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HCOTY Nominee: Polaris Slingshot

Peter Tanshanomi December 9, 2014 Hooniversal Car of the Year 3 Comments

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“Manufacturers only cater to soccer moms.”
“You can’t tell one cookie-cutter car from another.”
“Driving dynamics have taken a back seat to comfort and convenience.”
“Lawyers and bureaucrats have legislated all the fun out of cars.”
“Performance cars are so expensive, most people will never be able to afford them.”

In a world where automotive enthusiasts are constantly complaining about the moribund state of car design, the Polaris Slingshot is a giant, shockingly bold middle finger to the slow decline of the enthusiast automobile. And yes—it is an automobile. It might have one wheel and a thong-sized license plate out back, but you shift with your hand and steer with a wheel. You accelerate, clutch and brake with your feet. It has bucket seats and seat belts. Okay, so it is a three-wheeled car; that particular quirk allows it to slip through some regulatory wormholes on its way to Main Street, but that makes it no less a car.

It’s a car like you thought you’d never again see sold in America, to say nothing of designed and built in America. It’s a car built for one thing: going out and ripping around like a madman solely for the joy of driving. Now, it’s true that the handling limits are quite a bit lower than a four-wheel sports car, but that just means that Joe Average can explore the entire performance envelope out on the road without the sort of velocities that may result in a ride in the back of a Highway Patrol cruiser. And unlike all those other super-exotic, hyperspeed European boutique tuner cars and track day specials, this one is affordable enough that just about anybody who has serious aspirations of insanity can swing the cost.

It’s a mutant Morgan with 21st-century technology spliced into its DNA. That, my friends, is why the Polaris Slingshot is my HCOTY nominee for 2014.

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No roof. Light weight, minimalist chassis. Stiff suspension and grippy tires. I could be describing the KTM X-Bow or Ariel Atom. But when I add that your local DMV has no problem with you hanging a tag on it and nearly every decent-sized U.S. city has a dealer to handle maintenance and warranty work, we can only be talking about the Slingshot.

I haven’t driven a Slingshot yet, but I desperately want to. I have been a fan open-cockpit three-wheelers for a long time. From the reports I’ve read, the car has plenty of go-go juice, handles aggressively (up to the limits of rear wheel traction), inspires hoonery, and the front-to-rear traction disparity actually makes it easy to predictably work the back end through turns, all watched over by ESC microprocessors of loving grace. Or not (you can turn ESC off).

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Polaris isn’t an established car company, but they’ve jumped into the sportscar market stream (or at least one of its tributaries) with a big, innovative splash. That’s a remarkable thing in this litigious, over-regulated, financially bottle-necked business environment. Also, I might be exposing my jingoistic undergarments here, but I am thrilled that this thing didn’t come from Asia or from some European design house. A bunch of walleye fishermen and cob-chuckers in the upper Midwest designed and built it. While Peugeot, VW and a couple of other tadpole concept car designers got cold feet when it came time to crank up the production line, Polaris said, “Here, hold my beer and watch this.”  I think that speaks well for the future of innovation, not just in America, but worldwide. You can still build a better mousetrap, even if you have to creatively arrange the cheese to satisfy regulators.

The Polaris Slingshot is the track day car for the rest of us. And to that I say—Bravo!

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Yes, I currently own a tadpole trike, but being the owner of a Can-Am Spyder (two, if count my wife’s), and a big fan of Polaris’s Indian and Victory motorcycles has nothing to do with my nomination. In fact, as a Spyder owner, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the Slingshot. I have grown very tired of illogical comparisons between the two: “The Slingshot is going to kill Spyder sales.” “Bet you’re sorry you didn’t wait for the Slingshot.” “The Slingshot can handle much faster corner speeds.” “The Slingshot is safer.” Let’s get this straight; from the rider’s point of view, they are two completely different beasts. The Spyder is a snowless-mobile for more temperate regions and seasons. The Slingshot is a sports roadster with an infinitely narrow rear track.

IMAGE SOURCES: Wired.com, Polaris.com, Polaris press photos.

  • CABEZAGRANDE

    That's what that was! Saw one of these last night in Kansas City. It's definitely bigger that you'd expect. I'm personally not a fan of the looks, but it sounds like a blast to drive, and the price is impressive for something like this. I hope they do well and turn the profits into better looking vehicles in the future.

    • Are you KC local? I didn't realize that.

  • bluehillsmike

    Love it. Was a Polaris supplier of machined parts and castings–we made their first 2 stroke blocks in the early 90s. It is as you say. Hold on to my beer while i do this! I was involved in that many times at both Polaris and Arctic Cat. Polaris has developed into a sophisticated company with down home roots. Bravo. Can't wait to drive one.