2023 Polaris Slingshot R Best Review for Buyers
Polaris continues to be a majority stakeholder in the US autocycle segment with its Slingshot. And the 2023 Slingshot R ($34,998 as tested) is positioned near the top of its 2023 model range. The Slingshot is categorized as a three-wheeled autocycle in the state of California. Federally, it’s known as a motorcycle. Two wheels up front and one drive wheel in the rear.
Editor’s note: We tested last year’s version in the 2022 Polaris Slingshot SL MC Commute Review. We also operated the automatic-transmission-equipped version in the 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL MC Commute Review. Legal restrictions and vehicle classification vary from state to state. Check your local laws before operating this vehicle on public roads.
Polaris says its Slingshot was designed to look like a predatory-style bird, and the Minnesota company did a marvelous job in the styling department. If you’re someone who wants to attract a lot of attention on the street, this Slingshot R is for you.
Braking performance has long been a weak link in the Slingshot’s arsenal. Thankfully, the R model boasts four-piston Brembo calipers up front. It also benefits from Polaris’ “Sport Vented Hood” that is available as an accessory. On the R model, it’s OE specification. Other differences include the fat 300-series rear Kenda meat on a 20-inch aluminum wheel.
Inside, the rider and driver sit in more premium R spec bucket seats. These seats are a huge upgrade from standard Slingshot’s. It also has electronic heating and cooling. Plus a nifty fly screen. The thing about Slingshots is that it offers lockable storage behind the seats, which is big enough to swallow full-face helmets.
The Slingshot is powered by Polaris’ ProStar 1,997cc inline-four. This was modeled after GM’s Ecotec LE9, which powered the original Slingshot (read the Polaris Introduces the Slingshot for 2015 article) for many years until the 2020 model year when it debuted its power unit. This is the same engine Polaris uses in its top-of-the-range RZR sport UTV.
Suspension consists of double-wishbone design, with forged control arms and shock absorbers. Rear suspension duties are handled by a motorcycle-type swingarm with a shock and a belt final drive.
Like most modern vehicles, the Slingshot relies on an proximity-type electronic key fob for engine start. The starting procedure consists of: Put the safety belt on for driver and passenger. Make sure the vehicle is in gear (so it doesn’t roll forward or backward). Depress the left-foot-mounted hydraulic clutch lever and press the start button. It’s always good when you’re starting this thing to press the starter button to allow the electronics to cycle on which takes a second or two. Then press the start button to fire the engine. If you’re trying to do it hastily, the electronics sometimes wig out.
Like we’ve written before, this is a three-wheeled autocycle in the state of California. To operate this vehicle in the Golden State, you have to have a Class C automobile driver’s license. No M1 endorsement is needed. You also have to wear a DOT-labeled helmet, however it doesn’t have to be a full-face design.
Hopping inside the vehicle requires some interesting body contortions. There are no doors like a UTV. Instead it has steel frame rails and bucket seats which hold you in the cockpit. Even though this vehicle is very low to the ground and has no doors, it’s difficult to get into. If you were someone who is disabled or has limited body movement, this vehicle would be a little bit tough to enter. Once seated at the controls, this bucket seat, especially the Slingshot R’s premium bucket seat, is nice. It holds you in very nicely. I like the amount of adjustment it has, forward and aft. If you were a tall person, over 6 feet tall or so, we could see how this vehicle might be cramped. Tilt steering is another nice touch, however telescopic steering adjustment is not available.
In terms of acceleration, we’ve written about it before in previous Slingshot reviews, how this Polaris engine feels similar to the GM, but this version has a little more pep. This particular Slingshot R engine is rated at 203 hp at the crank. That’s about 25 more than the Slingshot SL we tested last year. And you certainly feel the extra power. This thing is a lot more peppy than the 2022 Slingshot non-R spec was. It’s pretty interesting how Polaris is able to just boost the power through programming changes. Polaris claims a zero to 60 in just under five seconds. Cruise control helps ensure that operators adhere to the speed limit.
It’s also got a really nice visceral sound, even at idle. There is a little bit of vibration present through the controls which increases with rpm, but it isn’t bad. The rearview mirrors do a nice job of showing off what is behind you. There’s a little bit of vibration, but it isn’t off-putting.
An Aisin Japanese-made five-speed transmission (with reverse) puts power back to the rear wheel. The gearbox is the same type of transmission used in older Chevy Colorados and Isuzu Troopers. While this transmission is old in architecture, it works really well. We like the way the transmission feels. The throws between each of the gears isn’t too long. The engine shifts really smoothly. The hydraulically actuated dry clutch has a nice push on the lever. The pedal pushes really light, and it has good response. It’s fun driving a manual automobile-type transmission. I haven’t operated a vehicle with this type of gearbox in many, many years. Actually, probably since the last time we drove the Slingshot SL last calendar year.
As usual, Polaris offers its optional auto drive automatic transmission for an upcharge. This is the same Aisin five-speed gearbox but it has automatic actuation developed by Magneti Marelli. So instead of the operator depressing the clutch lever, a computer-controlled actuator does the work. It’s a nice feature for folks who don’t want to deal with shifting, but at the same time, this configuration is more lazy and not as responsive as a modern automatic setup.
Fuel mileage–wise, we averaged around 28 mpg. We haven’t been driving it too fast. Obviously, we go through the gears at lower speeds but we’re not cruising at 90 down the freeway like we would on a motorcycle. It’s worth noting that Polaris wants its drivers to run 91-octane unleaded fuel. E85 fuel is also a no-go.
Keeping tabs on everything is a 7-inch color TFT display Polaris calls Ride Command. The screen provides a wealth of information including remaining fuel mileage, battery voltage, engine coolant temperature, and an oil service indicator. It’s really slick. There’s also a digital compass and GPS navigation. A backup camera automatically engages when putting the vehicle into reverse.
The thing we like about Polaris’ Ride Command is that it’s the same system that Polaris has used for decades. It’s really easy to pair your phone. Other manufacturers have a difficult time with easy Bluetooth pairing. But it’s very easy to pair your iOS-enabled smartphone via Bluetooth. When you pair it, obviously you can listen to music off your smartphone, and you can do turn-by-turn navigation with Apple Maps, Google Maps, or similar. Of course you can take phone calls on the go.
This Slingshot R stands out from other models with this high-end Rockford Fosgate system. It’s got a multi-speaker system with speakers on each side of the door. There’s also an extra set of tweeters. It sounds really good, especially compared to the base sound system. Steering wheel–mounted controls make audio controls easy to manipulate while driving.
The Slingshot R benefits from bespoke interior LED lighting. A switch offers two color settings (white and indigo blue) that give this vehicle a premium feel. Storage-wise it offers a glove compartment that’s lockable with a key. There’s also USB and 12-volt charging ports.
In terms of instrumentation, Polaris uses a basic instrument panel that it’s used for over a decade in other vehicles including its RZR UTV. It would be nice if Polaris updated this as it looks old. It needs to be updated, especially for the MSRP of this vehicle which is $7,000 more than the last Slingshot SL we test drove last calendar year.
Another neat feature is well-supportive bucket seats with heating and cooling (available for an upcharge). Unlike an automobile, the Slingshot seats use a heat pump–like electronic setup for both heating and cooling function. And it actually works.
This Slingshot R is also equipped with this dark smoke windshield. During the day, it’s awesome. But at night, it definitely reduces the ability to see what’s going on in front of you. While definitely a nice touch, we’d like a clear version because it would be more conducive to operation, day or night. This windshield does a nice job of shielding the driver or occupants from the elements. However, occupants are still exposed to the elements. Of course, you could purchase the accessory roof, but touring is not really something in the Polaris’ skill set. Instead it’s oriented to short jaunts around town.
Last year when we test drove the Slingshot SL, the engine heat in the cockpit was borderline excessive. Obviously, if you’re operating this vehicle in mild to moderate weather, it’s not that big of a deal, but if you were driving in Miami during the summer months, you’d be roasted. Thankfully, the R’s sport vented hood does a good job of cooling things down inside the cockpit with its updated shape. It also looks cool and the aerodynamics have been tweaked, so it flaps less at speed.
Weighing 1,651 pounds with almost a full 10 gallons of fuel, below 60 mph, this vehicle handles well. It feels like a go-kart and is very fun to operate with precise steering. Polaris says it’s good for 125 mph (electronically limited). We’re going to take its word.
Unlike other vehicles, this three-wheel autocycle is rear-wheel drive. It puts power back to the 20-inch-wide alloy wheel shod with an oversized 300-series Kenda meat. The rear suspension is motorcycle based with a swingarm and belt final drive.
Suspension travel-wise it offers over 4 inches of travel up front and just over 5 at the rear. However ride quality is questionable on anything but a billiard table smooth stretch of pavement. You’re definitely going to feel bumps over the road. Over 60 mph, this vehicle feels skatey and moves around a lot. Still we’d be lying if we didn’t say it was a hoot grabbing gears from a stoplight.
In terms of brakes, the Slingshot R’s stoppers are a tremendous improvement. Triple disc hydraulic linked brakes are operated like an automobile with a center brake pedal. Four-piston Brembo calipers grab oversized, vented, non-cross-drilled rotors up front. A vented non-cross-drilled rotor is pinched by a single-piston caliper. The Slingshot R finally offers a capable brake package. Of course, fixed, always-on ABS mitigates the chance of wheel lockup if you slam on the brakes.
It’s worth noting that this Polaris Slingshot isn’t subjected to modern automotive safety standards. There are no crumple zones, there’s no supplemental restraint systems besides the seatbelt. Polaris engineered these rollover-style tubes in the back of the vehicle on each side, which helps protect the occupant in the case of a rollover. Because this vehicle rides so low to the ground, it’s very easy for trucks and other tall vehicles to miss you.
Maintenance intervals are a key factor for owners. Polaris says to change the engine oil and filter at 5,000-mile increments, starting with the first at 500 miles. The rear differential-like device transfers power between the transmission and the belt final drive. The manual states to change the angle drive fluid every 10,000 miles initially with a longer duration after. Polaris has a handy YouTube video series so owners can tackle this at home. The air filter should be changed every 15,000 miles and fuel filters are listed at 25,000 miles. This vehicle goes a whopping 30,000 miles between valve inspection intervals, which is impressive for a motorcycle but not for an automobile.
While it looks like this vehicle has headlights on either side of it, it actually doesn’t. Those are positioning LEDs. The center beam functions as the primary headlight. New automobiles will have a brighter headlight setup. While it definitely looks awesome, it is not as functional as it should be considering its MSRP.
The neat thing about this Slingshot R, is that you can be operating it with your passenger sitting next to you. It is much more of an intimate and social riding experience than a motorcycle. Polaris also offers roof options for those who want to have some protection from the elements.
Although three-wheel autocycles don’t enjoy the benefits of a traditional automobile, at the same time, they’re cool because they draw a lot of attention. You’re going to get more looks in this $33,999 Slingshot R (base price) than a $200,000 Ferrari. If you’re someone who wants a lot of attention, get a Slingshot. On the flip side, if you don’t want to be under the spotlight, it isn’t for you.
Polaris’ 2023 Slingshot R is an absolute head-turner. If you’re someone who wants to create a lot of noise and raise ruckus when arriving at the hot spot in the evening, this $34,000 Slingshot R will do it. And while you do get a lot more features—like that magnificent sport vented hood, larger tires, and more premium seats with heating and cooling—this vehicle commands a high price. Especially when you can consider that you can buy a sporty-type automobile for roughly the same price. If you want to make a statement and wish to be a part of the powersport community, yet not ride an actual motorcycle, this Polaris Slingshot will get you there. There’s nothing else like it.
2023 Polaris Slingshot R Technical Specifications and Price
|PRICE||$34,998 as tested|
|ENGINE||1,997cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled inline-4; 16-valve|
|BORE x STROKE||93.0 x 73.5mm|
|FUEL DELIVERY||Direct injection|
|CLUTCH||Dry, single plate; hydraulically actuated|
|TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE||5-speed w/ reverse / belt|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||Independent double wishbone w/ forged aluminum control arms; 4.43 in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Twin-tube gas-charged coilover; 5.23 in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKES||Brembo 4-piston calipers, 339mm discs w/ ABS|
|REAR BRAKE||1-piston caliper, 298mm disc w/ ABS|
|WHEELS, FRONT/REAR||Die-cast aluminum; 18 x 7.5 in. / 20 x 11.0 in.|
|TIRES, FRONT/REAR||Kenda SS-799; 225/45-18 / 305/30-20|
|FUEL CAPACITY||9.8 gal.|
|CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT||1,651 lb.|
|WARRANTY||24 months, unlimited mileage|