The 2024 Polaris Slingshot R Is Part Sports Car, Part Pickup Truck, And All Ridiculous

There is a cry from within the automotive community for manufacturers to have more fun. Most cars have gotten so sterile and clinical in their missions to appease every living soul with a good enough credit rating. As it turns out, fun has been in your face this whole time. The 2024 Polaris Slingshot R is somehow a vehicle that combines sports cars, motorcycles, and pickup trucks into one totally ridiculous vehicle. Everything about the Polaris Slingshot seems to be a big middle finger to convention, yet driving one is ridiculously fun.

The Polaris Slingshot has been around for about a decade now. We’ve all seen these machines on the road before. I mean, how could you miss them? A Polaris Slingshot is like a Transformer that got stuck halfway through its morph. I’ve long wondered about the striking three-wheelers. I’ve wondered if they’re fun, if they’re comfortable, and honestly, the biggest question I’ve had is simply why? Why does the Polaris Slingshot exist? Why aren’t these people just buying a Miata?

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For the next couple of weeks, I’m finally getting the chance to answer my own questions. I’ve now spent a day with a 2024 Polaris Slingshot R and I have some first impressions.

A Wild Concept

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As of today, the Slingshot is the only road-legal vehicle to bear the Polaris nameplate. Sure, Polaris also owns Indian Motorcycle, but Indian also doesn’t make anything like this.

Polaris says the idea that became the Slingshot was conceived by Polaris engineers in 2010. Company brass loved what they saw so much that they greenlit the prototype for production. The engineers then formed a team to turn that idea into reality. According to the Star Tribune, the Slingshot was developed at the Polaris R&D center in Wyoming, Minnesota over the course of four years.

The original Slingshot debuted in 2014 for the 2015 model year, just in time for Polaris’ 60th anniversary. 

2015 Polaris Slingshot Base GrayPolaris

The early Slingshots were parts bin specials, featuring a lot of bits of Polaris’ own design, such as the tube frame and the bodywork, but were very General Motors underneath. Power came from a 173 HP 2.4-liter GM Ecotec LE9 four-cylinder, famous for its use in the Chevrolet HHR. And the transmission? Oh, that was also GM, but we’ll talk about that one later. In other words, if you squinted really hard, the Polaris Slingshot was basically the coolest version of the Chevy HHR.

The Slingshot in my possession right now comes from the vehicle’s 2020 redesign. Polaris doesn’t call this a second-generation but does say the 2020+ Slingshots have 70 percent all-new content over the older ones.

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The update brought new visuals and a much better cockpit to the table, but what’s under the plastic also got revamped. The engine is now a Polaris ProStar 2.0-liter four. This unit is making 203 HP at 8,250 RPM and 144 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 RPM. The transmission is where things get fun. Bolted to that engine is an Aisin AR5.

Before you drop your mouth, yes, that is the transmission from the first-generation Chevrolet Colorado (and related to the AX15 found in Jeeps and Dodge Dakota pickups) and adapted to the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. It’s a five-speed unit and has updated ratios for the Slingshot. The 2020 year also brought an automatic transmission to the Slingshot for the first time ever. This transmission is more or less the same manual transmission, but with the clutch and shifting handled by a computer. Instead of a stick and a clutch pedal to play with, you get flappy paddles. Think of it like BMW SMG, but Polaris-style.

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The Slingshot has a trim level spread starting with the basic S for $21,999 and rising up to the Roush Edition for $38,149. The top of the regular line is the R, which sits at $34,799 before options. Much like with a car, the trim levels dictate how much content you get. For example, the base S has the 2.0 ProStar engine, but it’s tuned to 178 HP. You also get base-level bodywork, standard brakes, no windshield, and so on. Even the infotainment system is optional and you don’t even get the option to equip the Slingshot S with a backup camera.

The R is the top of the food chain, sporting all of the features either locked out of the S model or optional as standard. That includes a 20″ 305mm rear wheel, Apple CarPlay, tri-tone paint, a graphics package, a 200 W Rockford Fosgate sound system, and so much more. The R even gets big vented 339mm discs with four-piston Brembo calipers, which aren’t on the lower models.

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I’ll cover all of this in my main review, but what you need to know for now is that the in-house engine and truck transmission is matched with coilovers and a double wishbone suspension. That truck transmission sends power that hits the rear wheel through a belt final drive.

A Total Riot

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The first thing you’ll realize when hopping into a Polaris Slingshot is that this is nothing like anything else you’ve ever driven. The floor sits just 5.4 inches above the ground and its 1,636-pound curb weight is about 200 pounds shy of a Smart Fortwo. You don’t even have to look up to see absolutely nothing above you and the sides of the Slingshot also don’t come up very far either. A side-by-side feels more enclosed than this!

All of this lends to great visibility, well, so long as you don’t plan to look behind you. Turn your head and there’s a huge sail blocking your view. Reversing the Slingshot is reliant on either the backup camera, the mirrors, or by craning your head outside of the vehicle.

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Hit the start button and you’ll be presented with a soundtrack that reminds you of a side-by-side engine. At idle, the ProStar engine sounds like a four-cylinder Suzuki. That’s just the first hint of what you’re about to be in for. The next hint is the realization that the Slingshot R’s windscreen is almost useless. If you’re of average height your head will sit above it. That’s one of the reasons, aside from safety, that this is a ride fit for helmets. That windscreen isn’t stopping rain, bugs, or rocks from pelting you.

Speaking of rain, I received my unit during a downpour and was crazy enough to commit to driving it right then and there. Sure enough, the windscreen fed water straight to my body. The good news is that the Slingshot’s interior is water-resistant and features drains, so it’ll be okay in the rain even if you aren’t.

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I gave myself a good soaking before deciding to park the unit until the weather passed. Thankfully, that happened right on time for me to be done with work for the day, so I grabbed my wife and we plopped down into the Slingshot R.

We began to see the appeal of the Slingshot before we even left the neighborhood. No fewer than three neighbors walked up to the machine and gave it a look before complimenting it and asking me questions about it. Another neighbor looked on from her bedroom window. She looked shocked, like I shot a dog or something.

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Eventually, my neighbors let me go and I clicked the transmission into first gear. Now, at this time I wasn’t aware of the AR5 down below, but I got a sense of deja vu. This was repeated as I took off and the transmission made a soft whine. I then grabbed second and the shift was as I’d describe as “agricultural.” Not bad by any means, but a bit like a pickup truck.

I didn’t really have much time to ponder the transmission because once I got free and clear of my neighborhood I punched the throttle. The rear tire let loose before traction control reined the wheelspin in. The result was a burst of speed, a ton of giggles, and the smell of a briefly burned tire.

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Polaris says the Slingshot R can hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. I know that doesn’t sound all that amazing in an era when EVs can easily do the job much quicker, but it’s faster than a Mazda Miata ND and only a couple of clicks off of a Toyota GR Supra. It’s no supercar, but it’s not a slouch, either.

The Polaris Slingshot has the perfect formula for the kinds of hooliganism that would normally be reserved for muscle cars and Can-Am Rykers. It’s easy to light that rear tire up, turn that wheel, and go for a spin cycle or a few. If you keep that rear tire hooked, the truck transmission is also pretty satisfying to throw through the gears. Go ahead, race up to that 8,500 RPM redline — you’re going to need to if you want that 203 HP — slam it into the next gear, and do it all over again.

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Something I’ve found refreshing about the Slingshot was that its complete disregard for convention made it feel better than many of the cars you’ll drive today. You get just enough technology, but the rest is all on you. Come in too hot into a turn? I hope you like drifting. Punch the throttle while doing a U-turn? There aren’t a million nannies that will scream at you. Traction control will try to stop you but you’ll find yourself overpowering it. Or, you could just turn off traction control and tell it to shut up. You aren’t going to find a radar, a lane-keep assist, or anything like that here.

I was also surprised to find out that the Slingshot is the exact opposite of everything everyone complains about in modern cars. You feel the road through the wheel and you can decipher what each wheel is doing through your tuchus. If you’re having a really spirited drive, you can even watch the front wheels work through their suspension range. Toss in the lack of a roof and driving a Slingshot fast involves almost all of your senses.

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The best comparison I can come up with is that the Polaris Slingshot R drives like a modern sporty roadster. It grips the road surprisingly well for a vehicle with just three wheels and you will have a blast opening it up on a backroad. And the experience is not the same as just driving a convertible. I love my Saturn Sky Red Line, which has the same truck transmission and 57 extra horses, but it does not deliver drama like the Slingshot.


I’ve had this machine just for a day, but I’ve already noticed a few quirks

One annoyance I’ve had was with the steering wheel. It sticks out pretty far, but there is no telescoping ability. I can’t quite find the perfect seat adjustment for a good pedal feel and to push the steering wheel as far back as I’d like it. Hopefully, this is something Polaris changes in a future update one day.

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The Slingshot is also loud, like really loud. Thankfully, the noise is muffled by a good helmet, but it’s also loud enough that conversations with your passenger are a non-starter while you’re moving unless both of you have a helmet communicator system. I just waited until we stopped at red lights to say things to Sheryl. From what I can tell, this is because the engine is right ahead of you and there’s little in the way of sound deadening.

Some of the hard plastics, and there are a lot of them, rattled against each other, adding to the symphony of loudness.

One final quirk is with the Slingshot R’s Ride Command system. This infotainment system is found all over the Polaris portfolio and it’s usually good, giving you vehicle vitals, maps, and music. Sometimes it doesn’t play nice with my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Every now and then the track I’m streaming starts skipping hard like a heavily-scratched CD. The fix seems to be restarting Ride Command, which is easy enough, but it’s a weird quirk I’ve only experienced with the Polaris infotainment system and not other brands.

So Much Drama

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If I had to find a common theme with the Slingshot, it would be drama.

Everything about the Slingshot is loud and in your face from its styling to the fact that the Rockford Fosgate sound system can be used as a boombox for a block party. The Slingshot doesn’t do anything without drama. It likes to billow clouds of smoke from the rear wheel, it likes piercing your helmet with its loud engine, and it can’t go anywhere without drawing a small crowd.

Seriously, the Slingshot has been out for about a decade now, yet it draws in people like bugs to a zapper. I’ve had it for just a day now and I’ve been approached at gas stations, red lights, and even a pharmacy. Everyone has something to say about the Slingshot. Sure, some of those people think the Slingshot is as ugly as sin, but everyone wants to say something, give you a thumbs up, or take a picture. You cannot own a Slingshot and be an introvert unless forcing yourself to talk to people is your kink.

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Slingshot owners are also a diverse group of people. They include women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and just people of all stripes. Many of these people love customizing their rides to be as unique as they are. On any given weekend I’ll see Slingshots covered in chrome wraps, bearing giant wheels, and adorned with speakers so huge they could swallow your head whole.

I actually love the truck transmission in this application. Its mechanical feel and distinct whine only add to the drama. I feel like I’m commanding a racecar from a Forza Motorsport game.

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The Slingshot R is somewhat practical, too. You get to sit in awesome heated and cooled seats and there’s more than enough locking storage for a couple of helmets and some light grocery shopping. I have no doubt you could have a Slingshot as a daily driver. I almost wish Polaris loaned me the Slingshot during the winter so I could really enjoy those bun warmers. But, just keep in mind that safety is more like a side-by-side than it is to an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Don’t get into a fight with a Toyota RAV4 because that’s a battle you won’t win.

In my day of driving thus far, I’ve found myself sitting on a fence. On one hand, driving a Slingshot R is such a visceral experience that I have not experienced in any normal convertible. On the other hand, I can put up the roof on my Saturn when the weather gets foul. A Polaris Slingshot requires a similar commitment to being in the elements as riding a motorcycle but with the ease of driving a car. In a way, a Slingshot is the closest thing you can get to riding a motorcycle without getting your endorsement.

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The Polaris Slingshot also has a value proposition, provided you forget the extra 25 ponies and stick with the cheaper trims. Sure, a Morgan 3 Wheeler is a better looker, but you can’t buy one of those new anymore and used ones cost more than a Slingshot. There’s the Morgan Super 3, but that’s a pricey unit, too. Vanderhalls are also stunners, but cost more than the Polaris, are front-wheel-drive only, and automatic only.

My impressions may change over the next couple of weeks, but for now, I feel as if the Slingshot has been unfairly given a bad reputation. Sure, it’s not as practical as a normal convertible and the higher trims get silly expensive, but the fun factor is off of the charts. There’s lots of genuine joy to be had here and if you want a vehicle that’ll get you attention, prepare to become a local celebrity.

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