I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve always been a Slingshot hater.
I’ve been a motorcyclist all my life, and when these three-wheeled anomalies started popping up on public streets back in 2015, my first thought was: There’s a midlife-crisis-mobile if I’ve ever seen one. Another attention-seeking, three-wheeled vehicle posing as a motorcycle. Something for polo shirt-wearing dads living in gated communities to park in their three-car garage between the Suburban and the Camry.
I’d see Slingshots out driving around Atlanta on I-285, decked out in neon lights, blaring music, much to the chagrin of everyone but the driver. Do they really think that’s cool? I believed Slingshots were built for getting attention in Hooters parking lots, not carving up mountain roads or racetracks. With that being said, I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, and I was very wrong about the Slingshot.
Or, at least, mostly wrong. Make no mistake: The Slingshot is not a motorcycle, no matter what the safety placard between its two bucket seats tells you. It’s also the definition of an attention-seeking vehicle, right up there with little red Corvettes (RIP Prince), giant lifted 6x6s, and Lamborhini SUVs. What the Slingshot is not, however, is boring. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the Slingshot is easily one of the most thrilling and engaging driving experiences I’ve ever had.
After spending three weeks doing everything from running errands to squeaking through yellow lights in the 2022 Polaris Slingshot SLR, I’ve got to say, this is an utterly uncompromising hooligan that’s mobile through and through. Say what you will about its ostentatious styling, loud paint, and even louder stereo, but you’d be a fool to say this thing isn’t an absolute riot to drive.
Unapologetically Unrefined Thrills
If you’ve ever poked a sleeping bear with a pointy stick, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what it feels like to climb into the Slingshot and thumb the push-button start. The thing jumps to life with a raspy mechanical growl, and you feel every little vibration from the engine through the steering wheel, shifter, and foot pedals. A message displays on the dashboard urging caution, but somewhere inside you know you’re looking forward to seeing just how hard you can poke the thing before it bites back.
Accordingly, your first few hours with the Slingshot are best taken in baby steps. Despite the massive 12-inch-wide Kenda tire on the back of the SLR model, grip and traction are relative concepts here: At the end of the day, you’re pushing 200+ horsepower through a single rear wheel, and I’ve never driven or ridden anything that loved to leave fat strips of rubber on the pavement quite as much as the Slingshot. I assumed Polaris was being ironic when it claimed you’d “leave your impression on every road you travel” but now I know better.
Now, 200 horsepower (or 203, to be exact) might draw scoffs from the elitist automotive crowd, but it’s important to remember that the Slingshot only weighs 1,656 pounds. That’s nearly 700 pounds less than other popular “driver’s cars” like the Mazda Miata, which it’s often compared to. Altogether, that means you’re working with an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 8.1 pounds per horsepower (assuming you opt for the manual transmission), which is better than the latest 455 horsepower V8 Camaro and just shy of the 460-horse Mustang GT.
Granted, the limited grip of the Slingshot’s single rear tire won’t quite pull the same standing acceleration times as a new pony car, but at 4.9 seconds, the Slingshot is no slouch from the stoplight either. Once you get it up out of first and into the higher gears, the little four-cylinder engine is just the kind of rev-happy powerplant that driving enthusiasts yearn for, with gobs of midrange passing power on tap any time you stick your foot in it.
Speaking of engines, Polaris found unexpected success with the Slingshot when they first introduced it back in 2014, and by 2020, sales had climbed high enough to justify throwing out the original GM-sourced 2.4 liter motor and replacing it with Polaris’ own ProStar 2 liter powerplant. The latest version bumps the Slingshot’s peak horsepower up to 203 ponies, and also raises the engine redline to a hair raising 8,500 rpm.
I spent most of my time with the Slingshot exploring curvy mountain roads, and found the driving experience not unlike taking a supersport motorcycle through the twisties: Rev it to the sky, let the engine braking scrub off speed as needed, then flog it as hard as the back tire can handle exiting the corner. Wash, rinse, repeat: The feeling never gets old.
A taut double-wishbone front suspension keeps the Slingshot level and planted in the corners, giving you all the confidence you need to push it near its claimed 1.02 G’s of lateral grip. Suspension travel is short, and even small bumps in the pavement feel a bit jarring, but somehow it all just adds to the Slingshot’s devil-may-care charm.
Whipping a Slingshot around a twisty backroad is the best kind of white-knuckled, laser-focused driving experience you could ask for. It’s sheer entertainment, nothing more, nothing less, and arguably the closest anyone can get to a supercar experience for under $30,000.
You could certainly view the Slingshot’s tendency to break loose in lower gears/higher revs as a drawback, but I can’t help but see it as a feature. I mean just look at this thing. If ever there were a vehicle made to slide around corners and cut donuts through parking lots, this is it.
Admittedly the limited grip out back was a bit nerve wracking at first, but by the end of my first ride, it was arguably my favorite part about the vehicle. You learn to hang that rear end out with pride and panache. A quick kick of the clutch pretty much anywhere in first or second gear is all but guaranteed to initiate a controllable slide (assuming you’ve got the traction control switched off). You don’t have to work to make the Slingshot do something it wasn’t meant to: It was built for bad decisions.
Let’s Talk About Looks
So yeah, there’s nothing subtle about the Slingshot, and that goes double for its styling. I had seven people in two weeks tell me it looks “like a batmobile” and if I’m being honest, you might as well be in the actual batmobile, because the Slingshot gets just as much attention around town.
Little kids stare with mouths agape, fingers pointing. Police offers stare sternly, radar guns pointing. Not all attention is good attention, but the Slingshot doesn’t discriminate on that count.
That’ll be a feature for some and a detriment to others, but wherever you fall on that spectrum, be prepared for an onslaught of thumbs up wherever you drive and a deluge of questions wherever you park. Personally, I like the Slingshots looks (although I’d prefer it in all black), but I don’t care for the attention it draws. I don’t think there ever was or ever will be such a thing as an under-the-radar, high-performance three-wheeler” though, so I reckon it’s a fair tradeoff.
A Word on the Interior…
Despite its street-legal status, the interior of the Slingshot shares an important feature with the rest of Polaris’ fleet of watercraft and off-roaders: It’s completely weatherproof. That means everything from the bucket seats to the 7-inch touchscreen display is safe to get rained-on, which is important, because it will get rained on eventually.
With that being said, this is no bare-bones, spartan interior either. It’s not exactly plush, but Polaris has come a long way in refining the cockpit of the Slingshot, and the soft foam seats are supportive enough for all-day joyrides without leaving you numb and chaffed. They do get particularly hot in the summer though and, combined with the constant heat from the engine and a lack of air conditioning, you’re liable to sweat through a shirt or two when the temperatures rise. Like pretty much every part of the Slingshot, however, there’s an upgrade available, and heated/cooled seats can be had for extra cash if you care enough to pay for it.
My favorite part about the interior, however is the center console. Here you’ll find just two hilariously placed switches: At the far left, you’ve got the traction control switch, or as I came to lovingly refer to it, the “fun button.” Hit this and traction control goes off entirely, and the fun starts. Directly beside the fun button, you’ll find the emergency flashers, for when overzealous use of the fun button goes a bit too far sideways. I’m convinced Polaris knew what they were doing here.
The other highlight of the Slingshot’s interior (and I can’t believe I’m writing this), is the stereo. There’s just something about driving this outrageous vehicle that demands outrageous music at an outrageous volume. The SLR model gets the upgraded “Ride Command” touchscreen display with a sweet-sounding set of Rockford Fosgate speakers to match, and I can’t imagine it any other way. Doing donuts in your buddy’s parking lot after hours is great, but doing donuts with “X.Y.U.” cranked to 11 is a whole different animal. I get it now.
The Big Question: Should You Buy One?
If you’d have asked me a month ago whether or not anyone should buy a Slingshot, I’d have answered with an emphatic “Hell no. If you want a motorcycle, go buy a motorcycle.”
I know now that the Slingshot was never pretending to be a motorcycle, despite all the legal hoopla that classifies it as one in certain states. This is a different beast altogether, and it delivers its own unique brand of thrills.
With that being said, I do think the Slingshot is a viable alternative to a motorcycle or any dime-a-dozen sports car for that matter. Not necessarily a safer alternative, mind you, but if unbridled thrills and open-air travel are what you’re seeking, this will beat the pants off any convertible anywhere near its price range.
Of course the Slingshot is a toy at its heart, and an expensive toy with next to nothing in terms of utility or creature comforts at that. It’ll take up the same amount of space in your garage as a Miata, and will cost you about the same as a Miata, too, assuming you opt for the best-of-both-worlds SLR package. Whether or not it’s worth $30,000 is up to you to decide, but for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen an 8-year-old mistake a Miata for the batmobile, and that’s gotta be worth something.