The Polaris Slingshot Gets The Most Attention For Under $30,000

Opinion / 13 Comments

But can you live with it everyday?

Unless they have something to do with an automaker, we don't really care about motorcycles. But what about vehicles with three wheels, like the Polaris Slingshot? Since it has a steering wheel and can be driven without a motorcycle license in most states, we have tested the three-wheeled creation in the past. The Slingshot was first introduced as a 2015 model, and received major updates for 2020, including a new engine. For 2022, there are a few notable improvements, and Polaris was gracious enough to loan us a Slingshot for two whole weeks to check them out. During this period, we treated it as our only vehicle to learn what it's like to live with. With only three wheels, no roof, and no doors, is it possible to daily drive a Slingshot? We found out.

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What The Heck Is It?

The Slingshot is a road-going three-wheeler from Polaris, a company known for building motorcycles, snowmobiles, and ATVs. Why three wheels and not four? There's a logical explanation. The US government counts vehicles with four wheels as a car, meaning it requires crash testing and safety equipment before going on sale. However, if the car has fewer than four wheels, like the Slingshot, it's treated as an AutoCycle and can be sold without airbags or other equipment. This not only helps Polaris keep the price down, but it saves a fortune on development.

Despite being classified as an AutoCycle, you don't necessarily need a motorcycle license to drive it (check your local laws). Polaris kindly asked us to wear a helmet while driving the Slingshot, so there are certainly motorcycle-like elements to the driving experience.

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Is It Fun?

Heck yeah the Polaris Slingshot is fun. Having no roof means the air is always flowing over you, but it's more pronounced than a conventional convertible. There's a small windshield that blocks the wind more than you'd expect, but we'd still recommend wearing a helmet even if your state doesn't require it. Just imagine a bug hitting you in the face at 50 mph. Aside from the wind, the Slingshot's engine is ever-present, never truly fading into the background like a normal car. You'd better enjoy attention, because this car demands it.

Whether it's the loud engine, the music blasting from the speakers, or the insane looks, someone is always looking at you while driving a Slingshot. There's something fun about that. The constant stares can get overwhelming at times, but you eventually learn to accept them. Besides a supercar, we've never driven anything that gets noticed this much. Considering the Slingshot's $20,799 starting price, that's an impressive feat. What else attracts stares at that price?

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Whats's It Like To Drive?

There's a lot to like about driving the Slingshot, but it's far from perfect. The steering wheel provides a ton of feedback, but we were disappointed by how many turns it takes to go lock-to-lock; it ends up feeling sloppy off-center and the two-spoke wheel makes it difficult to hang on in tight turns. Polaris needs to make the steering less twitchy considering this vehicle can crack into triple-digit speeds. It should be fun but not scary on a highway.

While we didn't love the steering, the standard five-speed manual transmission is one of our all-time favorites. The clutch is easy to modulate and the shifter itself offers short, notchy throws that make you feel directly involved. We'd put it right up there with the best Honda manuals we've driven. It's THAT good.

Polaris says around 25 percent of buyers opt for the manual, while the remaining 75 percent spend $1,800 on the optional AutoDrive transmission. We imagine that the automatic Slingshot still offers the same thrills as the manual model, but we can't believe so many owners forgo one of the crispest shifting experiences out there. Just think, people are willing to put on a helmet and subject themselves to the elements and all the attention, then then draw the line at shifting their own gears. Crazy.

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Since there's only three wheels, the handling is compromised compared to a traditional sports car like a Mazda Miata. Even with a 305-mm tire back there, you can create smoke with the slightest provocation. If you can manage to get off the line with careful throttle maneuvers, the Slingshot is pretty competent through the bends. Body roll isn't an issue, but the seats are. While it does have bolstering, the seats are absurdly flimsy, so it feels like you are going to fall out every time you take a turn too quickly. Combined with the two-spoke wheel that's tough to grip, it's challenging to drive the Slingshot as quickly as you'd like. Not that you really want to because the brakes feel soft and spongey. Polaris offers a stronger Brembo brake package, but the base stoppers on our SLR unit felt ill-equipped.

We prefer to think of the Slingshot as a back-road cruiser, not a point-and-shoot sports car. Last year, Polaris ditched the old GM-sourced EcoTec four-cylinder in favor of an in-house 2.0-liter ProStar engine. It spits out 178 horsepower in the lower-trim models or 203-hp in the SLR. That's a ton in a 1,749-pound vehicle. This engine revs to a motorcycle-like 8,250 rpm, at which point the smell of gasoline fills the air and the vibrations shake your bones.

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Is It Practical?

Obviously, the Slingshot isn't a practical daily driver, but it's better than a motorcycle. There's plenty of storage in the cabin for small items, including a covered armrest and lockable glovebox. Behind each seat there's a lockable storage box that's large enough for a helmet, so you don't have to carry it everywhere you go. There's no trunk though, so if your groceries don't fit behind the seats, they have to go by the passenger's feet.

The lack of roof can be an issue if it.. you know... rains. You get wet, but at least the interior is water resistant. If you want, Polaris offers a few roof options called the Excursion Top and Slingshade. We will warn you though, they are pricey at $1,899 and $3,399, respectively. In our honest opinion, a roof kind of sullies the Slingshot experience. Though it lacks any heating or air conditioning, Polaris makes heated/ventilated seats that would make it much more comfortable in freezing or scorching temperatures.

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Our SLR trim tester was equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment that's simple to use. It includes seven rubber shortcut buttons for various menus, which we found easy to hit on first glance while driving. This screen can even display Apple CarPlay, but it requires a Bluetooth helmet that we didn't have. You can still stream music to the 100-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, which sounds great. We initially thought the system lacked punch, but after we dialed up the equalizer settings it overpowered the wind even at highway speeds.

Like in many other vehicles, the Rockford Fosgate system has a setting that raises or lowers the audio volume depending on speed. This feature is a must-have in a car with no roof or doors. You can blare your music, and then when you get stuck at a traffic light, it lowers so you won't get angry looks from the surrounding cars.

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Would We Buy It?

A base Polaris Slingshot S with the manual transmission costs $20,799, with the AutoDrive transmission adding $1,800 to the price. No matter how good the auto is, we loved that manual too much not to recommend it. The Slingshot S is a great way to get a thrilling experience at an affordable price, but we'd at least step up to the SL for $26,799 to get nicer wheels, the seven-inch touchscreen, better audio system, and backup camera. Our SLR tester starts at $29,699, adding more power, a wider rear tire, body graphics, and a Sport Interior package. Since you can't put the power down anyway, we'd be fine with the less powerful SL.

We wouldn't even consider the $33,299 R or $35,799 Signature LE trims, as you could get a fully-loaded sports car like a Subaru BRZ or Toyota GR86 at that price. Likewise, you could also look at slew of motorcycles in this price range. But then again, a motorcycle doesn't draw attention like a Slingshot. Would we buy it? Probably not; we'd get the Miata since it has a roof and A/C. But if you want to be unique, the Slingshot is in a class of its own.

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