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First Drive — 2018 Polaris Slingshot

How much fun can one have on three wheels? We found the answer with Polaris' new 2018 line of road-hugging screamers.

By Ben Lamboeuf


You come to Bikernet to get your two and three-wheel motorcycle (trike) news, right? So why are we about to bang on about Polaris Slingshot? Admittedly, this contraption looks more like a car or an autocycle than a motorcycle or even a trike. In the eyes of the law in the US, it actually is a motorcycle, and that's why we'll see us driving it on the streets wearing a helmet (we drove it in California). Anyway let's get hit the 'Go' switch on the 2018 Polaris Slingshot line of open-air cockpit roadsters. Whether you think it's a car or not, it looks like it could be fun...
Introduced to the public by Polaris in 2014, the Slingshot family keeps getting bigger. For 2018, the Slingshot lineup includes models S, SL, SLR and SLR LE. Notable changes include the 7-inch multi-touch Ride Command that's optional on the Slingshot S, and comes standard in SL, SLR, and SLR LE models. Ride Command is a whizzbang system with features like phone integration, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and customizable vehicle information screens. It also offers turn-by-turn navigation in the SLR and SLR LE models as standard equipment and can be added as an accessory upgrade to the S and SL models. 
The latest accessory now available is the Slingshade, featuring a polycarbonate window with 70 percent tint for better sun protection and a gull-wing door design that's designed to maximize entry and exit. This color-matched top offers additional rider comfort and will comfortably fit an adult up to 6’ 4”. The Slingshade is available for all 2017 and 2018 models at local dealerships for purchase and installation.
No different than their previous vintage, the 2018 Polaris Slingshot three wheelers look like Batman's Go-Karts. They boast a modern and choppy styling featuring razor-sharp, menacing lines. The monochromatic S base models are somewhat subdued, while the SL, SLR and SLR LE Slingshots proudly fly their freak flag, displaying an assortment of bold colors. We didn't come here to blend in, said a fellow journalist, during our press ride. He got that right!
Slingshots are powered by a 173HP GM Ecotech DOHC 2.4-liter four banger motor that's mated to a 5-Speed manual transmission. With a curb weigh a little North of 1,700 pounds, this is plenty of power. This year, there a number of upgrade options for the Slingshot too, including premium 200-watt Rockford Fosgate audio kit, quilted comfort seats for the weatherproof interior or a new rear fender. You can also add the Ride Command system to the Slingshot S, or enhance the S or SL’s capabilities by adding the Ride Command Navigation system. I will be honest and tell you that I completely ignored these electronic features as I was far more interested (and certainly more focused) on driving the snot out of this low-slung three-wheeled screamer that is the Slingshot. 
Bumper-to-bumper traffic sucks, even driving this cool roadster.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic sucks, even driving this cool roadster.

Time to get in the saddle. You don't have to lift your leg much to get into the Slingshot. Actually it feels more like something you wear than something you drive. You have to be pretty nimble to get in and buckle up, but it should no problem for anyone who's ever been in a small sports car like a Miata, a Lotus or a Triumph. 
I took off with our group of journalists for a day of spirited driving. The engine fires to life and has a nice, rowdy sound. It's peppy and ready to jump, making jackrabbit starts loads of fun between stoplights. But I was initially put off by the slow response provided by the Electronic Power Assisted Steering. It's set up so you need to put lots of turning input before things start happening and the nose of the Slingshot points where you want to go. It takes getting used to, but you soon get over it. I suspect that this is a deliberate engineering choice, in an effort to keep the Slingshot from acting too twitchy, especially at the hands of less experienced drivers. I was also somewhat taken aback by the pedal feel on the ABS disc brakes. Once again, if you're ever driven a race car, this is actually something you might grow to enjoy. You can modulate the brakes, but will have to put some muscle into it. The Slingshot is definitely not a run-of-the-mill passenger car with one wheel taken out; things are bound to get much more interesting for you as you embrace driving it. 
Feeling the lateral G-force is loads of fun.
Feeling the lateral G-force is loads of fun.

After a painful wade through morning traffic out of Venice Beach and onto the Pacific Coast Highway headed North toward Malibu, our group proceeded to get away from civilization and cut a dusty trail toward the sinuous canyon roads that tower over the coastline. This is where I got to experience how the Slingshot can take vicious bites out of a road. Thanks to the Slingshot's ultra wide front track and its super low center of gravity, I was able to really dig into every curve. I drove through roads I am very familiar with, and I find these back roads rather challenging on two wheels. Some are very narrow, featuring a succession of treacherous reducing radius curves, and they often offer very poor surfaces. In short, they can make for a white-knuckle ride, even on the best day. On a motorcycle, I usually negotiate many of these turns very gingerly. With the Slingshot however, it's a different experience. There's no need to be shy: you can really work the throttle to blast through the curves while the front end just bites down hard on the asphalt. The suspension's engineering is amazing. With a nose down in the weeds and a wide track, nothing feels squirelly thanks to the traction control as the Slingshot just rips away, carving the road with confidence. I loved the clutch feel and the short throw shifter on the 5-speed transmission. The responsive throttle response on the aluminum Ecotech engine brought in all the power and grunt needed for the ride. The engine is your best ally in exploring yours and the machine's limits. What a blast! 
Ripping around Malibu. Best day at the office EVER!
Ripping around Malibu. Best day at the office EVER!

As the day progressed and I got to know the Slingshot, I started hoping it had more power. But that's a slippery subject, you see... I am told people have been hot rodding their Slingshot with the addition of a turbo or a blower, and that some folks even went as far as transplanting a V8. But I sense that these mods are likely have a negative impact on the Slingshot's engineering and balanced performance. After all, a single rear wheel can only deliver so much torque before it brakes loose. I guess that would be cool if you're into just pimpin' and doing burnouts... 
I got an answer to my wish by turning off the traction control, opening a new world of possibilities for me and the Slingshot. But I refrained from indulging too much in the 'track' mode, as we were driving open roads with rock walls on one side and steep cliffs on the other. I guess we'll save the gonzo switch for a day at the track...
A familiar view of the Slingshot for those not quick enough to keep up with them.
A familiar view of the Slingshot for those not quick enough to keep up with them.

You should check out one of these Slingshots in September at a dealer near you and make sure you ask for a test ride; that should help you make up your mind. You can start having all the fun as low as  $19,999 with the Slingshot S. This base model comes only in black, but it is every bit as fast and as much fun as the next models. A pretty good bang for your buck. Next is the SL. The SL comes in Navy Blue and Sunset Red and at starts at $25,499. One notch above is the SLR starting at $28,999. It comes with a new Electric Blue color. Finally, the top of the line model is the Slingshot SLR LE, starting at $30,999. The ultra-premium SLR LE model is loaded with goodies such as a Bilstein10-way adjustable suspension, 200-Watt Rockford Fosgate audio, premium sport seats with color-matched side bolsters, two-tone Ghost Gray with Lime Squeeze painted accents, and special edition graphics. 
Going uphill or downhill, the Slingshot delivers road-hugging fun galore.
Going uphill or downhill, the Slingshot delivers road-hugging fun galore.

More information on the slingshot Website


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