At One with the Rain in a Polaris Slingshot

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Apr 07, 2016

It was a relatively warm day for April, around 50 degrees, but the rain was making it feel colder. That’s usually a minor annoyance when you’re driving, but if the chariot of choice is the Polaris Slingshot SL, the weather is very much an issue as there’s no top.

Soaked, but happy, at the wheel of the Polaris Slingshot. The Slingshot is technically a three-wheeled motorcycle, which means it doesn’t have to have airbags or any of that kind of thing, and you should wear a helmet when driving it. But from the driver’s seat it feels more sports car than cycle, with a pair of side-by-side seats, a five-speed shifter (where you expect it to be), an instrument panel, and even a “media console” with a 4.3-inch LCD screen, backup camera, six-speaker audio and Bluetooth.

This is the upscale model, so it even has a windshield (or, “tinted ripper wind deflector”), but your head rides above it unless you’re vertically challenged. A 2.4-cylinder, 173-horsepower General Motors Ecotec motor—as used in cars like the Saturn Skye and Pontiac Solstice—is under the hood. Since the Polaris weighs only 1,684 pounds, that’s plenty of power. And I hear they're good for 35 mpg, though my gauge indicated something like 6.3 mpg.

It's like some kind of mutant Indy car. (Jim Motavalli photo)The Polaris may appear to be front-wheel drive, but actually the single rear wheel (a 20-incher in this case) runs off a belt. The company also makes motorcycles, and there’s a lot of that DNA in this thing.

Dan Coppolella, a sales rep at Libby’s MotoWorld—basically two-wheeler heaven—told me the Slingshot has been on the market since September or so, and he’s already sold 20 to 25 of them. My top-of-the-line model goes for $25,000 or so. “They’re strictly pleasure vehicles,” he said, though you’d be fine picking up a gallon of milk in one (forget the whole grocery run; there’s no trunk). Some folks race them.

Polaris also makes motorcycles, like this 106-cubic-inch Victory v-twin. (Jim Motavalli photo) When I picked up the Slingshot it was threatening rain, but I like to live dangerously. Off I went, stopping only at Starbucks because, well, I saw one. I don’t know what was going on in there, but immediately several people came out to admire it. Here’s one of ‘em in the driver’s seat.

The Polaris at Starbucks--there are two cupholders! (Jim Motavalli photo)“How fast does it go?” I told them I was about to find out. I’m sure they imagined this rocket as capable of 200 mph, but the reality is more like 100 mph.

“It’s very cool,” said a young woman with lots of tattoos, multiple piercings and purple hair. “It matches my outfit.” 

She thought it was cool, but does it really match her outfit? (Jim Motavalli photo)A guy with a shaved head, wearing a long black leather coat out of the Matrix (but with flames painted on it), seemed to know all about the Polaris. “With that GM engine you can get it serviced at any dealership,” he said.

Now the clouds were getting more ominous. If the Polaris had a top, this would be the time to put it up. Though aftermarket tops are available, the one I was driving was uncovered. I’d have to beat the rain.

Inside the Polaris--it's built for a good soaking, unlike the driver. (Jim Motavalli photo)On the road, the Polaris felt very stable despite the solo back wheel, and handled great. I felt a bit of what might have been axle tramp on rapid deceleration, but otherwise I had confidence in it. The five-speed is a pleasure to shift, and placed just right. The brakes are strong.

The 2.4-liter Ecotec mill is reportedly good for 35 mpg. (Jim Motavalli photo)The four-cylinder Ecotec isn’t going to sound like a Ferrari V-8, but it offers a roar of sorts when you stomp on it going up through the gears.

Now it was really raining, and drops were flying right in my face at 70 mph—which felt like 100. I was getting soaked, and so was the car. Fortunately, the interior is basically like lawn furniture and doesn’t mind a good downpour. My camera is another story—fortunately, there’s a nice glove box.

The media console was basically underwater, but it still worked. The antenna must have been disconnected so the radio could pull in only a local college station—which was playing Monty Python.

What's better than one Polaris? How about two Polari. (Jim Motavalli photo)What a moment, pelting rain in my face, big puddles splashing up all over me, gawkers everywhere trying to figure out what I’m driving, and Monty Python in full cry with “Eric, the Half a Bee.” It only happens in a Polaris (relatively), cheap thrills—and made in America, too. And here's how it looks on video:

 

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