Three-wheelers are weird things. In more than a century of cars being a common way to get around, four wheels have proven to be much more popular than three. Over the years, many three-wheelers from the Morgan to the Can-Am Spyder have tried to change that — but none of them have been anything more than an oddity with a niche audience.
One of the newest competitors in the three-wheeler game is the Polaris Slingshot. It’s not quite a car, not quite a motorcycle, and it’s actually classified as an "autocycle" in most states — which gets it around motorcycle license laws. Since it came out in 2014, it’s been carving out its own little market, and it has its own devoted following of enthusiasts. Polaris lent me its most fun, greenest Slingshot to drive around for a few weeks to allow me to figure out the appeal of this wild three-wheeler. After spending some time with the Slingshot, its appeal was not hard to figure out in the least.
Let’s start with the basics. Every Polaris Slingshot is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter GM Ecotec inline four linked to a 5-speed manual transmission. This is similar to the drivetrain that was used in the non-SS Chevy Cobalt. Its performance numbers of 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque may not blow you away, but the fun factor absolutely will if you ever get some seat time in one of these things.
The Slingshot feels fast at every speed. Maybe it’s because of the open-air aspect, or maybe it’s because of the surprisingly intoxicating sound for an N/A 4-banger, but it’s impossible not to have fun from inside of a Slingshot.
Being the SLR LE model, this thing was loaded with technology and performance features. It has Bilstein 10-way adjustable shocks, which made it a lot more planted and a lot less floaty than I expected it to be. Those tires that look like they’re a mile wide do a great job keeping this thing planted on the road.
This Slingshot loves the corners. I was taking familiar corners on curvy roads at (legal) speeds I’ve never attempted with two or four wheels, and I never lost an ounce of confidence in the Slingshot. Again, it’s 0-to-60 time or its raw hp may not astound you, but its overall performance was much better than I anticipated.
The SLR LE model also comes with the excellent Ride Command infotainment system complete with navigation and Rockford Fosgate premium audio. It’s the same unit found in high-end Indian motorcycles, and it’s one of my favorite infotainment systems I’ve ever used. I love how customizable it is and the fact that it can display just about any piece of information you want to know — and it can show as much or as little of that info as you want. And it has the most important feature of any infotainment system — an off button. If you don’t want to see it, you can just turn it off.
We can’t talk about the Slingshot without talking about its appearance. I’ve found its aesthetic to be very polarizing, but I love it. To me, it strikes a nice balance of pure weirdness and actually looking cool, making for a vehicle that turns every head that it passes. The Slingshot, by far, holds the record for most questions from strangers at stop lights, gas stations and parking lots than any other vehicle I’ve driven. If you’re looking for subtlety, look elsewhere.
I know I’m gushing, but I didn’t love everything about the Slingshot. For example, I don’t like how little cargo space it has for having such a big footprint. This thing is every bit as wide as a car in the front, and it easily takes up a whole stall in your garage, but it can’t carry much more than two backpacks. There are storage compartments behind both seats, but they’re only big enough to hold a medium-size backpack in each. If you want to bring anything more than that with you, it’s either going on the floor or in its huge glovebox. I think you could get more storage space with a touring motorcycle.
As I just mentioned, the Slingshot isn’t small. For being a vehicle that pretty much exists for fun purposes rather than practical purposes (although I’d love to see more people commuting in these things), it takes up an awful lot of room in the garage. The Slingshot made me realize that the fact that you need to dedicate a whole garage space to it might be one of the big reasons three-wheelers never became mainstream. If you want one, you need a garage stall that you aren’t doing anything with. But if you do have that space, a Slingshot is an excellent way to fill it.
The Slingshot starts at $19,999, but the one I had carried an MSRP of $30,999. Frankly, I still haven’t figured out whether the Slingshot is a good value or not. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than an Ariel Atom, but it also seems a little steep for what it is. Granted, a lot of people gladly pay more than that for motorcycles and for weekend cars, but is the $20k range a good price for an odd vehicle that kind of feels like it’s made of Tupperware? It’s debatable — but I think it’s a wildly fun way to spend up to $30k if you have the room and the cash.
So the Slingshot might have a bit of a narrow market — but in the words of Ferris Bueller, if you have the means, I highly suggest you pick one up.