What makes this machine stand out in the new automotive landscape

Nearly 30 years ago in Chicago, I was among 15 to 20 media folks who founded the Midwest Automotive Media Association, or MAMA as we like to call it. And after all these years, (and ZERO credit to me) it has become the finest media association in the land, as indicated by the participation of virtually every major manufacturer doing business in the US.

And each year, nearly all of them ship their latest and greatest new models to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin at Road America Race Track; to promote those cars to us journalists, and encourage us to write reviews and stories. Those cars could be anything from Nissan’s new subcompact car or a Z-06 Corvette. Also the latest minivan, or the Cooper Mini. Imagine a sea of 90 cars and trucks parked in the paddock for you to choose from. And there’s always some trucks and Jeeps for the off-roading experience of climbing up boulders and slogging through rough terrain, as well.   

Not all the vehicles were meant to be on the track, of course- Only about 20 or 25 for track duty. The rest enjoyed cruising the beautiful roads around the track, and many of the roads were part of the old 17 mile Street Course from the 1951 and 1952 races.

Road America is just over 4 miles of one of the finest road course race tracks in the country, and boasting two of the fastest straightaways as well. So it was a smorgasbord of tasty delights to choose from- an AMG SLC, a V-series Cadillac, a Mustang GT 500, a BMW M3, or a delicious bit of MOPAR Hemi Wildcat or Demon to exercise these vehicles in a safe environment that they were created for.

But in the last couple of years, the automotive landscape has changed dramatically. Manufacturers have been bringing fewer and fewer Track Cars and more and more SUV’s of the hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric variety, which are now their latest and greatest offerings. No more Dodge Chargers, or Challenger R/T Hemi’s. They ain’t makin’ any more. Camaro SS’s? NOPE, ain’t makin’ any more. Ford Mustang GT’s are still around, but that’s the only gas engine passenger car that Ford now makes. Lamenting the lack of so many delicious morsels, I still sampled a few on the track, like the BMW M-series coupe and AMG small hot coupe. The thing is, with those two excellent and capable cars, you can drive them at 8/10ths of their capability with one hand on the wheel and chat with your grandma in the passenger seat. They are SOOO refined and smooth, and precision feeling. You are definitely going faster than you THINK you are.

The amazing Road America complex.

Then I decided to check out the latest and greatest Electric Vehicles (EV’S to save time). There were Kias, Hyundais, Fords, Cadillacs, Volvos, Hondas, you name them. And in almost every case, there were three similarities between them all. First, they all took a few minutes to discover how to turn them on, and another few to figure how to put them into gear. Second, you couldn’t be SURE they were on because of the deafening silence. The third similarity is that are all blindingly QUICK. That’s the part that makes them fun, but all that torque and acceleration is only accompanied by a little bit of electric motor whine. There is no aural song, just quiet. You get feedback from the suspension and steering components, and the same screech from the tires under hard cornering, but no inspiring SOUNDS, nor feelings.

And then I decided to hop gingerly into a Slingshot. Polaris had been kind enough to send a rep with 2 vehicles for us to try. One was an automatic, and one was a manual, or as young people refer to it as the ultimate anti-theft device, since nobody under 30 knows how to drive one. You can’t even leave one with a parking valet anymore. As I walked around the two Slingshots, the one that caught my attention was painted black and Day-Glow green and looked like something out of a Star Wars movie, just as it did when I first drove one to review in 2017, a couple of years after it’s introduction. The green one also had a 5-speed manual tranny, so that’s the one I wanted to drive.

The beast that arrested my attention.

Now our Fearless Leader, Rob Brooks not long ago wrote a wonderful full review of a Slingshot, including all the specs, features and technical info. Please read that for yourselves. I won’t bother to relate all the same information.

My take on the Slingshot is a bit different now after my morning track sessions in cars and driving the new electrics. After climbing into the nicely bolstered seat, which was supportive if not overly comfortable, there was no problem finding the starter button and I gave it a push. The engine fired up with a growl and didn’t let up much after a few seconds. I KNEW it was running, and after a few taps on the throttle pedal, I KNEW this would be a fun ride. The sound from the 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine was loud and boisterous with 203hp, 144 ft. lbs. of torque, and weighing only 1750 lbs.

We weren’t allowed on-track with these, so I took to the fantastic roads surrounding Elkhart Lake that once were used for racing in the early 1950s.

This is not a vehicle you “slip” into gear. You need to BANG it into gear, like old Ferraris with their gated transmissions until they got warmed up in a half hour. The only difference is that the Slingshot doesn’t change much when it warms up. This is not a vehicle to be dainty with; this one needs to be manhandled. Acceleration is fast, and the engine blasts out its snarling song, as the tach needle winds up to the right. Zero to 60 times of 4.9 seconds ain’t too shabby either, even when compared to the new expensive electric sports cars. And when you’re sitting so close to the ground, you get the illusion of even faster speeds, like a Go Kart. Add in a very stiff suspension that makes irregular pavement challenging and broken pavement more jarring than one is used to, and you feel excited to control the beast. The lightning-quick steering response can help you avoid potholes and cracks, and can even feel a bit twitchy at times. Oddly, you’d really never know you were only riding on 3 wheels instead of 4 by the seat of your pants. The big difference is you only leave a single line of rubber on the street when you tromp on the Go Pedal.   

You can bang the Slingshot through the gears and toss it into a turn with confidence, and equipped with standard electronic stability control, you can get on the gas pretty hard coming out of corners. It can wander a bit on heavily crowned roads, but it isn’t annoying, just something you have to get used to. I chose to consider it part of the charm. There are some creature comforts to enjoy. It has a small 7” (by today’s standards) LED screen and stereo, GPS, Bluetooth, Apple Car Play, and a much-appreciated back-up camera. However, those things are not what the Slingshot is about.

Cockpit view. Like a “land speeder” from the Star Wars franchise.

Here’s what is most important about the Slingshot: I’m grateful that there is a company out there THAT MAKES A VEHICLE LIKE THIS TODAY. I used to say that about Chrysler cars, with their incredible (if unnecessary) horsepower. And about Ford, and Chevy too, who made several performance models for everyday prices. But they don’t anymore, or soon won’t. Yet this Polaris isn’t a car, it isn’t a motorcycle, IT’S A FUN MACHINE. It’s loud, brash, unrefined, raw and industrial. It’s a bare knuckle, in-your-face roadster, and Polaris makes no attempt to apologize for it. It’s a vehicle that begs to be driven “like you stole it”, every time you take it out. You have to drive this car, not be driven by it.

It’s also LOUD- Polaris didn’t waste any money on soundproofing materials. You get an exhilarating, visceral driving experience. It reminds me of an old Can-Am open cockpit race car from the 60’s and 70’s. Nothing extraneous. The Slingshot’s mission is to go fast in a straight line, or on winding roads, or the real twisties, and have fun. It’s as if the company said, “If you want a more sophisticated, refined toy, go buy something else. We can’t make a million of ‘em anyway.” The Slingshot is targeted to a narrow niche buyer who wants to experience sporting rides like they used to make, with both power and character. Your heartbeat rises along with the RPM’s. I congratulate Polaris for still making machines like the Slingshot. These days there are precious few vehicles that can do that, without having to sell your house to get one. Let’s just hope they don’t make an electric version.

The Slingshot S starts out at $21,999. The Slingshot R that I drove lists for $34,799, and a Slingshot Roush version tops out at $38,149. Choose your weapon.

Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman

For more on the 2024 Polaris Slingshot lineup, check them out here:

Slingshot

 

NE Ga Motorsports

6 Comments

  1. Robert Paul

    The 2024 Polaris Slingshot looks amazing! Its unique design and performance upgrades make it a standout in the autocycle market.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Motohouse

    I love the new color options for the 2024 Polaris Slingshot. They add a bold and exciting touch to an already impressive vehicle.

    Reply
    • Jessica Howard

      I’m a 45 year old woman from upstate NY. I am obsessed with the Polaris Slingshot! I’m buying one this summer! (STICK OF COURSE!) I cannot WAIT!
      I wanted to say, I’ve read A LOT of reviews and articles about this divine creation, and YOURS was VERY well written and explains this brilliant piece of machinery in a way that is so accurate and detailed and also in a way that hasn’t been done before…thank you!

      Reply
      • hawkeye

        Jessica, Thanks for your kind words. Happy to learn you will be buying a Slingshot. I know you’ll have a ball driving it. Call around your area to see if you might be able to do a track day with it, or if Polaris has a driving school program. That thing deserves to be driven well in a safe environment to get the most enjoyment.
        Hawkeye

        Reply
  3. Emaa Natchz

    The infotainment system in the 2024 Slingshot sounds fantastic. It’s great to see Polaris focusing on both performance and driver experience.

    Reply
  4. colytn adam

    The 2024 Polaris Slingshot offers a fresh take on the open-air driving experience, blending futuristic design with thrilling performance. This three-wheeled marvel combines sleek aesthetics and cutting-edge technology, promising an exhilarating ride for enthusiasts seeking adventure and style. A must-see for anyone looking to stand out on the road.

    Reply

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