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The Ariel Atom vs. the Polaris Slingshot: So Close, Yet So Far Away

At an enthusiast event recently, I was checking out the amazing carbon fiber interior details of an Ariel Atom. Behind me, two guys started talking...

Ariel Atom interior

Guy 1: “Dude, is that one of those Slingshots?”

Guy 2: “Yeah it is. Did you see Shaq pimp his one on West Coast Customs?”

Guy 1: “Yeah, man, that was cool.”

And they were right. Yet, also terribly wrong. Shaq’s Slingshot on West Coast Customs is cool. But one could watch Shaquille O’Neill play a wish-granting genie that pops out of a boom box, and it would still be cool. (If you ever watched the 1996 film “Kazaam,” you know exactly what I’m talking about.) In case you missed that cinematic masterpiece, don’t fret. The point is, Shaq makes lots of things awesome. But what isn’t awesome is confusing a somewhat sluggish reverse-trike for one of the most exciting production vehicles of all time.

So first, let’s lay the groundwork for knowing the difference between an Ariel Atom and Polaris Slingshot...

They’re both low flung, they’re both open frame. They both have roughly the same pointed front end and wide footprint. However, that’s just about where the similarities stop.

The Polaris Slingshot


The Slingshot is, as we’ve established, a reverse-trike – one wheel in front and two in back and, according to the manufacturer, designed as “a 3-wheeled motorcycle.” Like a motorcycle, it has no roof, doors or windows. But unlike a motorcycle, it doesn’t lean, and the Slingshot uses a gear stick, brake pedals and clutch pedals; and the throttle is – you guessed it – a pedal. Also unlike a motorcycle, it weighs 1,743 pounds, which is twice the weight of a Harley,  about the same weight of a SmartCar and is powered by a GM Ecotec engine.

Sounds good, right?

red Slingshot in NYC

Well, that’s the engine from the Pontiac Solstice, which is only cool if you’re a die hard Breaking Bad fan. The Slingshot is manufactured by Polaris who also makes ATVs, snowmobiles, Victory motorcycles and, as of 2011, the new Indian motorcycles. So cruising bikes are something they understand and do well. Polaris doesn’t officially state the Slingshot’s 0-60mph stats, but Car and Driver estimates the acceleration time at “probably less than 5 seconds,” which is impressive. But shouldn’t an ultralight vehicle or even a 3-wheeled motorcycle be able to beat a Volvo? The V60 Polestar’s 0-60 is 5 seconds, so that means that basically every soccer mom can pass you on the freeway.

However, passing screaming kids on the highway isn’t the Polaris’ intent. That job is reserved for the Atom.

The Ariel Atom

Ariel Atom on a country road

The Ariel Atom is a high performance street-legal vehicle made by Ariel Motor Company in England. What started as a school project by a kid named Niki Smart, the original version was called the LSC (Lightweight Sports Car) and debuted at the British Motor Show in 1996. Within 10 years, a modified version became the Ariel Atom and became the third fastest accelerating production car in the world behind the Bugatti Veyron and the Ultima GTR. It got that title in 2005, and by 2011 the Ariel Atom outdid itself by setting a lap record at the Top Gear test track.

As James May recalled, “Driving the V8 Atom is one of the great motoring experiences of my life.” And perhaps you’ve heard, that guy has done some time behind the wheel.

American Ariel Atom

Here in the States, the Atom is manufactured exclusively in Virginia by TMI Auto Tech at the Virginia International Raceway. Like the Slingshot, the vehicles have no doors, no roof and no windows. But unlike the Polaris model, each Atom is built to order. Available options include carbon fiber body panels and wings, aluminum radiator and a quick-release steering wheel. With this speed, customization and pedigree come at a distinctly non-Polaris price; the Atom 3 starts at $64,500, roughly three times the price of the Slingshot.

Is one better than the other? Well, one certainly would smoke the other around a track. And one would make a significantly larger dent in your kid’s college fund. Other than that, they’re exactly the same. Not really. They couldn’t be more different. So please don’t mix them up at a car show. Thanks.

Let the wind blow through your hair as you ride in a "wicked fast" Ariel Atom in this 360 Virtual Reality video.

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