Remember “New Coke?”

Launched in 1985 as the “new taste of Coca-Cola,” this slightly sweeter version of the original Coke was meant to turnaround the brand’s notable slide in marketshare against rival Pepsi-Cola. After an initial buzz factor, public sentiment quickly turned on the new formula and traditionalists loudly demanded their “old” Coke (labeled “Coca-Cola Classic” when re-released 77 days later) back.

Most look back on the New Coke experiment as a marketing disaster, but here’s a little secret: Coca-Cola actually gained a lot of marketshare on Pepsi through the whole process. That’s right, many folks who rallied against the new Coke really weren’t previously buying a lot of the old Coke — until it was taken away, and then everybody suddenly wanted and cherished it.

A Polaris comparison isn’t completely parallel, but it is interesting.

Polaris Indy 600 action
The Polaris 600 Indy SP in action.

Polaris ruled the snowmobile world with its Indy machines in the 1990s, but lost the buzz factor in the new century as competition came out with more appealing designs. Polaris took many risks with its flatlander sleds to try to respond — from the Pro-X to the failed Fusion to, most notably, recently and impressively, the futuristic-looking Rush lineup.

With its unique rear suspension, the Rush still has a heck of a buzz factor after three years on the snow, but its aggressive ergonomics, uncoupled suspension design and freaky looks aren’t for everybody. It’s maybe too young and “sweet” — like the new Coke — for traditionalists who liked the old Indy. Getting all of those ’90s Polaris customers back hasn’t been easy.

For 2013, the Indy is back — in name and spirit anyway — but, unlike the Coke example, the new Rush doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon; it remains a very popular trail sled.

The question now, for folks considering a Polaris trail sled, is which option is best for them: The new (yet somehow also old) Indy or the older (though new-style) Rush? We spent quality time with a 2013 600 Rush and 600 Indy SP to find the answer.

The Look & Feel

Polaris 600 Rush Action
The Polaris 600 Rush in action.

Looked at from the front, the Indy SP and Rush have an awful lot in common. From the rear, they couldn’t be much different. From the cockpit? It’s a combination of the two.

Both sleds’ front clip is pure Polaris Pro-Ride chassis — a design unveiled with the original 2010 Rush. Identical dual A-arm front suspensions, new skis, split headlights, angular body panels and mid-height windshields give each sled a modern, well-finished look. Even with the Indy name and traditional-looking graphics package, the new Indy will never be confused for a model from the 1980s or 1990s. And we like the base Rush graphics packages for 2013 — they play well with the shape of the body panel and have a quality look.

There are differences up front, though. The Rush features a large exposed heat exchanger below a bumper with a rubber cover, while the Indy SP features a smoother looking belly pan and an exposed aluminum bumper.

Polaris Indy 600 seat
A driver sits in a more traditional position on the Indy, making it a comfortable sled on which you can lock in and pile on the miles.

Swing around to a side view of the machines and you definitely know you’re looking at different models.

Say what you want about how well the Rush’s Pro-Ride rear suspension works in big bumps and how fun it is to pre-load and launch off of bumps, one thing is certain: It’s not very attractive to most snowmobilers. With its short tunnel, short running boards riddled with odd-looking reinforcements, gap under the front of the seat and a beaver-tail looking rear end that dramatically falls away behind the seat, the Rush has a disjointed look. It’s certainly better now that the bridgework around the unique rear suspension is painted black and thus less omnipresent, but it’s still peculiar.

Polaris 600 Rush seat
The layout of the Rush puts the driver in a taller and more forward position than on the 600 Indy SP.

The Indy has a more traditional look, with a full-length tunnel and running boards that taper at the very rear of the machine. Visually, the only thing that stands out is that the seat appears short, length-wise, and there’s a large gap beneath it that would best be filled with some body panels or, our preference, some on-board storage.

The feel in the saddle of the two machines exposes other differences. The Rush and Indy SP share the same, new one-piece handlebar with integrated hooks and, thus, the effect of the heated grips travels all the way to the end of the hooks, as opposed to previous Polaris models and the base model 600 Indy, which utilize a straight bar with hooks plugged into the end.

Those bars sit an inch taller on the Rush, which also places the driver a half inch taller on its new Pro-Ride Adventure seat than the Indy driver sits on the Lightweight Freestyle perch. Both seats are moderately firm, but for the Rush it’s a big improvement over 2012 and earlier models, which featured barstool stiffness beneath your posterior. The 1 inch here and half inch there don’t sound like much, but it is noticeable when sitting on the machines, and especially when standing through bumps — the Rush feels taller, more modern and, thanks to that handlebar height and more aggressive running board trim than is found on the Indy, it is more comfortable to stand on.

Also, the console on the Rush is 1 inch farther forward and more vertical than on the Indy, and we found ourselves utilizing that space thanks to the more aggressive sort of riding that the Rush inspires.

Polaris Indy 600 Gauge
An old-style gauge with a sweeping arm is one of many areas that reflects the more price-conscious nature of the 600 Indy SP.

The other things that attract attention when in the saddle are the differences in the gauges. The Rush gets a modern, digital, full-function rectangular gauge which is likely more expensive. Its digital readout will tell you all sorts of information at once — speedo, tach, trip meter, water temperature, fuel level, low oil, price of tea in china, etc. Truth be told, however, the round, somewhat old school analog gauge with a sweeping dial on the 600 Indy SP is easier to read at a glance. Its smaller, digital inset readout does feed the rider some additional information, though the fuel gauge is an old-school, in-tank floater that you glance between your thighs to read.

Both models feature Polaris’ disappointing slide switches on the left handlebar block to control the hand and thumb warmers and share the same brake lever and thumb throttle flipper. Both also have the PERC push-button reverse system — that’s a feature you won’t get on your “old” Indy.

Trail Time Exposes Personalities

If ever there was a great opportunity to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of a coupled vs. an uncoupled rear suspension design, this was it. That’s because the 600 Rush and 600 Indy SP share just about everything else that affects the ride.

Polaris 600 Rush rear susp
The 600 Rush’s Pro-Ride rear suspension with an outboard shock is an uncoupled design, resulting in great weight transfer but limitations in stutter bumps.

Both feature the quality Pro-Ride front suspension that tracks very well, holds its line expertly in turns and absorbs energy from bumps better than anything on the snow. They also both benefit from Polaris’ new Pro Steer ski, which sharpens handling an iota while lightening steering effort over previous Rush models (though the steering is still heavier feeling than most competitive machines). Both machines go exactly where you want them to go, with limited push, no notable bump steer and some inside ski lift in unusual circumstances.

A 599cc, liquid-cooled, semi-direct injected Cleanfire engine powers both machines. This sporty twin spools up fast and allows each sled to react quickly to throttle inputs, making for a potentially spirited ride with class-leading acceleration.

The power delivery does feel different on the two machines, however, and that comes back to the dramatic difference between the two rear suspensions.

The 600 Rush features its trademark Pro-Ride rear suspension utilizing a rear shock that is mounted outside of the track. It is a fun, uncoupled design that transfers weight expertly and allows the driver the ultimate in control when rocking the sled through especially rough sections of trail or down a rugged ditchline. The engine, clutching and suspension weight transfer combine to make the sled hyper-reactive to driver inputs. Go ahead, launch it off rollers, torture it down ungroomed powerline trail paths — it loves the rough stuff yet still tracks very well on smooth trails. We said it earlier this year when writing about its sister machine with better shocks, the 600 Rush Pro-R: The Rush design is one of the most fun snowmobiles ever built to rip around on in either of these conditions.

The weak point to uncoupled rear suspension designs, however, is and always has been stutter bumps — that evenly spaced, 6- to 12-inch chop that all snowmobilers experience in high-traffic areas. And for all of the glory of the Rush’s rear end, its designers haven’t been able to overcome this flaw. It transfers more energy through the seat and rear of the machine than suspension designs that enable the front and rear arms of the suspension to work together — including what Polaris is now calling the Indy rear suspension on the 600 Indy SP.

That Indy rear end is really just an updated version of the IQ rear suspension formerly found on sleds like the 600 IQ and 600 Shift. The geometry is the same as the old design, when all Polaris sleds used to have full tunnels, but it has been dialed in better than before.

The 600 Indy SP isn’t quite as fun in the rough stuff as the aggressive Rush, but when trail chop shows up it’s definitely the machine to be on. It’s not as smooth as Ski-Doo’s rMotion, but the rear is a notable step up from the Rush in these conditions, as the front and rear arms team up to keep more shake, jiggle and harshness away from the driver.

We went back-and-forth through such trail conditions at varying speeds on the Rush and Indy, and the difference was pronounced. Adjusting suspension settings helped slightly, but it comes down to coupling. On the Rush, each bump was hit separately by the front arm and then the rear arm; on the Indy, the front and rear arms could react with each other to erase more energy. It wasn’t as pronounced as when we first learned the magic of coupling 21 years ago on the original FAST M-10 suspension, but it was a vital reminder of the joy of coupling.

Both suspensions use standard Fox IFP shocks on all four corners, as opposed to the base 600 Indy model, which gets Ryde FX MPVs, and the upgraded Rush Pro-R, which has high-end Walker Evans shocks. So, there are actually four machines here to compare — we took the two in the middle.

Where Do You Want To Shine?

There is a $1,000 price difference between these two machines ($8,999 MSRP on the 600 Indy SP; $9,999 for the 600 Rush), and that is reflected in the list of standard features. But the sleds’ attitudes, and the attitudes of the people who ride them, is most reflected in that rear suspension difference.

If you like playing with your snowmobile (jumping it, seeking out big bumps, having it react directly to you) more than simply riding it, the 600 Rush is a fine choice. Yes, you’ll give up a little bit to some friends when the trails become choppy, but you’ll have more fun when you’re burning off adrenaline in any other condition.

If, however, you’re mainly a traditional, sit-down rider and are somebody who is going to get red-faced and hacked-off on those continuously rutted, late-afternoon trails that lead you back to your tow vehicle, cabin or hotel, you would likely prefer the 600 Indy SP. It’s “old-shoe comfortable,” as one test rider wrote in his notes, in both ride quality and soothing ergonomics. Beyond that, you get the pride-in-ownership that comes with being the first on a “new” Indy without the fear of first-model-year gremlins, as virtually every component on this “new” model has already spent several years in production.

Plus you’ve got that extra $1,000 in your pocket to spend on soft drinks. That’s a lot of Coca-Cola — new or old.

Polaris Comparison: Polaris 600 Rush vs Polaris 600 Indy SP

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