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Discussion Starter #1

pretty good exposure here, it was a huge article of the paper.

Dec. 5, 2014 1:58 p.m. ET

LET’S SAY YOU have had a particularly good year and you have $23,999 in fresh currency to toss into the burn barrel in the backyard. Go ahead, make a night of it. Oh, pretty. See how the new anticounterfeiting measures sparkle in the fire?

I was meditating on what sort of people would buy the Polaris Slingshot SL, a three-wheel cry for help from the power-sports toy factory in Medina, Minn. (the Slingshot SL is assembled in Spirit Lake, Iowa). What unites these consumers, I’ve concluded, is their anarchic disregard for $24,000. Beyond that, motives vary, as they must in the purchase of anything with rubber seats.

Not surprisingly, because it looks like it came out of a Hot Wheels package, the Slingshot SL is mobbed everywhere it goes by adolescent boys selfie-ing themselves blind with it. Gack! Ohmigod, mister! Can I sit in it? What is it?

Price, as tested: $23,999

Powertrain: Naturally aspirated 2.4-liter DOHC in-line four cylinder with variable valve control; five-speed manual transmission; belt-drive, single rear wheel

Horsepower/torque: 173 hp at 6,200 rpm/166 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm

Length/weight: 146.9 inches/1,743 pounds

Wheelbase: 105.0 inches

0-60 mph: 5 seconds

EPA fuel economy: N/A

Cargo capacity: 4 cubic feet

Well, son, the law considers it a motorcycle and so driver and passenger are obliged to wear helmets in helmet-law states. Which is a drag and kind of a stopper, for me. Imagine taking this thing out for a Saturday drive and coming to a stoplight, with lots of traffic around. And there you and your passenger are, just sitting there in this preposterous, conversation-stopping three-wheel Gundam mobile-mecha, in the sun, and everybody is looking at you, wondering if you have been separated from your strike force. Uh, hi…

I am not at all quibbling with the Slingshot SL’s classification or the requirement to wear helmets, by the way. This machine has no air bags and a chrome-moly frame that, while surely well made and properly engineered, would fold like chicken wire in a proper pickup-to-Slingshot SL collision. They would never get you out of the thing. You would have to be buried in it.

The Slingshot SL is 77.6 inches wide at the front wheels—a goodly frontal width, wider than many premium sports cars—and 51 inches high at its Le Mans-style roll hoops. The Slingshot SL might remind enthusiasts of the classic prewar Morgan 3-Wheeler, petite gondolas slung behind spitting, frapping V-twin motorcycle engines mounted transversely, and a single, mighty tailpipe ventilated like a machine-gun barrel. The Slingshot SL (149.6 inches in length) is about two feet longer than a representative 1939 Morgan Super Sport and, at 1,743 pounds, is nearly double the weight of the lithe Super Sport (949 pounds).

The point is, if a tandem-seated motorcycle is a stiletto between the ribs of traffic, the Slingshot SL is a meat mallet. You are not cheating any lanes in this thing.

As I tried to explain, despite its superficial resemblance to something cool, the Slingshot SL is basically the front half of the defunct Pontiac Solstice and the back half of a cruiser bike. The aero-angular plastic shrouds enclose GM’s finest 2.4-liter, 173-hp Ecotec in-line four crate motor, mounted north-south with an Aisin five-speed manual gearbox. All this is betwixt what appears to be the Solstice’s repurposed cast-aluminum upper control arms and 11.8-inch disc brakes. The lower control arms includes an interesting antisway bar arrangement (the attachment is through-bolted about halfway along the lower control arm), which is part of the Slingshot SL’s unique ride-and-handling recipe: Relatively soft front springs, stiff antiroll bar, lots of camber and lots of electronic assistance to null out the Slingshot SL’s self-evident tail-happiness. The Slingshot SL delivers a surprisingly supple ride at cruising speeds and quickly goes neutral-to-free when pushing.

From there things get a little weird, as the Slingshot SL has a single rear wheel. But what a wheel! A forged, 10-spoke, 20-inch black anodized rim slathered with a 255/35-series tire. The rear wheel is located by a cast-aluminum right swingarm and damped by a single, heroic Sachs coilover. The driver and passenger seats occupy an extreme aft position in the tube-steel space frame, relative to the outrageously wide, long hood. That, and the fact that the passenger compartment has no top, no doors and cut down thresholds, gives the Slingshot SL a distinct Ace-and-Gary vibe.

‘The Slingshot SL is mobbed everywhere it goes by adolescent boys selfie-ing themselves.’

As a motoring enthusiast, I’m inclined to give the Slingshot SL some love. Why? Because it handles like a Formula Ford (small, open-wheel, amateur racer, neither wings nor slicks) with power steering and a deranged rear end. So it’s fun. According to the literature, the Slingshot SL’s static weight distribution is 66/34%, front/rear. And while the front end of the thing has two tires to rely on for grip, the rear has only the one. Less rear weight plus less rear grip equals the Slingshot SL’s ass-waggling on trailing throttle and its tire-fogging nonsense off the line.

To do any of that, you have to fully disable the electronic stability-control (ESC) system, about which more later.

In principle, liberating the Solstice’s powertrain from its clunky, DOT-approved steel body would be a good thing. The Ecotec four is smooth, torque’y, a spooler, with a teeth-baring ruff at 7,000 rpm. The Slingshot SL weighs a half-ton less than the Solstice, and brags of a power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp per 10 pounds, which is respectable. To compare, the ratio of the Chevy Camaro convertible with the 3.6-liter V6 is about 1 hp per 12.4 pounds.

Raise the Slingshot SL’s revs to about 4,000 rpm, drop the clutch, and the Slingshot SL will paint a single, slithery tire mark down for about 30 feet, and chirp its tire once more going into second gear, like an oversize canary, amid the blare from the sawed-off, side-exiting exhaust. The Aisin gearbox, then and now, is magic.

However, the Slingshot SL has but a single rear tire and contact patch through which to express its horsepower, and so it’s surprisingly and counter-intuitively un-fast. Maybe 0-60 mph in five seconds if you nail the initial launch exactly right and you get a tailwind.

But way too often you ask for more power than the tire can handle, leaving the Slingshot SL to spin its wheel ineffectively on reduced engine power, the ESC light sputtering. This same dearth of rubber at the stern means the Slingshot SL can’t generate particularly high levels of lateral grip, and if you push the Slingshot SL even a bit, it will start to lean on the stability system extra hard.

Given the Slingshot SL’s mass distribution on three wheels, I don’t think Polaris’s engineers (or lawyers) would have even proposed such a vehicle without robust, even aggressive ESC programming.

Which, as I said, you can turn off by holding down the ESC button for about five seconds, until it chimes. Now you have full access to the Slingshot SL’s doughnut-making repertoire. With the ESC off, you can crank the Slingshot SL’s wheel, plant your right foot and spin yourself dizzy while fulminating tire smoke in the parking lot of the nearest funeral home.

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