A skeptic steps into Polaris’s outlandish three-wheel Slingshot to see what all the fuss is about. How does it feel? What does it do? And why do people like it? All these answers and more.
I’m not used to driving a car with a helmet on, but here we are. As I fumbled with my chinstrap, Slingshot’s vice president Chris Sergeant — affectionately known as “Sarge” — stood in front of my Ultra Blue hood, outlining all the do’s and do not do’s of our debut ride.
I was parked next to about a dozen other three-wheeled vehicles in a rainbow of vibrant colors, trying desperately to secure my helmet, pair my phone for directions, and memorize all of Sarge’s instructions.
I managed to snap tight the helmet, pull up my music library, and just caught something about “police,” “very important,” and “safety.” Thankfully, I was not the lead car in our troupe.
“Our troupe” comprised assembled media and, to my surprise, a few YouTube influencers. And our debut ride was a winding course through downtown Austin, Texas, piloting a motley lineup of 2023 Polaris Slingshots.
You know the Slingshot, even if you don’t know you know the Slingshot. These are the colorful, Transformer-looking vehicles with two wheels in front and one in the rear. Oftentimes, you’ll see light kits on the undercarriage and hear music blasting out of the cockpit.
If you’re like me, their popularity is baffling and their purpose utterly confounding. So of course, I said yes to the chance to hop behind the wheel!
I spent 2 days testing the latest model and learning about the rest of the brand’s lineup. I also spoke with executives at Slingshot and watched — in real life, in real time — who resonates with these alien autos.
Why Buy a Polaris Slingshot?
Surely, you must think, for as aggressive, angular, and saurian as the Slingshot looks, it must absolutely tear up the asphalt. But … that’s not the case.
On both the stop-and-go streets of downtown Austin and the winding two-lane highways outside the city, the Slingshot never threw me back into the seat with unrestrained horsepower. And it certainly didn’t hug hairpin turns like an F1 racer.
But Polaris makes no apologies for the three-wheeler’s performance — because performance isn’t why demand for Slingshots has shot up 75% over the last year. Style is the number one reason folks fork over their hard-earned dollars to pilot these roadsters, according to market research conducted by Polaris.
And while there are more reasons to hop behind the wheel — the open-air cockpit and side-by-side experience among them — driving a Slingshot is less about what it does, and more about how it looks while doing it.
“We have a funny story that explains what it’s like to own a Slingshot,” Sarge told me. “You cannot gas this thing up in under 20 minutes. Anywhere you go, as soon as you stop, folks are going to come up and ask you everything about it. It’s always a conversation starter.”
To that end, Slingshot leans into its buyers’ motivations with a plethora of poppy color combinations, “endless personalization options,” and accessories like light kits and booming sound systems.
Because, as Slingshot’s driver profiles show, “We don’t just show up; we show up!”
Who Buys a Slingshot?
If my experience was any indication, Slingshot boasts a broad demographic appeal. College-age to retirement, car enthusiasts to fashion aficionados, city dwellers to suburbanites are all key drivers of the brand.
In fact, one of the test drivers in my group was a YouTube-famous basketball icon known as “The Professor.” If you’ve never seen him school players in a Bugs Bunny Space Jam suit, I highly recommend it.
Needless to say, Slingshot appeals to an array of buyers. But one stat above all speaks to the brand’s success: Compared to the rest of Polaris’ customers, Slingshot drivers are “257% more multi-cultural,” brand research shows.
That’s a nebulous statistic, to be sure. But based on my testing cohort, that’s non-white drivers, including Black, Latino, Asian-American, and others. And really, when you consider the marketing data, that tracks.
Slingshots are all about non-conformity, individualization, and recognition. But for as much as this vehicle may seem to appeal to a wealth of diverse individuals, it does carry a unifying feature: sheer amusement.
That is, a Slingshot will not be the daily driver — it’s not built to handle the winter and you ought not take it on rough terrain (as I learned bottoming out off the shoulder trying to whip a Hollywood-worthy 180).
It’s a vehicle made to park in a multicar garage and used when you want to go somewhere, not when you need to.
Accordingly, data showed that the majority of Slingshot owners — 64% — also own a boat. So, while a Slingshot is by no means exorbitantly expensive, with entry builds starting under $21,000, it’s more of a vehicular accessory than a primary purchase.
Is It Fun to Drive?
Armed with all the above information, I can safely say that on paper, I am definitely not the Slingshot’s target market. My primary commuter is a bicycle, my only car is an unspectacular old pickup, I have no boat, and the mere thought of having to speak to a stranger — let alone many strangers — at a gas station makes my skin crawl.
That said, if you ever have the opportunity to hop in the driver’s seat of a Polaris Slingshot, I insist you do so. You are guaranteed to smile — and though it’s no Ferrari or McLaren to drive, it can still pack a few thrills.
In 2020, Slingshot saw a massive positive response with the introduction of “AutoDrive” — an automated manual transmission (A.M.T.). I can attest that this enhances the driving experience without excluding folks who don’t drive a stick.
This semi-automatic transmission, which allows you to manually shift gears without the use of a clutch, along with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, makes the drive more fun and engaging. According to the brand, “AutoDrive is key to the Slingshot experience.”
What’s more, while the Slingshot lineup tops out at 203 horsepower, it weighs under 1,700 pounds. That power-to-weight ratio allows for a fair bit of giddy-up from a dead stop. In fact, several members of my group — myself included — “accidentally” kept doing burnouts for amused onlookers.
The most fun for me — and according to the brand’s research, the #2 reason people buy a Slingshot — is the open-air cockpit. On a summer day, almost an hour outside of Austin, hills and winding roads abound.
Sure, it’s the stuff of motorcyclists’ dreams. But a Slingshot does a decent job emulating a motorcycle experience, and it has the added benefit of two bucket seats for a more traditional shared experience.
And on the highway, the combination of open-air and low ride height makes for a more exciting way to weave through traffic!
2022 Slingshot Lineup
For the 2022 model year, Slingshot is doing more of what folks have asked for. For the looks alone, it has 15 new color choices and color accessories. And for looks with some performance, it offers a vented sport hood and Brembo brake kit.
All models are available as automatic or manual and carry Polaris’ Prostar 2.0L four-cylinder engine.
And for the experience, Slingshot now has an “Excursion Top” option and a three-stage audio enhancement.
Here’s a rundown of the full lineup:
- Ghost Grey
- Starts at $20,799
- 178 horsepower
- Optional Tech package with Rockford Fosgate display/audio system
- Pearl Red, Ultra Blue, Moonlight Metallic White, Volt Orange, Miami Blue, Liquid Lime
- Starts at $26,799
- 178 horsepower
- Rockford Stage 2 Audio, Tech Package 2: 7” Ride Command Display w/Multi-Touch, Bluetooth, and USB phone connectivity, backup camera
- Forged Red, Forged Orange
- Starts at $29,699
- 203 horsepower
- Tech Package 2, Sport interior, 305mm-wide rear tire
- Pacific Teal, Midnight Storm (blue), Liquid Lime, Volt Orange
- Starts at $33,299
- 203 horsepower
- Paddle Shifters and Tech Package 3: 7-in. display powered by RIDE COMMAND with Bluetooth, USB phone connectivity, navigation, backup camera, Apple CarPlay, and complimentary one-year trial of RIDE COMMAND+ (live weather/traffic, intuitive destination search, vehicle health/locator)
- Crimson Forge
- Starts at $35,799
- 178 horsepower
- Tri-tone paint, Rockford Stage 3 audio, Tech Package 3, XK Glow Lighting, heated/cooled seats
Head over to the official website to learn all about what makes a Slingshot a Slingshot — and play around designing one yourself!