2020 is a landmark year in the five-year history of the Polaris Slingshot line. With 70 percent of the Slingshot new, including the Polaris-built engine and the introduction of a fully automatic transmission, it is time to reassess this groundbreaking and unique vehicle. The 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL has AutoDrive, and we drove that first.
1. The Slingshot is a distinctive option in the three-wheel world. At one end of the three-wheel spectrum, you have the Yamaha Niken, which is a motorcycle that happens to have two wheels in the front. In the middle, you have the Harley-Davidson trikes and the Can-Am Spyder. Both the H-D and C-A machines have motorcycle seats and a handlebar, though neither lean in corners. The H-D has its two wheels in the back, with C-A opting for two wheels up front. More automotive than its competitors, the Slingshot has seats and steering wheel like an automobile, with a single wheel in the back. The legal definition of the Polaris Slingshot varies by state, though it is definitely not considered an automobile by the DOT.
2. Consider the Polaris Slingshot to be a crossover and bridge vehicle. While the Slingshot may be the end destination for many owners, with its open-air configuration—no doors, roof, or a full windshield—it is an introduction into the visceral feel of riding a motorcycle. That makes it noteworthy to us, as motorcyclists, as it is another way to get someone interested in the magic of two-wheels. Of course, if you ride a motorcycle, you’ll likely be interested in how the Slingshot feels as a waypoint between automobiles and motorcycles. If you have a reluctant motorcycle passenger, the Slingshot could be a reassuring alternative.
3. Our test 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL wasn’t fully stock. It had the Weekender Series accessory package, sans the Slingshade roof. That means we had a lower, tinted windshield, Ride Command Navigation 2.0 display, and upgraded storage.
4. The seat is comfortable for long rides. I had no problem ripping around for hours without stopping. Getting in the doorless Slingshot SL puts you in the assertive mode, as you climb down into it. The seat belts are unobtrusive, though the strap drapes across your body on the opposite diagonal that you have in an automobile.
5. You have a decent view of the road ahead—the Ripper Series Wind Deflector is a winner if you don’t mind the extra wind. Being lower, you look over the short windshield, which is a plus in busy areas.
6. The 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL is a tale of two modes. Much like different power modes can make a significant difference in how a motorcycle rides, the difference between the Slingshot and Comfort modes is striking. The Slingshot mode delivers more immediate throttle response, higher revs before AutoDrive upshifts, and a more direct feel from the pinion-assisted electric power steering. The Comfort mode calms everything down, making the ride less hectic and more forgiving. Notably, the non-adjustable suspension remains the same in both modes.
7. The AutoDrive transmission is definitely a first attempt, and not a particularly good one. Within the first block, you will notice that the AutoDrive five-speed is not nearly as refined as a dual-clutch transmission, as an example. Rather than instantaneous slick gearchanges, you are greeted with clunky shifts that take seemingly forever to execute. While how you drive and what mode you choose does make a difference, there is no way to make the AutoDrive transmission smooth or particularly predictable. Also, there is no manual gear selection option—you put the transmission in D, and it takes full control.
8. Polaris built a motor that revs. The new ProStar 2.0L inline-4 replaces the previous GM Ecotec 2.4L powerplant. The ProStar revs up to an 8500 rpm redline, making an exhilarating sound as it does so. With the 178-horsepower peak coming at that same 8500 rpm limit, you are encouraged to keep the pedal to the metal to tap its maximum horsepower. Peak torque of 120 ft-lbs is delivered at 5500 rpm, so you need to keep it spinning to get the run the Slingshot is all about. Around town, the AutoDrive keeps the revs at around 3k or so. With the lagging transmission response, that means serious acceleration is not at your beck and call, unless you are being aggressive.
9. There are two ways to tackle the twisties in the 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL:
- In the Slingshot mode, the SL demands that you be as aggressive as it is. The throttle response is choppy if you are less than committed, making for a jerky ride. So, don’t select the Slingshot mode unless you are fully engaged in going fast. When you do so, the acceleration is bracing, and the handling matches—only delays during shifts intrude on the fun. The handling is precise, and the SL insists that you push harder and harder. With a pair of 225mm-wide front tires, the single 320mm rear tire—Kenda rubber all around—does not push the issue. When you steer, the SL reacts decisively, providing increasing confidence.
- If you are not in an overly enthusiastic mood, the Comfort mode is perfect. With the edge taken off the throttle response, and a bit of leisure added to the steering, the SL is a pleasure to drive through the canyons. While it still goes where you point it, acceleration is there if you are aggressive with your right foot. The feeling is less demanding, and errors are not punished. The biggest downside is that the shifts come sooner and take longer to execute. Without your foot crushing the gas pedal, the AutoDrive becomes less predictable, and you can get a shift mid-corner—up or down, depending on conditions—and that disrupts the flow. If you do decide to drive aggressively in the Comfort mode, you can hit the redline, though it will take a bit longer to get there.
10. The stability of the SL is impressive. For some, that single rear wheel puts some trepidation in the driver’s head. In reality, you’ll forget about it soon enough. The SL is rock solid at speeds well over any speed limit in the United States. Despite the small-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel, the chassis is not overly responsive at speed. Holding a line on the freeway—even the poorly maintained LA varieties—is never an issue. The 105-inch wheelbase and 69-inch front track do their job of reassuring the driver.
11. You can disable the traction control and let the rear drift as desired, or keep it on and enjoy the slot car feel. It’s a rush, and you can take corners at g-force inducing speeds. Also, especially in the Slingshot mode, you can light up the single rear tire from a start without much effort. That’s fun, unless the ticket-writing crowd sees or hears you.
12. Braking is excellent on the Slingshot SL. Those three wide, low-profile tires put an impressive quantity of rubber to the ground, and the entire vehicle weighs just 1659 pounds. If you want to, you can stop in a hurry. Fortunately, the brakes are not touchy, so the action is always smooth, even at low speeds in town. ABS is standard, and you have to work very hard to get it to noticeably intervene.
13. The 2020 Slingshot SL is tautly suspended. You absolutely have a direct feel for the road. On rougher roads, such as Big Tujunga Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest, you get jostled around a decent amount. However, the suspension manages to always take the edge off any road/wheel interaction, and you never feel jolted. It’s an active ride, without any doubt. In the city, the response is the same. You will be moved around, but never feel a spikey hit.
14. The seven-inch infotainment touch screen is nice. The software is intuitive, and the full-color display is easy to read. There are various layout and content options, allowing the driver to have it his way. On the downside, it doesn’t have the latest software features, such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
15. There is a 100-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system for music lovers. Pairing to my iPhone 7 took just a few seconds, so I was quickly blasting the Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady via Spotify through the canyons of LA via the 100-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system. Needless to say, when you’re wearing a full-face Arai, you are only getting an approximation of the songs. Still, listening while eating lunch in the cockpit, it sounded good. The cupholders next to the emergency brake are convenient. The steering wheel allows some control over the music, in addition to its supplemental duties for cruise control and power mode selection. On the downside, the backlit main LCD dash with its blocky information display looks dated in comparison to the infotainment screen.
16. If you’re shy, the 2020 Polaris Slingshot might not be for you. Given that it looks like the Batmobile, people show all sorts of interest in it. Pedestrians and motorcyclists waved as I went by—perhaps they thought I was Bruce Wayne (or Alfred). People pull up next to you and say things such as “Cool car.” Waiting at the intersection of Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon, a guy in a Lamborghini was checking the Slingshot SL out and gave me a thumbs up. Prepare for questions at the gas station, as people are quite attracted to the Slingshot.
17. Three wheels and a motor can be great fun. There’s no way the 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL is going to entice us to sell our motorcycles. That’s okay, because that is not its goal. Instead, the Slingshot excels as an enticing vehicle to get people out of a traditional automobile to enjoy the rush of air, along with the rush of acceleration. The next natural step is a motorcycle, and that’s something that makes us very happy.
Location photography by Kelly Callan
2020 Polaris Slingshot SL Specs w/ AutoDrive
- Type: Polaris ProStar 2.0L inline-4
- Displacement: 1997cc (122ci)
- Bore x stroke: 93 x 73.5mm
- Compression ratio: 11.5:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC
- Fueling: Bosch ME17 EFI w/ 62mm throttle body
- Transmission: Fully automatic synchromesh 5-speed w/ reverse
- Final drive: Carbon-fiber reinforce belt
- Frame: Tubular steel
- Front suspension; travel: Double A-arms w/ non-adjustable shocks; 4.4 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Swingarm w/ non-adjustable shock; 4.2 inches
- Wheels: Forged aluminum
- Front wheel: 7.5 x 18
- Rear wheel: 11 x 20
- Front tires: 225/45 x 18; Kenda KR20X
- Rear tire: 305/30 x 20; Kenda KR20B
- Front brakes: Discs w/ 2-piston calipers
- Rear brake: Disc
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Overall length: 149.6 inches
- Overall width: 77.6 inches
- Wheelbase: 105 inches
- Track width: 69.1 inches
- Ground clearance: 5 inches
- Fuel capacity: 9.8 gallons
- Curb weight: 1659 pounds
- Colors: Red Pearl; Blue Steel
2020 Polaris Slingshot SL Price w/ AutoDrive: $26,499 MSRP