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What it's like driving a Batmobile

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

One of the best things about reviewing automobiles is driving cars that are insanely fun but so impractical you’d never buy one yourself.

Would I ever buy a Polaris Slingshot? Never say never, but it’s hard to imagine finding room in my garage—or my budget—for an open-air, two-seat cross between a car and a motorcycle that starts at $21,000. But I sure liked testing the premise for a week.

The Slingshot is a Batmobile-like contraption with two wheels in the front and one in the back, which, technically, makes it an autocycle. There’s a steering wheel and manual stick shift, plus gas, brake and clutch pedals, like in a car. Power comes from a 173-horsepower 4-cylinder engine found in some General Motors compacts. But the rear-drive wheel is powered by a belt, the way a chain drives a motorcycle. The category confusion is such that some states require a motorcycle license and a helmet to operate the Slingshot, while others don’t.

[Check out all of Rick and Pras’s test-drives.]

The side-by-side bucket seats mean you don’t have to hunch over the Slingshot to pilot it, and there are seat belts to prevent you from flying through the air if, god forbid, there’s a crash. You don’t ride the Slingshot. You drive it. So it’s easier on the body that a proper motorcycle. But the Slingshot sits as low as a snail and there’s little effort to dampen the turbulence rising up from potholes, gravel and cracks in the pavement. So you get to feel the rawness of the road, if that’s your thing.

In the video above, you’ll see me and Pras Subramanian driving the the SLR trim line, the third fanciest out of four models, priced at $30,000 minus $1. Amenities include a 7-inch touchscreen for vehicle functions, a backup camera, a Rockford Fosgate audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and styling upgrades like two-tone paint. It’s a car! The entry model S strips out the electronics and other niceties, with the underlying performance essentially the same. It’s a bike!

At the top end, the Grand Touring model, for $31,000 less $1, tacks on a sun shade, a wind deflector and a few other baubles. If you’re wondering if you can get a hard top, air conditioning or windows, you’re missing the point. This is not a convertible. It’s an autocycle. Add it to your vocabulary.

Pras and I ended our giddy test drive philosophically: What’s it all about? Does the Slingshot serve a meaningful purpose? Should anybody actually buy this thing? We still don’t know. But we had immense fun thinking it over.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman