What you're looking at is going to be one of the most fun cars debuting for 2015. But, the Polaris Slingshot isn't a car, it's a "motorcycle." Here's why that matters and what it means for you, the enthusiast driver.
It's really, really, really hard to bring a new car to market. That's why very, very, very few companies attempt to. Crash tests, emissions regulations, worldwide regulations compliance, crumple zones, airbags, child seat compatibility. All that's what makes developing an all-new model costs hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.
It's also what gives modern performance cars a serious case of the borings.
Motorcycles don't have to worry about most of that. Or, if they do, only worry about it to a small fraction of the level cars do. And, guess what? A vehicle with three wheels is legally considered a trike here in America, which falls under motorcycle regulations. Designing and making one of those is exponentially cheaper and doesn't burden the vehicle with all the unnecessary weight and complication that makes modern cars so dull.
Enter Polaris. If you're an average American car driver a) stop reading this while you're driving and b) you haven't heard of Polaris. Increasingly, you will though. The Minnesota-based manufacturer of recreational vehicles is in the midst of a serious expansion play, last year re-launching the historic Indian Motorcycles brand and also releasing the new RZR XP1000 side-by-side ATV — the fastest vehicle of its kind yet made.
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In that XP1k, we can gain some appreciation of what will make the Slingshot so special. Side-by-sides are a relatively new type of vehicle, combining the simplicity and affordability of an ATV with the ease of use and safety of an off-road performance truck. Where, say, a Class 1 Baja race truck will set you back mid six-figures, the XP1k starts at just $20,299 and also has exponentially lower running costs. It's just as fun to drive as that race truck, is actually capable of traveling through more challenging terrain thanks to its smaller dimensions and, if you break it, it's even cheap and easy to fix. It's no wonder side-by-side sales are through the roof right now, even with (or maybe because of) the weak economy.
Enter the Slingshot. Starting at just $20,000, its 173bhp GM engine only has to power 1,725lbs. That's 755lbs less than a Mazda Miata, and 5bhp more. In fact, that light weight is enough to give it a power-to-weight ratio (and therefore straight line performance equivalent to) a $30,000+ Nissan 370Z. 0-60mph should take the Slingshot about five seconds.
Unlike either of those cars, the Slingshot amends nothing else to the driving experience. A basic, but strong steel tube spaceframe chassis holds the longitudinal front-mid engine, which drives the rear wheel through a 5-speed manual only. This being a 2015 model, there's all the ABS, TC and stability control you'd expect, but reportedly, you can switch the nannies off and take full control of the car yourself.
Another reason that modern performance cars have become so boring to drive is that their manufacturers have all chased speed at the sacrifice of experience. Drive an old British sportscar from the '60s and it's alive in your hands and never ceases to be involving to drive. Drive a fast modern car and it's faster, obviously, but also far less fun despite the greater speed. Blame more grip, which comes at the expense of easy to initiate, easy to control slides and a Stealth Fighter-like reliance on electronic driver aids. Switch them off — if you can — and just like that plane, the cars lose the ability to fly.
Reading stories of early press ride-alongs (no one appears to have actually driven one yet) it sounds as if Polaris has endowed the Slighshot with an impressive amount of rear wheel grip thanks to specially developed tires and clever chassis trickery, but no trike can have as much grip from the rear as an equivalent four-wheeled vehicle. Where modern sportscars virtually drive themselves, the Slighshot will be lively. It will require driver involvement and participation. That's what makes it exciting to this enthusiast.
Perhaps the only fly in the "motorcycle" formula is that Slingshot drivers will be required to obtain a motorcycle license in most states and will even be required to wear a helmet in some. Having said that, you will be able to obtain a leaner's permit from the DMV, drive your new Slingshot home (during daytime) and then use it to take the motorcycle test. And, only 19 states have mandatory helmet laws. If you don't currently have a motorcycle license, expect to invest about half a day of your life in obtaining one, it's far less of a big deal than it should be.
The 1,350lbs Gorilla in the room that this article hasn't yet addressed is the Ariel Atom and other limited-production and kit cars like it. Compared to that car and its ilk, the Slingshot is around a third of the price and is made by a large, established vehicle manufacturer with a substantial warranty and extensive dealer network. It will be comparatively easy to buy, easy to insure, cheap to run and easy to service and fix.
All that in a package which also promises to include genuine driver involvement? This thing is looking like the most fun sportscar you'll be able to buy in America next year.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.