Can a snowmobile that costs $10,599 really be considered a “value” sled?
That question begs itself when considering the new, 2014 Polaris 800 Indy SP. It’s an interesting dichotomy, with a modern yet somewhat throwback chassis, forward but not too-forward ergonomics, and a high (related to most things in life) pricetag but one that’s still $1,200 less than the 800 Rush Pro-R and up to $1,600 cheaper than other competitively powered (yet more full-featured) 800-class snowmobiles. Heck, it’s a brand new snowmobile for 2014, but it’s got an old-school name – another hint at its dual personality.
After experiencing the stable and comfortable ride, amazing engine performance and easy ergonomics of the largest displacement Indy, envisioning a large group of customers for it is easy. It really does offer a fine alternative to Polaris customers who find the more aggressive 800 Rush Pro-R too rugged in common trail bumps, too aggressive in its ergos and too much work for proper handling.
Yet, it seems like a lot of corners were cut in finishing the 800 Indy SP that may otherwise appeal to the sort of buyer who isn’t afraid to spend a large chunk of money to get a respected and historic name in the snowmobile market with a class-leading engine and a fully coupled rear suspension.
With its floater gas guage, old style running boards and short-lug track, did Polaris take a really good snowmobile and make it “too cheap,” and hurt its appeal?
The Test Drive
From the front, the 800 Indy SP looks like a Polaris Rush model – without the exposed heat exchanger in the nose, and with more affordable shocks. Angular body panels and headlights plus the sharp edges of the spindles and dual A-arms of the Pro-Ride front suspension give it a modern appeal.
Swing around to the rear of the snowmobile and you get a different sense all together. It seems more like a refugee of Polaris’ now-dead Shift lineup, featuring a full tunnel with limited traction and no snow evacuation holes, aged handlebar switchwork, a single gauge in the center of the dash and a floater gauge in the oversized gas cap that is straight out of 1997. Really? A new snowmobile, launched for 2014 and costing more than ten large, with a float on a stick attached to the gas cap to tell you how much gas you have left? Are The Wallflowers back on the radio and is “Home Improvement” on TV again?
Plopping on the sled’s flat new Pro-Ride seat (well sculpted to be wider at the rear but tapered toward the fuel tank), the rider is greeted with easy fitting ergonomics. The gently hooked handlebar is at a comfortable height – not too tall for riding in the seated position, yet easy to pull yourself up when you want or need to stand. The sightlines of the skis around the body panels are clear and a mid-height windshield protects the rider from cold blasts.
The 795cc, semi-direct injected Cleanfire 800 engine starts easily and idles smoothly. There’s certainly nothing cheap-sounding about it, and when the fun flipper is planted, there’s nothing cheap about the way it performs either. The engine revs quickly and the driveline efficiently flows the horsepower to the track.
Polaris’ Cleanfire 800 is a thrilling engine, with great punch right off the bottom, strong recovery when on-and-off the gas on tight trails and long legs when the trail straightens. It’s got a brawny sound, with a bit of a bark to the exhaust and a fairly high level of intake noise.
That engine is nestled in the nose of the Pro-Ride chassis. Up front, the Pro-Ride dual A-arm front suspension with Race IFS geometry maintains a stable grip on the trail and tracks very well, whether in bumps or on smoother paths. It will lift an inside ski occasionally if pushed hard through a tight turn, but it’s controllable and predictable, the way a good front suspension should be. Bumps are damped by coil-over Fox internal floating piston gas shocks that do an admirable job. If you’re the sort of person who likes to play with clickers, you’ll be disappointed: The only adjustment readily available is made by turning the spring.
Aiding the front suspension are the Pro-Steer skis, back for their sophomore season in Polaris’ lineup. The skis do a great job of complementing a stellar front suspension, offering the right mix of keel to provide acceptable turning grip, but not too much to create darting or excessive steering effort.
The big news is in back, where the fully coupled Indy rear suspension with Fox IFPs is found beneath a full-length tunnel. The coupling is key, particularly for snowmobilers who either didn’t like the appearance or the stutter-bump performance of the Rush rear end. While the 800 power will still allow the Indy to wheelie in the right conditions, this sled doesn’t transfer as much weight and as quickly as the Rush’s Pro-Ride rear end, so it’s not quite a playful. However, it offers a significantly smoother ride in common stutter bumps, taking away the shake and punishment on a level on par with offerings from modern Arctic Cats, better than traditional Yamahas but not as good as Ski-Doo rMotion-equipped snowmobiles.
In his notes, one test rider described the 800 Indy SP as, “Raw performance: Not flashy and it doesn’t have much bling, but it performs like a rock star. More ‘go’ and not as much ‘show.’” Another person wrote, “It handles very well, runs strong, rides respectably well and looks cool.”
A third said, “It’s just an absolute riot to throw your butt around the seat and hang through the corners. I feel so much more confident on this than I do on the Rush.” The fourth? “It’s got a meaty, powerful engine, a light feel and a front suspension which is class leading.”
An Imperfect Beast
It’s true, our test riders liked the 800 Indy SP overall, but they fell far short of throwing nothing but a path of roses in front of its skis. There were concerns as well.
One big one was the track. Polaris gave its 800 Indy a Hacksaw track with 1-inch lugs that seems inferior for the horsepower this sled creates and the speeds it can carry. In the right trail conditions, the sled handles very well and requires less driver input than the Rush. But in loose snow or even sometimes on hardpack/slick trails, this track spends more time searching for traction than the now-seemingly-standard 1.25-inch RipSaw setup found on almost all competitive 800s. That leads to more old-style rear steering of the snowmobile. It’s fun, and some riders more like slinging and sliding the rear end for awhile, but there’s definitely grip missing in the back.
The running boards were also singled out by several testers. With virtually no traction except on the rolled edge strip, and no evacuation holes to get rid of snow and ice that can accumulate on top of the boards, we found ourselves search for foot traction when standing on the sled through rough trails. Hey Polaris, punch a few holes in these boards, and give riders some grip.
The Indy’s minimalist look can be good or bad depending on one’s perspective. The single, analog gauge in the dash is easy enough to read, but short on details. The Indy offers a really good brake, but not Polaris’ top-of-the-line setup the may be wanted for a sled with this much “go.” And the floater gauge? It does have a certain nostalgic appeal, but we’re talking about a snowmobile retailing for better than $10k here. Scooters retailing for $1,200 have better fuel gauges.
The Final Grade
What you have here is a very good snowmobile with great trail manners, a tremendous powertrain and easy-to-love ergonomics – plus a couple of cheap aspects.
Some testers suggested buying this sled and then upgrading the shocks and track to bring it up to date and create the ultimate trail runner. That’s fine, but then you’d spend more in total than you would have just buying a Rush Pro-R – there’s no Indy discount. You’d end up with a sled that’s better in stutters, comparable on smooth trails and worse in big craters. But you’d still be missing decent running boards, a tachometer and a fuel gauge.
SPECS: Polaris 800 Indy SP, $10,599
POWER: 795cc, liquid-cooled, semi-direct injected twin.
FRONT SUSPENSION: Dual A-arm Pro-Ride with Fox IFP shocks, 9 inches of travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Coupled Indy design with Fox IFP shocks, 13.9 inches of travel
TRACK: 15x121x1.0 HackSaw
SKI STANCE: 42.5-inches
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT: 449 pounds
This article first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Snow Goer magazine, which mailed to subscribers in August. To subscribe to Snow Goer, click here.