- I tested a roughly $US33,000 Polaris Slingshot R, a three-wheeled “autocycle.”
- The three-wheeler category includes vehicles from Can-Am and Harley-Davidson, offering a motorcycle experience in a less demanding package.
- My Slingshot R had a new, Polaris-developed, 203-horsepower engine and an automatic transmission.
- In all but three US states, no motorcycle licence is required to operate the Slingshot (New York, Massachusetts, and Alaska continue to require the motorcycle certification).
- The Slingshot is insanely fun, with a modest learning curve – it’s a great alternative to a two-wheeler, although the price is definitely steep for the Slingshot R.
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Motorcycles are cool, but they aren’t for everybody. Fortunately, there are some alternatives out there that offer an equally compelling, open-air experience.
One of the most popular is the the Polaris Slingshot, manufactured by the Minnesota-based powersports company. Until recently, Slingshots were available only with manual transmissions and GM-sourced engines, but for 2020, Polaris has updated the autocycle with an in-house motor and an automatic.
The automatic transmission in particular really broadens the Slingshot’s potential. So I was excited to sample the machine, which I first saw about five years ago.
Polaris was kind enough to loan me a tester for a few weeks. Here’s how it went:
The Polaris Slingshot is a three-wheeled autocycle/motorcycle that Polaris industries has produced since 2014. My 2020 Slingshot R tester cost about $US33,000 and was outfitted in a menacing red-and-black paint job.
The cheapest Slingshot is about $US20,000.
This wasn’t my first crack at a Slingshot. Polaris brought the vehicle to Insider’s New York offices when the vehicle first launched.
And I generally have a gander at the Slingshot when I visit the annual New York motorcycle show.
The Slingshot is classified as either a motorcycle or an autocycle, depending on which state it’s being operated in.
Yep, it looks like the Batmobile. Or Batcycle. Hard to avoid feeling like a superhero when you’re behind the wheel. In all but three US states, no motorcycle licence is required to drive the Slingshot. In New Jersey, you are required to wear a helmet.
Up front, you have 18-inch forged aluminium wheels, with an 20-incher at the back. The brakes have two-piece composite rotors.
Permanent open-air motoring isn’t for everybody. Polaris does sell and older model, the Grand Touring, which has a cockpit canopy. The Polaris R has a waterproof interior and drain holes in the floorboards, should you get caught in bad weather.
My tester was the top-level “R” trim, complete with dual roll bars for drier and passenger.
Let’s talk fender fairings! The Slingshot’s are dramatic and large — I was reminded of Chevy Corvettes while driving this thing. Like a motorcycle, there’s no rear-view mirror, so you have to adjust slightly to using the sideviews.
There’s a new engine under the hood. Previously, Polaris used a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder GM-sourced Ecotech motor, making up to 175 horsepower. But my R had a ProStar four, also at 2.4-litres, cranking out 203 horsepower with a five-speed automatic transmission (a manual remains available). It’s an in-house engine that was impressive in action.
The top speed is limited at 125 mph, and the 0-60mph run, according to Polaris and confirmed by yours truly, is about five seconds.
The four-banger redlines at 8,500 rpm and even with the automatic transmission does a pretty fair imitation of proper motorcycle acceleration. The auto is a tad crunchy, but in this context, that’s a plus. It keeps you aware of what the engine is doing.
The rear wheel — fat and wide — is yoked to the motor and transmission with a belt drive. The suspension is surprisingly compliant, but you do have to be mindful of bumps, potholes, and manhole covers if you want to preserve you lower spine.
Polaris says the interior has been upgraded for 2020. No one would call it premium, but for a vehicle like this, it’s rather comfortable.
The steering wheel is leather-wrapped, multifunctioned, and flat-bottomed to make getting into and out of the driver’s seat easier.
The instrument cluster is a basic analogue affair with a central digital display. The red button to on the right steering-wheel spoke allows you to switch between Comfort and Slingshot modes (the latter being the high-performance option).
The bucket seats are waterproof and extremely well-bolstered, with three-point seat belts.
The Slingshot’s tubular frame is apparent in the doorless frame.
Not really much cargo capacity here, although I did use the Slingshot for a grocery-store run and quick jaunt to Target to buy a basketball.
There are two storage compartments located behind the seats. Both can be locked.
There is a place to stow a smartphone, located just above the push-button gear selector.
The Slingshot also has push-button start-stop.
The glove compartment is the only other storage available …
… And it’s actually pretty roomy. One could stash a rain jacket in there, for example.
The RideCommand infotainment system is basic — but good! On a vehicle such as this, I wasn’t expecting much, but the audio setup sounded decent, the screen was responsive, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity was on-par with what you’d find in any modern automobile.
There’s even GPS navigation, which can display a map and provide turn-by-turn guidance.
The ride-mode selector is doubled in the infotainment system.
So what’s the verdict?
I love three-wheelers. They aren’t as cool as two-wheeled motorbikes, but they provide easy access to open-air motoring, and the driving/riding experience is much more engaging than what you find in convertible automobiles.
For anybody who dislikes the impracticality of motorcycles but wants to partake of the open-road lifestyle, machines like the Slingshot (the Can-Am Spyder and the Harley-Davidson Freewheeler, to name two) are ideal.
Not for nothing, they also offer ageing riders a chance to yank their helmets and biker jackets out of storage to pursue moderately safer riding. With the Slingshot, gearing-up isn’t necessary. My vintage Schott jacket was up to the task.
The trade-off, of course, is price. The Slingshot R that I tested costs more than an entry-level car or SUV. So, an expensive plaything. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody needs a hobby.
No doubt about it, the Slingshot captures attention. I lost count of how many little kids a stopped in their tracks as I tooled around the Jersey suburbs. The last vehicle that provoked such astonishment was the Lamborghini Huracán Performante. If you become a Slingshotter, prepare to be pointed at and asked for photo-ops.
Driving-wise, the Slingshot scratches an itch: on the road, the experience is unexpurgated – you don’t have to be constantly vigilant, as you would on a bike, but you do need to remain aware. Highway trips are demanding. And noisy. And exhilarating. The Slingshot R is also fast and torque-y and the power goes to the single back wheel, so the while the two-wheeled front is stable, the back end can get pretty wiggly, especially in Slingshot mode, if you stomp the throttle.
I had iffy springtime Northeast weather to contend with, so I took the Slingshot out only on warm and sunny days; the rest of the time, I parked it in my garage. But the vehicle can handle being rained on, and one could also buy a cover to protect it from the elements. To be honest, however, I think it’s a better choice in warm, dry climates. Carving up Southern California canyons is the Slingshot’s destiny.
The performance is aggressively go-kart-y. This thing will make you a better driver, thanks to its point-and-shoot steering, crisp suspension, and easy access to power. It’s insanely fun on curves and into corners. But it’s also worthy of short road trips. In fact, the relative comfort was a shocker: I took the Slingshot out for a few hours one day and suffered no ill-effects to my lower back.
Drawback? The design is thoroughly sporty, so if you don’t go in for that, the Slingshot might not be your bag. It isn’t a throwback, nor is it at all steam-punky.
It also isn’t a motorcycle, in that there aren’t any handlebars, you don’t throw a leg, and the single wheel takes up the rear.
But the Slingshot is a absolute blast, and if you’re a weekend warrior who wants to carve up a canyon or a country road without having the grapple with a motorcycle’s demands – and you don’t mind dropping some dollars – the Slingshot is perfect.