Last year was a big year for the Polaris Slingshot. A new motor built by Polaris—the makers of Indian motorcycles—replaced an outsourced powerplant, and along with it came an automatic transmission. Without a doubt, AutoDrive is a revolutionary development for the Slingshot world.Many people do not know how to operate a manual-clutch transmission, and that kept them out of the Slingshot driver’s seat. AutoDrive was an instant and overwhelming hit for Slingshot, as four of five 2020 Slingshots sold had the automatic transmission feature.We tested the 2020 Slingshot SL with AutoDrive and came away with mixed feelings. While the first year of the AutoDrive did allow you to enjoy a Slingshot without operating a clutch or gearshifter, the operation of the AutoDrive was clunky. It’s not the traditional automatic transmission that you’re used to seeing in an automobile.
Instead, it’s a manual-style five-speed transmission that has a computer-controlled hydraulic shifting mechanism. Shifts took seemingly forever to complete, and the timing of the shifting was completely automatic—the driver had zero input. You put it in Drive, and away you go—there was no manual gear selection at all. It was better than nothing, and four-out-of-five Slingshot customers agreed in model year 2020. As motorcycle riders comfortable with manual shifting, we were disappointed.It didn’t take long for Polaris to do something about its Slingshot’s transmission. It has upgraded the shifting software and recalibrated the motor to improve the shifting action, particularly in the Slingshot mode (which you’ll want to be in pretty much all the time). Impressively, if you bought a 2020 Slingshot with AutoDrive, your dealer will bring it up to 2021-spec for free. If you have a 2020 model, absolutely take advantage of this offer.The revolutionary improvement to the AutoDrive is the availability of paddle shifters. Standard on the Slingshot R and a $399 (plus labor) accessory on the S and SL models, the paddle shifters allow the driver to control the gear changes. With paddle shifting engaged, the AutoDrive will not upshift unless to tell it to.Downshifts will occur automatically if the Slingshot is going too slow in too high of a gear, however. 2020 owners get another healthy dose of good news—you can retrofit your AutoDrive Slingshot with the new paddle shifters for $399, plus labor. After testing the 2021 Slingshot SL with paddle shifters, we can assure you that this is a must-do upgrade for your ’20.Hill Hold is another new feature on the 2021 Slingshot with AutoDrive. It’s hardly an essential feature on an automatic transmission vehicle, but it’s there if you need it. 2020 owners can retrofit it for $299, plus labor, if they feel the need.Although the chassis and motor are unchanged for 2021, the Slingshot SL with AutoDrive feels quite a bit different with the paddle shifter option, as well as the upgraded shifting software. With the paddle shifters, you can approximate the feel of the manual shift Slingshot. Shift times have been improved considerably with the paddle shifters, as well as in the full-auto mode. However, they’re still not as fast as we’d like. Certainly, it’s time for Polaris to look into some sort of dual-clutch transmission that allows near-instantaneous gear changes.The value of the paddle shifters is in the canyons, where gear selection is more critical. You can dive into a corner in a lower gear than the software might select, and that means the AutoDrive won’t downshift or upshift in the middle of a corner—something it was wont to do last year.That disrupted the chassis and distracted the driver—two things that don’t result in effective cornering. Eliminating that possibility makes all the difference in the execution of a corner, and the driver’s confidence in the Slingshot. Plus, paddle shifters are fun, and provide a bit of F1-style excitement to the proceedings.As mentioned earlier, nothing else changed on the Slingshot SL, so we will refer you to the test we linked to earlier for details on the rest of the three-wheeler. The big news for the 2021 Polaris Slingshot is the new shifting software and the paddle shifters. They revolutionize the automatic transmission experience on the Slingshot, and that’s the transmission of choice for an overwhelming majority of the drivers. Although we still prefer the manual transmission Slingshot, if Polaris can get the shift times down by whatever means necessary, the AutoDrive will likely make the manual transmission obsolete.Action photography by Barry HathawayStill photography by Joe Gall and Barry HathawayRiding Style
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!