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Full-Season Test: 2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Adventure

By Andy SwansonManaging EditorNovember 02, 2016

With the responsive Pro-Ride chassis and suspensions, 136-inch track and hard-sided cargo boxes, the original Polaris Switchback Adventure was part on-trail performer and part tourer wrapped into one sled, with a touch of boondocker mixed in for good measure.

As enthusiasts of long-distance adventures, we were sold on the concept right away and made Switchback Adventures part of the Snow Goer demo fleet – the original 600cc version for 2012 and a rare 2014 800 Switchback Pro-R Adventure two seasons later. When the 800cc model reappeared last year in the Axys chassis, it was an obvious choice for the 2016 fleet.

Polaris Switchback Adventure review

The Polaris Switchback Adventure reappeared with an 800cc engine option in 2016.

Compared to the long-nosed and stable Pro-Ride Adventures we’d been accustomed to, the new Switchback Adventure felt short so riders had the impression they were almost sitting between the spindles. This forward position helps give the long-tracked sled precise handling, and the upright seating position wards off fatigue during long days in the saddle- The lankiest Snow Goer staffer (at 6 feet tall) said he sometimes found himself looking for more room to move his feet, though.

The Polaris 800 H.O. engine felt livelier than the other 800cc trail sleds in our fleet last season – like it had more torque and that it made the sled accelerate quicker than the others. The H.O. pulls hard so drivers can easily lighten the skis over bumps by squeezing the throttle.

Fox QS3 shocks were another new ingredient of the full-featured 2016 800 Switchback Adventure. While the simplicity of the three separate external compression damping adjustments was appreciated, some riders weren’t able to dial in the right calibrations to suit their preferences: “soft” was too soft so it easily bottomed on trail chatter run over at high speeds; and “firm” was too firm so the sled was uncomfortable and prone to deflect off of moguls. The “medium” setting added compression resistance without rattling the driver’s teeth, but the suspensions weren’t adequately compliant over normal, everyday stutter bumps.

Axys- and Pro-Ride-based machines with Walker Evans shocks have consistently given us good results, so hopefully Polaris calibration engineers will come up with better valving for the Fox shocks to make the new Adventure more fun to ride. The quality build, simplicity and attractive style of the coil-over shocks should have appeal if the tuners at the Polaris factory can dial in a better set-up for the Adventure.

The Adventure’s storage containers were handy for multi-day trips because we could pack a change of street clothes, mid-layers, a pair of shoes, portable boot dryers and more. Some snow dust that swirls around the rear end typically got through the seam between the box and lid, but the zippered bags inside always warded off the snow so cargo wasn’t affected. The Polaris Lock & Ride fastening system isn’t as streamlined and simple to use as Ski-Doo’s LinQ set-up, but it works pretty well and is secure and stable.

Polaris Switchback Adventure review

The machine includes hard-sided storage cases.

Another priceless tool for long-distance snowmobile travel is the Polaris Interactive Digital Display (PIDD) – a factory-installed feature of the 800 Switchback Adventure. This gauge was worth its weight in injection oil on a five-day tour in January where trail signage in northwestern Minnesota was sparse, at best, apparently due to measly snow conditions.

In the interest of efficiency, our large group splintered into two smaller groups one day, and the clan that followed the GPS-equipped Switchback Adventure was able to establish a route that tracked 60 fewer miles to the final destination than the circuitous route of the group that relied on paper maps and the leader’s instinct. The technology enables riders to monitor progress on a 4-inch display in real time so they can double back toward the target when wrong turns are made.

The big-bore Switchback Adventure returned with sharper handling, improved fit and finish, more power and industry- first gauge technology. If it gets better shock calibrations, we’ll embrace it as the ultimate long-distance trail burner. Until then, however, we can’t help but think about those original Switchback Adventures that were so fun for long journeys.

2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Adventure
MSRP: $14,999
Modifications: Polaris Pro-Fit Rack Bag
Miles ridden: 1,566
Weight: 586 pounds, bone stock with full gas and oil tanks
Average MPG: 13.81
Average miles per qt. of oil: 142
PIDD: A larger gauge screen would reduce clunky scrolling and zooming.
Rearview: Positioned so the driver’s shoulders and elbows aren’t in the way, the mirrors clearly show what’s out back.
Uncoupled: The unique rear suspension helps provide heaps of traction.

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