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Ridiculous Summer Fun: Test Driving The Polaris Slingshot

By John Prusak

With winter now in the rear view mirror, many motorized recreation fans are turning toward summer today to get their non-water-based fun fix. ATVs and UTVs are an obvious choice, though some people have grown tired of the inherent dust clouds that are a part of those trail-oriented activities. Other riders will turn to motorcycles, though some folks prefer not to balance on two wheels. BRP took a shot at a compromise vehicle in 2007 when it launched its Can-Am Spyder three-wheeler motorcycles. For model year 2015, Polaris provided its own answer – the cockpit-oriented Slingshot.

Judging by the buzz Slingshot models made at snowmobiling event in the past year, many sledheads are clearly curious about the odd-looking vehicles, so Snow Goer took one for a three-day test last fall. What we found was a vehicle that was ridiculously fun to drive due to its light weight, cool styling, sporty layout, willing engine and general whip-me, beat-me, make-me-write-bad-checks attitude.

First things first: Yes, the slingshot is legally a motorcycle. That’s hard to believe when you climb into one, sit down on a car-like seat, pull on a seatbelt and use foot pedals and a steering wheel to control it. In most every way, it looks, drives and even sounds like a car. But legally it’s a bike – drivers must have a motorcycle endorsement and, if your state mandates it, a helmet. That motorcycle classification – driven by the fact that it’s a three wheeler – means you can drive it in car pool lanes, but the machine also doesn’t need airbags, a laminated glass windshield and other car-like safety features, though it is still beholden to plenty of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rules.

When driving a Slingshot, however, the only time it feels like a motorcycle is when it’s next to a tall truck – it’s so low to the ground that, like when on a motorcycle, the driver realizes he or she may not be seen and must drive defensively.

The sleek Slingshot has no doors – the driver climbs in by stepping over a short body panel and then slides into a low bucket seat. The seatbelt, oddly, pulls from the center of the vehicle and goes over the driver’s right shoulder (and the passenger’s left). After pushing in the clutch and the brake pedal, a push button on the dash fires up the 2.4 liter Ecotec engine from General Motors – the same engine found in some Chevy Malibu, Pontiac G5 or Buick Regal models.

 

Polaris Slingshot shifter

The five-speed transmission definitely added to the fun factor, allowing drivers to run up the revs and make full use of the 173 hp engine. And that little button in front of the shifter allowed the driver to turn off the traction control system for even more fun.

The Slingshot, however, definitely doesn’t feel like a Buick! With its high-end Aisin five-speed manual transmission, it’s easy to run the engine speed up to 5000 RPM and beyond to make full use of the 173 available ponies in the vehicle that weighs just 1,718-pound wet (compared to 3,650 pounds for a Regal).

In fact, the little bike/car feels downright sporty – we pitched it through cloverleafs at high speeds, fired down weaving country roads in aggressive fashion and brought the vehicle up above three digits (on a closed course with a professional driver – that’s our story and we’re sticking with it!). That may be the biggest drawbacks of the Slingshot – it seems damn near impossible to drive it at a sane speed because it seems to goad the driver into doing silly things. Go ahead, drag that clutch a bit and bring up the revs – that single, 18-inch rear tire lays an impressive patch, yet traction control and stability control systems (which can be turned off, thank you very much) can keep things in check.

Polaris Slingshot parked

The Slingshot looks so space age that it looked odd (yet fun!) parked in front of our office. Many strangers asked about that “thing” in the parking lot, with several comparisons to a bat-mobile.

With its small stature, the Slingshot made drivers nervous on freeways – this little open-cockpit rig shines best on twisting two-lane roads. The ride is firm and a bit cramped but not uncomfortable. There is neither a roof nor a heating and air conditioning system, meaning the driver and passenger are left to whatever Ma’ Nature delivers. We had 90+ degree F temperatures the first day of our test and found the cockpit held far too much engine heat in these conditions – legs felt like they were going to spontaneously combust. A ’70s style wing window that could aim a breeze at the driver’s calves would have been much appreciated. On our third day, however, we got to try out the all-weather, marine-grade seats, dash and other controls when caught in a heavy downpour. With motorcycle rain gear on, we were surprisingly comfortable, and the plume of water sent up by the front tires angled away from the cockpit and the single rear tire had no problem maintain traction.

Bottom line: The Slingshot was an absolute hoot to drive. And we were subjected to many curious stares from other drivers and the endless questions at the gas pumps. Given its unique quirks and weather-dependent nature, this clearly is not a vehicle for everybody. But for the person looking for a cozy and fun two-passenger roadster? It seems like a bargain at just $21,499.

Polaris Slingshot rear view

It’s so fun to do burnouts with on a Slingshot that it seemed like it should be shipped with an extra rear tire, as the first one is likely to get burned off fast!

 

Polaris Slingshot cockpit

The driver sits on a marine-grade seat – remember, this is essentially a convertible that has no roof, so everything has to be all-weather. The cockpit is open and airy, yet large people may feel cramped when they slide behind the steering wheel.

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