There’s a part of my soul that I’ve nicknamed the Butt Rock Dad. It’s that bit of me that can listen to Van Halen every single day without ever getting tired of David Lee Roth’s howling, that enjoys the look of a well-mown lawn as I sip a cool beer, that indulges in terrible puns that make everyone around me embarrassed. It’s also the part of me that wants to forego my normal, frugal sensibilities to indulge in something so impractical and striking that people will start wondering if I’m having a mid-life crisis at the tender age of 25.
I thought that part of me had been deeply satiated by the 2021 Corvette C8. Then I got behind the wheel of the 2022 Polaris Slingshot, and Butt Rock Dad experienced the kind of earth-shattering awakening that made me fear I’ll never be able to cap his enthusiasm. I am Butt Rock Dad now.
(Full Disclosure: Polaris flew me out to Laguna Beach, California to test drive the new Slingshot after I ran out of time to test the 2021 model year in Texas. It set me up with a gorgeous hotel, a lot of good food, a crew of folks who were willing to indulge me talking about race cars, and a free Bell helmet customized just for me by Skratch. All opinions here, though, are my own.)
What Is It?
The Polaris Slingshot is one of the few three-wheeled vehicles on the market today. Where other three-wheelers are more akin to cars with one fewer wheel, the Slingshot has instead opted more for adding a wheel to a motorcycle. The open-air machine reminded me a lot of a UTV, except it doesn’t have doors or a roof or any backseats for passengers. And you can legally drive this bad boy on the road in 48 states without needing a motorcycle endorsement on your license. (Sorry, New York and Massachusetts. You’re the last two holdouts.)
I can’t say I ever really thought about driving a three-wheeler until I was at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School and someone asked me if I ride motorcycles. When I said no because of my truly atrocious balance problems, he didn’t miss a beat in saying, “Oh, well, you should try a three-wheeler then.” When I got an email from Polaris a few weeks later, I jumped at my opportunity.
The 2021 version of the Slingshot was almost 70 percent new, and 2022 has improved upon the changes that Polaris introduced then. That includes striking bodywork, an automatic transmission, better driving dynamics, more customizable options and better brakes. I hadn’t driven one of the previous versions, so I could only listen to the feedback from other drivers on the trip who were enjoying a new take on something they’d already loved — and they reported good things. In my virgin eyes, though, I had little to complain about. I had a ball of a time.
Details To Know
There were a few different trims and several options on the menu for our test drive, but I was assigned an automatic SLR trim with an added sunshade. I didn’t have a chance to try the manual transmission because I do not know how to drive a manual transmission well enough to take it on a road (downshifting, thou art mine sworn nemesis). But I did chat with a few of the other folks on the press trip who had driven the manual and could compare it to previous Slingshot model years for those of you who asked about it. Just note that those are not my direct impressions but that they do come from some pretty decent sources, among them Richard Rawlings.
The automatic transmission is still new, and it’s gone through some growing pains. Reviewers found the 2021 still a little unrefined and were thankful for the paddle shifters on higher trims that allowed drivers to cycle through the gears more efficiently. I wasn’t able to test a 2021 model to compare, but the 2022 feels solid. Polaris has heard the feedback, and it’s learned.
Another weak point in previous models? The brakes. Other reviewers complained of the brake feel seeming strangely distinct from vehicle to vehicle, but with the addition of Brembo brakes in 2022 — an option on all trims but standard on the top R trim — you gain a lot more consistency and confidence.
Here are some of the specs you need to know:
- 178 horsepower ProStar 2.0-liter engine on all trims, but a 203-horsepower version comes on the R trim
- Optional manual or automatic transmission, though automatic costs more
- 18-inch front wheels, 20-inch rear wheel with a 255mm wide rear tire
- Optional technology packages and accessories to enhance your drive as you see fit
Here’s how the trims shake down:
- Slingshot S: Base-model trim with extra features like LED headlights, cruise control, an LED gauge display, ABS brakes, traction control, double wishbone front suspension, and adjustable seats
- Slingshot SL: Add optional drive modes, a 100-watt audio system, a security package, backup camera, 7-inch infotainment screen with Bluetooth, USB phone connectivity, and a rear-view camera
- Slingshot SLR: Add a 203-horsepower engine with two drive modes and optional paddle shifters, sport interior package, premium wheels, 305mm rear tire, extra exterior styling options and colors
- Slingshot R: Add comfier interior, vented sport hood, premium paint and graphics, navigation, Apple CarPlay, R branding, Brembo brakes
Most of these things are also available separately, as Polaris aims to make the Slingshot as customizable as possible. Additional options include things such as soft or hard tops, heated and cooled seats, storage bags, all-weather floor mats, lighting, roll hoop audio, wind deflectors and more. I drove a soft-top model, and I have to say, I was thankful for the lack of sunburn it provided.
Oh, and helmets are important. Your state may require you to wear one behind the wheel of a three-wheeler, but I don’t know if I could have handled it without one, if only because of the wind and dirt.
For The No-Fucks-Given Owner
My self-confidence is a newfound gift that was only endowed upon me after years of convincing myself I didn’t care what other folks thought about me; it’s still a fragile thing, and I do try to avoid doing things that will prod the delicate façade. Getting behind the wheel of the Slingshot was like going into the belly of the beast and daring everyone to look at me while standing in my skivvies. To put it simply, when you’re driving a Slingshot, everyone is going to look. There is no privacy. Everyone can hear what you’re listening to, and they can also see your choice of clothing.
So when Chris Sergeant, Slingshot’s vice president, told us in our pre-drive presentation that many of the owners who have opted for a Slingshot are the kind of people who revel in having all eyes on them, I can’t say I was surprised. This is a vehicle for the extrovert.
During a presentation, Sergeant also shared some wild stats on the kind of people who drive a Slingshot. A quarter of buyers surveyed said they used it for daily driving, though most take their Slingshots for long drives on a nice day. Most of them already own a boat, sports car, or motorcycle. And with the addition of AutoDrive, the automatic transmission, buyers became more diverse — meaning women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.
There was one unifying factor, though: 80 percent of people bought a Slingshot because they liked the attention. And you’re going to get that in spades, from adults craning their heads to children waving at you like you’re in a parade. If you’re not comfortable with being looked at, you’ll want to stick with something a little less eye-catching. Maybe opt for an MX-5 Miata.
Enough Already — How Did It Drive?
Driving the 2022 Polaris Slingshot felt like how I always imagine house-bound dogs feel when they finally get a chance to run wild in an open field, using nothing but strength and muscle to bound forward: Free.
It sounds silly to say of a vehicle that maxes out at a total of 203 horsepower in its highest trim, but it’s more than enough in a vehicle that’s so exposed to the open air and so low to the ground. You can feel the gurgle of the engine and hear very little else. It’s like having a badass exoskeleton that makes you stronger, faster, and better-looking than you were before.
I don’t know how to describe the Slingshot other than “punchy.” Hit the gas pedal and it leaps forward. Turn the wheel and the response is instantaneous. At just over 1,600 pounds, it’s feather-light and provides acceleration so rapid that it almost throws you around — in a good way. And handling is sharp. We took our Slingshot down a variety of roads that included some winding mountain paths, and I never wanted to stop.
A top speed of 125 sounds measly but I assure you that when you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle with no doors or roof — a vehicle so low you can literally brush your fingers on the ground if you stick your hand out the door — it feels more than fast enough.
We had a very diverse press group for this drive, so there were different levels of comfort with, say, fast or more aggressive driving, so we didn’t take the Slingshots off-roading or on a race circuit for a track day — though I have to imagine that this vehicle would make both of those things an absolute delight. I found my race car bones aching at the fact that the California freeway’s speed limit was a mere 65 mph. I wanted to push the Slingshot up against its limits and drive like I owned the whole road. I wanted to see what it would be like to take such a grounded vehicle out around some sharp turns.
Talking to the Polaris crew on site, I learned that they’d hosted Slingshot track days before but that it’s not really their bread-and-butter drive location. Sargeant told me that only around two percent of buyers have an interest in tracking the car. Note the word interest. These aren’t people who even have the intention of hitting the track but those who would consider it if given the chance. I can see why Polaris then wouldn’t host the first-drive trip at a track. But I still desperately want to try it out.
By the end of our drive day, I was cranking “Fair Warning” at top volume, posing for people who craned their necks to look at what I was driving, and fielding questions from teenagers about how much my ride cost. I was also grinning from ear to ear. That’s a pretty big change from that morning when I kind of wanted to melt away into the background and hoped no one would ever look at me again.
The 2022 Polaris Slingshot is fun. It isn’t really practical for any explicit purpose, but if you’re willing to think outside the box and spend a little money, you can find a use for it in just about every aspect of your life. And that’s the beauty of it — people are using these for everything from going on long day trips to commuting to work. Personally, I loved it, and I think a lot of other people would love it, too if they actually took one for a spin.
I understand why people turn their noses up at something like a Slingshot, pegging it as a vehicle for the mid-life crisis. But I also think we live in a society where we focus more on fitting in than doing something different. The Slingshot is very in-your-face, and it’s going to make a lot of people upset by the fact that it exists because it doesn’t conform to the other, more conventional vehicles you see on the road.
But I’m going to be honest: I think we could all do to adopt that mid-life crisis mindset and hunt for more goofy fun in our lives. We have one opportunity to make the most of our time on this planet, so quit caring what other people think and just let loose for a while — preferably behind the wheel of something absurd like the Polaris Slingshot.