Polaris Industries. When I say that name, I think of the good old days where my uncle used to run the snowmobile drags in Southern Colorado on his hopped up Polaris sled, or I think about the first time that I saw a RZR S and got to rip it down a tree-lined trail. Polaris, in my mind, has always been about speed and excitement. Every year they bring something to market that is assured to get your blood pumping. They do it by taking a product that you know and love, improving the suspension, shoehorning a bigger motor into it, or coaxing some more performance out of the existing motor. Sometimes we get front row seats to something that completely shifts the paradigm... That time is now, and that thing is the Polaris Slingshot!
This machine is something that has been in the pipeline at Polaris in some form or another for longer than I can even convey to you. Rumor has it that it has been in the back corner of the skunk works at Polaris for over a decade. The year 2015 will be a special year for all of us who have been watching the internet and listening for whispers of a new project on the keystrokes of the tireless internet detectives. The year 2015 will be the year that all of our hopes and fears for the Slingshot are going to be put to the test.
Will the Slingshot be a case of "Don't meet your heroes," or will it be a case where you meet your hero and he is so much better than you could have ever imagined? I had some lofty expectations walking into my first meeting with the Slingshot. I had read all of the rumblings from the internet, and had some second-hand stories filter across my desk. Statements like, "Oh man, I can't even tell you!," "You are going to freak out!," and "This thing is sooo good!" I took that all with a grain of salt and thought, "Okay, this thing might be good. I mean, look how good their RZR line is. Polaris knows what they are doing, but I could also see it going out with a wimper." I am always wary when people build something up. The higher the horse the harder the fall.
Then, the call comes in for a media event and for one of those whirlwind trips, that occur when those calls come in. Fly in, sleep, up early, event for a few hours, and then fly out same day. Standard. This call was no different, and we packed our bags, not knowing what we were going to see. Is it the Slingshot, a new quad, or a new Ranger? Who knows? The romance of these trips wears off rather quickly when you look at your itinerary... 20 hours is not a long time to be anywhere.
Minnesota. Morning. We are up early and discussing the possibilities of what they are going to be showing us. A round of coffees and a quick muffin see us to the curb to await our transport. There was still no one but us. Then we see some of the other members of the press. The van shows up to cart us to the location of the event. Polaris Industries R&D Center rises on the horizon as the Sun had just a few hours prior.
We are greeted at the reception by our escort for the day, one of the project leads. Polaris Industries R&D Center is a highly secured building where a key card is needed to get through virtually every door. Impressive. The presentation about what we are here to experience was short and concise as the excitement poured out of the project principals discussing the Slingshot! They were finally able to tell people about what they had been working on so diligently for years. Ending the presentation with the thrilling statement of, "Okay, now lets go show you these things!", we are dismissed and transported to the test track where the unveiling is to occur.
The tension is palpable. Glowing remarks and heightened anticipation hitched a ride in my brain from Austin to Minnesota, and now that has been intensified by the project leads. Is such a build up ready for a fall or ready for sweet validation?
In the distance there is movement, accompanied with tight exhaust notes like that of an Autocross track on a Saturday morning. The long straight is made short by the bright red vehicle that is screaming towards us with a glorious, metallic grey machine in hot pursuit of the red racer. It was like having the final camera position at the end of the trench of the Death Star as Luke's X-Wing raced to deliver the payload with TIE Fighters hot on his tail.
I cannot convey to you the presence that these machines have. The width of these things is hard to capture in photos, and the way that they almost sit on the ground is incredible. Their 77.6-inch width is made to seem that much wider as the body only sits just 5-inches off the ground. Let me say that again... 77.6 inches. That is wider than a Corvette C7 by almost 4 inches! All of the comparisons to that Can-Am thing just went out the window.
We get the walk-around tour of the machines and finally it is time to get behind the wheel of these things. The guided tour is made, while we helmet up. I slide into the driver's seat that looks about as comfortable as a bag of medium sized boulders. Surprisingly, the weather resistant seats are quite comfortable. They are obviously no Mercedes Benz, luxury-lined seats with A/C and heat, but they are not bad on the bum at all. The ergonomics feel well-sorted as I reach over to the pushbutton start, push the clutch in and the 2.4L Ecotec engine takes it's first gasp of air, fuel, and fire.
We set out on the road behind the blade windscreen that is standard on the SL model that I am piloting. It is keeping the air sailing smoothly up and over my open faced helmet. The project manager, in his full face, is telling me all of the great things about the gearing as it relates to the power output of the motor. What surprised me initially was the ease at which we could talk over the slight wind noise even with our helmets and his full face plate. However, it was hard to focus on what exactly he was saying to me as I was too busy taking in the open road whizzing just inches below my feet and the air rushing past my face. I snap to attention as he urges me to give a lane change a shot as if I were making a pass on the highway. I blip the throttle, match revs, and downshift from 4th to 3rd followed immediately by "the beans." The Slingshot takes hold of the road, builds speed, and changes lanes while rigid and flat. It handles this adeptly thanks to the giant sway bars on such a light vehicle. It has the body roll of a Ferrari as I complete the pass and return to my lane with the confidence that I have felt in few other cars.
I glance over at my escort and he just looks at me with a knowing look in his eyes and a grin. He already knew, and now I know too... the Slingshot is something amazing. I walked into the event hearing that the Slingshot was good, but I was not about to hold my breath. I am here to tell you... Hold your breath. It is that good.
We return to the test track to swap out with the lead tester of the Slingshot. His job is truly something to envy. He spends hours and hours out on the skid pad taking notes, dialing in the suspension, developing the traction control and the stability control systems. If there is a guy who knows how to drive this thing, it is this gentleman.
Slide into the passenger seat and he grabs revs and then lets the rear tire loose. We rocket down the straight as I am able to do nothing except grin from ear to ear! We get down to the skid pad in no time flat. He begins telling me about the traction systems as he is demonstrating the G test with both systems on and then with the systems completely off. Under normal driving conditions, there is virtually no interference from the electronics making for a pure driving experience. Once you decide that you would like a little more than the 10% slip that the systems allow, you can kick them off and whip the tail end around with little more than a liberal administration of the right foot. The Slingshot swells its chest and then steps the rear end out in a very predictable manner. A dab of counter steer will pull you right back in line as you reign it back in.
Straight line acceleration is best handled with the traction aids active as it allows you the illusion of roasting the rear tire, all while you put 90% of the drive into accelerating and only loosing 10% to slip. Experienced drag racers might be able to squeeze out a bit more by reigning in that slip with some skillful administration of the clutch. We were not able to get any timed runs on the 0-60, but having 1 horsepower for every 10 pounds of weight made it feel pretty darn quick.
Loops around the skidpad left me feeling pretty confident in the front end holding it's grip during hard cornering, and the tail did not wag with the driver aids on. Polaris spent many hours on the test track to make sure that even the drivers with potted meat for hands will be able to drive the Slingshot with confidence and quickness.
Our day wrapped up with a quick chat, talking to the proud fathers and mothers of the Slingshot. They looked so relieved to finally be able to talk to us so openly and freely about the project they had to keep under wraps in the keycoded vault that is the Polaris Industries R&D building.
Que the Music.
The Polaris Slingshot: pound for pound, stands toe to toe with sinewy track prepped bruisers, throws heavy-weight hooks into the fairings of the Can-Am Spyder and lands swift uppercuts to porky trikes. This American made roadster will let you strut around town like Apollo Creed because it's angular physique is that of a prize fighter coupled with the charisma of a champion. It is time to live on that driving edge where all you can think about is the glory of an empty road, the joy of a perfectly rev-matched downshift and the howl of engine as you charge the corners. Don't take our word for it, go to your dealer, slide yourself into a Slingshot, strap on a helmet, and experience the "Eye of the Tiger."