Pre-ride analysis: 2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144

On this November 23rd 2012, we are still wishing for winter conditions. It has been snowing in the Laurentians, in Charlevoix and in the Monts Valin of course. But my snowmobile heart longs for a wonderful white carpet that would cover the Vieille Capitale region. I am sure that the snowmobile dealers all over the province of Québec are also impatient, including our Polaris partner CM Barbeau in St-Émile, north of Québec City, who offered us the 2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 for our long-term trials. Mr Christian Barbeau, the owner, had told me at the end of October that my machine was ready for delivery in order to make room for all the other sleds they had to prepare at that busy time of the year.  This was the perfect time to receive the Assault in my personal showroom and proceed to the pre-ride analysis.
 
 
Everybody notices the very particular look, colors and graphics of the Assault 144, one of the most interesting snowmobiles I had the chance to test during the Snow Shoot 2012.  Unfortunately during the last Snow Shoot 2013, I rode only 1 km because the rear shock broke down. So, I have not been able to compare the performance of the models. For complete specifications of the 2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144, please read our Buyer’s Guide on this web site.
 
Most of the people who take a look at this snowmobile are unanimous about its front end. The Assault is very classy thanks to the aggressive and distinctive look of the hood, the black/orange/white colors and graphics, the ProTaper handlebar with hooks, the black matte windshield and the premium Walker Evans shocks with compression adjusters and remote reservoirs. The digital gauge is the same than we find on the Rush models, small but very functional. Unlike their position on trail models, the controls of the Assault are not on the handlebar but at its base… We’ll check if it is effective.  We notice a more basic finish of the controls and handlebar, which is the brand mark of the Assault, a crossover snowmobile designed for extreme riding fans.
 
 
There is only one peculiar thing about the Assault, its uneven finish. We have the body of the Rush models at the front end up to the handlebar, then the rear end shows a more robust finish. First, the seat is fixed with 2 steel rods to the rear end, followed by an extruded tunnel with sharp edges at some places. Finally, at rear we find the extra-light aluminum bumper mounted on razor-sharp parts and the new lightweight snow flap.  That said, this is what I like about Polaris… the more robust side that makes you believe in the capacity of the machine to overcome tough situations. If we take a look at the components of the suspension, the assembly, the soldered joints, it all seems very rigid despite the rather lightweight snowmobile. This is precisely the look wanted for the Assault, a snowmobile built for extreme riding fans. I personally love it…
 
Let’s talk now about the accessories.  Our trial model shows some very interesting features.  As we equip our machine according to our budget, we can’t choose all the options offered by Polaris but our trial model is equipped with the electric start. I tested the 800 Cleanfire engine with no electric start two years ago and believe me, I strongly recommend this option if you do not want to wear yourself out at -30° C when the 800 cc engine is very hard to start up. The electronic reverse is a standard equipment on all 2-stroke machines today.  We chose to equip our snowmobile with handguards for increased pilot’s comfort and with mirrors mounted on them; they fit perfectly the Assault look. We will have the opportunity to test these optional features. Even if I did not ride on the machine yet, it is a pleasure to notice the softer seat of the Assault. For many years, Polaris equipped the snowmobiles built for extreme riding conditions with very hard uncomfortable seats. The seat of our 2013 trial model is very smooth, still with a very successful design and the colors of the hood. This is also true for the running boards, wider at rear; they should provide more room and more grip during off-trail manoeuvers. 
 
It is obvious that the comfort and handling of our trial snowmobile will really be confirmed only when riding ; however, we can already notice many positive elements.  Besides its smooth foam qualities, the seat is quite long and should suit many snowmobilers’ sizes.  Also, the riding position is very comfortable; you can extend your legs and switch from a sitting to stand-up position very easily. My biggest concern is the work of the 144 tipped up uncoupled rear suspension. The 2012 model we have tested was equipped with the proven adjustable Walker Evans shocks; it provided outstanding performance in very uneven terrains and its calibration offered great comfort in smaller bumps, which is exceptional in itself. Will it be the same for the 2013 model? We hope so, but who knows if an engineer did not decide to change a small detail for a reason only known by himself. The wide-range  adjustability of the front and rear suspensions should allow us to ride a well-balanced snowmobile.  
 
Regarding the performance, we can say that we always expect a lot from the 800 cc models.  The semi-direct injection system of the Cleanfire has been improved these past years and Polaris’ representatives talk about the fuel economy of this engine in real-world riding situations. This is exactly one of the elements that our long-term trials want to demonstrate.  Another strenght at Polaris’  since many years is the available power during acceleration.  Along with the proven P-85 / TEAM LWT drive system, this 800 cc engine is made of lighter mobile parts which delivers a quicker throttle response. In brief, I expect from the 800 Switchback Assault 144 great performance transfered to the 144 X 15 X 1,35 Cobra track.  Its tough job will be to provide a good flotation and traction in powder snow along with great handiness on trails.  What a challenge! Finally, the 2013 model introduces the new Pro-Steer skis.  During our spring trials, we saw that the new skis highly improved  the performance of the Rush models in sinuous trails.  Shall we get such conclusive results on our 144" crossover model? It still has to be demonstrated !
 

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