This is my second season on a Polaris 800 H.O. Switchback PRO-S. Even if no modification has been officially announced by the manufacturer for the 2016 model and even if I have already piloted the 2015 edition over 5 000 kilometers, I can still share with you my first impressions since this is our second year on this model. As mentioned in my articles of last year, it has been a good choice to design for Québec market the PRO-S package with the 800 Cleanfire H.O. engine and the track of 137x15x1.25 in./38,1x348x3,18 cm, unlike the PRO-X package with a much more rigid suspension. The goal of a second year is to deepen my experience with this model and this way, to verify if my opinion remains the same than with the 2015 model. Of course, it is also the opportunity to discover significant differences for 2016.
Response of the 800 Cleanfire H.O.
Back this year in the same edition than it was in its introduction last season, the 800 Cleanfire H.O. delivers the same 160 HP that are still impressive. Accelerations are explosive and pick-ups are instant. I rediscovered the same performance that impressed me so much last winter, which shows that probably the same settings have been used by Polaris this year. I still like very much the power range that is much wider and constant since 2015. Pick-ups at various throttle of the 800 cc are still as efficient, even if some lack of traction, occasionally, kept us from using the full power of the engine.
The shape of the hood and the shape of the standard medium windshield have been designed to protect the pilot against cold. It works well for the body, but it is still not efficient for the hands. The PRO-S edition is not equipped with standard handguards on the handlebar and the shape of the windshield could make us think that our hands are protected. In fact, this is not true. My hands were exposed to wind under extreme cold temperatures. Again this season, we had to solve the problem by adding Polaris gauntlets over the grips and controls on the handlebar. As I mentioned in a previous article, the introduction of new electric controls is successful and we can now use them while riding. Polaris chose to bring together all controls in one block and to use colors and shapes to make their operation instinctive for the pilot. Even if we are satisfied with the functions of the gauge, it should really be oversized to be easy to read when we are riding, since there is enough space for it.
Once again this year, I must admit that the AXYS chassis is really one of the most balanced chassis on the market and it has an important impact on the overall comfort of the snowmobile. The absorption capability of the PRO-XC rear suspension is obviously superior to the PRO-RIDE chassis and its efficiency range is much wider and mostly, more progressive. The PRO-S edition of this suspension is more docile and can easily negotiate most of uneven terrains. The rider balanced positioning improves our riding excitement and comfort feel. The shape of the seat is very comfortable and helps going from a touring ride to a more aggressive type of riding. Sideways movements in sharp bends are made easy thanks to our positioning on the vehicle.
The handling and stability of the Switchback on the new AXYS platform is definitely what strikes me most in this snowmobile. Everyone who tested it, has been impressed how much the Switchback made them at ease. We feel the lightweight of the vehicle that gives us confidence, because it reacts to any tiny movements. Darting in turns is reduced and this provides easier control of the machine, as it is more predictable than before. We do not feel like we must fight against the inertia of the vehicle and then, steering is safer and more precise. One of the major qualities of the Switchback is its « forgiveness capability ». Its maneuverability will often correct pilot’s mistakes and help him get out of trouble. The precise steering is efficient due to the PRO-STEER skis. However, it requires more effort from our arms, unlike what we have been used to by Polaris in the past. We did not install any accessory under the track or under the skis, so I have been able to notice the balance of the Switchback and the performance of the RipSaw II. This track does not bite too much aside in turns, so it allows some skidding that makes cornering easier and keeps the vehicle from tilting. However, sometimes there is lack of bite in sudden accelerations or pick-ups.
The first maintenance has been realized and our trial partner CM Barbeau, Polaris dealer in Greater Québec City, has made the required adjustments after the first 1 000 kilometers, such as the adjustment of the track, the drive belt and the chain case. We rode almost 2 000 km on trails and we are going to continue this season that started late. What is so extraordinary is that right on my first kilometers, I felt like home on the 800 H.O. Switchback PRO-S. As if it had not been 8 months since my last ride of 2015. We will draw many other conclusions from these tests, but I can already notice that Polaris did not change any of the winning features of 2015 for the 2016 edition. Also, it is obvious to me that this snowmobile is really finalized and that it is designed for Qubec snowmobilers who enjoy sporty riding on trail along with nice performances. One thing is sure, I do not have any doubt anymore about the continuation of my snowmobiling season on trail. I pilot a snowmobile that already fulfils many of my expectations.