It appears that we got this one right.
That opinion was cemented into my head when taking my first ride on a production 2015 Polaris 800 Rush Pro-S on Saturday in the Bayfield Peninsula of Wisconsin.
What did we get right? Selecting the 800 Switchback Pro-S as Snow Goer magazine’s 2015 Snowmobile of the Year. It may seem like an odd time to think it, while riding a different (though admittedly similar) machine, but it was proven to me by the only thing I didn’t like about the new Rush.
On background, most folks know that our popular summer and fall issues of Snow Goer magazine include machine evaluations and opinions that are based on riding pre-production snowmobiles the previous spring. That includes picking our Snowmobile of the Year. Is that ideal? Hardly, but considering the seasonality of our sport, it’s the only way to do it – all historical sales data (i.e., when our and competitive magazines sell best on newsstand) proves that snowmobilers want to read about the new machines in the pre-season. So, we’re left to tell you what we experienced on the pre-production machines, knowing that a few things could change before production. History has proven that we’ve “gotten it right” the vast majority of the time, but the Nervous Nellie in me always has me going into a new season hoping our sled of choice will be as good in production trim as it was in pre-production form.
Well, the production machines are now out, and on Saturday Managing Editor Andy Swanson and I (plus my buddy Steve) went chasing snowflakes to break in some new iron. Tucked in the four-place Floe trailer was a 2015 800 Rush Pro-S and a 2015 Arctic Cat XF 6000 Sno Pro Limited. Before lunch, I focused on the XF – a fine machine that handled really well, absorbed bumps admirably and ran strong. Andy blogged about that machine separately. After lunch, I got my first shot at the Polaris.
First Impression: 800 Rush Pro-S
Within the first five miles, my very initial impression of the 800 Rush Pro-S can be wrapped up in two words: “Holy crap!” That’s because the every time I grabbed a handful of throttle, the new 800-class twin packed a solid wallop. It certainly felt strong when we tested pre-production models, both at a sneak preview last January and at the 2015 Rode Reports event in late February/early March, but both of those tests occurred at altitude.
Down at sea level? The new engine hits harder than any Polaris 800 I’ve ever experienced. It was downright exhilarating, with incredible snap down low and in mid-range and a smooth, spot-on run quality. As this was a break-in ride, I didn’t hold the machine to the bars long enough to get to top end, but overall it was highly responsive. We didn’t have any competitive 800s with us, so I can’t give you a back-to-back comparison vs. Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo 800s, but even when in a pre-programmed break-in mode, this new Polaris powerplant left me in awe.
So much so, in fact, that I ended up wanting more machine under me! Specifically, more track, because the Rush Pro-S drove like it had too short of a wheelbase, with the power somewhat overwhelming the chassis and causing it to feel like it wanted to pivot or twist too much for my liking. Not to the point of being disconcerting, but enough where it got me to thinking, “Boy, a Switchback version of this would be about perfect.”
That feeling of power-overwhelming-chassis was magnified by the feeling of the new Axys chassis. It rides really light, feeling noticeably smaller than the previous Rush models. In one particularly twisting and bumpy section of trail, I ran the Rush hard and worked up a sweat, and the machine was forgiving and free-flowing.
Other notable features about this new platform that stuck in my head on this break-in ride: the ergonomics were actually better than I remember them being at Rode Reports last spring – the ridge in the dash panel that irked me and a couple of other test riders on the pre-pro didn’t bother me on Saturday. Maybe that’s because I trusted the front end more and wasn’t leaning as far forward in turns. The brake seemed to havemore feel to it than I remembered and earlier reported – Polaris engineers had told us at Rode Reports that they were still finalizing a decision on brake pads, and they appear to have gotten it right. And that new LED headlight really is a fabulous addition – on high beam in particular, it filled in nicely.
The final nail in the “right choice” call: the high-tech gauge that comes on the 60th Anniversary edition Rush and Switchback models. Most of the trails where we were riding were generally in really good shape, considering the late start to winter, but the trail marking left a bit to be desired, and left us turning a few circles after dark, thanks to the plethora of rideable forest roads that can easily confuse visiting riders. After staring at maps and taking a few too many wrong guesses, we turned to the new Polaris gauge into GPS mode and were able to guide ourselves out of the woods. Mostly, although we definitely broke in the carbides more than we broke in the sleds.
First Ride In The Books
Overall, our first ride of the season – a quick 90-mile trail ride sandwiched between two 210 mile drives in the Ford – is now in the books. The conditions in a small pocket of the eastern Bayfield Peninsula of Wisconsin were quite good, though we could use Mother Nature’s help in creating more snow and better riding conditions across more of the Snowbelt.
Check back all winter for more impressions on the Snow Goer test fleet.