While rival Can-Am has been populating roadways with their more motorcycle-like Spyder series of three-wheelers for several years now, Polaris is looking to change things up with the Slingshot, which seats a driver and passenger next to each other in an open-air cockpit – and features a steering wheel instead of handlebars. The closest thing you can get to it right now is the Canadian T-Rex Roadster or the decidedly retro Morgan three-wheeler from the U.K., which should run and cower in fear if it sees a Slingshot anywhere nearby.
With a curb weight of just over 1,700 pounds fueled, go-cart seating and over 170 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque coming from a GM-sourced DOHC EcoTech 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, the Slingshot is clearly made to corner … and corner and corner and corner. But with that much power pushing less weight than even most track-prepped cars, it likely won’t be a slouch in a straight line either. Unlike the taller, sit-up Spyders, the Slingshot’s two bucket seats place your buns just inches off the tarmac, giving drivers more of an Indy Lites racecar driving experience. Let’s hope there’s a lot of bolstering.
The Slingshot’s power flows through a five-speed manually stick-shifted transmission and terminates in a motorcycle-style kevlar belt final drive, something Polaris has extensive experience with. Clawing for traction are three very wide Kenda “Slingshot” tires, which Chad Nibbelink, Slingshot Product Manager for Polaris, said were developed specifically for the machine.
The Slingshot isn’t short on tech, either. On the more premium SL version of the Slingshot, a central 4.3-inch LCD screen controls a marine-grade six-speaker audio system that incorporates AM/FM, USB and Bluetooth connections. It also links to a backup camera. There’s even a handy (but optional) mount for your smartphone so you can power up GPS or more easily control the tunes while shredding switchbacks.
LEDs light up brake and marker lights while a spider’s share of projector beams light the way ahead. Standard ABS brakes, traction control, electronically assisted power steering, throttle by wire and electronic stability control will work together to keep aspiring Andrettis in their lane. There’s even cruise control. Traction and stability control can be shut off by the driver, while ABS is always on.
All that high-tech goodness will ring at $19,999 for the base model and $23,999 for the fully optioned up SL version.
The differences between the dark-colored base model and the red SL version includes 1-inch larger uprated 5-spoke wheels, the LCD screen, audio package, backup camera, a windscreen and some other bits. However, Nibbelink said the base vehicle performance is the same in both versions and anyone buying the “regular” model can add any of the SL upgrades as options. Plus, there’s a full line of casual clothing, helmets, gloves, rain suits and vehicle covers to choose from – but no hard or soft top.
The look of the Slingshot is all future-tech and comes across as a mix of ideas from Batman, Terminator, Tron and Battlestar Galactica. The angular, vented hood props open for engine care, but the back of the Slingshot is essentially naked, with the final drive and mono-shock rear suspension out in the wind for the world to marvel at. The chassis is all steel tubing and while Polaris doesn’t note anything about crash worthiness, it’s likely more substantial than any motorcycle on the road.
Nibbelink said the Slingshot has been in development for the past couple of years and grew out of their success with their side-by-side ATV machines and their desire to produce a street-legal machine to compete with the Spyder and other 3-wheeled competitors. He also thinks the timing for the Slingshot is right. “It’s the confluence of several trends” he said they were seeing in ATVs and motorcycles, especially regarding traditional trikes and the new inverted trike trend. He said the Slingshot, while having three wheels, is designed to give rider and passenger a very motorcycle-like experience in terms of exposure to the world around them while driving.
So who does Nibbelink see in the Slingshot’s driver and passenger seats? Riders and drivers already familiar with ATV and motorcycles, but also tech-savvy urban dwellers looking for a unique, highly maneuverable vehicle that isn’t a car or scooter – and one that gets a lot of attention.
Despite the Slingshot being “street legal”, just how it will be classified – as a car or motorcycle – may vary from state to state. The side-by-side seating and steering wheel scream out “car”, but that single wheel out back and a stance in line with the Can-Am Spyders already on the road may put it in the motorcycle box in some places. Nibbelink said that “all states know how they will classify Slingshot. We meet ALL requirements to be a 3-wheel motorcycle!” Where it is classified as a motorcycle, perspective buyers will need to get a motorcycle endorsement to be fully legal pilots. Nibbelink said they think of the Slingshot as closer to a motorcycle than a car and they encourage riders and passengers to wear helmets if not already mandated by state law.
No matter how it ends up being classified by the powers that be, the Slingshot looks utterly unique and is most likely an absolute hoot to pilot on a curvy road, and we are working to arrange a test-thrashing at the earliest opportunity.