The Polaris 2021 snowmobile lineup unveiled Monday, March 2, at the company’s dealer meeting in Texas includes a new Matryx platform for trail and crossover machines, an impressive 650cc twin-cylinder two-stroke powerplant, additional options for mountain riders that include new tracks and technology, and much more.
Plus, the company is introducing a new VR1 trim level – including a super high-tech new gauge, projector-beam headlights and other cutting-edge electronic wizardry to go along with the new Matryx platform ergonomics. There are more Pro-RMK and RMK Khaos options for the steep-and-deep territory, quieter Titans for the utility crossover crowd, multiple Switchback Assault extreme crossovers and a l-o-n-g list of returning snowmobiles for all segments except four-strokes.
Gone are virtually all trail and mountain models utilizing the 800 H.O. Liberty engine, as the 850 Patriot will be available all year long in 2021, making the 800 mostly obsolete. Also gone are the punky Rush Pro-S machines, but a broad line of trail gunners lives on in their wake.
Matryx Is Axys Reloaded
Move over Keanu Reeves: You’re no longer even close to being the coolest thing in the Matryx (or Matrix). Polaris’ new high-end platform for its top trail cruisers has a much better aura!
Think of the Matryx platform as a modernized version of the Axys platform, with futuristic bodywork that raises the bar for Polaris fit and finish; new ergonomics including narrower body panels that slope away from the rider; and well-thought-out, high-tech features everywhere.
When introducing it, Polaris officials claimed “a new dimension in trail performance” and posted the words “ferocious acceleration,” “effortless control” and “intelligent technology” on a wall for everybody to see. The layout is 3 inches narrower at the knees and 4.8 inches narrower to outer edged of the body panels, yet air foils kick wind around the rider better.
We can tell you from first-hand experience that when riding a Matryx platform snowmobile a rider is allowed more room to slide back and forth across the seat, lean far forward in a turn or otherwise influence the machine with their body positioning.
“It’s open, intuitive, optimizes mobility and it brings a new level of wind protection,” said Marty Sampson, the Polaris snowmobile product manager, earlier this year when showcasing the 2021 model lineup to snowmobile media. “The rider-balanced control that we know with Axys today still exists, but what we’ve done is we’ve changed the rider’s interface with the cockpit,” following cues learned on the redesigned race sled, he said.
The Indy VR1 models (available in track lengths of 129 or 137 inches with either a 850- or 650-class two-stroke twin), meanwhile, are the ultimate embodiment of Polaris’ evolution – they come in the Matryx chassis and also include a carbon fiber overstructure, Walker Evans Velocity shocks and an incredible multi-function, touch-screen 7S gauge and more.
The gauge is huge – it looks like a horizontally mounted iPad, or like the big touch-screen gauges available in some new cars. It is programmable to showcase all sorts of information about the vehicle. Plus, a rider can pull up full GPS mapping and other functions of Polaris’ popular Ride Command app, including group-ride functions where you can track folks in your riding group, pre-planning of trips, Bluetooth interaction and more. Moreover, it can be controlled several different ways, including by touching the screen and pinching to zoom or swiping to move items, just like with modern iPads and smart phones.
That gauge also is where a rider sets the climate-control-style “smart” hand and thumb warmers – a rider pre-sets their preferred high, medium and low temp settings, picks one and then the machine maintains that temperature in each handwarmer all day long. That means set-it-and-forget-it peace-of-mind.
All Matryx sleds, though, feature the Pro-CC rear suspension and sharp-handling Race IFC front suspension with their Axys sister machines.
Added together, Polaris has about 177 (OK, maybe 29) Indy and Switchback trail sleds for 2021:
- 650 and 850 Indy VR1 129 and 137 sleds with the crème-de-la-crème features and benefits for the ultimate trail cruiser, available only in the spring order period.
- 650 and 850 Indy Launch Edition 129 and 137 machines, which come in the Matryx chassis but without the 7S gauge, carbon fiber overstructure or Velocity shocks, They are available all season.
- 600 and 850 Indy XCR 129 machines for the ultimate ditch bangers, still in the Axyx chassis.
- 600 and 850 Indy 129 and 137 XC machines, still in the Axys chassis.
- 600 and 850 Indy Adventure 137 adventure machines, also in the Axys
- 600 and 850 Switchback Pro-S sleds, with a short tunnel and uncoupled Pro-XC rear suspension featuring the outbound rear shock.
- 600 and 850 Switchback XCRs, similar to the Switchback Pro-S but with more aggressive shock and spring settings plus chassis reinforcements.
- Plus, there are still two stripped-down 600 Indy SP models, five fan-cooled 550 Indys of varying track lengths, a lowered and speed-limited Indy Evo and even still a youth 120 Indy. Whew!
New 650 Powerplant
For model year ’21 Polaris is also launching a punchy new 650 Patriot engine.
“The 650 Patriot is built on the platform that the 850 patriot is built on,” Sampson said. “It brings the level of refinement, the smoothness, the quickness, the response of the 850 Patriot into this core class platform. On top of that, this engine is capable of producing astounding fuel economy.”
Polaris is claiming the new engine package boosts torque by 14 percent and horsepower by 10 percent – which in theory would put this engine close to 140 ponies. After riding machines featuring the engine in both Minnesota and in the mountains, we came away as believers of those claims – the engine was stout, with hard-hitting and crisp power that came on immediately. Getting on and off the throttle when weaving on a tree-lined trail was downright thrilling.
Sampson said the engine shares the same architecture with the 850 Patriot, including the same stroke of the piston based on a narrower bore. The semi-direct fuel injection, high-flow cooling and variable exhaust systems all mirror the 850’s design; the crankshaft, though, it balanced for a 650.
Compared to the 600 Liberty, Polaris claims at least a 20 percent improvement in fuel mileage at a steady 45 mph, and 50 percent better fuel efficiency at 25 mph. And, it’s calibrated to run best on 87 octane fuel with 10 percent ethanol; no need to search out and pay for expensive 91 octane, non-oxy fuel.
For middleweight buyers, this is a nice step up from the 600 Liberty, but it’s only available in Matryx chassis sleds for 2021
The Matrys platform and benefits of the VR1 package also makes their way into Polaris’ Switchback Assault extreme crossover machines, although the machines they in-theory could have or should have replaced remain in the lineup for 2021, creating an interesting dichotomy.
New are 650 and 850 Switchback Assault 146 sleds in the Matryx chassis, with all of the VR1 accoutrement, including the 7S gauge, Velocity shocks, smart warmers, etc., and two extra inches of track length. However, the 600 and 850 Switchback Assault 144 models return in the Axys chassis.
We tested the machines back-to-back recently, and found the older SBA 144 was a bit more of a radical wheelie monster than the slightly more planted SBA 146 – at least on the pre-production versions we tested, but they has similar characterics and their differences could have merely been suspension settings on those individual machine.
Going up in lengths, Polaris brings back an even larger group of Pro-RMK, RMK Khaos and SKS models, with a new chaincase-replacing QuickDrive belt system that will work with taller-lugged tracks, addition of new track options and also expansion the number of ways a Khaos can be ordered.
The new belt system – called QuickDrive2 – allows the weight-saving, direct-feel of a final belt drive system to be realized by Pro-RMK and RMK Khaos owners who prefer a taller-lugged track, which generally requires lower gear ratios.
“It looks very similar to the QuickDrive1 but it has a new gear ratio, about 10 percent geared-down, and a new belt. The physical makeup of the new belt is different to make it work properly with this system,” Sampson said.
At the same time, Polaris is also releasing a new Series 8 track that features 2.75-inch tall lugs set at a 3.5-inch pitch in either a 155- or 165-inch long track. At equal lengths, he said, this track with taller lugs will be about 6 pounds lighter than the 2.6-inch track it replaces, Sampson said.
“When you get on the sled and you feel the track and you feel the response you get out of the sled, it’s immediately evident that we made another step forward in mountain tracks,” he said.
Thanks to the new QuickDrive and the new tracks, RMK Khaos models will become available in longer lengths for 2021. After only featuring 155-inch tracks for 2020, the new 850 RMK Khaos lineup is seven models deep: returning 155-inch with 2.6-inch lugs (with original QuickDrive) and 3-inch lugs (with a chain case); new 155-inch options with QuickDrive2 and either 2.75- or 3-inch lugs; plus a 2.6- and 3-inch lug option at 163 inches, or a 165- by 2.75-inch tread.
The 850 Pro-RMK has all of those track options and more, with nine total combinations of final drive and track length, plus a returning 174- by 3-inch track. The 600 Pro-RMK 155 and stripped down 600 RMK 144 return unchanged, as do two SKS 850s and an entry-level RMK Evo.
Polaris is bringing back its full line of 800 Titan utility/touring crossover machines, but the big bullies on the plot have been sent to finishing school.
For the new year, Polaris is introducing new 20-inch wide tracks that were co-developed with Camso to dramatically reduce their sound level/howl. Beyond that, a new aluminum driveshaft, bearings and drive sprockets also help reduce the machine’s sound level while also cutting vibration experienced by riders through the chassis – most notably at the handlebars and running boards.
The change is immediately noticeable — the 2021 pre-production Titan we recently tested was significantly quieter yet still had all of the big-boy capabilities that made it one of our favorite demo sleds in recent history.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published in the October 2020 issue of Snow Goer. Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door or your computer for a low cost.