In this article, TMW takes a look at how Polaris redesigned & improved the Slingshot R for the 2021 model year. We spent two weeks with a gorgeous Stealth Blue model, and got to speak at length with a Slingshot Product Manager from Polaris. He answered a bevvy of technical questions and gave us the skinny on this impressive redesign. We’ve got exciting things to share!
“Hey, if you’re the owner of a 2020 Slingshot, there’s some exciting news for you at the end of this article! Don’t miss it!”
First, some background. We reviewed the 2020 Slingshot R back in October and November of last year. We laid down more than 1,000 miles in every environment we could find and came away with a lot of opinions, not all of them roses and sunshine. It turns out we weren’t the only ones with some complaints, because Polaris was working on some important redesigns for 2021. When they dropped us a line this spring and asked if we’d like to spend a couple weeks with the 2021 Slingshot R redesigned & improved, we didn’t hesitate. We christened it “Deja Blue” for obvious reasons.
In thinking about what to do with our Slingshot while we had it, we gravitated towards a quintessential American road trip. Polaris is an American company, after all, and they assemble the Slingshot in the USA from foreign and domestic parts. We decided we would take our new, cutting-edge vehicle to tour some sites belonging to an older generation of American transportation, the railroad. Utah is home to nationally famous Promontory Point, where Leland Stanford drove the golden spike and united the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines. With this act, on May 10th 1869, the American railroad earned the title “transcontinental”. If you’d like to know more about this iconic event in American history, a link to the Wikipedia article can be found at the end of this article.
“We christened it “Deja Blue” for obvious reasons.”
Gears of Progress
As we say in the industry, don’t bury the lead. We didn’t say a lot about it in our October review because reasons, but the transmission needed some massaging. Polaris obviously understood that, and they delivered.
Mechanically the transmission is unchanged, but in terms of software they’ve done a lot. This is especially evident in the twisties. The new programming works to hold gears in corners, where the previous iteration would hunt and seek mid-corner. Shifts are snappier, even under hard acceleration, and the transmission doesn’t fight while coming to stop anymore. Polaris also added a hill-holding feature, a welcome addition.
As good as all that is, the icing on the cake is the paddle shifters. This option was conspicuously absent on the previous model, but Polaris gave us what we wanted. Select the S mode and the transmission will wait for your shifts at the paddles, and it holds gears all the way up to, but not beyond, redline. You can use the paddle shifters in normal Drive mode too, and it will revert back to auto after some time.
“As good as all that is, the icing on the cake is the paddle shifters.”
Close To Home
Our first stop on our railroad tour was Union Station, at the west end of Ogden’s infamous 12th Street. Finished in 1924 in it’s current incarnation, the station is perhaps Ogden’s most beloved landmark. It’s a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, and these days serves as a museum. In addition to the train and railroad related exhibits, there is an exhibit of early 1900’s coachwork and the John M. Browning Firearms museum on the second floor.
The building and surrounding grounds are rumored to be haunted, and the museum hosts several overnight ghost tours every year.
A Sound Decision
Rockford Fosgate redesigned and optimized the entire audio system from the previous year. First, they raised the 2″ tweeters from the foot wells onto the dash. This adds some appreciated high-range clarity to your tunes. More importantly, though, they fixed the footwell speaker box! The previous Slingshot had bulky, overlarge speaker enclosures in the foot wells. On the drivers side, it made it extremely difficult to know where to place your left foot. The new slimmer enclosures don’t intrude into your leg space at all though, so comfort is much improved.
They also offer two optional speakers that install behind the seats. All the wiring is already there, driven by a more powerful amp. You just plug in the additional speakers, and just like that you double the audio output.
The head unit is still mechless and devoid of physical inputs, so you’ll want to bring your Bluetooth-enabled audio device.
Brigham City Train Depot
Halfway from home to Promontory, we stopped in to get some pics at the historic Brigham City Depot. Opened in 1907, this depot served as a major hub between the PNW and Union Pacific’s rail lines. Thousands of tons of coal from Utah’s Carbon County mines passed through the Brigham City Depot, as well as a wealth of local produce. A cannery was even built across from the depot to expedite shipping of Brigham’s bountiful crops.
These days, the Brigham City Depot serves as a popular meeting place for Utah’s vibrant motorcycle community. On any given warm morning you can find a dozen or more bikes gathered in the grass parking lot waiting for KSU. There weren’t any bikes present while we were there though, still a bit cold.
On The Record
As though getting to spend two weeks with the new redesigned & improved 2021 Slingshot R wasn’t exciting enough, we also got to spend half an hour interviewing Polaris’ Product Manager for Slingshot, Garrett. Garrett has been with the Slingshot project since the beginning in 2014, and he had a wealth of knowledge to share. We’ve paraphrased all answers for clarity.
“We wanted a torquey, high-revving four cylinder, and we delivered on that.”
Q: How did the Slingshot first come about?
A: Polaris wanted to do something new and edgy in the road space. We explored a lot of different configurations – four wheelers, three wheelers, front and rear engines, everything. The three-wheel layout, with two wheels and the motor in front, finally emerged as the right form for the experience we wanted to achieve.
Q: Was the plan always to partner with someone for the power train? And at what point did it make sense to develop the new motor in-house?
A: In the beginning, we knew we wanted to partner with GM to provide the power train. That was a conscience decision so we could provide a reliable power train for our customers. It also left us free to focus on the chassis, suspension, cabin, and overall passenger experience. Once we had that dialed in and really got a feel for what the Slingshot was all about, we started developing a motor that would compliment that character. We wanted a torquey, high-revving four cylinder, and we delivered on that. The new motor red-lines at 8,500rpm and it really likes to play.
Q: What is the maintenance like on the Slingshot?
A: It’s comparable to other examples in the space. Oil changes every 5,000 miles, and the tires will last for 20,000 miles or more if you can keep your foot out of it. Most owners tend to go through back tires slightly faster though because it’s fun to let the Slingshot rotate.
Q: The Slingshot doesn’t have much dive under braking. What characteristics of the braking and handling account for this? Does it do most of the braking at the back tire?
A: Weight distribution on the Slingshot is about 70/30 biased to the front, so the braking forces are likewise biased to the front. We used a manual braking system though, so there’s no brake booster like you’re probably used to in other vehicles like this. We used manual brakes primarily to save on weight.
Q: Tell us about the Ride Command features. Is all the telemetry available to the owner and how can they use it? And who provides the software?
A: We develop All the Ride Command screens in-house, and provide the owner with lots of ways to interact with that data. With the Ride Command app running on your smart phone, you can pull all your telemetry into the online portal and view it all. You can save your favorite rides, or set the app the record a ride while you’re on it. You can also plot a ride on the Ride Command portal and push it to your phone, which will then push it to the vehicle and pull it into the navigation software.
Garrett was a lot of fun to talk to, and we really learned a lot from our interview with him. He also told us he’s a huge fan of Utah and comes out our way often to enjoy the geography. We couldn’t be happier!
Golden Spike National Historical Park
You’re forgiven if you picture Promontory point as dramatic red rock desert with deep caverns and towering plateaus. The film “Wild Wild West” portrayed it that way in the climax, where Will Smith did battle with a huge mechanical spider to rescue Salma Hayek. In truth, you come to Promontory Point after a long, lonely drive through salt marshes and scrub sage. Out here the wind howls across bleak terrain dotted with twisted trees and livestock fencing.
The visitor’s center is a modest affair, with a souvenir shop and a small theater playing some historical footage on a loop. There’s also a replica of the golden spike – the real one is on display in the Cantor Arts Museum at Stanford University in Stanford, CA.
The main attraction is out back, in the sheds. Replicas of Jupiter and 119, the two steam locomotives that symbolically met on the completed track, are housed on site and maintained in running order. O’Conner Engineering Laboratories of Costa Mesa, California, completed the replicas in 1979. Every dimension of these faithful reproductions are within 1/4″ of the originals, and they are modern works of art in their own right. The original locomotives each came to their own dramatic ends, and their stories are worth looking up.
Daily from April 1st through about mid-October, the locomotives reenact their historic meeting at Promontory Summit. The museum performs maintenance on them the rest of the year, so we didn’t get to see them when we were there.
“The original locomotives each came to their own dramatic ends, and their stories are worth looking up.”
Wrap It Up
We really enjoyed our 2020 Slingshot R, and this latest round of updates make the Slingshot even better. Addressing the issues with the transmission was the first priority by our reckoning, and Polaris really nailed it. The improvements to the passenger cabin and entertainment suite are thoughtful touches, and show Polaris is listening to their customers. We’re especially happy they did all this immediately with the very next model year following the 2020 ground-up redesign. So is the 2021 Slingshot R Redesigned & Improved? Absolutely and they’re thinking on their feet, these guys and gals.
Speaking of which, if you bought a 2020 Slingshot, you may be feeling a bit out in the rain. Polaris knows that and they’re making it right. You can take your 2020 Slingshot into any dealer and get the ECU and TCU bios flash for free. You get the snappier shifts, better gear selection, and smoother clutch operation. If you want the other updates, like the paddle shifters and hill holding, you can buy those too.