As early as spring 2014, it was essential for Christian Barbeau, Polaris dealer from father to son in northern Greater Québec, that our 2015 trial snowmobile would be mounted on the new AXYS chassis. Owner of CM Barbeau, Christian is that kind of owner who does not only sell Polaris snowmobiles, but also he is madly fond of snowmobiling since dozens of years. So, he and Francis Larivière, Polaris representative in the Province of Québec, thought that it was out of the question that the new 800 Cleanfire H.O. would not be included in our tests. They had both tried it out on a few kilometers last spring and they were convinced that this was THE engine designed for my tests. Considering the increasing request from their customers for the performance crossover snowmobiles, our 2015 trial snowmobile had also to be equipped with a 137 in. (348 cm) track. Thus, our partners’ choice went for the Switchback lineup and ideally, for the PRO-S model that offers more comfort considering the type of snowmobiling practiced in the Province of Québec.
The new 2015 Polaris 800 H.O. Switchback PRO-S.
Unlike the previous years, it took more time to get the confirmation and the delivery of our trial snowmobile; this is why our pre-ride analysis is presented just now. As this is the first year of the new AXYS chassis, you can understand that demand is very high, mostly for the Switchback model. It was even more challenging to find a unit available in a specific model. It was so difficult that as early as the end of November, the introduction of this new platform was already considered a commercial success; sales had exploded at many Polaris dealers, including at our partner’s, CM Barbeau. Of course, it was worth the wait : the arrival of the new 2015 Polaris 800 H.O. Switchback PRO-S has already made us very satisfied. While we are now waiting for our first ride on trail, here are some highlights of this new snowmobile.
On the right, Christian Barbeau, owner of CM Barbeau, Polaris dealer in northern Greater Québec, with Marc Thibeault from SledMagazine.com and the new 2015 Polaris 800 H.O. Switchback PRO-S.
Many dangers threaten a manufacturer when he is designing a new platform ; one of them is to loose the strong elements of the previous platform and we have seen it happen too many times in the hystory of snowmobile. Fortunately at Polaris’, they do not throw out the baby with the bath water! Even if Polaris announces that all snowmobiles based on the new AXYS chassis are totally new machines, the Switchback keeps some components that I consider to be sure values. For example, firstly, the front AXYS suspension is in fact a development of the PRO-Ride suspension, which is itself a development of the IQ series. The traditional handling and efficiency of the front suspension of Polaris snowmobiles are famous and I am happy to see that they have been maintained. We can say the same thing about the drive/driven clutch system P85/Team LWT, now a benchmark in the industry. You should note that the distance between both pulleys has changed with the new chassis along with the type of belt now sold at more than 260 $/unit.
Even if the exclusive progressive-rate rear suspension has been kept, the new AXYS chassis is totally redesigned and has nothing to do with its « ancestor », the PRO-Ride chassis.
Even if they totally redesigned the rear end of the machine, Polaris kept the progressive-rate suspension design by offering a brand new version, the PRO-XC. If you take a closer look, you will see that the geometry has been completely changed and it is optimized for the pilot, according to the manufacturer of course. We must admit that the previous generation of the PRO-Ride suspension had been improved during the last 5 years, but Polaris’ engineers had reached the optimal capacity of the old geometry. Another element at rear end that draws my attention is the use of aluminum instead of steel for the mobile part of the suspension. This highly reduces weight at rear end and should improve the balance of the sled. Overall, the AXYS chassis brings a lean Switchback with a dry weight of only 446 lbs (202,3 kg)!
Even if Polaris maintained the design of the rear progressive-rate suspension, the PRO-XC suspension has been totally redesigned.
Personally, I think that an efficient suspension depends mostly on the balance of the snowmobile in regards of weight distribution. It is also one of the obvious highlights we see when we take a look at both Switchback generations (2014 vs 2015). The pilot is more centralized on the snowmobile, such as the overall mass of the machine. The concept is simple, yet hard to reach : to centralize the maximum weight, including the pilot, on the pivot point of the vehicle. Along with improving the overall comfort of the pilot, this design, seeked by all manufacturers, improves the handling of the machine and reduces effort required from the pilot. Even if we shall see the real result on trail, all these changes are full of promise for our test.
We can see that the new rear geometry of the vehicle has quite changed, so did the rider positioning on the machine.
Year after year, Polaris traditionally improved their engines, mostly the 800 cc category. But this season, the development we saw on paper seems major since many important improvements have been brought to the new 800 Cleanfire H.O. Firstly, engineers succeeded to reduce the crankshaft weight by 2.5 lbs (1,1 kg), which is major in this field. You must understand that the first part that is moved by the engine is internal, and it is the crankshaft itself. Polaris announces a « huge » 25 % reduction of the inertia caused by the crankshaft, which we should notice on the throttle response. The other innovation that catches my attention is the standard addition of the Vforce reeds. Used by many racing pilots, this system is designed to optimize the air-fuel mixture at the engine input, thus improving its performance. Many other improvements such as the electronically-controled exhaust valves and the high-efficiency intake and exhaust system, should provide a high performance engine. Unofficially, it is said that this engine could deliver about 165 HP with incredible accelerations, which we are going to check out after the break-in period.
The new 800 Cleanfire H.O. engine should be one of the components to be checked out on our new Switchback.
Our Switchback PRO-S standard features include the electric start and mid clear windshield, very appropriate for the regions on northern shore of the St. Lawrence river. The PRO-S model still offers the gauge of the PRO-Ride old versions; it works well but I find it a little small. However, a new larger full color display with many interesting functions, is offered as an optional equipment and I strongly recommend it. Same as the Rush, the Switchback lineup is equipped with standard LED headlights, another industry first for Polaris. Unlike the old version of PRO-Ride that did not offer any storage capacity, there is now a storage compartment available above the gauge. To my greatest joy (please read my comments of last years about Polaris snowmobiles), the Switchback now offers larger electric controls with improved ergonomics and they should be potentially usable while we are moving. For complete details on the 800 H.O. Switchback PRO-S equipment, please see its specification sheet by clicking here lien.
Front and rear suspensions are both equipped with Walker Evans Piggyback Compression Adjustable shocks. PRO-Steer skis are back with a ski stance of 42.5 inches (108 cm). The Switchback is equipped with the 15 X 137 X 1.25 in. RipSaw track, since the RipSaw tracks are successfully used by many manufacturers in the crossover category. Unlike the PRO-Ride chassis, accessing the rear shock and springs of the AXYS is easier and this makes their adjustment also easier.
During many years, we have been asking Polaris for new electric controls and finally, its is done.
Another obvious component is the new « AXYS Performance Seat ». It is very stylish and its ergonomics fit the vehicle. One of the elements that really stands out is the overall improvement of the snowmobile finish. Its look is really fantastic and I am convinced that Polaris made a giant step with the design of the hood and pilot area. For example, the attachments of both side panels are much easier to use and have a better design. Also, you can remove the upper part of the hood in a few seconds without any tool.
In a few seconds, the snowmobiler can open the panels and the hood without any tool, which facilitates access to components.
How could we predict the performance of a vehicle when so many changes have been brought to its structure? We know that it is purpose-built for long rides on various trail conditions, for high-performance experience and for occasionnal rides in powder snow. We still have some unanswered questions…
- What will be its sport-riding performance on sinuous trails?
- Is it going to deliver impressive acceleration as announced?
- Will it provide flatter cornering compared with the PRO-Ride editions?
- What will be the performance of the AXYS chassis with the 137" PRO-XC suspension on uneven terrain?
These are many legitimate questions to ask when a manufacturer makes the statement that the snowmobile is made at 93 % of new parts. So, it is time to get out of the garage and to let the beast talk by itself.