Seat Time: Getting Behind The Wheel Of The Polaris Slingshot

Photos: Polaris

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Launched in 2014, the Polaris Slingshot is an incredibly unique three-wheeled vehicle. From its head-turning looks to its impressive power-to-weight ratio to its unusual reverse trike configuration, the Slingshot truly is unlike anything else on the road. And while we’ve long been fans of the Slingshot’s appearance, the machine is nonetheless a bit of an enigma, drawing elements from both the worlds of cars and motorcycles in order to deliver what the American brand has dubbed a purpose-built “lifestyle vehicle.” 

As such, from the outside looking in, it’s difficult to determine how the Slingshot actually performs in real life — much less what it’s like to actually own and live with one. So, when Polaris reached out to HICONSUMPTION and extended an invitation for us to fly out to Austin, Texas, and experience the Slingshot for ourselves, needless to say, we jumped at the opportunity to get some seat time in one of these street-legal go karts. 

Photo: Polaris

An Impressive Itinerary

Experiencing Austin Out Of The Seat

As soon as we touched down in Austin, we set out for our hotel, the Colton House. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the Polaris team members that treated us to a presentation and Q&A before moving on to our plans for the weekend. In addition to getting ample seat time in the Slingshot, we would also be getting to enjoy some world-class barbeque, as well as VIP tickets to Austin City Limits, which just happened to fall on the same weekend. What’s more, Polaris also gifted every attendee with a Bell motorcycle helmet, before giving everyone the option of having a professional pin-striper and sign painter offer to custom-decorate everyone’s new lid. However, despite meeting some awesome people, enjoying some amazing food and drinks, and having a blast at the concert, the most fun we had all weekend was unequivocally the time we spent behind the wheel of the Slingshot. 

Photo: Polaris

Engineering Idiosyncrasy

Why The Polaris Slingshot Is In A League Of Its Own

Though it’s admittedly one of several unconventional lightweight roadster-style vehicles — the Slingshot genuinely is in a league of its own — a fact that’s frankly unsurprising considering it was engineered from the ground up to be unlike anything else out there. Rather than trying to develop an ultra-high-performance track weapon, the Slingshot was designed as a full-on lifestyle vehicle, with the team at Polaris focusing just as much on its appearance and user experience as they did on its raw performance capabilities. 

The vehicle is made all the more unique by the fact that its creation was partially guided by government classification limits, with the three-wheeled setup and sub-1,600lb weight earning it the classification of “motorcycle” — a factor that allowed for some of the Slingshot’s more unorthodox traits to be implemented. The latest model year Slingshot also benefits from ample feedback from existing owners — intel that prompted Polaris to introduce a handful of new accessories and options on the Slingshot, including an available automatic transmission and a paddle-shifter-equipped version, in addition to the regular manual model. What’s more, the choice for the Slingshot’s powertrain was also a highly-calculated one, with the development team aiming for a power plant that would be approachable by a wide variety of drivers of varying skill levels and afford a fun yet relaxed cruising experience — all while still offering its fair share of tire-shredding capabilities and thrills in the corners. 

Photo: Polaris

The Slingshot On Paper

Unpacking The Three-Wheeler’s Spec Sheet

Weighing in at around 1,600lbs, the Slingshot employs a reverse trike setup with a side-by-side twin-seat cockpit, with two wheels in the front and a single powered wheel out back. The latest Slingshot is powered by a a 2.0-liter ProStar inline-four engine cranking out 178hp and 120ft-lbs of torque — or 203hp and 144ft-lbs of torque for the higher-specced R and SLR models. Riding on forged aluminum wheels, the vehicle uses an independent, double wishbone suspension setup with forged aluminum control arms and revised twin-tube gas-charged coil overs, as well as vented discs front and back — items that are upgradable to Brembo brakes on some of the more high-end variants. 

Photo: HICONSUMPTION

Well-Formulated Fun

Getting Behind The Wheel Of The Polaris Slingshot

Upon pressing the button to fire up the Slingshot, its inline-four engine roars to life before its revolutions lower to an idle. The vehicle accelerates quickly and its throttle feels incredibly crispy and responsive, without being overly sensitive. The Slingshot’s two-liter powertrain allows it to make the most of its svelte curb weight, resulting in a peppy, go-kart-like experience behind the wheel, as well as phenomenal handling largely thanks to both its lack of weight and stellar suspension setup. With the unusual shape and dimensions of the Slingshot, it does take some time to get acquainted with where its corners are when driving, though after only an hour or two this issue subsides. 

The Slingshot boasts a respectable 0-60mph time of less than five seconds — though being so low to the ground and exposed to the road honestly makes it feel more like a three or four-second car. The vehicle’s top speed is electronically limited to 125mph, though the Slingshot wasn’t designed for hair-raising top speeds and instead was engineered for a fun, spirited experience when cruising or carving up the canyons. Redlining at over 8,000rpm, the engine also affords the Slingshot an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 8.1 lbs per horsepower. 

Photo: Polaris

Once getting familiar with the Slingshot’s corners, handling, and responsiveness, we were able to start really opening it up and pushing it to its limits. This is where we discovered that the three-wheeled configuration that it employs is actually remarkably stable — even more so than traditional four-wheeled cars. This not only hugely bolsters stability but also makes the Slingshot incredibly easy to control — as well as incredibly approachable by drivers of all skill and experience levels. At some point, maybe an hour or two into our first drive, we explored a long winding country road before eventually slowing down to make a U-turn, and it was at this point we learned how easy it is to have the rear wheel step out while turning under acceleration.

Less than an hour later, we drifted through corners, performing straight-line rolling burnouts, and generally leaning into the Slingshot’s thoroughly squirrelly nature. The one adjustable driving parameter Polaris outfitted the Slingshot with is a killable traction control switch, which allowed for markedly more tire-shredding fun and behind-the-wheel hooliganism. For a machine that supposedly wasn’t designed to be a high-performance vehicle, the Slingshot was nonetheless able to deliver some of the most fun we’ve ever had behind the wheel — a bold statement considering some of the vehicles we’ve driven but nonetheless an accurate one. In fact, whether relishing in a wide open throttle when taking off at a stop sign or stop light, or following the lines of a twisting backroad, the Slingshot is simply a pleasure to drive. It’s abundantly clear the three-wheeler was designed with a major emphasis on fun — an objective the team at Polaris absolutely nailed. 

Photo: Polaris

The following day, we had the opportunity to try out the more high-end R-spec Slingshot, and do so on a long series of snaking backcountry roads. The next few hours would comprise the most enjoyable portion of our trip, as we tore through the countryside, chasing apexes and winding through corners while banging through the R-spec’s AutoDrive paddle-shifter system — an extraordinarily responsive and well-designed dive-speed paddle-shifted transmission. Despite having spent less than 24 hours with the thing, we were able to confidently push it through the corners while pushing the Slingshot to its limits. It not only handles like a dream, but it’s also surprisingly forgiving. By the end of the weekend, we were legitimately saddened to have to pass the keys back over to the Polaris rep. 

Photo: Polaris

A Rolling Conversation Starter

The Slingshot’s Outward Design & Appearance

The Slingshot obviously sports a head-turning design, though it isn’t until after driving it for a few days that one realizes just how attention-grabbing and eye-catching it really is. Everywhere we went, people asked questions, pointed, stared, or took their phones out to record. As such, it wasn’t surprising to learn that the Slingshot was designed to draw the type of attention that is regularly reserved for six and seven-figure super and hypercars — an area furthered by the vibrant paint color combo options offered on the Slingshot. This can either be a positive or a negative depending on who you are. 

Available in a variety of color options as well as with automatic or manual transmissions across the board, the 2022 Polaris Slingshot is available now, with pricing starting at $20,799 for the base model Slingshot S all the way up to $35,799 for the range-topping Slingshot Signature LE.