Ever had a sense of adventure? That feeling where you want to go off and try something radically new? That’s how we felt when it came to the Polaris Slingshot. This author has always been very interested in the world of three wheeled cycle cars, but the Slingshot remained an elusive quarry. We got a chance to get a taste of this special Polaris back in February, but the indoor setting and the low speeds that came with it did not give us a good opprotunity to formally get to experience all the things that the Slingshot brings to the table. But after a long wait, we finally had our chance to experience the Slingshot in its natural habitat. But was the wait indeed worth it? We were eager to find out.
The Ultimate Attention Grabber:
To obtain the answer, we left our Metro Detroit office, and made the 234 mile trek to Traverse City in Northern Michigan. Polaris is very keen on building upon the rapid success that the Slingshot has achieved since it went on sale several years ago, and it has done so in a myriad of ways. A relatively new effort in this regard is the all new Polaris Adventures program. This initiative sees the company team up with select outfitters and rental companies to provide Slingshots for consumer rental. Many of these firms are in tourist focused areas such as Route 66, and Los Angeles. So consumers will need to do some diligent research to find a rental company thats closest to them (Blue Sky Rentals in our case). The program allows tourists to add a bit more spice to their trip, and this in turn gives them the ability to use the Slingshot to create a unique vacation experience. Polaris has several day and two day packages available, as well as a full weekend offering. In our case, the process to get our tester was relatively easy and quick, with Blue Skies reps doing a good job of making us feel welcome, as well as providing us with good customer service during our day with the Slingshot.
So what do you end up getting once you sign all the paperwork, see the mandatory safety video (we didn’t fast forward it we swear), and go through the legal hurdles of the rental process? For one thing, you get immediatly noticed by passersby, with the Slingshot being the most expressive cyclecar we have ever driven. The exterior styling of our SL grade tester has a very busy but diverse canvas, with Polaris designers obviously being inspired by various sci-fi vehicles and even newer iterations of the Batmobile. The front end features plenty of sharp angles, abrupt curves, and interesting visuals that certainly draw the eye towards its aggressive looking halogen headlights, as well as the aggresive side profile that the Slingshot loves to flaunt. This is in stark contrast to the Morgan 3-Wheeler which adopts a more retro themed suit of clothes, and as a result, lacks some of the Slingshot’s immediate wow factor despite its slick beetle back body work. The rear is where the Slingshot’s motorcycle DNA is most apparent, with the belt driven rear wheel and the futuristic taillights creating a very potent exclamation point.
Like other cyclecars though, the Slingshot rides very close to the ground, and as a result, drivers will have to be very mindful when encountering certain driving situations. For example straddling over road debris, potholes, and other obstacles like in a normal car is not recommended here, and doing this in a Slingshot can result in damage to the bodywork and other components. Should you damage your rental on your trip, be prepared to pay dearly when you return it, with the rental company we worked with having a $700 deductible in place for such an event. The bodywork itself has comendable build quality, but higher speeds did reveal slight wind fluttering from the left front corner of the Slingshot. Despite this, our tester was very good at drawing attention, with our lunch stop at Don’s Drive-in rapidly turning into an impromptu Q&A session with curious patrons who saw this otherworldly visitor roll into the parking lot. We suppose that other three wheelers will do a better job blending in, but in a way, the Slingshot’s attention grabbing personality make it the ultimate conversation starter, and we made a number of lunch time friends before we resumed our journey.
Ergonomically Compromised, But Still Eager To Please:
Unlike the exterior which tries to draw attention to itself, the interior is decidedly more minimalist in its attempts to wow occupants. While the plasticky interior lacks some of the elegance and upscale appointments that defines Morgan and Vanderhall offerings, the cruder motif helps the Slingshot become extremely weatherproof, with the cabin being able to endure rain better than many of its counterparts. This is combined with the relatively simple layout that is used throughout, with the prominent red start button being placed below the bank of controls that operate the Ride Command system. The presence of Ride Command is itself, a big deal in this segment, with the Slingshot perhaps being the only one in its segment to offer a formal infotainment system. While the unit itself is a step or two behind modern infotainment solutions, it’s still easy to use, with the Ride Command unit in our tester being a reliable and valuable companion during our time with it. The main handicap that hobbles the system is screen glare, with both the main interface and the rear backup camera being totally useless during daytime driving due to the screen being regularly washed out in harsh sunlight. Our tester did not have the optional Slingshade roof, which would have undoubtedly helped improve things in this regard.
However, while Ride Command is a valuable addition to the Slingshot’s arsenal of tricks, even this novel system cannot disguise some of the ergonomic flaws that exist in this unique three wheeler. For instance, the vibes from the Rocksford Fosgate sound system resonated with our ears when we had our helmet off, but once we put it on and the wind noise had a chance to establish itself, the sound was instantly drowned out. Meanwhile, the Slingshot features standard Bluetooth, but in an odd move, there is nowhere to formally charge a mobile phone, with owners being forced to turn to the aftermarket in order to address this particular problem. Lastly, storage space is at a minimum in the Slingshot, with two small rear mounted storage cubbies located behind the rear seats serving as storage for helmets or small items. Like in the Morgan 3-Wheeler, the rear passenger floor well can be used as an impromptu cargo area, though we suggest using this space for heavier items since light loads could easily blow out of the Slingshot when the Slingshade roof is not in place.
Visibility in contrast is a bit of a mixed bag. While side visibility is quite good, front visibility is hampered by the optional windscreen, which actually bisects your field of vision. We recommend either taking it off, or adjusting your seating position to have your eyes looking above the screen. Rear visibility is comically bad, with a massive blind spots that force you to do lane changes with extreme caution. This is especially important, since all Slingshot models do not come equipped with a center mirror which is something that is often taken for granted in more traditional cars, and has its roots in early motor racing.
Three Wheeled Cruising:
With such an attention grabbing personality, it would be a crime if the Slingshot didn’t have the performance credentials to back up the lofty checks that its exterior styling boldly writes with reckless abandon. While the Slingshot is not as energetic as a Ducati in this regard, it still tries its best to please, with all Slingshots being powered by a GM sourced 2.4 liter Ecotec four cylinder engine thats lifted from the old Pontiac Solstice. While the 173 horsepower on hand may not seem much at first glance, allow the Slingshot to fully play in its element, and the three wheeled Polaris transforms into an enjoyable companion, especially when you make full use of its 166 lb-ft of torque. The Polaris Adventures program allows participants to pick their own routes, and in our case, we chose to reunite with M-22, and take a return trip to Sutton’s Bay and the small town of Newport. We last visited Sutton’s Bay in our Road Trip test of the 2018 Lincoln Navigator Black Label where our route proved to be a good test of the Navigator’s handling capabilities. This time around, the smaller Slingshot wowed us with the commendable amounts of acceleration that is on hand, especially in lower gears. The Slingshot has a great sound when you mash the gas, but the exhaust can be droning when cruising at more sedate speeds.
Unlike other three wheelers, the Slingshot arrives with a healthy dose of standard safety equipment including ABS, traction control, and even stability control. Morgan does not offer any of these on the 3-Wheeler, and the ABS in our tester helped provide more confidence when coming to a stop. A five speed manual also sourced from the Solstice provides accurate shifts, and the clutch has a much easier take in process than other offerings. This is especially true in regards to the Morgan 3-Wheeler which requires you to do an intricate process with your feet to prevent accidental overrevving of the 2.0 liter S&S sourced bike engine. The rear tire does a good job of delivering power to the road, but it can easily be overpowered by too much throttle, and when combined with the Slingshot’s 1,749 lb curb weight, it can easily cause the Slingshot to throw its tail out.
But be mindful of the throttle, and the Slingshot does a good job redeeming itself in lengthy sweepers, and even moderately challenging switchbacks. The Slingshot’s steering does indeed open up when out on the open road, with our trek up M-22 being consistently highlighted by just how much feel there was in our tester’s steering, with only a slight dead spot at dead center still permeating through the sensibly sized tiller. Slingshot owners can equip their purchase with a Sparco sourced steering wheel, shift knob, and pedals, but we highly recommend sticking with the base setup since it still manages to get the job done for many buyers. The lone flaw in the handling department is instances where you have to actually turn around, with our tester having the same wide turning circle that is often a common issue with other cyclecars. As such, owners that find themselves in this pickle should make sure they have enough space before executing the turn.
At this point we would go into its formal fuel economy figures, but like many motorcycle manufacturers, Polaris is exempt from formally unveiling this information. It is accepted though that the Slingshot gets about 28 mpg in combined driving, which allows the three wheeler to cover about 250 miles or so before it needs a drink. Look for this fuel economy to appeal to some buyers that want to have a bit of green capability in their three wheeler purchase, though it does come up a tad short when compared to figures wielded by offerings from Morgan, Vanderhall, and even Campagna.
Pricing for the 2019 Polaris Slingshot is still firmly planted in the value side of the pricing spectrum, with the base Slingshot S starting at $20,999. Polaris claims that this particular trim is supposed to be a blank canvas for buyers to build upon, and as a result, arrives with the essentials, and not much else. Step up to the SL trim like our tester, and the price goes up to $25,999 which brings a number of upgrades to the Slingshot including 20-inch cast-aluminum wheels front and rea, the 100 watt Rocksford Fosgate audio system, as well as the Ride Command system. These two trims are significantly less expensive than some of its rivals including the Morgan 3-Wheeler, which boasts a $40,000 plus base price even in its most basic guise.
But while the S and SL are designed to appeal to the purist, buyers looking for more sport and luxury features will be pleased with the SLR and the range topping Grand Touring models. While the $29,999 and $30,999 stickers wielded by these two help push the Slingshot into territory currently occupied by the Mazda MX-5, they still have a distinctly alternative vibe. The SLR for example is catered towards the sport side of things, and features trim exclusive sport bucket seats, as well as upgraded Sparco components. SLR models also benefit from unique paint appointments, but look for that to only be noticed by those that are truly detail focused. Finally, Grand Touring models point the needle towards the luxury, and they come equipped with Quilted Comfort seating surfaces, the fore-mentioned Slingshade roof, and metallic flaked paint.
Looking at this pricing as a whole, and two things immediately come to light. The first is the baked in levels of value and charm that come into each Slingshot trim, with even the S trim featuring a healthy amount of standard equipment to help woo over budget focused riders. The more prominent item however is the impressive amount of optional accessories that buyers can add to the Slingshot, with Polaris offering a wide range of performance, styling, and other optional extras. Fully equipped in this fashion, the Slingshot just crosses the $38,000 barrier, but if we were buying one for ourselves, we would focus only on two key accessories, the beefier brake system, as well as the available Bilstein sourced performance suspension to help sharpen up the Slingshot’s handling manners.
While some might ask why you did not invest your hard earned $30,000 on a traditional four wheeled roadster, the eccentric in you will pay no heed to such commentary especially when you ride down the open road with the wind blowing in your hair. As for the Polaris Adventures program, we like the way Polaris has managed to come up with a clever method to introduce the hot selling 3-Wheeler to more audiences, and we look forward to seeing more Polaris Adventures locations pop up soon (especially closer to our home office) so we can toss aside our cares and ride to parts unknown.
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.