The Polaris Slingshot is a vehicle with an identity crisis. Parked, it resembles a high-heel shoe made for a Transformer, a mechanical creation à la Dr. Moreau. It is an oddity that dips its tires in the waters of both car and motorcycle. It sits as wide as a Lamborghini Aventador across the hood while plastic panels out back barely extend beyond its single slick of rubber. It is about as subtle as a speakerphone call in church and as confusing as a cat that barks. So what is it, exactly?
Texas calls the Slingshot an “autocycle,” whatever that means — neologian lawmakers wouldn’t allow Slingshot sales until the term was coined. Polaris, however, calls it many things: a reverse trike; a three-wheeled motorcycle; a two-seat roadster that is definitely not a car. The company is adamant about that last bit. It doesn’t meet any crash test standards; unless you opt for the SLR trim package, there is no windshield; there are neither airbags nor doors; there is no trunk for groceries (but you do get a couple cubbies behind the seats). No, the Slingshot is most certainly not a car, and it’s not a motorcycle either. Not even close.
“What is it?” is as tough to answer as the Slingshot is to maneuver into. Climbing over the Slingshot’s massive sills and into a seat is an act of inelegant and uncool contortion; getting out is just as bad. Once settled, the cabin layout is very car-like: there is a steering wheel, a five-speed stick shift and three pedals. Because of a lack of B-pillars, seatbelts are center-mounted, making them feel alien. Regardless, the waterproof seats are supportive and comfortable enough, though the headrest slopes a touch too far forward for long-distance touring — especially when helmeted. But you aren’t driving a Slingshot to relax.
Engine: 2.4-liter inline-four
Transmission: five-speed synchromesh manual
Weight: 1,749 lbs
Much like other three-wheeled contrivances I’ve piloted, the Slingshot isn’t fond of straight lines. Like a toy being dragged by an unamused child, the rear end tends to wander. This is partly because its single rear wheel must negotiate the heaved and rounded center of your lane, but mostly because, I believe, the Slingshot simply loathes sedate driving. Find some switchbacks or pavement with some kink and the three wheels start to work in harmony; the Slingshot wakes up immediately. The wide front track is extremely well planted and its short wheelbase means it can pivot like Chris Paul. With traction control engaged, it will grip even better than you think it should; with it off, things start to get very fun, very fast.
Mash the loud pedal at mid-corner, and poof. A smoky epiphany washes over you. The gas pedal requires extra effort to utter a response, the steering is heavy, the brake pedal needs a strong coaxing because this is a blunt instrument. Unlike a car or bike, smooth doesn’t apply. Instead, it’s in between — an autocycle, indeed. Thankfully, that awkward term will fly from your awareness quickly, lost in a cloud of vaporized rubber the first time traction breaks. (And, subsequently, in the vacant parking lots you seek in order to paint the asphalt black and the heavens white.
Which will help you forget that the Slingshot is not a very good car. It was built to stunt, to floss and to collect the bewildered gaze of children and adults who still know how to act like children. The Slingshot rides low enough to change lanes beneath an 18-wheeler; it’s quick but not fast; it’s only furious with its e-nannies disengaged. Call it whatever you like, but the Slingshot resides in a gray world of tire smoke and maniacal laughter, somewhere in between a car and bike.