July 25, 2024

My Stress Levels Skyrocketed While Driving the Polaris Slingshot

Jalopnik is more than just a car blog. We cover and review all kinds of transportation, from boats to trains to motorcycles, but this evaluation is of something more abstract: The Polaris Slingshot. You know, that three-wheeled, two-seat, open-topped tricycle thing with a single belt-driven rear wheel. My concerns were high before driving this Volt Orange 2024 Polaris Slingshot SL, and after a week living with the Slingshot, those concerns were confirmed. The Slingshot really isn’t my cup of tea.

Full disclosure: I’ve seen Polaris Slingshots wreaking havoc on the streets of LA for years now, and I can honestly say that I never thought I’d drive one, but the generous folks at Polaris changed that. They loaned me a Volt Orange 2024 Polaris Slingshot SL with a five-speed manual transmission and two helmets, and this is how it went.

Photo: Logan K. Carter

Getting into the Slingshot requires stepping over the tube frame structure on the side of the vehicle, as there are no doors. Once seated, there’s a surprisingly ample amount of legroom, almost enough for my 6-foot-8-inch frame to fit comfortably. Almost. Headroom is a non-issue since there’s no roof over your head, but because Polaris mandates wearing a helmet for anyone riding in one of their test cars, I didn’t get the wind-in-your-hair sensation I had anticipated as a fan of convertibles. Curiously, both of the Slingshot’s seatbelts are anchored in the center of the vehicle, so as the driver, you have to reach over your right shoulder to grab the belt and buckle it on your left side. This choice, coupled with the lack of doors and insufficient seat bolsters, exacerbates the already nerve-wracking experience of driving a Polaris.

A screenshot of my fitness tracker's stress monitor showing elevated stress levels when I was driving the Slingshot

Guess when I was driving the Slingshot
Photo: Logan K. Carter

Driving the Slingshot through LA is a tense experience, as evidenced by my Whoop fitness watch tracking all my drives as times of heightened stress. You sit very close to the ground, with no airbags, no doors, and no roof. The engine is loud to the extreme, yet underpowered until its 8,500-rpm redline where it finally reaches peak horsepower. The clutch is tough and heavy, the transmission tunnel gets worryingly hot to the touch while driving, the ride is rough, and because the Slingshot has such an unusual shape, it’s difficult to determine where the vehicle starts and ends. All these factors contributed to my elevated stress levels from behind the Slingshot’s small steering wheel, combined with the awareness that any of the three-row SUVs on Los Angeles streets could run me over without even noticing.

The Polaris-built 2.0-liter inline-4 engine in the Slingshot SL is rated at 178 horsepower and just 120 pound-feet of torque, the latter peaking at 5,500 rpm, and the Slingshot weighing just 1,633 pounds in total, nearly 1,000 pounds less than a Mazda Miata. This should make it a blast to drive, but as soon as the power kicks in, it just spins that single driven rear wheel, which can bring a smile if you don’t need it to grip. And it’s far from quick, and the engine’s behavior is conflicting. You need to rev it out to redline to get power, but the engine is so rattly it sounds like it’s about to explode. I was not a fan of the exhaust note either, as it sounded more like a leaf blower than a car, which might be tolerable in a side-by-side, but not in something that’s meant to be a fun on-road machine.

A photo showing the centrally mounted seatbelts

Photo: Logan K. Carter

Driving the Slingshot on winding roads was also a nerve-wracking experience. My preferred canyon road had occasional debris, causing the Slingshot to lose grip no matter how slow I was going. At one point, there was a small strip of dirt in the middle of my lane on a curve; I slowed down to 10 mph and still almost slid off the cliff because the rear wheel hit the dirt and lost traction significantly. Fortunately, the Slingshot is equipped with traction control and ABS, but the single rear wheel makes it too unpredictable to be confident enough to push it on twisty mountain roads. It’s also extremely challenging to gauge the width of the vehicle, as the front end is unusually wide and the rear is exceptionally narrow, making threading the needle a test of faith and heightened stress levels.

My test vehicle came with the no-cost 5-speed manual transmission, which enhanced the driving experience but still had its flaws. The gearbox is stiff and feels fine to shift, but the high-revving nature of the Polaris engine doesn’t align well with the gear ratios. Shifting from first to second gear is smooth, but shifting into third gear causes the RPMs to drop so dramatically that it takes you out of the power band and the car loses momentum.

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