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Pre-ride analysis: Polaris 850 Switchback XC 146

For more than 10 years now, I’ve been writing about the change in attitude of Polaris’ people in terms of listening and adjusting their snowmobile offer. More specifically, their openness to the Quebec market, which is a popular market in North America. Not only for the quantity of new vehicles sold each year, but especially for the stability of annual sales despite the hazards of the seasons. Statistics show that it is in Quebec that sales of new snowmobiles have varied the least over the past several years and stability in business is the key to success.

Each time I have attended the SnowShoot in the last few years, an engineer, technician or manager from the Roseau manufacturer has systematically accompanied us on our rides to get our feedback. If we look at the evolution of Polaris’ trail, hybrid and utility snowmobiles over the last 10 years, we can clearly see the influence of our market in the evolution of the models. The evolution of the Switchback as well as the return of the Indy series and the arrival of the Titan are proof of the seriousness that this manufacturer gives to our market. The hybrid segment is undoubtedly very strategic in Quebec for all manufacturers, as demonstrated by the large number of this type of vehicle that can be found throughout the province.

Fox QS3 Vs Walker Evans shocks

When I chose the 850 Switchback XC 146 as my long-term test vehicle for the upcoming season, I liked to think that there was a little bit of me in this model. At the 2019 Snowmobile and ATV Show, one of the American executives from Polaris that I had the opportunity to meet a few years ago, was on hand to observe our market and the progress of the show. After a few courtesy exchanges, we discussed different topics of the range and I could not miss the opportunity to pass a message. Specifically about the improvement Polaris had made on its trail snowmobiles, but also about the little something that was missing to be up to the competition in terms of the comfort of its suspensions. My point was simple, but obvious in my humble opinion. The Walker Evans shocks used on most Polaris snowmobiles were too stiff for the vast majority of Quebec snowmobilers. After a few minutes of arguing, he started looking at the visitors and came to an obvious conclusion: the average weight of Quebec and Canadian snowmobilers is obviously significantly lower than the American clientele. It was at this point that I naively said to our guest “…why not use the Fox QS3 shocks that do such a good job on the Titan. In all honesty, I’ve never driven a utility vehicle as comfortable as what you’ve done with this series!”. At that very moment, he remained impassive for several seconds while pragmatically telling me “there must be something we can do”. Being aware that the introduction of the Fox QS3 shock option in many 2022 models probably had nothing to do with my discussion, I had to admit that what was missing from the Polaris suspensions, especially at the rear, was a little more flexibility. I would like to think that I was listened to, and I couldn’t pass up this new suspension evolution from Polaris while enjoying the qualities I’m looking for in a true hybrid.

850 Switchback XC 146

Based on the new Matrix chassis that I discovered last year, my test model will be powered this year by the now famous Patriot 850 engine combined with the P85/TEAM Light transmission. This combination should bring a lot of power and fast acceleration if I refer to the tests of the last few years. As for traction, I opted for the 15x146x1.6-inch version of the Cobra track, as I couldn’t resign myself to a lower profile since I regularly venture into the powder. After having tested the Matrix chassis in 2021, I’m starting this season with great confidence, given the great qualities of the platform.

Obviously, what will get most of my attention this year is the handling of the Matrix front suspension and the comfort of the IGX 146 rear suspension. Will switching from Walker-Evans shocks to Fox QS3 shocks really do what I expect? While I want more comfort in the bumps, I don’t want to lose the stability that the stiffer Walker-Evans shocks have provided for many years. If you talk to the engineers at each manufacturer, the calibration of a snowmobile suspension remains one of the most complex elements compared to any other recreational vehicle. While the Fox-QS3 shocks have a solid reputation, has the Minnesota-based manufacturer’s engineering team managed to keep the Switchback’s qualities while making it more comfortable? Even if, on paper, all the components seem to be present, only a test over several hundred kilometers in various conditions will be able to demonstrate the efficiency of this new version.

So I’m waiting with great excitement for the arrival of my new sled. As for the whole industry, the supply is a challenge and the delivery will be made in December. The snow seems to be there at the beginning of the season, so I might be able to hit the trails as soon as I receive my stallion. The wait is still endless, but I hope that my patience will be rewarded by several days of riding that will allow me to share my impressions in my next columns. Have a good season !


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