2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 Review - Video
The best choice of Polaris' boondocking options
Story by Matt Allred, Photography by Matt Allred & Polaris, Sep 18, 2012
Multi-tasking, crossover or dual purpose, Polaris defines these with its Switchback product line. As the mountain team for Snowmobile.com, we ardently prefer one crossover with stout defiance, the Polaris Switchback Assault. The Switchback Assault is actually less about Switchback plush and more about RMK Pro DNA that we find runs rich in this sled’s mechanical veins.
Way back when, Polaris created the crossover niche. The Switchback is the original. Through the years, Polaris reinvented the Switchback several times on several chassis, landing the famed line on the Pro Ride and Rush chassis. The Switchback Assault version is the favorite of the mountain team.
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One has to decide what kind of Switchback riding they want to do. The 136-inch Rush-based Switchback has Rush handlebars, Rush rear suspension and is designed for more trail use than off-trail use. The Switchback Assault 144 is about trail and powder. It’s more off-trail and deep-powder designed than the Rush Switchback and allows the pilot to ride in a stand up manner for pure boondocking. Then, too, it gives the Switchback Assault 144 rider the option of stuffing an RMK track under the tunnel for improved deep snow riding. Remember, both Switchbacks come with the Cobra track, but for argument’s sake, the 144 Assault with its longer Cobra track and RMK-style design, wiggles in through the deep powder with more intent.
Since its beginning, we have labeled the Switchback Assault 144 as Polaris’ crossover sled to have. It is a trail burner that hits the banks through a tight turn holding the driver to a controlled whip, and floats over moguls in Rush-like fashion. In the powder, when equipped with optional RMK powder track with two-inch tall paddles, the Switchback Assault 144 is a capable powder player that can hit the slopes with determination. What do we like about the Switchback Assault 144? Everything. In reverse, what do we not like about the Switchback Assault 144? Nothing.
As mentioned, The Switchback 800 Assault’s standard track is the Cobra that is 15 inches wide with a length of 144 inches, and lug height of 1.352 inches. The Assault’s gearing (lower than the Rush Switchback) is matched to the track’s length, lug height and the foreknowledge a rider will take the Assault off-trail and dip into some deep powder.
The Cobra track spins fast on the trails, has sufficient hook up, and gives the Switchback Assault 144 adequate slip when powering into and out of a corner when full-throttle is applied. While the track will falter in three-foot deep snow, in a foot of powder and less, the Cobra track works well.
The Switchback Assault’s handlebar swing allows the driver to cinch up to the seat, drop a knee to the right or left side, and keep the snowmobile in a solid camber. The 144-inch uncoupled rear suspension with tipped-up rails give the 144 Assault the nimbleness we crave.
Introduced for 2013 is the Pro-Steer ski. Traditionally, the Switchback Assault 144 used the RMK Gripper ski. But, to match the Rush Switchback, the 144 Assault receives the Pro-Steer ski; to give it a narrow surface area and deeper bite for trail use and cornering.
The wide runningboards give the rider confidence when standing and provide ample room when sitting. The “fishbone” reinforced platforms do not flex when stomped on for hard sidehill cuts, when out chasing your deep-powder pals. The Rush-like stirrups give the rider the lock down when rocking the mountains or wire brushing the trails. One note on the runningboards; a big, fat boot can get caught in these, making a quick exit a slow exit.
The Pro-Taper handlebars lack a mountain strap, but we do not miss it. We have learned to ride without using the center pull strap. Yet, the Switchback Assault is flickable, to the point of being ridiculous. Given that, it is the Switchback Assault that broke us of our mountain grab bar habit. Also, the Switchback Assault’s lower-than-RMK-Pro handlebars give the rider the leverage to place the Assault into difficult situations and take it out again with ease. We find the bars keep the pilot properly positioned over the track drivers. For 2013, the Assault 144 comes equipped with the new kill switch that can be positioned out of the way – by rider choice – on the bar’s right side.
But let’s talk function. As a mountain rider it is our desire to rip trails and boonies. A crossover sled is not expected to bang with big long track mountain sleds, the 150s and 160s, yet the 144 Assault with optional RMK powder track comes close. Still, a crossover sled is not agile like a 120- or 130-something trail sled, but this Polaris 144 Assault with Cobra track comes close.
As you know, the 800 Switchback Assault 144 comes with Polaris’ crisp running 795cc twin cylinder, two-stroke with Cleanfire semi-direct injection. The motor carries the chassis and its rider with no complaint. Although it shares similarities, unlike the RMK Pro, the Switchback Assault 144 does not come with Polaris’ QuickDrive belt drive system. It matches the RMK Assault by relying on the tried and true robust chaincase system.
What are the chassis differences between the Switchback Assault 144 chassis and the RMK Pro 155 chassis? Simply, how are they similar? And, how are they the same?
|Comparing the Switchback Assault Chassis and RMK Pro 155 Chassis|
|• Fuel Tank|
|• Handlebars and controls, minus center mountain strap|
|• Cooling system as the standard RMK|
|• Steering hoop tubes|
|• Rush IFS and steering system|
|• Chaincase drive (no Quickdrive belt drive system)|
|• Rush, 42.5” ski stance|
|• Pro-Steer ski|
|• Foot stumps|
|• Wider running boards|
|• Torsion spring rear suspension|
|• Walker-Evans compression-adjustable shocks (RMK Assault 155 also uses these)|
|• Wider seat and longer seat (not the new RMK Lite)|
|• Aluminum rear bumper|
|• Over-molded aluminum front bumper|
|• Tipped rails|
|• 144” track length, 1.352” Cobra track|
In closing, the Polaris rider has several Switchback choices, from Rush to a hybrid – the Rush/RMK hybrid 144 Assault. For me, this is my choice, but as mentioned above, I am a mountain rider. In West Yellowstone, I spent ample time on a Rush Switchback 800 Pro-R (a nice sled) and enjoyed blasting the trails. Yet, when I kick the sheets off and went deep-powder snorkeling, I missed the stand-up riding ergos the Pro Taper handlebars give, and the 144’s flotation from its longer track. That’s me. But, the dual-purpose crossover sled of got-to-have crossover sleds is the 800 Switchback Assault 144, a favorite and one that has no warts or blemishes.
|2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 Specs|
|Engine||Polaris Liberty, 795cc two-stroke, liquid-cooled, twin; Cleanfire electronic fuel injection|
|Drive||Polaris P-85 drive with TEAM LWT driven|
|Front Suspension||Pro-Ride A-arm suspension; Walker Evans Piggyback shocks; 10.0-inches of travel|
|Rear Suspension||Polaris Switchback 144 Tipped; Walker Evans shocks; up to 15.0-inches of travel|
|Ski Stance||42.5 in|
|Track||15 x 144 x 1.352 Cobra|
|Fuel Capacity||11.5 US Gal|
|Features||Pro Taper riser; electronic reverse; digital gauge; Pro Steer ski; Phantom hydraulic brake system; Freestyle seat; electric start optional|