier entry, and slightly easier exit by allowing occupants to stand in the floor, and the Vanderhall with its distinctive doors, which allows for a far more graceful exit.
The seats do move forward and back to aide in entry and exit on the Slingshot, but our long legs nullified much of the benefit that this handy feature provides, and only added to our frustration.
Visibility in the Slingshot is quite good, though shorter occupants might find the windshield’s sight lines to be somewhat annoying. When compared to its more upscale rivals, the interior does look a bit more blue collar, with the cabin sacrificing some of the other two’s gimmickry and flair for a no nonsense function oriented layout for many of the buttons and switches.
The seats are deceptively comfortable, and once you contort yourself inside and nestle into them, you are rewarded with surprisingly high levels of comfort, and adequate bolstering that does a commendable job of keeping occupants in place. SLR grade models like our tester pile on the standard equipment, and feature a touchscreen infotainment system that Polaris dubs “Ride Command” which comes bundled with a built in backup camera, and while the screen quality is more 720p in a 4K world, it still does the job commendably well, and adds some of the tech savviness that is missing in the decidedly more analog Morgan and Vanderhall.
We are also fans of some of the basic button ergonomics in the Slingshot, with many of them being within easy reach of the driver.
Road Ready Performance:
But the Polaris Slingshot is not all about coddling the driver, or being a three wheeled showcase of comfort oriented features. Instead, it focuses on driving enjoyment, with all Slingshots being powered by a GM sourced 2.4 liter Ecotec four cylinder that’s good for a healthy 173 horsepower and a modest 166 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to a five speed manual gearbox which is the sole transmission choice available across the lineup. Unlike the Morgan which requires careful foot choreography to formally set off due to the high revving nature of its 2.0 liter S&S sourced bike engine, the Slingshot is a more conventional affair, and that might please buyers that crave a simpler driving experience.
With a 5 mph speed limit imposed by the indoor venue that we drove it in, that restriction allowed us to see just how short first gear really was, with us actually being forced to shift our tester into second to help the Slingshot cope with the slower speeds better. Steering feel was also all over the place, with sporadic numb spots being accented by equally abrupt and erratic heaviness, though we suspect that that particular problem melts away when the Slingshot can be driven at more realistic city and freeway speeds. We look forward to eventually having the opportunity to test this theory in the future during warmer weather.
In the more immediate scheme of things, the erratic steering feel was ironically balanced out by just how easy it is to place the front wheels in a turn. The Slingshot features a front track that is five inches wider than that of the fire breathing Corvette ZO6, and when paired with the oversized front anti-roll bar, body roll was very minimal, and the Slingshot had reasonable confidence during the low speed maneuvers we subjected it to during our time with it.
As mentioned earlier, pricing is arguably the key selling point of the Slingshot, and the 2019 version continues to be a solid player in this regard with the base Slingshot S boasting a base price of $20,999 which rewards buyers with a relatively basic package that sacrifices a lot of the frills found in higher trims for an experience that purely focuses on the driving experience. If your a buyer that prefers to have more comfort in your Slingshot experience, the $25,999 Slingshot SL and the $29,999 SLR variant will fit the bill with upgraded equipment including a standard windscreen, Rockford Fosgate audio system, 18-inch alloy front wheels with accompanying 20-inch rear wheel, as well as available frame accents. SLR grade roadsters like our test vehicle represent the sporty side of the Slingshot, and come equipped with a Sparco branded steering wheel, shift knob, and pedal covers, as well as a bigger rear wheel for better off the line grip.
Finally the $30,999 Grand Touring maximizes comfort and luxury with a bigger windscreen, as well as the new Slingshade roof with accompanying gull wing doors. We did have the chance to sit in a Grand Touring version at Polaris’s booth, and while the gullwing doors were easy to operate, the roof is not designed for tall people. My under 6ft frame was not bothered by the headroom provided by the Slingshade, but Polaris reps did reveal that occupants taller than that magic number will find headroom to be somewhat cramped if they do venture inside the Grand Touring for a drive.
Despite this, we will give Polaris credit for offering a factory roof solution, which cannot be said for either Vanderhall (pictured above) or Morgan (pictured above), with the latter forcing you to go to the aftermarket (or creative home brewed modification) for a roof, and Vanderhall doesn’t offer one at all. It certainly enhances the Slingshots versatility, and when combined with its water resistant interior, the overhead covering allows the Slingshot to better tolerate inclement weather, including surprise rain storms. But let’s get back to pricing, and the Slingshot manages to stand out in its own distinctive way. With even used Morgan 3-Wheelers still starting at just over $40,000 and the Vanderhall lineup beginning at over $29,000, the Slingshot’s bargain basement base price does allow it to be a more accessible alternative to budget minded autocycle fans.
At the end of the day, does the Slingshot have what it takes to be a notable entry in the autocycle ranks? We certainly think so, and with competitors such as Morgan, Vanderhall, and even Campagna preferring to cater to the more premium side of the segment especially with their EV variants, the Slingshot’s approachable charms could allow it to make full use of an otherwise relatively untouched segment of the buying public (this author included.)
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.