It is time for me to present to you my review of the 2019 Polaris 850 Switchback Assault 144.
The Switchback Assault has experienced two significant changes over the past three years. First, there was a migration to the AXYS platform in 2017, which totally changed the behaviour of this model for the better. The second change is the addition of the 850 Patriot engine in 2019. Although the 800 CleanFire engine is still offered with the Switchback and it offers superb performance, the 850 Patriot engine has allowed me to appreciate this snowmobile even more throughout the season.
Those who follow our testing on Sledmagazine.com remember without a doubt that I had the chance to test the 2017 800 Switchback Assault 144 two years ago and I have excellent memories of it (read…). I did not hesitate a second to accept to test the 2019 version equipped with the all-new Patriot engine (read…).
The difference for this test: the engine!
My expectations were high enough toward the 850 Patriot this year… Even more for this model than the one I so enjoyed in 2017. Of course, there were the expectations toward the power and behaviour of the engine in the context of winter in Québec, but also on some aspects for which the 800 Cleanfire engine had left me hungry for more. I am speaking here of the fumes (smoke), and fuel consumption.
On the performance side, the 850 Patriot engine did not disappoint me. Indeed, it never seems to lack power when driving on the trail or off the trail. When you press the accelerator, the engine always responds promptly, and for the entire range of power. The starts are stupendous, and accelerations out of bends are always as pleasant.
On this snowmobile, the starts (electric starter) always happened without hesitation. However, the time to warm up the engine is particularly long as it is with all the 2-stroke snowmobiles that I have tried over the years. It is clear that the manufacturer encourages us to give the engine time to warm up before we start our ride, but I wonder. In the beginning, I patiently waited until the temperature rose to 25 C and for the warning signals to turn off before departing. Subsequently, my dealer told me that at +20 C, the engine was hot enough to be used normally.
Regarding fuel consumption, the 850 was comparable to the others, but I found that the oil consumption was a little high. However, in recent weeks, my dealer installed the new “programming,” and the oil consumption now seems to be more normal. Of course, we must keep in mind that the more power an engine has, the more its fuel consumption will be high. We cannot change the laws of physics.
The AXYS chassis gives the pilot precise driving and a sense of incredible flexibility in the manoeuvres. You always feel in full control of the machine which remains predictable as much in the bumps as off the trail. Although it is easy to cause the skis to rise in the turns (ski-lift), it doesn’t create any loss of control. A relationship of trust, therefore, develops swiftly between the machine and the driver making the rides oh so pleasant.
The IGX 144 suspension offers excellent comfort in most situations. We must understand that it is a suspension of compromise since it is a 50/50 hybrid snowmobile. Even knowing this, I would not hesitate a second to go on a long trail ride with the Switchback Assault.
The Walker Evans front and rear shock absorbers are adjustable, which allows us to configure the suspension according to our preferences and according to the type of terrain or trails encountered. The small downside is the lack of space between the button for the adjustment of the shock absorber of the centre (rear suspension) and the track, which makes it difficult to access.
The driver’s position is high enough on the snowmobile, which allows him to have excellent vision of the terrain in front of him. The seat is comfortable and offers a natural and comfortable position for the driver. The seat is narrower at the front, which makes changing of positions to a sportier driving position easier. The rear of the seat is wider and provides a lot of comfort during long rides.
The digital dials are impressive, and a wealth of information is present on them. The use of some smaller characters sometimes makes reading some of the data more difficult when the snowmobile is in motion. However, you may select among several presentation modes for the data so you can find the one that best meets our needs.
The handlebar controls are laid out naturally and you get used to them very quickly. The handles and heated thumb only offer two intensity levels. Consequently, we often have to move from one level to another while driving. The addition of a few additional intensity levels would therefore be appreciated. Speaking of adding, an audible signal when reversing would be a nice addition. Even though there is an indicator light on the dials, adding an audible signal would be a plus for security reasons especially when there are people around the snowmobile.
We must also be careful not to leave the key in the “ON” position when the engine is switched off. In fact, the dial remains lit, and the battery can be drained. The people at Polaris told me that they have a limitation when it comes to the GPS sensor, which prevents the situation to be corrected. I believe, however, that the dials should automatically turn off after 2 or 3 minutes when we stop the engine with the emergency button on the handlebar.
Regarding the look, the Switchback Assault 144 is very attractive. The choice of materials, as well as the finishing, is very successful. Like all the other AXYS models, this snowmobile is equipped with an L.E.D beacon that provides very effective lighting at night. It allows you to see the obstacles, branches or bumps more easily.
The 2019 850 Switchback Assault 144 responded very well to my expectations, and I have very much appreciated driving it throughout the season. Regardless of the type of ride, the kind of terrain or my type of driving, I loved every minute at its helm!
If you are looking for a 50/50 hybrid snowmobile, I invite you to add this one to your list when you are shopping for your next purchase!
I would like to thank Polaris Industries for having made this test possible as well as the dealer RPM Rive-Sud in Lévis and the Garage Yvan Thibault in Amqui who ensured the maintenance of the 2019 850 Switchback Assault 144 throughout the season.