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posted on 2020-10-22 17:47:00 .
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The Polaris Slingshot was definitely the most unusual vehicle I reviewed last year. Classified as a motorcycle, this three-wheeler looked like nothing else on the roads. In fact, it would be hard to draw more attention without the help of some sirens and a bullhorn. For 2020, Polaris has substantially revised the Slingshot. Well, on the inside, that is. There’s an all-new four-cylinder engine, unique to the vehicle, and an optional automated gearbox for those who want three wheels but only two pedals. But it still looks like nothing else on the road, and as I discovered over the course of a few days, it still isn’t the vehicle for you if you want to blend in.
Instead of using a 2.4L Ecotec engine from General Motors, Polaris decided to create its own in-house. It’s a 2.0L four-cylinder design called the ProStar, and in addition to being smaller than the old engine, it’s also about 65lbs (30kg) lighter thanks to an aluminum block. It’s also more powerful, and it likes to rev, too. In SL-spec, it makes 177hp (132kW) at a heady 8,500rpm; we tested the Slingshot R which packs 203hp (151kW) at 8,250rpm. Both SL (120lb-ft/163Nm) and R (144lb-ft/195Nm) are less torquey than the old Ecotec (166lb-ft/225Nm), although that never felt like a problem as there’s just that single 20-inch rear tire with which to apply it.
The other major new addition is the AutoDrive automated manual transmission, something the company says has been its most common request from potential customers. It’s a five-speed with a hydraulically activated clutch and is the only gearbox available for the $26,499 Slingshot SL. The R offers buyers the choice of AutoDrive ($32,699) or a conventional three-pedal manual option ($30,999). Polaris says that AutoDrive only weighs about 14lbs (6.3kg) more than the regular manual, and at 1,645lbs (746kg) the 2020 Slingshot R is about 100lbs (45kg) lighter than a 2019 model.
That makes for a pretty impressive power-to-weight ratio—slightly better than a Porsche 911 Carrera S if my math is correct. With only a single wheel to deploy that power, it’s not quite as fast off the lights, but Polaris says the Slingshot R should hit 60mph from rest in 4.9 seconds. In practice, that might only be possible with the manual version.
Our test Slingshot might also have needed a bit of a tune-up, as its exhaust smelled quite rich. Yet again, I can’t help thinking how much better a Slingshot would be with an electric motor and some batteries; Polaris already makes electric UTVs, so perhaps that might happen in the years to come.
AutoDrive still needs work
The problem is that AutoDrive just isn’t great. Although it features two different modes, I wasn’t able to detect any real difference between them; in either case, the transmission called for a new gear at about 4,500rpm, well short of the ProStar’s peak power. And you have no option other than to surrender your choice of gear to AutoDrive’s algorithm; there is no manual control other than selecting drive, neutral, or reverse.
The early upshifts aren’t the only problem. The shifts themselves are never subtle, regardless of the speed you’re traveling. Polaris warned me that this was a transmission tuned “for the masses,” but I have to say I think they deserve better. The addition of paddle shifters to the steering wheel might help some, but either way, it could use some recalibration.
Despite the major revisions to the Slingshot’s powertrain, the overriding experience of driving one remains unchanged from last year. Even with less torque than last year’s model, the rear wheel will chirp and spin if you are too greedy with your right foot. The unassisted steering still reminds me of a go-kart, and I still feel quite exposed while driving it.
But most importantly, if you’re an introvert or just don’t want people to come up and talk to you when you’re stopped in traffic, you should not buy a Slingshot. You’ll have more fun on a winding road in a Mazda MX-5, which should also be slightly cheaper (and definitely more useable in winter). Nothing else I have driven all year—not even a bright blue McLaren GT—has turned heads or prompted questions from passers-by the way this machine did. Considering the Slingshot costs a small fraction of the supercar’s price, that’s a remarkably good deal if you are an extreme extrovert.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin
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