When Polaris redesigned its three-wheeled Slingshot for the 2020 model year, it added an optional automated sequential-manual transmission in a bid to broaden the vehicle’s appeal beyond the stick-shift savvy. The gambit worked: AutoDrive, as the automatic gearbox is called, now accounts for 80 percent of Slingshot sales. But this Magneti Marelli five-speed is a single-clutch unit, and the 2020 models lacked manual-shifting capability, which is not what you want in a transmission that shifts on its own with a ponderous deliberation more appropriate to bomb defusing than spirited driving. So, after just one year on the market, Polaris has retuned AutoDrive and added a feature it should have had in the first place: steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Now when you’re on the brakes and dive-bombing a corner in your Bat Trike, you can manually select a lower gear rather than just hoping for AutoDrive to guess your intentions. Which is good, since it seldom does.
AutoDrive—a $1700 option on Slingshot S and SL models and a $2000 upcharge on the R variant—still works best at a part-throttle pace. Polaris doesn’t quote shift times, but this automatic’s one-Mississippi shift action is more early Smart ForTwo than Ferrari F430 Scuderia. AutoDrive’s shift cadence is aligned with temperate driving, like a human rowing a manual gearbox in no particular hurry. And unlike some automotive single-clutch transmissions—say, BMW’s from 20 years ago or the current Lamborghini Aventador’s—the Magneti Marelli unit doesn’t thrive on abuse. Crank the Slingshot’s 2.0-liter inline-four to its lofty 8500-rpm redline (which is the same for both the 178- and 203-hp versions) and there’s still an intermission between gears. But it’s nonetheless more fun and involving to time that upshift yourself.
Downshifts are rev matched and seem somewhat quicker, though that’s probably an illusion wrought by the ferocious throttle blip that often accompanies a pull on the left paddle. Try to grab a lower gear that would overrev the engine and you’ll get a “shift not allowed” message in the instrument cluster. The Slingshot generally obeys your shift commands, however, even if you’re downshifting right into the red zone.
The other time you get the “shift not allowed” message is when you’re in fifth gear and try to upshift to sixth, which doesn’t exist. If you’re cruising at highway speeds, you might wish that it did, because fifth doesn’t let the engine relax much, despite being a 0.75:1 overdrive ratio. On the interstate, the Slingshot’s stubby exhaust constantly emits an unpleasant drone. Then again, when you’re skimming the pavement in a vehicle with no doors and the barest suggestion of a windshield, some highway noise is to be expected. But it is nice that you can now upshift at lower speeds if you’re feeling zen. The Slingshot’s four-banger is perfectly happy to burble along at 2000 rpm, and it’s not like it has a whole lot of machine to drag around.
Indeed, the Slingshot makes a Lotus Elise seem porcine. Polaris lists the curb weight of the SL AutoDrive model we drove at 1663 pounds, just 14 pounds more than with the standard five-speed manual. The company worried about the gearbox’s weight not because of performance reasons but to keep the Slingshot at a poundage where it can be classified as an autocycle, the rules for which in America vary widely from state to state. A more advanced dual-clutch automatic would have been heavier and more expensive, Polaris says, so here we are.
And modern dual-clutch transmissions are so good that you often just leave them in automatic mode. Even on a racetrack, a good dual-clutch ‘box can give you the sense that working the shift paddles with your clumsy paws is, if anything, a liability. Regardless of its transmission, the Polaris Slingshot is a throwback to the days when the driver mattered. AutoDrive can now comport itself reasonably well in automatic mode, but it’s always an improvement to hit the big M button on the console and call the shots yourself. Hey, it’s nice to feel important. It’s also nice to know that there’s at least one vehicle out there today with a manual transmission that represents more than mere mechanical nostalgia. If you want to get the most out of a Slingshot—both in terms of fun and performance—you still need a clutch pedal. Polaris: saving the manuals, three wheels at a time.
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Source: Reviews - aranddriver.com