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Review: The $32,000 Polaris Slingshot is a giant, 3-wheeled go-kart for adults

Alanis King   

Review: The $32,000 Polaris Slingshot is a giant, 3-wheeled go-kart for adults
  • The Polaris Slingshot is a three-wheeled autocycle that starts at $19,999. We drove one recently.
  • An autocycle blends the concepts of car and motorcycle. You should always wear a helmet in one.

The Polaris Slingshot doesn't make sense.

It's a three-wheeled autocycle — not strictly a car and not strictly a motorcycle, although some states require a motorcycle endorsement to drive it — with no doors, no roof, and barely enough storage space for your purse. The information cluster behind the steering wheel looks more like an old pedometer than anything you'd find in a modern car, and its "windshield" is about as tall as a pencil. Its fanciest versions are more expensive than some new sports cars, and it looks like it was plucked straight out of a kid's dream garage.

But you don't buy a Slingshot because it makes sense. You buy a Slingshot because you want a giant go-kart for adults, and because you've got the cash to own one.

You could argue that makes the most sense in the world.

If you don't know the Slingshot by name, you know it by looks. The bizarre little three-wheeler starts at $19,999 and can climb into the $50,000 range with enough add-ons, and if you want a partial roof — a "Slingshade," Polaris calls it — prepare to pay an extra $3,000.

The Slingshot currently has four trims, with each featuring a five-speed manual transmission as standard and an optional automatic. Before customization, they're as follows:

  • Slingshot S ($19,999): features a 178-horsepower ProStar 2.0-liter engine, a 2.7-inch media display, and other features
  • Slingshot SL ($25,999): adds a backup camera, a seven-inch display, an upgraded audio system, and other features
  • Slingshot SLR ($28,899): upgrades to a 203-horsepower ProStar 2.0-liter engine with drive modes; adds accent lights, a sportier interior, multitone paint, and other features
  • Slingshot R ($32,499): adds special lighting and interior lighting accents, a Brembo brake package, a ventilated hood, and other features

It was early October when a $31,299 Polaris Slingshot R from the 2021 model year arrived at my house for a two-week stay, featuring blue and orange accents and a five-speed manual. As soon as I saw it, I realized why Polaris offered the car that month.

The weather was just perfect enough that everything was warm — not hot — to the touch, and feeling the wind on the upper half of my body and the heat of the sun on my legs gave me the kind of peace I haven't felt since I was a kid riding passenger in my mom's convertible Mazda Miata.

It was Slingshot season. That I knew.

From a driving perspective, the Slingshot R is what you get when you mix a lawn mower with a go-kart. When you press the gas, you feel a rumble under your seat. The car is warm under your feet as its engine rumbles in front of you, and its gas pedal is ready to jump at the graze of your big toe.

Without doors or anything around your outer knee, you can reach down and touch the ground if you want. It's surprisingly ergonomic to get in and out of because there are no doors or rooflines to get in the way, and you're never disconnected from the car because its unrefined growl will never let you forget it's there.

If you floor Slingshot R's gas pedal too hard, you'll lose traction on your one rear wheel. As a street vehicle, it's rough, loud, and feels like driving a piece of zippy farm equipment. It can also sit outside, rain or shine, and be just fine. The interior can handle a rain shower easily.

Like a rope swing or a backyard hammock, it's the perfect blend of low maintenance and high enjoyment.

Of course, fun vehicles often require compromise. The Slingshot's storage is almost nonexistent, and the biggest compartments are behind the driver and passenger seats. There are two problems with this setup.

For one, the lever to pull the seats down and access the storage cubby behind them is around the hip area, meaning when you step out of the car and bend down to pull the lever, the seat will release, fall down, and hit you in the head. It will happen four out of every five times you need to access the cubby. You will be embarrassed every time.

The second problem is that if you use helmets in the Slingshot, the helmets take up most of the cubby space — your main source of storage. (You should wear a helmet in the Slingshot regardless of the laws where you live, because the Slingshot doesn't have airbags or meet automotive safety standards due to the fact that it's legally not an automobile. Having the wind blow through your hair is not worth the risk of knocking your head open in a wreck.)

The solution to the first problem is putting the lever near the shoulder instead, so people can access it while standing straight up and not bonk themselves in the head every time. The solution to the second is either to buy a different car or stop carrying so much shit around. It's up to you.

The manually adjusted seats and mirrors in the Slingshot are also hard to get in the right spot, and the car couldn't locate my key fob when I put it inside a storage cubby on the dashboard. When I tried to put the key in the cupholder instead, I lost it under the seat.

But that's no matter. The Slingshot makes you reconsider how you do things, and it makes you question what you want versus what you need — because it certainly isn't something you need. It prides itself on its impracticality, because impracticality sends a message: I didn't buy a Slingshot to be productive in it. I bought a Slingshot because I wanted it. I bought it because I can.

And that, right there, is what makes the Slingshot great.


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