SLINGSHOT by POLARIS; A Different Kind of Road Therapy, Review By Steve Purdy
SLINGSHOT by POLARIS
A Different Kind of Road Therapy
Notes from A Shunpiker’s Journal - “...It's therapeutic, maybe you could get your doctor to prescribe one...the most fun I’ve had behind a steering wheel in a very long time.”
By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Road therapy is what I seek. Scoring as much of it as often as I can is often the challenge. Usually, it’s a backroad drive in something sedate like an Avalon or Passat, punctuated occasionally by a CTS-V, Miata or Roush F-150. But this time it is something much more exciting.
These therapeutic drives usually cover the wealth of good rural two-lanes here in Southeast Michigan as I skitter in to and out of Detroit on a variety of business and journalistic projects with occasional destinations outstate. I live about 75 miles northwest of the city so once past the suburban edge I have plenty of back road options.
For the past few weeks (a long stint for a review vehicle) my ride has been the hard-to-define, grin-inspiring Slingshot by Polaris, an “auto-cycle,” three-wheeled (in the spirit of Messerschmidt, Morgan and Big Wheel) roadster - open, simple, fast and gloriously noisy with only about five inches of ground clearance. Polaris likes to call it an “open roadster” but that seems redundant to me. A roadster is open by definition.
I’ll proclaim up front that the Slingshot provided the most fun I’ve had behind a steering wheel in a very long time.
This Slingshot added a whole new dimension to my road therapy. Within the first few miles we’re reminded of the thrill a motorcyclist savors - that is, feeling one with the machine; being fully in touch with the road and surrounding stimuli. After all, a real sports car, a purist will insist, makes little, if any, accommodation to driver and passenger comfort. The side-by-side two seats and the driving dynamics make the Slingshot a car while the rear, belt-driven single drive wheel and lack of body enclosure make it a motorcycle. Its profile, you’ll notice from the sideview, is rather like a wheelbarrow.
Our therapeutic quest is typically to go from point A to point B, staying out of the city for as long as possible taking the backroads without preplanning a route - that is, to “shunpike” to our destination. We make route decisions along the way with plenty of time to stop or go slowly if the mood strikes - or even turn around if we like. It really does not take that much more time. You would be amazed at the natural beauty you’re missing by taking the main highways in a closed vehicle rushing to your destination instead of soaking up the smells of new-mowed hay and growing corn, the earthy pungency of a feed lot, sweet floral aromas of wetlands and forests and, if you’re lucky, something being harvested. I guarantee, your mood will be softened.
We learn a few things right away as we acclimate to the Slingshot. For example, it’s not good enough to perfectly straddle a classic Michigan pothole. Just when you think you’ve done such a good job of aiming . . . ker-thunk!, goes the rear wheel into the hole. Or, punching the throttle out of a turn might give you a little unexpected practice in drifting because of the excess amount of power being directed through it. In this case our big, wide rear drive tire was nearly out of tread – I’m guessing because of a string of journalists driving it before it came to me.
Timing of the Slingshot’s arrival, and length of her stay, allowed me plenty of time to get input from my extensive network of car pals. It also put my health at some risk because this was the hottest, most relentlessly-sunny three weeks of the year. I’m not in the habit of needing so much sunscreen. I’m still getting cooked just about every day, but don’t tell my dermatologist. You need to be sun-tolerant if you want one of these. You also need to be wind-tolerant if you want to keep up with traffic at highway speeds. The Slingshot has plenty of power and stability to travel with the extra-legal-speed crowd but the little windshield barely dissuades the buffeting, gale-force winds you’ll experience. (Don’t ask how I know that.)
My first therapeutic drive in the Slingshot was to attend a cruise-in in the little town where I grew up about 50 miles to the west. My old friend, Thom, (he and I aren’t really that old, but the youngsters think we are) and his buddies line ‘em up on the lawn of the city park and beach once-a-month after driving around town for a while. Lawn chairs form a chatting circle in the shade near an El Camino, Fury and an old Mustang. Later they’ll all head to the bowling alley - recently redesigned into an exceptional eatery called Buddy’s on the Beach - for dinner.
While the guys brought some pretty nice cars, the Slingshot’s garish, angular front bodywork and lack of anything in the rear, certainly made it the most eye-catching vehicle there and garnered lots of attention. It took three of us over ten minutes to figure out how to open the clam-shell hood. Turns out it works rather like a hide-a-bed. You must wiggle the front up and out as the clam slowly opens in fits and jerks. It closes, however, with one finger, dropping decisively to its latched position.
Getting into and out of the Slingshot is not easy, at least for this fellow of mighty girth. I used every inch of the shoulder belt as I struggled every time to get the end inserted into an ill-positioned receptacle. Once ensconced in the manual seat, though, I found it surprisingly comfortable even on longer drives. My pretty blonde insisted she’d not want to ride more than an hour in the passenger seat. I’ll bet if I let her behind the wheel she’d find more stamina.
The fellas, as you might surmise, wanted to know what it’s made of.
Well, it has a tube chassis, with a wide stance in the car-like front, 17-inch alloy wheels with rather meaty tires. The conventional double-wishbone front suspension with sway bar makes for a sold, stable feel even at those exhilarating speeds acknowledged above. The single rear drive wheel with wide, low-profile tire is driven by a knobby belt, damped by a coil-over shock and held in place by a massive steel mount attached to the tube frame. It’s much stiffer in the rear than in the front.
The melodic growl we hear under the hood comes from the longitudinal, GM-sourced, 2.4-liter, naturally-aspirated, four-cylinder engine good for 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. Since the whole thing weighs just 1,750 pounds it has plenty of power. In fact, its power-to-weight ratio is better than many performance vehicles. It’s good for a 0-to-60 time of just over 6 seconds and gets around 25 mpg. The five-speed manual transmission has a wonderfully mechanical feel and sound. Part of its charm is the shifter’s imprecision and the cacophony of sounds surrounding us at any speed.
I left for home from the cruise-in not long before dusk. My rural route had me sharing the road with only the occasional farm tractor or pickup. With the sun at my back, the soft, early-evening light enriched the colors of our surroundings – the dark-green shoulder-high corn, lush young soybeans, faded barns, bio-diverse wetlands, woodlots and a few small herds of cattle. Distinctive odors come from each and wafted intensely into my consciousness. The Slingshot is one of the best ways I’ve found to soak up all that back-road ambiance.
Our other gathering of car lovers was the Points and Condenser Preservation Society, a loosely organized, eclectic bunch of city guys who store their collector cars together in a big warehouse near Ann Arbor. Their monthly open-house is always well attended and the parking lot becomes a car show to augment the cars within. Really special vehicles, like our Slingshot, get to pull inside so folks can mill around and enjoy them.
Again, these guys wanted to know all about the Slingshot’s anatomy and how much it cost. The answer to the latter - just about 20-grand for the basic Slingshot, but they offer five trim levels. You can have the top-of-the-line for just over 31-grand. It comes with a 2-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Accessories like top, side curtails, and navigation are available. Our test vehicle is the mid-range SLR LE with navigation, connectivity, rear-view camera (essential with a blind rear view), adjustable Bilstein shocks (also available as an add-on on other Slingshot models), ABS/Traction Control and multi-info display. Heater and AC are not available. Crash standards do not apply so it has no airbags but a crumple zone is designed in, they tell me. It has a couple of roll-bars that appear to be of dubious value. Our tester cost $30,999.
This time the back-road drive home followed the winding Huron River part of the way. Small stones on the road surface thrown up by the tires sound like a popcorn war under the body. Certain road surfaces, at speed, set up eerie sounds like wind chimes or ringing phones. Best, of course, are all the mechanical sounds like raucous, barely-muffled, engine noises, clunking and whining of gears, and an infinite variety of whistles and screeches from air passing through all the open nooks and crannies.
The therapeutic value of our back-road drives is related to those sensory experiences detailed here – the smells, sounds, visual aesthetics, tactile entertainment - that draw folks to motorcycles and old, simple sportscars. Driving the Slingshot I’m reminded of the Korean War-era Jeeps (M-38s, I think) that were in our National Guard motor pool back in the day, or maybe an early 1960s British roadster. Neither had anything to distract from the pure experience of driving and being part of the environment. The Slingshot’s handling and driving dynamics are way better than any of those, and it is waaaaaay faster.
Slingshot has been on the market for nearly four years and they’ve sold around 25,000 of them, we’re told.
So. is it a car, or a motorcycle?
Well, . . . yes. It’s both - unless you’re a philosopher, in which case it would probably be neither. The legal definition will vary from state to state.
But who cares what you call it if you’re not the DMV.
It’s just plain fun . . . and therapeutic.
Maybe you could get your doctor to prescribe one.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved