I hope curiosity for curiosity’s sake is sufficient reason to drive a car. In this case not even a car, not technically. With only three wheels, the Polaris Slingshot counts as a motorcycle when it comes to federal motor vehicle requirements, but it gets treated like a car by many state DMVs.
This dichotomy has given birth to other unconventional fare like Arcimoto or Electra Meccanica’s trikes. But unlike either of those, Slingshot isn’t electric; I really did say “yes” to the press loan out of sheer curiosity.
I see Slingshots being driven in DC relatively often. Usually in the summer. Once, memorably, a double-file convoy of at least 20 went down Massachusetts Ave. in better grid formation than you’d ever see at the start of a Le Mans or NASCAR race. With “The Imperial March” playing. Loudly. Like I said, I got curious.
I know saying that a vehicle looks like nothing else is a cliche, and it’s not really true anyway. The Slingshot’s layout is front-engined and rear-wheel drive, as practiced by other manufacturers like the Morgan 3 Wheeler and the Grinnall Scorpion. Instead of a lightweight motorcycle engine, the Slingshot uses a 2.4L GM Ecotec engine which makes it a good deal heavier than either of those (although at 1,749lbs (791kg) it’s still much, much lighter than anything else you’ll encounter on the road). The Slingshot has pedals—three of them, including a clutch for the five-speed manual transmission. Because it’s a bike, the engine’s 177hp (132kW) and 166lb-ft (225Nm) is transmitted to the rear wheel by a belt, not a driveshaft. It even has traction and stability control.
To get in, you step over the exposed frame and drop yourself into the weatherproof cockpit—think lots of marine-grade materials and rubberized buttons on the infotainment system. It’s immediately apparent how exposed you are compared to just about any car, although anyone coming from a two-wheeled bike presumably has the opposite reaction. The lack of a windscreen means you want a full-face helmet, which also helps remind you that, again, the Slingshot is classed as a motorcycle. That also means no airbags and very little crash protection compared to a car. But considering how weight differences affect crash severity in the first place, colliding with any other road user is best avoided.
Maneuvering the Slingshot at low speed reminded me of driving a kart at low speed. Although the steering is actually electrically power assisted, it’s speed sensitive, and turning the 225/45R18 tires feels remarkably heavy when you’re at parking velocity. On the move, the Slingshot still feels direct like a kart, but I never really pushed its envelope beyond about five tenths. The ride over broken city streets is firm, so you’ll want to dodge potholes. It’s possible to overwhelm the rear tire—a 225/35 on a 20″ wheel—with a little too much throttle at low speed, but the Slingshot is not as fast as its looks might suggest. Fuel efficiency is also a bit disappointing given how light it is—22.6mpg over the past 1,800-odd miles, according to the infotainment system.
Where the Slingshot truly excels is at attracting attention. I mean, it should, because it looks wild. From the rear, it reminds me a lot of the flying Peugeot from . If you park it on the street and there are people around, they will come and ask you questions. If you stop at a light and there are pedestrians or people soliciting donations, they will ask you questions. You will get stared at as you drive along; sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a not-good way. That probably rules the Slingshot out for introverts. For everyone else, they start at $20,999 for the basic version, although the SLR we tested will set you back $29,999.