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Polaris Slingshot: MD First Ride (Drive?) – A “Motorcycle” of a Different Sort

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I’ve tested some three-wheelers before, such as the Piaggio MP3, but never anything quite so car-like as the Polaris Slingshot. Unlike the MP3, the Slingshot does not lean in corners, but remains flat (except for some compression of the suspension on the outside wheel). Looking at the Slingshot, I am reminded much more of a stripped performance automobile, such an an Ariel Atom or KTM X-Bow, more than anything classed as a “motorcycle”.

Make no mistake, the Slingshot is a motorcycle not a car. Legally speaking, that is, the Slingshot requires the operator to wear a helmet and possess a motorcycle endorsement on their license. The Slingshot is not required to meet DOT standards for automobiles in that it lacks airbags and certified bumpers, for example. If you think about it, this is the only way Polaris has managed to keep the price of the Slingshot so low, $19,999 for the Standard model (in grey) and $23,999 for the upmarket SL model (which is red). Exotic performance (more about that below) for a fraction of the cost of an Atom or an X-Bow (if they were available in the U.S. in street-legal guise).

Polaris recently invited us to drive the Slingshot through some beautiful canyon roads above Malibu, California. Roads on which we have often piloted exotic motorcycles.

As we discussed in our preview of the Slingshot, this is an interesting and unique three-wheel vehicle that Polaris has produced with a steel space frame similar to that of a race car, a GM-sourced 2.4 liter four cylinder DOHC engine (featuring variable valve timing), sports seats for driver and passenger and large, low profile automobile tires. Making a claimed 173 hp at 6,200 rpm and 166 foot/pounds of torque at 4,700 rpm, each Slingshot model (weighing less than 1,750 pounds wet) has an impressive power-to-weight ratio.

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With a 5-speed manual transmission, and rack-and-pinion steering with a quick ratio (3.2 turns lock-to-lock), the Slingshot promises loads of performance and fun from behind the wheel. It delivers.

This is no superbike when it comes to acceleration, but, feeling like you are at the wheel of an automobile, the quickness of the Slingshot is initially shocking. It feels like a Mazda Miata on steriods. Traveling down Highway 1 on our way to Malibu Canyon, the force generated by the engine made me wonder whether the final, carbon fiber-reinforced belt drive to the single rear wheel might snap. Obviously, modern belts are quite strong.

The five-speed transmission shifts easily and positively. I have always driven automobiles with a stick shift, so I do have a frame of reference here. Clutch engagement was easy, and smooth, and all the torque down low in the rev range made it difficult to stall the Slingshot when leaving a stop.

As we got into the canyon roads, I was initially frustrated by a slower driver that insisted (quite aggressively) on slotting himself (herself?, not sure with the helmet) in front of me back on Highway 1. At the first opportunity, I passed this driver, and together with a Canadian motorcycle journalist in a separate Slingshot, we pushed these vehicles about as hard as we dared through the undulating canyon roads. What ensued was more fun and excitement than one could easily imagine attainable in an automobile-like device for twenty grand.

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The Slingshot is not only quick from corner-to-corner (courtesy of the aforementioned power-to-weight ratio), it provides excellent steering feedback and control. Handling is stable and predictable, even if ultimate corner grip is hampered somewhat by under-steer. Under-steer is often purposely dialed in by automobile manufacturers to prevent amateur drivers from “getting into trouble”, and the amount of under-steer exhibited by the Slingshot is just about right given the single contact patch out back.  Polaris described some sophisticated, electronic, selective brake intervention designed to prevent over-eager drivers from losing control. We got the rear end to step out on occasion, but never when we didn’t intend it. In general, the Slingshot can be driven hard and fast by a competent driver without any unintended drama.

The seats were surprisingly comfortable. I say this because my last automobile had leather Recaros that were superb, and the seats found in the Slingshot, although not offering quite the side bolstering I was used to, were far more supportive and comfortable during our test than most stock seats in “performance” automobiles I have driven. I told myself during the test that I could comfortably drive the Slingshot from my home to San Francisco (roughly 500 miles) without much to complain about. Highway speeds are effortless (top speed should be well north of 100 mph given the power and gearing, although we did not test this). Of course, the 9.8 gallon fuel tank would not cover that distance without periodic refueling (we did not get a chance to test fuel mileage).

With the windshield attached to each of the models we tested (standard on the SL, and optional on the base model), wind buffeting was not bad (to be fair, we were wearing a full-face Arai helmet). The seat seemed to have a wide range of adjustment suitable for both shorter and taller drivers. The dash is simple and legible.

The red SL model adds that windshield we mentioned, together with larger, forged aluminum wheels and a media console containing a 4.3″ LCD screen, backup camera, USB input and 6-speaker audio system with Bluetooth.

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Brake performance was oddly disappointing. Despite sizable 298 mm vented discs at all three wheels, the Slingshot requires very firm pressure to stop quickly, and outright power is mediocre, at best. Small storage compartments behind each seat offer a small bit of practicality in a machine whose purpose in life is exhilaration as opposed to grocery getting.

On our way back from the test, we drove in darkness, and the four headlights of the Slingshot provided excellent illumination of the road.

Polaris was certainly thinking outside the box when it dreamed up the Slingshot, but having sampled it we wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a huge sales hit. The price is more than reasonable given the amount of performance and fun it offers, and your passenger could easily prefer it to that skinny little motorcycle seat. Polaris is offering a two-year factory warranty on the Slingshot. For additional details and specifications, visit the Slingshot web site. By the way, the two colors are officially called Titanium Metallic (base model) and Slingshot Red Pearl (SL). Several accessories are available for the Slingshot which are described on the web site.

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204 Comments

  1. Rick says:

    I was thinking of getting one of these to use in the summer and head to the marina to go boating but there is no room for a beverage cooler and a passenger for a day of boating. I hope the engineers work on that for next year’s model.

  2. Tony in Texas says:

    I had rather have a Mazda Miata…. When it rains, raise the top. When it’s sunny, lower the top. When it’s cold, turn on the heater. When it’s hot, turn on the A/C. Plus it’s banned in Texas!

    ~Tony

    • sherm says:

      And you don’t need a lot of money to do the Miata thing. There are plenty of used around at reasonable prices. I have a 96 with turbo and aftermarket performance suspension (Flying Miata products), total investment about $11k. (09 CBR600RR ABS for two wheel fun)

  3. William says:

    Can I get a dual sport version instead? More like a side by side. Now that would be a vehicle worth buying. That will also solve people’s response that didn’t like to be so low and not visible, and the lack of safety with no roll bar above. Plus a roof keeps the rain off, and you wouldn’t need a garage to park it in. I still don’t like that car transmission, that detracts greatly. It is a neat concept, but I won’t be buying one. I would be more interested in a vehicle if I was thinking to actually buy it. Dry warm weather states will probably buy more that the Pacific Northwest.

    • DaveA says:

      …and a beak!

      • william says:

        For a dual sport version I could drive on dirt I would accept a beak on both front wheels. Heck put a beak on all 3. It might be ugly but at least it would be a more usable vehicle that I would consider purchasing. We could discuss appearance later.

  4. DaveA says:

    I love you guys and I love this site. And, you know I’m a tireless opponent of eCurmudgeons everywhere. But…

    This is not a motorcycle. It’s a 3-wheeled car. There is nothing motorcycle-ish about it. I do think it’s pretty neat-o, but it isn’t a bike.

    Maybe you can re-sell this article to http://www.thisisnotamotorcycledaily.com ?

  5. Larry Dean says:

    I am very intrigued with this vehicle. I know there seems to be lots of kick back comparing it to a car. Being a long time long time rider I would consider this as another option for riding/driving. It does seem to be geared as a car, but with an open cockpit and the arrangement what is not to love. I can see grins every time I ride/drive it, and after all isn’t that the purpose of buying a vehicle like this? I want to enjoy driving it and from all of the reviews i have read, it is a blast to drive.

    So let’s realize this is a different vehicle that isn’t easily categorized, but what a fun ride it will be. I also Like to point out, this is not a beginners ride. AND!!! It is not fair to compare it to a Honda Civic. The people making those comparisons aren’t the ones that Polaris targeted and I dare say most of them aren’t riders at all.

    I’m heading out to see one in person to see what my impressions are then, but I say when I am looking to get another ride, this will be up towards the top of my list. Either you get it or you don’t.

    • sherm says:

      I can’t see why anyone who can drive a stick shift car couldn’t drive a Slingshot safely. Reading the test drive reviews there doesn’t seem to be any peculiar characteristics related to the single rear wheel (not counting extremes like burnouts an intentionally breaking the rear wheel loose). In pushing through curves the Slingshot is a dream compared to normal cars (Civics) and SUV’s, just like sports cars. Got to be fun to drive, and better at accident avoidance. I can’t think of a single motorcycle skill that is required to operate a Slingshot, other than putting on a helmet, where required by state law.

      In my view the significant difference between the Civic and the Slingshot is that if an accident occurs, the Civic driver has a much better chance to escape injury, and worse, than the Slingshot driver, because it appears that the Slingshot design has none of the occupant protection features that are mandated for cars. It will take a few Slingshot crashes to find out how it actually fairs. Or Polaris could do some crash testing and publicize the results.

  6. John says:

    I’m sure it’s a blast, but it’s too expensive and the engine is gigantic. Cut that engine down to half the size, drop the price by almost that and you have something. As it is, it’s just an expensive toy, not anything that a normal person would ever buy. There’s no reason it should cost this much, which is one of the issues with low production rates. A car has 6-10x the materials as a motorcycle, yet often costs only a little more. None of the vehicles i’ve ever owned cost me as much as this and had air bags, air conditioning, 4 wheels, a trunk, etc, etc.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “There’s no reason it should cost this much, which is one of the issues with low production rates.”

      wait, but you just stated the reason. didn’t ya…?

      re: “A car has 6-10x the materials as a motorcycle”

      a car does 6-10x the sales.

      • John says:

        Norm…..I see it’s been a long time since you studied things like marginal cost of production.

        • Norm G. says:

          re: “I see it’s been a long time since you studied things like marginal cost of production.”

          well enlighten me…?

          • John says:

            At a certain number, you magically hit a point where the n+1 costs the same amount to produce as n. And, after a large plateau, you can actually get to a point where n+1 costs MORE than n because of part/material scarcity.

            So, the fact that a car sells 6-10x as much is likely immaterial to the comparison.

    • jim says:

      You’ve never seen a bike for $19,000+? Where have you been?

      • Norm G. says:

        Q: “Where have you been?”

        A: not within stone’s throw of ANY powersports dealer.

        • John says:

          Jim is strawmanning me. I never said this. I also haven’t endorsed the idea of $20,000 motorcycles either, that’s ridiculous. They only cost that much because people are stupid enough to pay that much.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “They only cost that much because people are stupid enough to pay that much.”

            Scratch “stupid enough” and replace with “willing”. With respect to $20K motorcycles, we are talking about luxury goods. That is a whole different subset of economics rules. A $20K R1200GS is to an $90K Range Rover as a $5K Ninja 300 is to a Mazda5.

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “that’s ridiculous.”

            why…?

            re: “They only cost that much because people are stupid enough to pay that much.”

            why…?

          • John says:

            Well, I shouldn’t say ‘stupid enough’ except in some instances. I honestly can’t think of a $20K motorcycle I actually want. At least a Confederate is a work of art, but I have zero interest in one.

            There’s a very small group of rich people that ride. But this might have been a more interesting vehicle for the masses, had it been designed for that.

      • John says:

        $19,000 motorcycles are absurd unless they are truly state of the art. It’s understandable if everything in it is the latest word in tech, but this thing costs more than my Mazda5 which has a 2.3L engine as well, has 4 wheels, front wheel drive, dual air bags, tons of windows, 5 doors, 6 seats, air conditioning and requires twice as much materials to build.

        • mickey says:

          Then don’t go look at the latest Rushmore Glide Harley. $19K barely makes a decent down payment.

        • Norm G. says:

          re: “this thing costs more than my Mazda5 which has a 2.3L engine as well, has 4 wheels, front wheel drive, dual air bags, tons of windows, 5 doors, 6 seats, air conditioning and requires twice as much materials to build.”

          again, why…?

          note how I keep asking you this. now I’m not asking it to be a jerk, I’m eluding to these NOT being rhetorical questions. ie. an answer does in fact EXIST, so you either…

          A, genuinely don’t know the answer…? (no slate)

          or

          B, DO know the answer, but REJECT the reality and ramifications it FORCES you to embrace…? this begets a behavioural change and you don’t want to do that.

          • John says:

            Why does it cost more? Because they know they’re going to be very limited production because the design simply won’t appeal to someone comparing it to a car. It will only ever sell to someone who wants something different and will therefore pay a much higher price to production cost ratio.

            It’s basically designed with the idea of not selling many.

  7. GP says:

    No wheelies/No lean = No fun. Having to wear a helmet (in most states) will be a huge sales negative for the general population.

    • Norm G. says:

      well see, that’s what I LIKE about this. you DO have to wear a helmet. it’s both incognito and the “cool” factor. I mean you can pretend you’re the Stig.

      however (comma) if you try wearing a helmet on the street while driving say an open top Miata or a Cobra…? people’ll just think you’re a tool.

  8. Provologna says:

    It seems like they could have found a motor with better ratio of power per liter. That, and a DSG seem like things I’d appreciate. I suppose cost is the primary factor for the motor and normal manual transmission.

    Doesn’t it seem perfect for a Wankel motor?

    • todd says:

      Since driving is something I want to enjoy I would much rather have a manual transmission over any kind of automatic or “DSG”.

  9. Glen says:

    I WANT ONE!

  10. Roadrider says:

    It must an awesome ride (he says sarcastically), staring eye to eye with hubcaps and bumpers all day long and not being able to be seen by the SUV driver beside, in front of or behind you. Thanks but I’ll stick with something that I sit much higher where I can see better.

    • Glen says:

      I imagine in a Sling Shot, you must flee to better roads away from the soccer Moms.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “in a Sling Shot, you must flee to better roads away from the soccer Moms.”

        hmmmn, maybe it DOES have a lot in common with motorcycling…?

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “staring eye to eye with hubcaps and bumpers all day long and not being able to be seen by the SUV driver beside, in front of or behind you.”

      think of this way, you and Lamborghini owners can trade stories at the pump.

    • Glen says:

      Maybe you can add some of those dune buggy flags thingys

  11. Toddo says:

    As a car/bike nut, I love it! It is like a modern day Morgan Trike with the benefit of not having to walk home! I hope Polaris sells a lot of them. I hope that other manufactures follow suit as well. I am not getting any younger, so to have an affordable alternative to a bike is great..

  12. Vrooom says:

    Shootout with the Can Am?!

  13. Norm G. says:

    re: “The price is more than reasonable given the amount of performance and fun it offers”

    if you’ve gotta garage…? you’ve got GRINS.

    re: “your passenger could easily prefer it to that skinny little motorcycle seat.”

    watch out for the big girls.

  14. mark says:

    The real question is, how does it compare to a T-Rex? Those have been offering the same configuration for years, but with a little more of a motorcycle connection (motorcycle engine and transmission).

  15. Bill says:

    20 large? Thats alot of clams for this.

    • jim says:

      What is the price of a comparable vehicle?

      • billy says:

        Comparable vehicle? Hard to find a machine that cost as much with so many compromises.

        Amazing they claim they skirted dot to provide this vehicle for 20 grand. My dad bought a brand new, Honda Civic EX sedan. It meets all of the expensive dot requirements for automobiles. It seats five, has a/c, p/w, p/l, four wheels, etc, etc. All of this and more for $18,500.

        • mickey says:

          Which is a perfect argument for the general public against most motorcycles.

          • billy says:

            Not sure where you get that.

            I’m saying this machine is way over priced for a poor performing motorcycle or a stripped down car with no safety features and creature comforts. As Kaz Yoshima once told me, “It’s your call”.

          • mickey says:

            Billy has nothing to do with this slingshot, but in discussions I’ve had young people ask me why should they buy a motorcycle which costs 10-15 thou when they can buy a Civic with all the stuff you mentioned for around 16 thou and be warm, or cool, and dry and comfortable and safe, and get as good of gas mileage without having to wear a bunch of gear?

            And they have a valid point, which bring us back to the problem of getting new riders on motorcycles. Not going to, unless they just WANT to ride a motorcycle. Logically riding a motorcycle doesn’t make sense when economically there are better alternatives.

            Problem with the slingshot, as someone else said, all the drawbacks of a motorcycle without the advantages of a car at the same money.

          • Bill says:

            Yes, this is something that has worried me for years, motorcycles (new) are becoming something only the wealthy can or will be able to enjoy. The sub 5 grand market is coming, just slow in comparison to the others.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            There may have been a time in this country when a material percentage of motorcycles were purchased instead of cars for economical purposes, but I don’t remember such a time. I knew a few people when I was in college in the mid-90’s that bought cheap scooters because that is all they could afford, but virtually everyone I knew that rode bikes then and now do so because it pleases them, not for convenience or saving money.

            Even when I lived in Europe, most of the riders I knew rode because they could filter traffic and find parking much easier, not because it was cheaper than a car.

            BMWs have cost as much as small sedans for as long as I can remember. There may be more premium bikes available now, but that isn’t exclusive to this decade. And the “cheap” bikes are better than they have ever been.

            The Slingshot is no more overpriced than any motorcycle: it is purely a creature of want.

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “I’m saying this machine is way over priced for a poor performing motorcycle or a stripped down car”

            I’m saying you’re making the classic mistake that 1000’s have made before you, of the “apples V. oranges” comparison.

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “in discussions I’ve had young people ask me why should they buy a motorcycle which costs 10-15 thou”

            punks. (Harry Callahan voice)

            re: “they can buy a Civic with all the stuff you mentioned for around 16 thou and be warm, or cool, and dry and comfortable and safe”

            boooring. (Homer J. Simpson voice)

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “BMWs have cost as much as small sedans”

            and WEIGHED as much as small sedans…

            convenient.

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “this is something that has worried me for years”

            no worries.

            re: “motorcycles (new) are becoming something only the wealthy can or will be able to enjoy”

            they’re still the same price as cars, but people buy those with reckless abandon. seems like an easy solution might be to just follow their example…? dunno.

        • Glen says:

          Yeah, but Honda can sell a million Civics to achieve that price! How many Sling Shot will be sold?

          • mickey says:

            The point exactly Glen, Honda will sell a million Civics ( and therefore be able to sell them for the price they do) because they are a good product that’s practical, that a high school, or college, or young family, or anybody looking for solid transportation would and will buy. Motorcycles and slingshots and Spyders are impractical vehicles that will never sell in big numbers therefor will just remain as Jeremy puts it, a creature of want, for those with enough disposable income to basically throw it away. A toy for the rich if you will.

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “Motorcycles and slingshots and Spyders”

            oh my…!

        • Provologna says:

          Might as well compare a drum set to a violin.

        • Provologna says:

          I’m curious how they engineer under steer into a vehicle wherein the front has twice the coefficient vs. the back (2 wheels vs. 1), and obvious front weight bias, which both increase front traction, all other things being equal (which of course they are not in this vehicle).

          T’would be nice if the body work was more grown up, less high-schoolish, more sophisticated. Highly visible text is ugly and pure fail IMO (rear fender “Slingshot”), screaming low class garage built.

        • Asphanaut says:

          Then go buy a civic. Might want to start posting on economicrosedandaily.com as well.

  16. Glen says:

    As a motorcyclist, my passenger takes on that risk as well. As a potential Sling Shot customer, I would expect the same.

  17. Roadrider says:

    Add another rear wheel, call it a car and get it over with.

  18. takehikes says:

    MUCH better alternative than many of the trikes I’ve seen. Motorcycle? Not so much but who cares, looks fun but I wonder where are the bags and 30″ wagon wheels? 😉

  19. Mike says:

    Cool. Not a motorcycle.

  20. Tony in Texas says:

    Not in Texas! The state has banned the vehicle at this time saying it’s not a motorcycle since you don’t straddle the seat.

    ~Tony

  21. AFW says:

    The steering system, tires, steel cage frame and engine are all from a car… It’s a car not a motorcycle.

    • Gary says:

      You may be right. But I am grateful that there are legal loopholes to create a vehicle like this. I hope they don’t close the loopholes. I like having the freedom to decide for myself how much risk is acceptable.

    • sherm says:

      I agree, it’s a car. But the so called “loophole” allows it to be car that does not need to comply with the crash safety requirements that all other road going cars are required to meet.

      Performance enthusiasts (I’m one) are generally more willing to take risks, and will accept the known or unknown crash safety limitations of the Slingshot because of its high performance payoff. But it is a two seater that is much more likely to have loved ones or friends as passengers, than a conventional motorcycle. So even if the driver is willing to accept whatever injuries occur in a crash (or thinks he or she will never crash), what about the passenger? So I think it’s worth knowing how protective the Slingshot is in a crash.

      I think the government and the insurance industry may also want to know. Sure, nanny state, nanny state!!! But if you’ve been in a accident where safety features kept you whole, nanny doesn’t seem all that bad.

  22. Stuki Moi says:

    As an MC, this is a much cheaper way to gain access to HOV lanes in what is dynamically a car, that buying a Tesla…