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2021 Polaris Slingshot R: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $19,999 ($35,649) both before destination
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder | 5-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 203 @ 8,250 rpm
- Torque: 144 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
- 0-60: 4.9 seconds (est.)
- Top speed: 125 mph (limited)
- Curb weight: 1,653 pounds
- Quick take: Not quite as wild to drive as it is to look at. It’s got plenty of power without being overbearing, a nearly equal mix of show and go with an emphasis on cruising.
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Is It Practical?
Obviously, the Slingshot isn't a practical daily driver, but it's better than a motorcycle. There's plenty of storage in the cabin for small items, including a covered armrest and lockable glovebox. Behind each seat there's a lockable storage box that's large enough for a helmet, so you don't have to carry it everywhere you go. There's no trunk though, so if your groceries don't fit behind the seats, they have to go by the passenger's feet.
The lack of roof can be an issue if it.. you know… rains. You get wet, but at least the interior is water resistant. If you want, Polaris offers a few roof options called the Excursion Top and Slingshade. We will warn you though, they are pricey at $1,899 and $3,399, respectively. In our honest opinion, a roof kind of sullies the Slingshot experience. Though it lacks any heating or air conditioning, Polaris makes heated/ventilated seats that would make it much more comfortable in freezing or scorching temperatures.
Is It Fun?
Heck yeah the Polaris Slingshot is fun. Having no roof means the air is always flowing over you, but it's more pronounced than a conventional convertible. There's a small windshield that blocks the wind more than you'd expect, but we'd still recommend wearing a helmet even if your state doesn't require it. Just imagine a bug hitting you in the face at 50 mph. Aside from the wind, the Slingshot's engine is ever-present, never truly fading into the background like a normal car. You'd better enjoy attention, because this car demands it.
Whether it's the loud engine, the music blasting from the speakers, or the insane looks, someone is always looking at you while driving a Slingshot. There's something fun about that. The constant stares can get overwhelming at times, but you eventually learn to accept them. Besides a supercar, we've never driven anything that gets noticed this much. Considering the Slingshot's $20,799 starting price, that's an impressive feat. What else attracts stares at that price?
Making the Shift
Polaris also worked on the shift action of the standard five-speed manual transmission, adding heft to the shifter and arriving at a nicely notchy action. For the first time, the five-speed manual isn’t the sole transmission. A single-clutch, five-speed Magneti Marelli-sourced automated manual has joined the lineup. Standard on the SL and a $1700 option on the R, the AutoDrive transmission is the best argument yet for learning to drive stick.
Remember when Ferrari used to quote shift times for its single-clutch transmissions in milliseconds? This one would need a different unit of time measurement. Like milliminutes. Or epochs. And since there’s no manual control whatsoever, the driver has no say over which gear the transmission decides to use. There’s a red button on the steering wheel that selects Slingshot Mode, a sort of sport mode that predisposes the transmission to hold gears longer, but that’s the extent of your influence over it. There’s no launch mode, either, but that’s a moot point when you can easily roast the Slingshot’s rear tire up to about 30 mph.
Normally we’d assume that such a strange engineering choice—in this case, passing on any number of excellent torque-converter or dual-clutch automatic transmissions—stems from some financial reckoning. But it’s not like Italian sequential transmissions are cheap. They are, however, lightweight, and that was the prime consideration. The Magneti Marelli unit adds only 14 pounds to the Slingshot’s curb weight, which comes in at a trim Polaris-claimed 1654 pounds for an R with AutoDrive. Either a torque-converter or dual-clutch transmission would have added at least 60 pounds, Polaris says. And that was a no-go, thanks to the Slingshot’s status as an “autocycle,” a designation that varies from state to state but can include a 1749-pound weight cap.
And Polaris very much wants the Slingshot designated as an autocycle, since those needn’t meet automotive safety or emissions regulations, nor do they require a motorcycle license to operate. That’s the best of both worlds, if you’re a company building a Slingshot sort of thing. As it happens, Polaris lists the “max wet weight” of the Slingshot at 1,749 pounds. What a coincidence! Two states, New York and Massachusetts, still insist that you need a motorcycle license for a Slingshot.
LOWS: Traction limited off the line, still bizarre, clumsy automatic transmission option, not inexpensive.
The Polaris Slingshot R is good. If you’re considering buying one but have held off so far for reasons that aren’t financial, then I’d say to go ahead. Just don’t expect it to do all the things a normal car can, like keep you dry and store something larger than carry-on luggage. Obviously. It’s a toy, not a daily driver.
But there’s good news for people who can’t or don’t want to spend roughly $35,000 on one—you can get a base model for way cheaper. The standard Slingshot S—which has a slightly detuned 178-hp engine—clocks in at $20,000 before destination. For that, you get the stick-shift and the same wild looks, minus all the stuff you might not care about—features like that fancy audio system, back-up camera, and touchscreen display.
I didn’t expect to like the three-wheeler as much as I did. Truth be told, I didn’t feel like a jerk driving it, even with all the attention it attracted. I had a great time behind the wheel and just because you’re having fun, it doesn’t make you a bad person. That’s a nasty way of thinking. The Polaris brings legitimate joy to its drivers so let people do their thing—after all, if they’re in a Slingshot, I highly doubt they’d be frowning.
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