Mobbin’ in Malibu: 2018 Polaris Slingshot SLR LE Review
(Photos by Barry Hathaway/Polaris Industries)
“This is just the beginning. You’re going to see a lot more from Slingshot.”
So said Polaris Industries’ Vice President of Product Management Gary Gray at the launch of the 2018 Slingshots. Considering Polaris trimmed Victory Motorcycles from its portfolio last year, the role of the Slingshot takes on even more significance. Then again, the three-wheeler has been an overachiever on the sales floor with over 20,000 units sold in three short years, and strong sales provide impetus to continue to push development of the model forward. The Slingshot is now classified as an autocycle in 40 states, meaning all you need to commandeer one is a state driver’s license. Classification was a big hurdle Polaris had to overcome when the Slingshot first launched, a hurdle I’m sure Polaris is relieved to have pretty much behind it. Growing pains can be expected when you’re ‘building not only a brand, but a category.”
Moving the platform forward this year included equipping Slingshots with the Ride Command system (except for the base “S” model), the same system found on Indian Motorcycle baggers and tourers. The old infotainment center in the Slingshots was fairly rudimentary and the monitor was difficult to see at times depending on the position of the sun. The new seven-inch touch screen has better resolution and is much easier to see. On the SLR LE we tested turn-by-turn navigation comes standard. It’s a touch screen that’s usable even with gloved hands and is user-friendly thanks to familiar cell phone-like functions like swipe and pinch to expand or zoom. There’s also a handy back-up camera. You can run Bluetooth through it or plug in a USB. You can opt to view it as a split screen and select what information you want on those screens. There’s no shortage of information to choose from, so on one side you can see exactly where you are on the map while the other will let you know you’re listening to “Hells Bells” at an ear-splitting decibel level. And the SLR LE will reach some lofty decibel levels because one of the perks of the high-end LE is the 200-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system that’s part of the package. So are an assortment of slick Sparco racing components including the steering wheel, shift knob and pedal covers. The SLR LE also comes with its own unique “Ghost Gray/Lime Squeeze” colorway, a colorway you’ll find outlining its sport seats as well.
Perks of LE ownership extend outside the cockpit as well. The package includes a trio of forged aluminum wheels. The back wheel is bumped up from 265mm to 305mm. While ABS is standard across all four 2018 Slingshot models, the SLR and SLR LE run two-piece composite brake rotors. But only the LE gets the new 10-way adjustable Bilstein coilover shocks. The 46mm monotube shocks are designed to provide better damping thanks to a bigger piston surface and better dissipation of heat. While the 2018 SLR LE is the only Slingshot that comes with them straight from the factory, you can order the Bilsteins on other 2018 models as a dealer-installed accessory. The shocks themselves cost $1,899.99 and require at least a couple hours to install.
Climbing in I’m quickly reminded how low the Slingshot sits to the ground. If I lean out just a little I can literally reach down and touch the ground. Looking up to cars can be a little unsettling at first. Then I slip it into gear, step on the gas, and that uneasy feeling quickly disappears. Steering is taught as I dart in and out of traffic on our way to the hills above Malibu. I don’t hesitate to open it up first chance I get. The powerband’s not overly wide, the tach bouncing between the 2,000 and 6,000 rpm as I’m rowing through gears. There’s plenty of pop down low and it’s quick off the line, acceleration aided by the Slingshot’s low power-to-weight ratio. Peak torque is said to be 166 ft-lbs. at 4,700 rpm while max horsepower of 173 isn’t achieved until 6,200 rpm. Numbers aside, there’s enough juice to easily squeal the back tire in the first three gears.
Cruising the PCH, sun warming my face, music pumping through the 200-watt system, the Slingshot feels right at home. Sitting at a stoplight I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drop the clutch on a Mustang sitting next to me. Granted, the driver didn’t take the bait of my engine revs, but it was still a hoot to get the drop on him as I blasted off, the back tire squirming like a fish on the line as it hooked and booked down the road.
Before long we’re mobbing through the canyons above Malibu, turn after delightful turn. While I’ve driven a Slingshot several times before, this is the first time I’ve been able to truly test the handling on curvy roads. The Slingshot’s traction and stability control allows just enough play so drivers can enjoy a little grin-inducing drift through turns without losing control altogether or having the end swing around on them. Give the wide, low profile tires an assist for providing healthy amounts of grip. The traction and stability control systems can be turned off with the push of a button but I never felt the need to. The Bilstein shocks on the 2018 SLR LE make a huge difference, from providing better overall control to reducing sway to hugging the road tighter. This was most evident when I hopped out of the seat of the LE and into a 2017 Slingshot. Trying to hustle it around like the SLR LE required a lot more work at the wheel. The back end slid quite a bit more and it just felt sloppy in comparison. Guess I got spoiled driving the LE.
Coming around a tight bend our troupe of Slingshots had bottled up ahead of me and I had to get on the brakes hard. The initial bite wasn’t very aggressive and feel was lacking, making for a hairball moment when I thought I might bash the journalist in front of me. The arrangement could definitely be more powerful for my tastes.
Heading back to the Erwin Hotel I felt like a rock star rolling through Venice Beach as heads turned, people smiled and pointed, and I became a pseudo-Insta star as more than once cars pulled alongside and whipped out their phones to snap a picture. Granted, it’s not a motorcycle, but Polaris never claimed it was. It’s a singular experience, one that left a shit-eating grin on my face for days to come. And when you can be the center of attention in the land of Lambos and Bentleys for a fraction of the cost, that’s saying something.