I grew up in South Florida, the son of a blue-collar father. He was a machinist and part-time mechanic who tinkered with small engines in his spare time. We spent weekends at drag races and funny car shows, so it’s safe to say my love of gasoline-powered toys has always been in my DNA. I remember making friends with our neighbor’s son partly because he had a Power Wheels. On the rare occasion that he let me drive it, it was exhilarating. In command of that 12V battery pushing a whopping quarter-horsepower, I felt alive. I was barely old enough to straw my own CapriSun pouch, but for those two minutes behind the wheel, I was Michael Damn Schumacher. Whether test driving the all-new Corvette C8 or drifting in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.
From an early age, it seems my fascination with the Polaris Slingshot — or, at least, a vehicle like the Slingshot — was hardwired. It’s the stuff of childhood fantasy. It combines all the best parts of the world’s most fun driving machines into one absurd, three-wheel street rocket. It promises the immediacy and connectedness to the road of a sportbike; the low-slung stance and drop-top fun of an MX-5 Miata; and the bold looks of a never-to-be-built concept car. Yet, it’s not really any of those things. It’s unlike anything else on the road. My two-week test-drive of Polaris’ flagship Slingshot R with AutoDrive proved it.
Upon taking delivery, my girlfriend and I felt inspired (or perhaps compelled) to escape our self-imposed quarantine. We quickly booked an Airbnb staycation. It would be a long weekend at Skiatook Lake, arguably Oklahoma’s most beautiful body of water. It’s more than 16 square miles of tranquil water that would no doubt inspire better writers to pack their poetry journal and a dog-eared copy of Emerson’s Nature. It didn’t disappoint, especially because we had the lake almost entirely to ourselves. During our pandemic escape, the same pandemic had forced everyone else to stay home. We spent the daylight hours dipping our toes in the water, walking barefoot along the shoreline, and tooling around the lake in the Slingshot. After dark, we relaxed on the deck, enjoying water views, blissful silence, and grilled meat. It was the first time in months that we felt the gravity of the world’s situation lift a little.
If I’m honest, though, something with more buttoned-down sophistication like an Audi TTS would have better suited our leisurely lake house jaunt. Driving the Slingshot R to Skiatook was awesome because, well, how could it not be? But, it felt a little like taking a flamethrower to a shooting range. It’s not designed for timidity or precision track days. It’s a vehicle built for less pedestrian pursuits — one that’s unabashedly, even proudly, rough around the edges. No, the Polaris Slingshot wants, almost demands, to be driven hard.
So, I spent the better of my two-week test drive doing just that, pushing the three-wheeler’s limits (within the bounds of street-legal fun, of course). A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine might not excite you on paper. But that seemingly modest Prostar engine is pushing less than 1,700 pounds. In short, it’s fast, agile, and boatloads of fun.
Unlocking the Slingshot R’s full potential is a matter of depressing a bright red button on the steering wheel. This enables “Slingshot mode,” which changes up steering weight, throttle response, and shift speed and timing for a more aggressive ride. With the full thrust of the Slingshot R’s 203 horsepower dumped through a single belt-driven rear wheel, it’s ideal for red light burnouts, scaring your co-pilot, and garnering lots of amazed/disapproving looks from other drivers. Gunning the Slingshot R to its 8,500 RPM redline from a standstill is, in technical automotive terms, pretty damn exhilarating.
With traction control switched off, goosing the gas pedal from a stoplight causes the rear wheel to scramble for a split-second to find traction before launching the R forward with a snap. This combination opens the door to sub-five-second 0-60 times. In this world of 1,000-plus-horsepower hypercars, 4.9 seconds might not seem blistering fast. But, when you’re sitting mere inches off the ground in the Slingshot’s wide-open cockpit, it feels quite fast indeed. The assault of rushing air, engine noise, and sudden acceleration is unlike any sports car I’ve ever driven.
To state the obvious, there’s nothing practical about a Slingshot R, but Polaris also isn’t pretending that there is. Still, during my two-week test period, I found myself daydreaming about taking it everywhere. I made excuses to run errands that didn’t need running, to pop to the market to buy things we didn’t need. I’d grab the keys and run out the door mumbling to my girlfriend that we were all out of rhubarb and Funyuns, knowing full well that I eat neither.
With my own adult Power Wheels in the garage, I had found a mental antidote to quarantine — the perfect vessel for escapism at a time when I was most craving escape. Grabbing the key fob and walking down the stairs to my garage, I felt giddy. Watching the garage door glide open to reveal the Slingshot R’s hard, angular silhouette felt like unlocking my own private superhero lair.
Going about my ordinary routine became a source of interest not only for me but for strangers too. Because, when you’re behind the wheel of a Slingshot, everyone wants to know what in the hell you’re driving. Harley riders, Porsche owners, school bus kids, and middle-aged women all have questions. It’s impossible to fill up at the gas station without explaining to the guy at the next pump what a Slingshot is. Even a quick run into the store meant I’d return to the parking lot to find someone walking in curious circles around the R. I lost track of how many people pulled alongside me at a stoplight and honked their horn just to throw me a thumbs up. Others would shout questions that went unheard over the growl of the engine and the inch of foam padding around the inside of my motorcycle helmet. On more than one occasion, I popped up my visor and whispered “I’m Batman” to no one but myself because none of them could hear me.
Loading the Slingshot R onto the transport truck was a sad snap back to reality. It’s hard to imagine a vehicle more clearly designed for pure, unadulterated fun. It’s bold, raw, unapologetic, and just a tad more fun than my neighbor’s Power Wheels. And that’s what we all need right now: A little Power Wheels-esque escapism.
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