For several years now, I had a favorable opinion of the Switchback series from the Minnesota manufacturer. This is certainly related to the long term test I did in 2013, on the Assault version at the time. As soon as it was launched, I knew that this model would be appreciated by Quebec snowmobilers because of its hybrid qualities, both on and off the trail. Despite limited comfort, which was characteristic of the Assault versions of the time, the snowmobile had so much to offer to those looking for the best of both worlds that its success did not wane in terms of sales. When the Axys chassis was introduced, enthusiasts were not disappointed with the handling and balance of the new platform. For 2021, my expectations were undoubtedly at their highest with the arrival of the new Matryx chassis version and a new engine in the 600cc class, the Patriot 650.
From my first few miles on the trail, I became aware of the strength of the new chassis because of the almost perfect weight distribution of the vehicle. When you drive a 146 inch snowmobile with a 2 inch track, you expect to make one or even several compromises on the trails. Well, I'm still waiting to see what compromises I'll have to make! Let's be clear, I have been arguing for a long time that to drive a hybrid, you have to accept that you don't have the best anywhere, but a decent vehicle in many situations. Those days clearly seem to be over, as the new Switchback Assault 146 is incredibly maneuverable on the trails. Turns are precise, without fighting with the rear of the track, while limiting inner ski lift. In situations where this happens, you can feel it coming without being surprised. The snowmobile is very predictable and it is easy for the rider to quickly bring the ski back to the ground without effort. Moreover, I voluntarily chose not to install any gear under the skis in order to see the raw behavior of the vehicle. Even when it comes to drifting, the Pro-Steer skis, which provide precise steering, do an impressive job of limiting problematic situations in different types of snow.
The driving position is no coincidence with the feeling of stability of the vehicle. Being able to easily move forward, if needed, for a more active driving style allows us to put extra support on the skis while maintaining our confidence in the vehicle's ability to turn in tighter corners. The seat is narrower in the front, as is the fuel tank, which makes the snowmobile feel smaller, increasing the rider's comfort level. In riding situations where the rider is further back in the seat, the seat is wider with a very firm foam in the center and softer on the sides. This has the effect of facilitating weight transfer at the start of a turn simply by moving the upper body slightly without actually moving from the seat. This is very effective in terms of steering, reducing the effort required for the pilot. The control station is very functional, thanks to the very relevant 7-inch touch screen. The screen makes it possible to see essential information clearly and quickly, even while moving, without having to take your eyes off the trail for precious seconds. The various functions are accessible via the control buttons around the screen or via the touch panel that works even in cold weather. During our long term tests, we have to assume several costs related to the vehicles, which was the case this year for the mirrors. I therefore opted for the mirrors profiled on the sides of the panels which are well matched with the cabin. I can confirm that they are useless for anything other than being legal on the trails, as they are too low and hidden by our arms, making the move to look at them very perilous. Opt for the hand guards with the attached mirrors, these are small but easy to use.
The ability to maintain control over bumps is as impressive as ever with Polaris snowmobiles. The Matrix front suspension, which is a very effective evolution of the Axys chassis suspension, benefits from the new VER Velocity shocks. More resilient in terms of stiffness than the Walker Evans of years past, these shocks still offer great bump capacity and clearly help maintain control in any situation. Although these new shocks improve comfort a bit on the IGX rear suspension, they're still a little firm for those whose priority is comfort. The good news is, for next season, Polaris engineers finally agreed to our request to offer trail models with Fox QS3 shocks. These will be offered with the Switchback model in XC version for 2022. These shocks have proven themselves in terms of comfort on several models from other manufacturers as well as on the Titan from Polaris.
It's hard not to mention the new Patriot 650 engine. First of all, we can quickly see that the manufacturer's claims of power are real. In terms of acceleration, the new engine is simply breathtaking. It's hard to tell the difference with the 850, but of course, the 850 ends up taking the lead at high revs… but not so easily. In addition, the new engine's fuel and oil consumption is very advantageous, as are the smoke emissions, which are much less annoying than the Cleanfire technology. We can't argue with the fact that 200cc more horsepower is added at high rpm, but we can confirm that for the vast majority of situations, the new 650 is close to all the engines in the 800cc class.
The season that is ending didn't allow me to use the Switchback in the powder conditions I'm used to for my tests. That said, I was still able to see the undeniable agility of the chassis during my few off-road rides. True to its reputation, Polaris offers a vehicle that does a very good job in heavier snow, especially when equipped with the 2-inch track, which is a perfect match for this type of vehicle. The engine and clutch system offer quick responses that allow you to follow many mountain snowmobiles, up to a certain limit, if you have a minimum of skill.
It's clear to me that this new version of the Switchback is very successful. Performance, handling, versatility and lightness are all qualities that describe this new model, which is likely to be a big seller in Quebec in the next few years. Personally, I was conquered by the pleasure of driving this snowmobile on all the rides I was able to take, despite the less snowy season that we had. It is without much surprise that I can confirm that the Switchback Assault 650 with the 2 inch profile track is my favorite for 2021.