It's not quite a bike, it's definitely not a car, and while opinions differ on how Polaris' three-wheeled roadster can be categorized, no one can deny the Slingshot is unique. Updated for 2022, the newest models include an aesthetic upgrade on earlier editions, with a more aggressive-looking front fascia and broader headlights.
The Slingshot I received was the 2022 "R" model with autodrive transmission, which retails from $33,999 (including destination). It's the second most expensive available but has the most horsepower in the range; the Signature Edition is slightly more expensive, and its engine produces 25 horsepower less than the R. At the lower end, the basic Slingshot S starts from $19,999, so you don't need $35k to grab a Slingshot and join in the fun.
A Slingshot R's straight four, two-liter, ProStar engine will produce 203 horsepower. This delivers a power to weight ratio of around seven pounds per horsepower, and means the Slingshot R packs a lot of punch for its size. It can go 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, putting it on par with supercars from around 20 years ago. If you're wondering why it's called a Slingshot, look at it from above, have a few "Dennis the Menace" flashbacks, and then ask yourself how you missed it.
The R also comes with a 9.77-gallon fuel tank, though that engine can be thirsty. I averaged around 25 miles per gallon during my time with the Slingshot, though I wasn't exactly driving with fuel economy in mind. This is obviously a vehicle for nice weather. Canopy options are available, but none were included with my test model; even with some rain cover you're probably going to have a bad time if some clouds show up.
Obnoxious is a pretty strong word, and one rarely used in a positive light. Nonetheless it's the best way to describe almost everything about the Polaris Slingshot. From its eye-catching looks to the roar of the engine to its speaker system, if you drive this car, people will know about it.
People will also want to know more about it. Several times a day, people will stop and ask what it is you're driving and what driving it is like. I lost count of the number of times I said, "this thing does 0-60 in under five seconds," during the two-week period the Slingshot and I were together. During one of the trips, I brought a fairly recognizable local weatherman along, and the car got more attention than he did. (The ratio was about four people asking about the Slingshot and taking photos to one person asking if that's that morning weather guy for those interested).
You shouldn't buy a Slingshot if you don't want to be noticed. If you would like to be noticed, I'd argue this vehicle will get you more attention than a Porsche or Ferrari. These are less common and far more unique.
It might seem obvious given the price tag and stripped-down nature of the Slingshot, but beyond the lightning-quick acceleration it doesn't feel like you're driving a high-end performance car. The steering isn't that light or responsive, and the accelerator pedal takes a bit of getting used to. Releasing the brake won't provide a crawl speed like most automatics, so you'll have to lightly press the accelerator if you want to edge forward. There's a lot of dead space, then you crawl forward, and then if your right foot ventures another half an inch you'll be hitting the town speed limit in a fraction of a second.
The way the accelerator works might also cause issues for people who aren't fond of hill starts. Luckily the parking brake does its job, and maneuvering your left foot onto the brake pedal isn't difficult either. If you've only had access to a standard automatic, the Slingshot is probably the kind of thing you want to ease into gently.
It isn't all bad, though. The handling, helmet requirements, low profile, and roll cage surrounding you help build an atmosphere that can only be described as tearing around in a powerful, road-legal go-kart. Your senses feel heightened when you're driving the slingshot, too. The completely open cabin means you'll face an onslaught of sights, sounds, and smells you'll never encounter in an enclosed vehicle, or even a traditional convertible.
It's actually unfortunate some of the most common places most people encounter a Slingshot are in cities like Las Vegas and New York. Driving anywhere with straight roads and regular stoplights, the three-wheeler feels a bit like a large dog desperate to run free while you're there tightly gripping its leash. As soon as the light goes green, you'll touch the gas, feel a fraction of the Slingshot's power, and immediately have to lift your foot again as you've hit the city speed limit. At 30-35 miles per hour, the fun is just beginning. Any densely populated environment means it will probably stop there, too.
On an open stretch of highway, though, you'll experience the Slingshot at its absolute best. If you take the Slingshot down some clear stretches of road where you can feel its sharp acceleration and push that back wheel as far as you dare in the corners, all of its flaws will melt away. All you'll be left with is an incredible sense of joy. The slingshot is fun, really fun. So, it's down to you to take it somewhere you can actually have that fun. I clocked up close to 350 miles during my two weeks with the Slingshot, and I took it on some of the best roads in Upstate New York. Sadly that didn't involve getting it onto a track, but I suspect that if you really let it off the leash, this thing would be spectacular.
The automatic gearbox is an excellent fallback if it's late in the day and you want one less thing to think about, but it is a pretty bad transmission generally. You won't be going from 0-60 in less than five seconds on the auto setting as it's going to change up far, far, too early and hamstring your acceleration. You'll actually go from zero to forty, back to 26, and then find yourself gradually crawling back into the Slingshot's power band.
Luckily, you're not reliant on its spoilsport ways. The Slingshot R has a "manual" setting and paddle shifter, meaning you can bypass the automatic and really get the most from the three-wheeler's acceleration. If you've never gone near a "manual" car before, don't worry: there's no third pedal to worry about, and the Slingshot holds your hand a little. It will slip down through the gears by itself, if you're braking and forget to, and it won't let you switch up too early either. You can't really mess up, and you'll soon be able to get the most out of the acceleration on offer. Like with many paddle shifters there's a small delay between your hand tapping it and the gear actually changing, but that second or so long pause is infinitely better than letting the gearbox decide for you.
Being aware of other road users is helpful, especially when you're whipping along in a topless plastic bike/car hybrid. The fact this is legally a motorcycle in most jurisdictions means Polaris can avoid meeting some of the safety requirements cars have to match up to. On the flip side, motorcycles don't usually have roll cages, so there's definitely more than the bare minimum where driver and passenger safety is concerned. Nonetheless, the Slingshot is definitely in my top 5 list of things I don't want to be driving while a truck hits me from behind, right behind a bicycle and a Peel P50. So having easily adjustable, accurate mirrors is vital.
Unfortunately the Slingshot doesn't have these. Instead it has two mirrors that you have to manually adjust by pushing really hard, until they sort of end up pointing where you want them to. After around five minutes of effort, you can get your driver's side mirror fairly close, and it should act as both the mirror for that side and a rear-view to some degree. After half an hour of effort, including some time reading posts on a forum full of Slingshot owners, I concluded it's actually impossible to do the same for the passenger side mirror. Maybe I've been spoiled by years of driving with powered adjustment, but 30 minutes of climbing between the passenger and driver's seats to make what were intended to be minor but turned out to be major adjustments was my limit. I concluded "close enough" and made a note to make peace with a few deities.
Despite the mirror headache, the Slingshot does have some safety features. Don't expect airbags: this is a machine that exists somewhere between a car and a motorcycle. It has no sides and a minimalist steering wheel. But you do have an antilock braking system and traction control, both of which kept me on the road and out of all of the ditches I was driving past. The vehicle also has seatbelts, a sign requesting you wear a helmet (a legal requirement in most states), and a surprisingly effective 4" high windscreen that managed to keep my visor bug-free on a trip down New York's Taconic Parkway.
There's also a roll cage, which gives the vehicle a lot of stability, and two reinforced structural bars, which are designed to keep your head from hitting the ground if you do roll the three-wheeler. While these bars are something I would not volunteer to test out, I was quite happy they were included.
You might also notice a feature named "Comfort mode" which is the alternate setting to the default "Slingshot mode." The three-wheeled design means you're going to hit every single pothole you encounter, so something to take the edge off those bumps would be a great addition. Sadly, Comfort mode doesn't do this, instead merely changing how the automatic gearbox decides to shift. Switching to Comfort mode will make your Slingshot gear up earlier and make acceleration a touch smoother, but in my honest opinion it adds no actually comfort whatsoever and could well be a total waste of time.
This may sound odd, but the thing that impressed me the most about the Polaris Slingshot was its sound system. Supplied by Rockford Fosgate, it's powerful enough to provide crystal clear audio even when you're wearing a helmet and traveling at highway speeds in heavy traffic. You can even dial it up to 11. Apple CarPlay is available, though Android users will be left with Bluetooth as there's no Android Auto support. This is great for music, but the helmet you should probably be wearing makes taking phone calls impractical, and the open cabin means you probably shouldn't be taking a personal phone call from someone like your doctor in a Slingshot anyway.
The Slingshot also comes with built-in navigation, which works but is undoubtedly worse than Google or Apple's efforts. There's no speed limit reminder in the bottom corner, which is a big miss when you're driving through areas that aren't properly signposted in a car that you want to let off the leash as much as possible. The sat-nav's voice assistant is also obnoxious to the point where it ended up muted at all times. Letting a driver know they need to turn right in two miles and then reminding them when they're a few hundred yards away is good practice. Interrupting Fleetwood Mac every mile to tell you to stay on the thruway is less welcome.
Full disclosure, this part was meant to be a bit of a joke. I was going to run the Slingshot through some everyday tasks it obviously isn't designed for and then state the obvious while chuckling. Unfortunately for me, the Slingshot actually held up surprisingly well, and now I look like an even bigger idiot than usual. Don't get me wrong; there are still some hard limitations. There are only two seats, and loading the vehicle up like a Vietnamese motorcycle will get you pulled over, so it isn't going to replace your seven-seater minivan. If you need a backup vehicle in a pinch, though, your Slingshot might just save the day.
To test this out, I went beyond a regular store and made a trip to Sam's Club, where I stocked up with around $150 worth of groceries. That would be, I predicted, far more than the Slingshot could comfortably handle. To give the trike a chance, I left the spare helmet at home so I could make use of the extra compartment it usually occupies. When I got back to the parking lot, though, I discovered I was wrong about the Slingshot's capacity.
My haul — which included around 24 tins of corned beef hash, cheese, several packs of burgers, and a case of beer — ended up fitting comfortably into the storage bin behind the passenger seat and the passenger footwell. If I was to use the storage behind the driver's seat and pile things on the passenger seat, too, I suspect I could comfortably take double what I purchased for this test.
I also put the Slingshot through Wendy's drive-thru. The helmet requirement makes ordering a little difficult, but I managed to get the food home in a similar condition to how it arrives after I take the family sedan. The bucket-sized soft drink fits in the Slingshot cupholder, too. Every time I was transporting something in the Slingshot, I did have the feeling an errant air currant was going to sweep it over the back seat and leave the car behind me with a windscreen full of Ziploc bags or grade D beef, but I was wrong. The windshield is small but unexpectedly effective.
Although its practicality was a surprise, you don't get a Slingshot for sensible reasons. It's a toy: something you get for fun. Much the same reasons that someone buys a motorcycle or a boat, in fact, for taking out when the weather is nice and enjoying yourself in while also trying to impress random members of the public. A motorcycle may be a far cheaper option — though some bikes can cost as much as Polaris is asking, or indeed more — but I'd argue the Slingshot was more fun than a bike. It sounds like a Formula One car, handles like a go-kart, and while it may not be the safest thing in the world, at least I don't have to rely on my balance.
You can disregard the handling, the slack accelerator pedal, and the underwhelming automatic gearbox. You can even forget about the awful wing mirrors because you'll be enjoying yourself too much to care. It's one of those things you just can't stay away from. During the two week loan there were no fewer than three occasions when all I needed to do was move it out of the garage for ten minutes. But it's fun, so rather than park it, you should just take it out for ten minutes. Then, the next time you glance at a clock, two hours have passed, it's dark, and you're in the middle of nowhere. If you have some fun money to spend, and somewhere to keep a trike, forget about a boat or a bike. Get yourself a Polaris Slingshot instead.