Automotive cycling in a Slingshot

Staff reports
Farm Forum

Remember when a slingshot was a “Y-shaped” contraption, usually made of wood, with a couple of rubber bands attached to a cloth or leather patch, that was used to hurl projectiles at a target of some sort? Well, those are still around.

But the idea of hurling an object forward at speed has a new twist for those with a spirit for adventure — and a surplus of spendable income. It’s the Polaris Slingshot — a motorized vehicle with two wheels up front and a single driving wheel in the rear.

Polaris has been an innovator for quite some time in the powersports arena, having developed the Victory motorcycle line, having purchased and revitalized the iconic Indian motorcycle legacy, and having taken over the Brammo electric motorcycle and GEM electric vehicle operations. The company also produces snowmobiles and side-by-side off-road vehicles.

The Slingshot is one of the latest powersports craft to come from Polaris, making a bold and creative statement with a new and different approach to motorcycling. But is it really a motorcycle? Some would emphatically say “No.” Ironically, it is classified as such. Why is this ironic?

For starters it accommodates seating for two in a side-by-side arrangement, and passengers sit in it, not on it. It has seatbelts. It’s controlled directionally by a steering wheel with Polaris’s speed-sensitive electric power assisted steering, and power comes from an automotive engine. The transmission is an automotive five-speed manual gearbox with a foot-operated clutch. Two wheels are up front with an automotive-type suspension and a single driving wheel aft — the latter being the only real trait linked to a motorcycle.

The engine is the same type that piloted both the now defunct Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice. It is a longitudinally front-mounted General Motors Ecotec 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 173 horses at 6,200 rpm, while developing 166 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. A five-speed synchromesh manual transmission with reverse, and a dry, single-plate hydraulically actuated clutch delivers final motive energy to the rear wheel via carbon-fiber reinforced belt.

The Polaris Slingshot is built on a high-strength steel frame with suspension componentry consisting of a sport-tuned double wishbone with a sway bar and coil-over gas-filled shocks for the front two wheels, and a lightweight forged-aluminum swingarm in the rear with a coil-over shock.

The body is made up of polymer panels with a reverse-tilt hood, and when everything is in place, the Slingshot takes on a persona resembling a Transformer vehicle or George Barris’ Batmobile. It displays a truly futuristic image, with wing-like front fenders and arachnid-like projector-beam headlights, and LED taillights.

The cockpit is out in the open, so it really can’t be called an “interior.” It features adjustable waterproof seating with three-point seatbelts, a locking glove box, tilt steering, forged aluminum roll hoops, and locking storage bins behind each seat that can hold full-face helmets and other gear.

The Slingshot tips the scales at 1,718 pounds (curb weight), and the ground clearance is 5.0 inches. Fuel capacity is 9.8 gallons.

My test 2016 Polaris Slingshot’s base price was $26,499, with the final sticker coming to $27,549. It wore a black metallic exterior impregnated with metallic blue flecks, with a red frame underneath.

The Polaris Slingshot delivers a unique and different driving/riding experience. As far as operation is concerned, driver’s license requirements vary from state to state. Some require only a regular driver’s license, while others require two- or three-wheeled motorcycle licenses.

It has no doors, so one would think that getting in and out of it would be a breeze. Unfortunately, due to its framework, gracefulness is not a keyword, particularly for those taller than 6 feet, with long legs. Stepping in, standing on both feet, and then sliding down into the seat worked best for me, with the reverse order applying to egress. Once in, however, the driving or riding position is really quite comfortable.

Handling characteristics border on sports car agility, and the ride quality is comfortable and compliant as well, soaking up bumps and rough surfaces with aplomb.

The entire cockpit is essentially waterproof, is protected by a low blade windshield polycarbonate deflector, and comes with a 4.3-inch LCD screen and a six-speaker audio system. Additional features include a backup camera, key ignition with push-button start, an accessory power outlet, a speedo and tach with idiot warning lights for crucial functions, and a hand-operated park or emergency brake.

The engine compartment may be accessed by pulling the clamshell hood forward and up — once you know where the release is. (I had no owner’s manual and had to call a dealer for instructions.) A locking fuel filler cap would be a plus, as would a locking steering wheel for added vehicle security.

Besides not having a top and no doors, the Slingshot feels safe and secure even at higher speeds. Nailing the throttle and dumping the clutch instantly breaks the rear tire loose and the Slingshot wants to go sideways, so pay close attention under hard acceleration. The gearbox makes its changes smoothly, and steering is positive and on-center.

Piloting the Slingshot provides a fun experience, blending the open-air freedom of a motorcycle with the driving characteristics of an automobile, while seated seemingly almost on the ground. To avoid an argument, let’s call it a roadster that comes with a two-year factory warranty. Whatever you decide to call it, the Can-Am Spyder should beware.