A foot of snow fell in parts of northeast Minnesota last week to revive the snow pack in Snow Goer’s home state, so I grabbed a prototype 2017 800 Switchback Assault 144 that Polaris offered to us and headed to the snow.
The Polaris Switchback Assault 144 models (600 and 800) move to the Axys chassis for 2017. With the transition away from the Pro-Ride chassis, the models pick up a lighter platform with edgier styling and LED headlight, new dual-angle PowderTrac Hybrid running boards, a narrower ProTaper handlebar and new IGX 144 rear suspension. The 800 Switchback Assault 144 also gets the powerful 800 H.O. engine that was released for model year 2015 Rush and 137-inch Switchback models.
We also rode the 2017 800 Switchback Assault 144 at our annual test event in Montana last month, but it was great to have the opportunity to spin miles on it in the flatlands where the engine can make full power. Here are some thoughts, impressions and observations about the 2017 prototype machine I rode last weekend.
The universal reaction from friends who also took a pull on the prototype 2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 last weekend was that this is a fun and responsive sled. Riders smiled and said they liked the fact that if they saw a bump that they wanted to skip over, they knew they could just squeeze the throttle to raise the skis. The powertrain in this specific machine was simply amazing. We had a prototype 2017 Ski-Doo MX Z X 850 along for the ride, and I heard as much – if not more – positive feedback about the Switchback’s power from the three riders who were with me as I did about the quick, new Ski-Doo 850. Power was abnormally strong from the Switchback and I’m confident it would’ve cleaned the clock of our 2016 800 Switchback Adventure demo that has the same powertrain. Hopefully the production versions of this machine will run this strong next winter because it really was a hoot to drive.
Handling was excellent. I was impressed by how well this long sled goes down the trail. The inside ski stays on or near the snow, and the skis hold their line without pushing. For comparison, handling isn’t as automatic/easy/predictable as our 2016 600 Rush Pro-S demo, but, no doubt, owners next winter will be impressed by how well the new Switchback Assault 144 runs down the trail. The new handlebar deserves a lot of credit for making the Switchback Assault a better trail sled because the bar greatly improves ergonomics over earlier versions so riders can easily get into position to steer and influence the machine.
Suspension calibrations are firm. After riding it a few miles I turned all shock clickers to full soft and set the torsion springs to full soft. I also loosened the springs for the front track shock and ski shocks a few turns. All of these adjustments made a big improvement in ride quality, but bumps still transmitted a lot of energy to the driver.
Despite that calibrations are firm, the front suspension worked really well through rough conditions and choppy corners – bump steer is a non-issue. The handlebar stayed steady and calm in my hands and the sled’s line stayed true, allowing me to stay on the gas and focus on what lie ahead.
Clickers for each of the rear suspension’s shocks are in a position that makes them very, very difficult for a person to access. And once a tuner finally figures out the correct orientation to get a hand in position, the hand is contorted in a manner that doesn’t yield enough strength to be able to easily turn the knob. The rear shock’s clicker is positioned on the bottom of the piggyback reservoir, so a person has to wedge his hand between the track and the shock. It was warm while we rode so it was relatively easy to clear the slushy snow to read the label and loosen the knob so it could be turned in the right direction, but in cold conditions when ice usually coats suspension components I don’t see how this would be possible. The front shock’s clicker is also on the bottom of the reservoir, but the reservoir is positioned very close to the right suspension rail. This clicker set-up means adjusting the shocks is a total clown show, and that will prevent many users from actually and effectively using the adjustable feature.
Polaris staffers are proud of the attractive and spacious new bag that’s tucked between the rear of the seat and fuel tank, but the bag isn’t waterproof – my friend’s hat was wet when he pulled it out of the cargo hold at the end of the day. Like the shock clickers, this also is a notable oversight and disappointment because who wants to put on a wet mid-layer after the sun goes down? Hopefully this will be remedied for production, or else users will first want to tuck their cargo inside a plastic bag.