Road Trip

Pepperoni and peepers: Wandering wild, wonderful West Virginia in the Polaris Slingshot

The Polaris Slingshot SL is a capable carver but its automatic transmission isn't ready for prime time.

Photo by Chris Tonn

"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." I doubt Mike Tyson knew he was paraphrasing 19th century Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke the Elder when he said it, but still, it's a great sentiment that perfectly describes the trip I had behind the wheel of a 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL.

The plan was to enjoy the open-topped nature of the Slingshot while winding my way from my home in Ohio through the vibrant leaves and majestic mountain vistas of West Virginia. Due to the pandemic, I still refuse to eat in restaurants – so I planned on sampling the unique cuisine of the region while driving the two-lanes.

2020 Polaris Slingshot SL The two-seater Slingshot SL is currently on the market for around $26,000.Photo by Chris Tonn

My first day of driving was magnificent, with cool temperatures and great roads delivering smooth asphalt to eat up. My return trip punched me in the mouth with a steady, frigid rain, paired with accidents on the interstate that kept me at a standstill while rainwater pooled on my lap.

That's I found out the hard way that you can't nosh on a pepperoni roll while wearing a full-faced helmet.

For the uninitiated, the pepperoni roll is a West Virginia delicacy - somewhat reminiscent of a Hot Pocket - developed by migrant Italian miners looking for a hardy lunch that could be carried down into the shafts without need for refrigeration. It's exactly what it sounds like – pepperoni (either in stick form or sliced as one might find on pizza) baked into a pocketable bread roll. The oils from the cured meat ooze into the dough, creating a layer of soft, slick bun that glistens with the color of a setting sun.

Pepperoni rolls are ultimately filled with carbohydrates, a touch of protein, salt, and all of the essential spiced greases that I need to at least maintain my lingering obesity. Indeed, pepperoni rolls aren't the healthiest snack in the world – but they're marvelous in moderation. After all, you don't ever read clickbait-y stories shadow-written by chambers of commerce and placed on sites listing the twenty-five best salads, do you? Nope. You read about guilty indulgences.

West Virginia autumn field The Polaris Slingshot SL served as a chariot for an autumn drive.Photo by Chris Tonn

Like the pepperoni roll, the Polaris Slingshot isn't meant for daily consumption. It's an acquired taste, something that isn't seen everyday. Heck, depending on the jurisdiction, it isn't even considered a car.

To find the best rolls in the state, I reached out to Candace Nelson. She literally wrote the book on the pepperoni roll. She pointed me to a couple of towns southwest of Morgantown, Clarksburg and Fairmont. As one might expect from small family-run businesses peddling a regional niche product, there are arguments among the proprietors about who was "first." Partisan patrons will further argue about which is best. But, really, it's meat and bread. What's not to like?

In Clarksburg, I sampled D'Annunzio's and Tomaro's bakeries. It was a Sunday morning when I rolled up to D'Annunzio's, a small shop nestled in what feels like an old residential area on the western side of town. Cars parked on both sides of the one-way street as people picked up bags of rolls and loaves of bread. One gentleman rolled up in a beautifully restored 1952 Buick, which grabbed the attention of passersby.

2020 Polaris Slingshot SL The pepperoni roll has been a staple of West Virginia cuisine for decades.Photo by Chris Tonn

The proprietor of crosstown rival Tomaro's, when I told him that I'd driven from Ohio just to sample his wares, walked to the back of his shop and returned with two rolls that were straight from the oven. And warned me to grab napkins – which I heeded. Still, sizzling orange grease streamed down my right arm as I bit in.

I tried to continue munching as I pulled away, only to remember that I'd strapped on a helmet. All but two states classify the Slingshot as an autocycle - New York and Massachusetts call it a motorcycle, meaning a motorcycle license is required. One helpful gent, noticing me struggle with a helmeted bite, told me that I didn't need to wear a helmet in West Virginia (laws vary by state). Whether true, Polaris made me sign a number of documents before handing over the key fob requiring me to wear a helmet. I really don't want my insurance claim denied should a bird decide to fly into my face as I'm negotiating a mountain switchback at speed, so I dutifully tossed the remainder of my roll in the glove compartment and wiped the orange grease from my face shield.

I stopped for fuel and a soda, and encountered the pepperoni roll with which I'm most familiar. Home Industry Bakery of Clarksburg sells rolls throughout the state in gas stations and other convenience stores – I've even found them just across the river in Ohio when we visit the in-laws in Marietta. Home Industry sells a variety of rolls – some baked with cheese alongside the pepperoni. Yes, I bought a few of these for the glovebox, and pointed my three-wheeled chariot east. The next morning, I drove to Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, some twenty miles northeast of Clarksburg, to find a historical marker claiming they were the home of the original pepperoni roll.

2020 Polaris Slingshot SL The Slingshot is the perfect leaf-peeping-mobile, unless it rains.Photo by Chris Tonn

While the roads in the Clarksburg/Fairmont area are quite hilly, proceeding east on US 50 brings you into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Up and down, through the trees, the road invites you to push the limits of your vehicle and your nerve. The Slingshot was a mostly faithful companion on these twisties, gripping beautifully and turning in with verve. Further, Polaris has replaced the old Chevrolet Ecotec engine that had powered previous Slingshots with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder of their own design. Getting 178 horsepower at 8500 rpm in this SL trim is plenty to, yes, slingshot the three-wheeler out of switchbacks with alacrity. The upmarket Slingshot R delivers even more power, with 203 horses at the ready.

My gripe comes with the new AutoDrive automated manual five-speed transmission, which is standard on the SL trim. The more powerful Slingshot R offers a standard five-speed manual or buyers can upgrade to the AutoDrive transmission. In some ways, the AutoDrive is quite like a traditional manual – there's no torque converter, so releasing the brake while on a hill allows the car to roll. It doesn't creep forward at a light.

Unfortunately, those tendencies are overshadowed by the lack of refinement in the driving experience. It can be a challenge to pull away from a traffic light smoothly, as the transition from brake to throttle seemingly confuses the automated clutch and yields a chirp to the big rear tire that will surely grab the attention of passerby. Further, when trying to drive quickly in the mountains, I found the transmission painfully slow to shift. I'd send a size-12 request for a downshift via a stomp on the right pedal, only to be met with what seemed like an eternity while the transmission decided what to do. A downshift would then come with a clunk.

2020 Polaris Slingshot SL The Polaris Slingshot SL rides on two 17-inch front wheels and an 18-inch back wheel.Photo by Chris Tonn

Polaris tells me that the AutoDrive opens the Slingshot up to more drivers who don't want to (or can't) drive a manual – and I get that. It's mostly decent in the type of driving where I've typically seen the Slingshot – cruising the strip with music blasting, much as one might do on a warm summers' night. But when the rest of the car practically invites enthusiastic driving, the transmission really needs to play along, and the AutoDrive is not quite ready for prime time.

The interior is surprisingly roomy. I'm six feet, four inches tall, and I had leg room to spare. Head room, naturally, isn't an issue in a vehicle without a top. The seat looks quite basic, covered in a waterproof vinyl – but it's supportive and comfortable for two long days of driving. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is reasonably clear and bright, syncing easily to my phone via Bluetooth. I can't imagine trying to take a call at speed, however – but I played my Spotify playlists with ease.

The placement of the speakers is less than ideal, being placed in the footwells right where one might put a knee. The speakers pushed legs inboard, keeping my foot from reaching a frame tube that might be used as a dead pedal. GPS is available, but was not fitted to my tester. I'd have LOVED, considering the rain, the optional heated/cooled seats – those run $1199.00 each. As it sits, the Slingshot SL I tested with no options rings up at $26,499.

2020 Polaris Slingshot SL The interior of the Slingshot proved comfortable, even after hours on the road at a time.Photo by Chris Tonn

One of those lurching downshifts from the AutoDrive came as I encountered one of many slow crossovers meandering Route 50. Am I wrong in expecting people to attempt to maintain something close to the speed limit on rural two-lanes? A short passing zone opened where I did make my pass, but not without annoyance from the gearbox. But then another family, gawking at the magnificent leaves, appeared in my windscreen. And another.

I turned south, working my way toward the town of Davis. An old friend, a West Virginia native, had told me years ago of this town where he frequently vacationed with his family. Ski resorts certainly help bring visitors to the area in the colder months. Paired with Thomas, another town just a few miles north on WV 32, the two towns give a funky, bohemian coastal vibe that one doesn't expect if mining towns and Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty are all you know of Appalachia. Artisans and craftspeople dot the land, inspired by the spectacular scenery.

West Virginia countryside waterfall The scenery of West Virginia is underrated.Photo by Chris Tonn

I too was inspired. This is not a land that has remained untouched by human hands – after all, some of the wonder of these magnificent vistas is that they exist at all. The Appalachian Mountains have been scarred by energy extraction for over a century, and yet the land and the people thrive. From the laborers down in the mines to the painters selling their wares at a flea market to the families gawking at the leaves, the people of West Virginia are fiercely proud of their land and their traditions. The scars left by the mines simply show us where West Virginia once was – they don't define the future.

For most of my drive, the 2020 Polaris Slingshot SL was a great companion for exploring this little corner of West Virginia. I found myself closer to the road, to the scenery, and to the people as I drove along. I cracked open my face shield, and inhaled the clean autumn air that I recall from my youth – bonfires with piles of leaves burning. I could smell the yeast from the bakeries making their pepperoni rolls from a mile away. I spoke to pedestrians when stopped in towns. I wasn't walled off from the world with two tons of steel and glass. I was part of that world. I experienced it. I lived it.

2020 Polaris Slingshot SL The Polaris Slingshot SL comes well-equipped.Photo by Chris Tonn

And then it rained. And I experienced that a bit more intimately than I'd have preferred. I loved driving the Slingshot, but my next trip through the area will come in a car with a roof of some sorts.

And a trunk to bring home scores of rolls.

Trending News

Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Hispano Suiza Carmen Boulogne is an all-electric hypercar

Photo courtesy of Hispano Suiza

The Hispano Suiza brand has been around for more than a century. Now primarily known as an aerospace company, the automotive side of the business is attempting a revival, first with the Carmen's introduction and now with the Carmen Boulogne, a sportier take on the Carmen.

The Carmen Boulogne is a fully electric and exclusive hypercar that was designed, developed, and manufactured in Barcelona, Spain. The company will create just five examples for sale.

Its name origin stretches back to 1921 when Hispano Suiza made a racing version of its high-performance H6 Coupé and entered it in the George Boillot Cup, an endurance race lasting more than 3.5 hours around the French city of Boulogne. Hispano Suiza took the win at the race in 1921, 1922, and 1923.

Hispano Suiza Carmen Boulogne Photo courtesy of Hispano Suiza

The Hispano Suiza Carmen Boulogne delivers 1,098 horsepower and has an electronically limited maximum speed of 180 mph. The car can get form zero to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds and weighs 3,593 pounds. Its weight is 60 pounds less than the traditional Carmen, a number that was achieved by changing out traditional structural elements for a carbon fiber subframe, among other parts. Additionally, the entire body of the car is carbon fiber.

The car's 80 kilowatt hour battery gives it a driving range of up to 248 miles. That's similar to the range of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Its battery is designed and produced in-house, and has fast-charging capability of more than 80 kilowatts, taking just 30 minutes to charge from 30 to 80 percent via a CCS2 fast charger. It also has CHAdeMO and GB/T charging options.

Each rear wheel of the car has two permanent-magnet synchronous motors. The torque deliver of each motor is controlled through a vectoring system honed by experience in Formula E racing. Off the line through 6,500 rpm, the car is capable of reaching 1,180 pound-feet of torque.

The face of the car has the same semi-circular headlights and scowl as the Carmen, with the difference of a copper-colored grille. Buyers can customize their model to include either suede or black Alcantara on the dashboard and door panels.

Hispano Suiza Carmen Boulogne

Photo courtesy of Hispano Suiza

The price of the Hispano Suiza Carmen Boulogne starts at $2 million USD, and its manufacturing process requires approximately twelve month of lead time.

The five units of the Carmen Boulogne hypercar join the 14 units of the Carmen to reach a total of 19 units in production, with the first unit ready to be delivered in 2022.

Trending News

 
 

The 2021 Kia Sorento is towing the numerals for the 2020 Times Square New Year's Eve ball drop ceremony across the country.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The journey is underway. As many Americans are eager to close out 2020, Kia is working to make the end of the year happen in style. A 2021 Kia Sorento is hauling the iconic numerals for the One Times Square ball drop ceremony across the country with planned stops in Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

"New Year's Eve is typically seen as a fresh start and a new beginning, and that holds true this year more than ever. With its rugged capability, the Kia Sorento will bring a little piece of the energy and fun of New Year's Eve in Times Square to people nationwide. This will also be a reminder that we're all in this together and that the New Year brings new opportunities and excitement," said Russell Wager, director, marketing operations, Kia Motors America.

2007 New Year's Eve Ball Drop Numerals Workers unload the giant '7' completing the "2-0-0-7" sign for the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square December 13, 2006 in New York City.Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The fourth-generation Sorento started its journey at Kia's North American headquarters in Irvine, California. Its journey will end in Times Square, the New Year's Eve heart of New York City, where the SUV and its cargo will be on display for three days along with other vehicles, before being installed on the top of One Times Square awaiting the iconic ball drop ceremony.

Kia lists the vehicle as being able to tow up to 3,500 pounds in the SX Prestige X-Line trim when equipped with the available factory-installed tow hitch, a $475 add-on.

At select points along the way, National Geographic will document the Sorento's journey, bringing stories from its stops to life through photography and video.

The publicity stunt culminates in the launch of a new creative campaign for the 2021 Sorento, which will debut during "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021" on ABC. During the broadcast, you may see some Kia employees in the Times Square. They are there courtesy of the company, who will be hosting them at the event.

Trending News