2021 Polaris Slingshot R Limited Edition Review - Three-Wheeled Weirdness
2021 Polaris Slingshot R Limited Edition Fast Facts
You’ve probably seen them, especially if you live in a big city. Three-wheeled vehicles that straddle the line between car and motorcycle that often travel in packs, driven mostly by men in their 30s and 40s.
Adult toys of the non-sexual variety.
Can-Am Spyders. Morgan 3 Wheelers. And Polaris Slingshots. I was loaned one of the latter last year.
While technically speaking, these vehicles are considered to be motorcycles in most states, the Slingshot is relatively car-like, at least compared to the Spyder. It has a steering wheel instead of handlebars, foot pedals, a center stack for radio controls, and a gear shifter that would be at home in any car. In fact, if it weren’t for the lack of doors – and the three wheels instead of four – the Slingshot would look and feel more like some low-slung sports-car convertible than a motorbike.
Indeed, I thought the experience of driving one would be a lot weirder than it turned out to be. I thought driving the Slingshot would involve learning new controls or at the very least, adjusting the way I drove significantly, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I got an elemental experience that was both old-school and unsurprising.
Let’s start with the steering. Although Polaris lists it as variable speed-sensitive electronically assisted, it felt, at times, heavy. Heavy in the same way manual steering usually is, especially at low speeds. It definitely didn’t have the artificial feel that so many steering systems do these days – it felt natural and precisely accurate in a manner that one usually associates with go-karts.
The clutch and shifter for the five-speed manual transmission similarly have an old-school – there’s that phrase again – feel. It’s all very mechanical, complete with jusssst a bit of notchiness from the gearshift.
One might surmise that a car/motorcycle (car-a-cycle?) that’s low to the ground and lightweight is a blast to drive, and it is. Turn-in is amazingly immediate, and the thing just goes where it’s pointed. Minor mid-corner corrections are occasionally needed and are easy to perform.
Braking is similarly quick, with a firm pedal response.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 203 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque. Not eye-popping numbers, to be sure, but the Slingshot is so lightweight (just 1,645 lbs) that it doesn’t need much grunt. The Slingshot feels quite quick. Zero to 60 mph is listed at 4.9 seconds, though one must wind it up to get peak power. Peak torque hits at 6,500 rpm and peak horsepower requires you to go north of 8 grand.
A low-to-the-ground, three-wheeled vehicle – the driven rear wheel is mounted via a swing arm – isn’t going to ride softly, and the Slingshot is unsurprisingly stiff.
It’s also noisy, which, again, is predictable. You have the buzz of the engine, road noise, and wind noise – and none of it is filtered since the cockpit is like a casino – open all the time. With no roof, doors, only a small windscreen, and little in the way of sound-deadening material, the Slingshot experience doesn’t come quietly.
Some states require the Slingshot to be registered as a motorcycle, and Polaris politely asked that I, and any passenger who’d ride with me, wear a full-face helmet. They even loaned one to me for my passenger (I have two full-face helmets from years of doing this gig).
Editor’s Note: After publication, Polaris reached out to clarify how the Polaris is classified. Here is what the company said: “While Slingshot is federally a motorcycle, classification is state dependent. Most classify it as an “autocycle” – meaning you do not need an endorsement to drive. There are currently 48 states that classify it as an Autocycle and don’t require a motorcycle license. Though, New York has passed the autocycle bill and by April of 2022, drivers will no longer need a moto license in the state of NY.”
I had this Slingshot some months back, when the weather was still warm, and it should go without saying that with no roof, you’re not protected from rain. You are slightly protected from theft – there are lockable storage spaces behind the seat and the glovebox locks. The lock on the glovebox did stop working for part of my loan, leaving it open. Valuables were not left out where they could be seen.
The interior consists of cheap materials, mostly hard plastic, but the seats were at least comfortable enough, even for a couple of hour-long stints behind the wheel. The stereo looked like a relic of the ‘90s, but it worked well enough – and could be heard over the cacophony of noise, even at speed. The infotainment system provides some info on what’s happening with the engine, and while it’s simple-looking (and simple to use), it’s still useful. Apple CarPlay is available.
Other available features included LED lighting all around, water-resistant materials for the open cockpit, cruise control, ABS, traction control, stability control, 18-inch front wheels, 20-inch rear wheel, double-wishbone independent front suspension, and 305mm rear tire.
For obvious reasons, the Slingshot really only works as a weekend toy. It’s well-suited to backroad blasts and urban cruising and not much else. That said, it’s a FUN toy – I enjoyed driving it, even if I didn’t enjoy the stares from passer-by.
I did not get a Monroney with precise pricing, but the base price on this trim is $32,799. The price for a base model is $19,999.
The company needs to work on the interior a bit – slightly nicer materials and things that didn’t break would be nice – but this car-a-cycle is bought to be driven, and it serves its primary purpose just fine. That purpose is fun, and it delivers.
As long as you’re comfortable being stereotyped as a d-bag, you’ll enjoy the experience. Provided it doesn’t rain.
What’s New For 2021
The R Limited trim I drove is exclusive for 2021, with custom graphics and unique Neon Fade paint.
Who Should Buy It
Those with lots of disposable income and the desire for something different than a Miata or Mustang as their weekend toy.
[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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I see these for rent in downtown Newport RI, where on a sunny weekend it can take 20 minutes to get out of downtown Newport RI and off to the sights. They are a peculiarity, but at least as rentals they don't have obnoxious sound systems or exhausts from hell. Might as well be EV's, though. Usable distance is limited.
I think the appeal is to older or injured bikers that simply can't get back on two wheels. It IS the nearest approximation to biking around.