At last, we can report about the brand new AXYS chassis we tested in the framework of our long-term trials of the new 2015 Polaris 800 H.O. Switchback Pro-S. Even if many articles have been written about this new chassis since it has been introduced last spring, today I can present my first real impressions about this new sled. As I said in my previous article, the new 800 Cleanfire H.O. engine and the RipSaw II track of 137x15x1,25 in the Pro-S package are the best choices for Québec market. So, I was eager to start the season and share with you my very first observations on trail. Due to the change of platform and to my latest memories about the Pro-Ride chassis, I have been able to focus on what caught my attention by comparison with the previous generation of Switchback.
Starting the new 800 Cleanfire H.O.
Even before talking about its performance on trail, I already like starting this new engine. In the region where I run my tests, I have often started my snowmobile at -35 °C. I said it many times in the past, the Polaris electric starter was not able to start up the 800 cc under such extreme cold. As a result, we had to painfully pull the rope 6, 7 … 10 times before the starter agreed to make the big frozen 800 cc engine run. On the new 800 H.O., this problem is solved. The starter now makes the frozen engine fire up and run. Furthermore, since many years on many Polaris models, the starter was producing a strong annoying noise; this has also disappeared now. Finally, the new Cleanfire engine is more linear and regular at idle and once again, in extreme cold as well as in milder temperature.
Response of the 800 Cleanfire H.O.
As mentioned in my article entitled « Pre-ride analysis », the new 800 Cleanfire H.O. presents many improvements that add even more punch. According to the manufacturer, this new engine provides more than 160 HP. Despite the breaking-in period during which we must follow the manufacturer’s instructions, the engine performance in acceleration is very impressive and pick-ups are immediate. What is the most impressive, is the range of power that seems much wider and linear than before. Pick-ups at various engine speeds are explosive and provide outstanding sensations to the pilot. However, we can feel some vibration on the chassis that seems to be coming from the engine, but this is not important enough to take away the fun we get from the performance of this snowmobile.
Protection against cold
It was also easy to evaluate this element, as already said. On the Polaris web site, we can read that the shape of the hood combined with the standard mid-size windshield of the Switchback has been designed to offer enhanced wind protection. It is successful for our upper body, but not for our hands. As there are no standard hand guards on the handlebar of the Pro-S model, we would think that the shape of the windshield would protect the pilot’s hands. In reality, this is not what happens because our hands are exposed to extreme cold winds. Fortunately, it is easy to solve this problem : I bought Polaris handlebar muffs to improve my comfort and it has been very effective. Hand guards on handlebar may also be a good option to get a more sporty style.
I have to talk about the new electric controls on the handlebar. They were the same since the last 20 years, until last year. Those who follow me on this web magazine know that every time I could, I asked for new electric controls. To my greatest joy, it is now done. Polaris chose to gather all controls in only one block and to give them different colors and shapes so that it would become instinctive for the pilot to activate. Now, the pilot can easily and safely use the electric controls while riding on the new Polaris snowmobiles.
The Pro-Ride chassis was introduced in 2010 and the new design of the progressive-rate rear suspension seemed to announce a significant evolution of the snowmobilers’ comfort. At that time, our trials proved otherwise as comfort was reduced by the bottoming of the front part of the rear suspension in bumps. After 6 years, the AXYS chassis restores the concept credibility. The new 2015 Switchback Pro-S offers an incredible comfort. The absorption capability of the rear Pro-XC suspension is highly improved and its range of efficiency is much wider and mostly, more progressive.
Once again, people from CM Barbeau, Polaris dealer in greater Québec City, were right when they offered me the Pro-S package rather than the Pro-X package. Even if the Pro-S package seems also to offer good absorption capabilities, it is mostly more comfortable than the Pro-X package designed for more robust snowmobilers. This is another example of how it is important to chose a dealer who is also a true snowmobiler; he knows what he is talking about when he gives you advice. After I consulted my dealer Christian Barbeau, I quickly found the optimal configuration of the suspension. The rider positioning also improves our fun and comfort. The seat design is very comfortable under normal temperatures but under -30 °C, the foam seems to get harder.
The handling and stability of the Switchback mounted on the new AXYS chassis is definitely what is the most obvious right on the first kilometers we ride. Compared with the last generation (Pro-Ride), we are very far away from the old handling. We do not experience ski lift in turns anymore and we have an easy control of the sled that makes it more predictable than before. We do not have anymore the feeling that we have to fight against the inertia of the machine, which makes the steering easier and makes us more confident in no time. The precise steering is effective thanks to the Pro-Stear skis, but it requires more effort from our arms than what we have been used to by Polaris. I did not install any accessory under the track or the skis, so I have been able to experience the balance of the Switchback and the efficiency of the RipSaw II track. There is no excessive lateral biting in curves, which provides some skidding that makes cornering easier and keeps the vehicle from overturning.
The first maintenance is now done and our trial partner, CM Barbeau, Polaris dealer in greater Québec City, gives his blessing to our upcoming tests. After more than 2 000 km on trail, we can now focus on long-term elements of our trials. Oil and fuel consumptions will be examined on this second part of our trials, as well as the vehicle capabilities in different snow conditions. One thing is sure, I can hardly wait for what’s coming up because I experienced very good feelings during my first rides on the new Switchback 800 H.O. Pro-S.