Does the 3-Wheeled 2020 Polaris Slingshot Deliver the Motorcycle Experience?

The fear of losing your balance is just one reason many stay away from motorcycles. Another is that, as on a bicycle, there aren’t any airbags or crash structures between you and oncoming traffic. Polaris, the company behind several UTVs and the reborn Indian brand, has something which seemingly addresses both issues: the Slingshot. But does the Polaris Slingshot replicate what it’s like to ride a motorcycle?

2020 Polaris Slingshot: specs and features

A black-and-red 2020 Polaris Slingshot R in front of a palm-tree-lined marina
2020 Polaris Slingshot R | Polaris

First introduced in 2015, the rear-wheel-drive Polaris Slingshot received an extensive overhaul for 2020, Robb Report explains.

The first part of the update, Motor Trend reports, is the engine. Instead of the GM-sourced 2.4-liter four-cylinder, the Slingshot now has a Polaris-built 2.0-liter four-cylinder. In the $26,499 SL, it develops 178 hp and 120 lb-ft. In the $30,999 R, it makes 203 hp and 144 lb-ft. Which should be plenty, given the Slingshot weighs roughly 1700 pounds. The limited-edition $33,999 Grand Touring LE can be ordered in either state of tune, MT reports, though the latter adds $600.

Previously, the Polaris Slingshot was available only with a 5-speed manual. While that’s still available, for 2020 it’s joined by a 5-speed automatic with 2 different shift modes. It’s basically the manual transmission, Motorcyclist explains, just with a hydraulically-operated clutch. It’s standard on the SL and Grand Touring, and optional on the R. Regardless of transmission, though, the Polaris Slingshot R can go 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, Roadshow reports, faster than a Honda Civic Type R.

Plus, on top of revised suspension and brakes, the Polaris Slingshot has an updated, fully weather-proof interior and features list. In addition to cupholders and cruise control, the Slingshot now comes standard with a 7” touchscreen infotainment system, keyless ignition, several 12V outlets, Rockford Fosgate audio, and a backup camera. Traction and stability control are also standard. The R adds GPS navigation to that.

Meanwhile, the Grand Touring LE adds a bit more refinement to the equation. In addition to the standard hardtop, it has a taller windscreen, interior accent lighting, and bronze-stitched quilted leather seats. The green paint and bronze wheels are also unique to the Grand Touring LE. And unlike the other trims, heated and ventilated seats are available.

Is the Polaris Slingshot a 3-wheeled motorcycle?

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Legally, yes, the Polaris Slingshot is a 3-wheeled motorcycle. Or, depending on the state you live in, an ‘autocycle.’ This means, in some states, you can drive a Slingshot without a helmet.

It is worth noting that the 3-wheeled motorcycle/autocycle classification does have a few consequences. According to federal guidelines, an autocycle has to weigh less than 1750 pounds. That’s likely why, Roadshow muses, Polaris gave the Slingshot an automated-manual, rather than a true torque-converter automatic. The latter would add too much weight. Also, while it has more bodywork than a motorcycle, the Slingshot doesn’t have to be crash-tested.

Dynamically, the Polaris Slingshot isn’t quite like a traditional 3-wheeled motorcycle. That’s not necessarily a criticism, though. The updated steering and suspension mean the autocycle is sharper and nimbler than before. It’s genuinely fun, engendering quite a few Mazda Miata comparisons.

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Although the ride is stiff, it’s not exactly harsh. And while MT reports the brakes could use a better compound, they are better than the previous-gen ones. However, while Motorcyclist reports the automatic is fairly effective, it’s still a bit too jerky and slow to shift, Car and Driver reports. Plus, it could benefit from actual paddle shifters.

Where it does feel like a 3-wheeled motorcycle, though, is in the experience. If you don’t wear a helmet, you’ll hear the engine more clearly, and feel the wind in your hair. On the freeway, the lack of protection means dirt and debris occasionally strikes exposed skin. And at those speeds, a communications-system-equipped helmet is the best way to talk to your passenger. You aren’t just looking at the outdoors—you’re part of them.

But that’s why people buy Caterham Sevens and rhapsodize about bikes. It’s because the Polaris Slingshot makes driving so much more visceral.

How the competition compares

2018 Morgan 3-Wheeler 110 Edition
2018 Morgan 3-Wheeler 110 Edition | Morgan

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The Polaris Slingshot isn’t the only vehicle that falls into the 3-wheeled motorcycle/autocycle segment.

One of the most prominent is the Morgan 3-Wheeler. With a base price of around $50k, it’s significantly more expensive than the Slingshot. With an 82-hp 2.0-liter V-twin, the 3-Wheeler is also slower to 60. And it’s even more bare-bones, Jalopnik reports, with no infotainment, backup camera, or even cupholders. Heated seats, though, are an option.

However, while the 2020 Polaris Slingshot’s interior is better than before, Roadshow and MT note the materials are still more UTV than car-like. In contrast, not only is the Morgan 3-Wheeler hand-built, the cabin features quilted leather, billet aluminum, and a real wooden steering wheel, MT reports. It’s also about 500 pounds lighter than the Slingshot. Choosing between the two, then, is mostly down to the kind of styling you prefer.

Rear view of the electric 3-wheeled 2020 Vanderhall Edison 2 in front of a cityscape
2020 Vanderhall Edison 2 rear | Vanderhall

There’s also Vanderhall’s various 3-wheeled vehicles. The most prominent is the Venice, which, unlike the Morgan and the Polaris, is front-wheel-drive, Cruiser reports. Though unlike the other two, Vanderhall also has a fully-electric model, the Edison 2.

The GT model is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, rated at 194 hp and 203 lb-ft, Motorcyclist reports. A 6-speed torque-converter automatic is the only transmission available.

Apart from the FWD, it’s sort of a mix between the 3-Wheeler and the Slingshot. The interior features airplane-like toggle switches and heated leather seats. However, it also has Bluetooth, traction control, cruise control, and a Bluetooth-equipped audio system. All for roughly the same price as the Slingshot.

However, if you want a motorcycle that won’t fall over, there is another option besides the Slingshot and Can-Am’s or Harley-Davidson’s trikes. It’s called the Yamaha Niken.

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