I get a lot of strange requests from the boys at Mad Media and UTVUnderground. Most of the time, I help out with race coverage or special events where I get to participate in the action. I love my job, and I always appreciate the opportunity. I like to think I am part of the family.
Several weeks ago, I was asked the single question, “Do you have a motorcycle license?” Which of course, I do.
Then I was given only a handful of details regarding my next assignment. I would be traveling to Wyoming, Minnesota, I would be attending a small, private press event for a new vehicle Polaris is unveiling. The vehicle has three wheels and is powered by an Ecotec engine. That was it.
On the plane to Minneapolis, I could not help but picture myself looking a lot like Kenny Powers from Eastbound & Down (season 3). In other words, I was really hoping this “vehicle” was not another three-wheeled motorcycle. There I said it. I am sure they are fun to ride. I have no doubt they are safer for the average rider. The list probably continues. However, I am a purist when it comes to handlebars and steering wheels.
So, what has Polaris been working on? What has three wheels and a GM built power plant? What was I about to drive that required a motorcycle license?
Well the answer is the Polaris Slingshot. Other than most states requiring a motorcycle license or endorsement, the Slingshot has nothing to do with a motorcycle. Think roadster with three wheels. Think steering wheel, not handlebar.
The press event was held at Polaris’ super secret R&D facilities in Wyoming, Minnesota. No manufacturing is done at this location only work on future vehicles for the publically traded company. The grounds are absolutely beautiful with obvious test trails for off-road vehicles that seem endless. Unfortunately the weather was not beautiful.
Upon landing in the Twin Cities, the rain was relentless. I was there about 24 hours in total and I saw about 6 inches of rain! That’s half of what San Diego receives in a year. Needless to say, the weather was not optimal for an open cockpit roadster and skid pad testing.
Let me start by saying, the Slingshot is fun. I will get into understeer vs. oversteer, acceleration and braking, as well as vehicle dynamics in a bit, but let me say it again, the Slingshot is fun to drive. Which is good, because I believe this was the main goal. Polaris makes it very clear, that they want to build machines that are fun. Maybe this translates into industry leading sales, such as the RZR, but it starts with the simple idea of producing a vehicle that puts a smile on your face and a rise in your heart rate. The Slingshot is different and certainly not for everyone, but that doesn’t change the fact, that the vehicle is capable of endless hours of on-road fun for two!
So what exactly is the Slingshot? The Polaris Slingshot is a two-seat, open cockpit, three wheeled, on-road vehicle powered by a 2.4 liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine utilizing a 5-speed manual transmission. The lines are sleek, the stance is very low, and the performance is solid. The front half of the Slingshot is fairly conventional. The front wheels are mounted to double wishbone arms fitted with coil-over shocks and a fairly stiff anti-sway bar. Speed sensitive steering coming from a powered assisted rack, makes turning effortless. The standard H-pattern transmission fits directly between the two seats and is mounted to a GM Ecotec 2.4 liter engine. This places the engine just behind the front tires and seems to help with the general stability of the vehicle. The transmission sends power to the rear wheel first through a standard drive shaft and then to a belt. Because the belt never slips and is constantly connected to the rear wheel, the belt has been tested to last as long as the vehicle itself. The rear tire is mounted to a cast aluminum swing arm not unlike a modern street bike. A single coil-over shock absorber handles the damping duties. Much like a standard automobile, the Slingshot offers anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control. Unlike modern automobiles, airbags are not available on any version of the Slingshot. Neither are doors. The cockpit is open and offers completely unobstructed panoramic views. Obviously this means no windows and no climate control. The Slingshot does offer a media center with audio controls but not navigation. Instrumentation is very primitive, which places the emphasis on diving. Lockable and waterproof storage is available behind both seats. All this in a package that weighs about 1700 lbs. and has 180 hp.
The rain really put a damper on the entire event. Conditions did improve over the course of the day, even under very wet conditions, the Slingshot is an absolute blast to drive. The specifications I was given claim a skid pad rating just under 1 g. In comparison, a 2014 Corvette Stingray scores a 1.04 g on the pad. Impressive considering the Slingshot is missing a tire. I do not know what I was able to achieve on the skid pad in the rain, but it was considerably more than I thought possible. The driver assists did exactly that, and kept the vehicle under control. Without it, you can of course push the Slingshot a bit further, with increased risk of losing control. Polaris was nice enough to let me run with or without the driver assists and I had some fun on the skid pad without ever feeling unsafe. While there is not a dedicated road course on the property, the area is somewhat remote and we were able to drive the Slingshot on the street in the neighborhood around the facilities. By the time I was given a Slingshot for the road portion, the rain had all but stopped. Water was still puddled in areas, but I felt confident as I went up and down the gears hitting 90mph+ without even thinking. I was quickly reminded that while my friends at Polaris would not stop me, the local authorities might. The Slingshot screams for open roads.
The Slingshot turns quick and requires constant attention, but isn’t that what you want from a sports car? The steering felt a bit light to me and I could have used a bit less power assist. I would say the Slingshot tends to understeer, but the rain and wet conditions could be the culprit more than the true nature of the chassis. The 3 pedals are laid out fairly open, so true heel / toe action is not really possible. The clutch is light and much like the steering could use a bit more feel. This is also true of the throttle. While I did not receive confirmation, I would assume the throttle is the modern car standard drive-by-wire. The seats sit low and place the driver’s seat less than 12” off the ground. Shifting is quick through the short throw shift lever and the gears never gave me a fuss. I will not go into all the details of the Ecotec engine, which is a more than capable power plant for the Slingshot. There are countless websites dedicated to the direct-inject all aluminum engine. I will say that you can easily get the engine to hit the limiter, but when you do, you have gone way past the power band. With so many after market options for the engine, I am certain it will not be long until big turbo or blown Slingshots will be on the road. Do you need it to have fun? Absolutely not.
It is important to remember that because this vehicle requires a motorcycle license, most driver and riders will be required to wear helmets. With built in Bluetooth, I believe most owners will outfit their helmets with intercoms that let them communicate while driving. Wearing a helmet also adds to the excitement. I know I want to go faster when I wear mine.
One final question kept popping up. Why build a three-wheeled on road vehicle while having such success in the off-road market? Is it too simple to just answer, “because its fun?” Probably. Polaris obviously sees an opportunity and in doing so they have created an excellent on-road machine albeit non-conventional.
– Chad Ragland
THE ALL-NEW POLARIS® SLINGSHOT™ HAS BEEN UNLEASHED
A revolutionary 3-wheel roadster that delivers head turning exhilaration
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (July 28, 2014) – Polaris celebrated 60 years of innovation by introducing the highly anticipated Polaris Slingshot™, an awe-inspiring 3-wheel roadster that represents the future of on-road driving exhilaration. “Slingshot was designed to deliver head turning exhilaration on two dimensions” said Mike Jonikas, Vice President of Slingshot. “First is the exhilaration that you can see, hear, and feel while riding in Slingshot. Second is the exhilaration you feel when people turn their heads to stare at Slingshot’s unique and exotic styling.”
SLINGSHOT™ HEAD TURNING EXHILARATION
Slingshot™ is an entirely new on-road driving and riding experience. The open air cockpit of Slingshot™ hits you with a 360 degree rush of sight, sound, and smell. With side by side seating, both driver and passenger experience a front row shot of adrenaline. Its wide stance and sport-tuned suspension will make you want to charge every corner and never let off. With a low to the ground vehicle stance, you can feel the rush of pavement under your seat and in your chest. Slingshot™ is lightweight and powerful, making for heart pounding acceleration. Just punch it and you are there.
SLINGSHOT™ EXHILARATING DESIGN
Slingshot™ is powered by a 2.4 liter dual-overhead cam engine and a 5-speed manual transmission. It features a high strength steel spaceframe, a lightweight aluminum swingarm, and a carbon fiber reinforced drive belt. With a dry weight of less than 1,700 lbs., a very low center of gravity, and an engine that produces 173 horsepower, Slingshot™ delivers heart pounding acceleration and astonishing cornering power. Slingshot™ has advanced motorcycle features such as electronic stability and traction control, 3-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, LED taillights, forged aluminum roll hoops, and 3-point seat belts. Slingshot™ can also be personalized with premium accessories that are designed for your vehicle: larger tires with forged aluminum wheels, media console, windscreens, and vehicle covers.
SLINGSHOT™ TRIM LEVELS
Slingshot™ is offered in two distinct trim levels. The base Slingshot™, with a U.S. MSRP of only $19,999, features titanium metallic paint, 17 inch lightweight alloy wheels upfront, and an 18 inch wheel in the rear. The premium model called Slingshot™ SL, with a U.S. MSRP of only $23,999, features red pearl paint, larger 18 inch forged aluminum wheels upfront and a 20 inch wheel in the rear, and a blade windscreen for wind protection. It also features our media console with a 4.3” LCD screen, back-up camera, Bluetooth® integration, and a 6-speaker audio system. Both trim models will be available this fall at Polaris Slingshot™ dealerships across the United States and Canada. Learn more at www.PolarisSlingshot.com.
NOTE: Slingshot™ is a 3-wheeled motorcycle. It is not an automobile, it does not have airbags, and it does not meet automotive safety standards. Three-wheel vehicles may handle differently than other vehicles, especially in wet conditions. Always wear helmets and fasten seat belts. Driver may need a valid motorcycle endorsement. Don’t drink and drive.
ABOUT POLARIS® INDUSTRIES
Polaris is a recognized leader in the powersports industry with annual 2013 sales of $3.8 billion. Polaris designs, engineers, manufactures and markets innovative, high quality off-road vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and the Polaris RANGER® and RZR® side-by-side vehicles, snowmobiles, motorcycles and on-road electric/hybrid powered vehicles.
Polaris is among the global sales leaders for both snowmobiles and off-road vehicles and has established a presence in the heavyweight cruiser and touring motorcycle market with the Victory and Indian Motorcycle brands. Additionally, Polaris continues to invest in the global on-road small electric/hybrid powered vehicle industry with Global Electric Motorcars (GEM), Goupil Industrie SA, Aixam Mega S.A.S., and internally developed vehicles. Polaris enhances the riding experience with a complete line of Polaris Engineered parts, accessories and apparel, Klim branded apparel and ORV accessories under the Kolpin and Cycle Country brands.
Polaris Industries Inc. trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “PII”, and the Company is included in the S&P Mid-Cap 400 stock price index.
Information about the complete line of Polaris products, apparel and vehicle accessories are available from authorized Polaris dealers or anytime at www.polaris.com.