Slowly the tide turned. Ski-Doo brought Ďfuní back to the ride with its REV platform. Yamaha reinvented its snowmobile lineup by focusing on 4stroke power. And Polaris lost its edge. Too many of the same models, too little differentiation. Distracted by becoming a major player in the ATV market, Polaris lost its way in snowmobiling. The Polaris Fusion 900 was the final insult. It marked the bottom. Marketing and engineering faced a humbling future to get Polaris back on top. What could be done to salvage the once-proud line of Polaris snowmobiles?
Admittedly, even after Polaris truly recognized that the Fusion and its all-new 900cc Liberty twin were disasters of its own making, the company had to ride out the first wave of its revamped post-Indy product planning cycle. After the Fusion 900 came a smaller version of the ill-fated Liberty engine to power more new Polaris Fusion-based sleds. There was a 4stroke turbo program that came down with some serious teething issues that drew engineers off future projects to solve current problems with engines in the field. All of this was extremely costly in both dollars and reputation. Where the Indy had elevated Polaris engineering to all-star status in the sport, the Fusion embarrassed them. Fortunately, all was not lost.
While the Fusion engine was a total loss, the chassis and suspension systems were salvageable with some rethinking and refitting. The basic Fusion lives on as the IQ chassis. The IQ front suspension gained some major and minor tweaks that led to its becoming one of the most highly regarded designs in the sport. Polaris returned to basic and proven powerplants, such as its 600cc twin, once a leading signature of the Indyís best sellers. From that came a new high performance 700cc twin. That once problematic 4stroke turbo powerplant survived and is now a workhorse in cruising and touring models. With 140-horsepower, its performance shouldnít be surprising, but it is. A solid performer the 4stroke shows well in straight-line acceleration and magazine performance shoot-outs.
A Return to What Works
In this ongoing fight to regain its leadership in snowmobiling, Polaris returned to its roots by looking at what worked. The Fusion engine didnít, but its Cleanfire fuel injection system did. The vibration-prone Liberty 900 rattled the new IQ chassis to submission, but last yearís new 700cc two-stroke twin didnít. Fitted into the tweaked IQ chassis the 700 twin became a new sporty snowmobile.
Then, building on snocross success, Polaris named its new performance sled the Dragon and began a major comeback year. The Dragon gained very positive press that made it a ďmust haveĒ ride. This year Polaris drops its proven 600cc twin into a Dragon platform to create a sled that fits smack into the heart of the sales marketó600cc sports twin Where the 700cc Polaris niched between the best selling Ski-Doo REV 800 and 600, for 2008 Polaris goes head-to-head with all comers with the Dragon 600.
The Dragon enters a heavily competitive slot. If life were fair, the Dragon 600 would get all the hype. But Ski-Dooís REV-XP relegates the Dragon to being last yearís news. But nothing can take away the fact that the Dragon 600 is based on a very good IQ chassis and is a suitable smaller displacement kin to last yearís very popular Dragon 700.
Letís accept a bit of engineering reality. In 2007, the 600 IQ was a predecessor to what is now the Dragon 600. Youíll find two versions of its 600cc motor. One is the basic twin-carb engine, as youíd find in the 600RR and Shift. That version delivers 120hp. The other, and our first choice, is the Cleanfire 600 with five more horsepower. If you plan to make any engine mods, opt for a sled with the carbureted twin. Hey, thatís really why Polaris put it out there. We prefer the Dragonís Cleanfire version of the Polaris-built Liberty 600 because of its nearly instantaneous throttle response. The system faultlessly reads temperature, barometric pressure and engine need for excellent on-trail performance. Even with the normal loss in power we had at 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies, the Dragon 600 maximized its performance from idle to wide-open throttle.
It gets to be a toss-up between the top 600cc two-stroke twins. We like the Rotax 600 SDI in the MXZ chassis a bit better overall, but the Liberty Cleanfire 600 is every bit as good. Catís Suzuki-built 600 twin with batteryless electronic fuel injection is a contender, too. On a pure power basis, the Liberty twin with its 125hp should have the edge, though the slightly less potent Rotax gets the nod on power-to-weight thanks to the MXZ 600ís 41-pound lighter REV-XP chassis.
Air 2.0 Suspension
While there will be calibration revisions from last yearís 700cc Dragon to the í08 Dragon 600, Polaris engineering derives a seasonís worth of knowledge from the Dragon 700 as to suspension setup. Plus all Dragonís gain an exclusive-to-Polaris front shock, the RydeFX Air 2.0. A part of ArvinMeritor, the 16th largest automotive supplier in the world, RydeFX supplies shocks for a variety of powersports applications, including offering exclusive products for Polaris snowmobiles and ATVs. The Air 2.0 is a bit of a misnomer in that it really isnít an Ďairí shock but an oil/nitrogen charged gas spring damper that eliminates at least a pound off the Dragonís front end versus a traditional coil spring over monotube shock.
The unique characteristic of the RydeFX Air 2.0 is its patented oil porting and integrated cylinder design, which incorporates twin gas chambers that provide dual rate spring adjustability. This approach eliminates the need for external gas chambers that are more susceptible to air leakage. The shockís internal floating piston works with multifunctional gas spring chambers.
Within the shockís 47mm aluminum cylinder, gas spring pressures can be set in a range of approximately 50 -100 psi to accommodate initial shock stroke. The second gas spring chamber is located in the 37mm hardened chrome finished cylinder. This doubles as a durable damper rod to lubricate shaft seals and as an ice scraper as it travels in-and-out of the larger shock body, thereby eliminating excessive friction. This secondary gas chamber within the 37mm rod cylinder can be set in a range of approximately 120-220 psi to control remaining travel in the shock stroke.
Using twin gas spring chambers within a single body configuration combines lightweight responsiveness for high-speed handling and rough trail riding as well as increased ride comfort due to the plusher initial spring rate.
With the enhanced performance of the RydeFX shocks, Polaris engineers evolved the IQ A-arm front suspension from the Fusion 900 into a superior unit. Front-end geometry is a strong suit with the IQ design and leads to your ability to hold your line in a corner. The skis provide positive grip to cut sharp turns in virtually all snow conditions.
While there are significant differences between the trailing arm design of the old Indy and the A-arm IQ suspension, the Dragon suspension allows you to make inadvertent mistakes without paying a big price for them. Much like the Indy, the Dragonís IQ chassis forgives your indiscretion and lets you trust the sled to want to do the right thing. With the old Indy, you could blow a jump and trust the sled to land properly. You can trust the Dragon, too. Credit Polaris for breeding that best of the Indy characteristic into the IQ-based Dragon and utilize the Dragonís 10-inches of front-end travel by banging over the deep moguls.
The Dragon rear suspension balances the front travel with 13.9 inches of high-pressure gas shock damping. The front shock features an internal floating piston to control damping and rebound. Thereís a remote reservoir RydeFX shock on the rear arm of the Polaris slide rail.
The end result is exactly what Polaris loyalists expect in a Polaris Ďbig bumpí sled. Handling is very positiveóconsistent and predictable, exactly what you want when riding in the rough. The Dragon 600 corners well, holds your line well, can be readily corrected when necessary and has enough motor to power off the apex. Should you mess up, know that the power of a Polaris hydraulic disc brake is there to get you back in control. Know, too, that Polaris has more experience with hydraulic braking than any other snowmobile manufacturer.
Polaris made some ergonomic changes in the Dragon line. The Freestyle seat is an improvement over last yearís model. It is narrow and firm in the front portion and then widens out into a softer dish at the rear. When standing to ride through rough moguls, the narrower front allows you to ore easily move up to grip the new racing styled flat handlebar. Sit back in the saddle for cruising.
The Dragon is designed to conquer the trail. Thereís an aggressive pattern Ripsaw track with 1.35-inch tall lugs. To maximize leverage and control, the handlebar sits atop a 5.25-inch riser and also features adjustable bar-end hooks with wind-deflecting hand guards. Helping the Dragon 600 stand out on the trail are unique Dragon graphics, Indy Red hood and a not-subtle chromed windshield. The Dragon is not for the insecure.
A Return to The Polaris Heritage
The Dragon is, however, a strong sign that the ill-conceived Fusion, like the infamous Polaris Comet of the mid-1960s, was a once in a generation brain fart that served as a wake up call to Polaris company-wide. Maybe Polaris snowmobiles wonít be Number One this season, but the snowmobile group has gotten back to its roots and is distancing itself from the Fusion and embracing a new Indy-style resurgence led by snowmobiles such as the Dragon 600, a true return to the real Polaris heritage.