Versatile crossover is much more than the sum of its familiar parts
Perhaps we were asleep during Polaris’ media presentation when company spokespeople underscored the new for 2017 600 Switchback SP. Perhaps we were dozing off twice, once at the first reveal back in January at Polaris’ Medina, Minn HQ and then again in the overheated, stuffy confines of the construction trailer Polaris used as its on-site media HQ a month later in West Yellowstone. We “guaran-darn-tee” you that we were fully awake when we test rode this very surprising and extremely impressive new Polaris on and off the test trails outside Yellowstone.
Engine Type:Horizontal In-line
Valve Configuration:Reed Valve
Displacement:599 / 36.5
Turbocharged:NoView Full Spec
Interestingly, the 2017 Polaris 600 Switchback SP 144, while a new model, really comes with only one true piece of new gear, the IGX 144 rear suspension. After a brief peek at the sled and its specification list, you’ll quickly recognize that most of its makeup is borrowed from other Polaris units, with a distinct favoring of Polaris RMK and SKS pieces. Rather than reinvent the snowmobile, Polaris engineering looked at what it knows works best in on and off trail environments and used those pieces to create this delightful sled.
The engine is a tried and true Polaris-engineered and manufactured 600cc Cleanfire two-stroke twin. It lays out about 120 horsepower, plenty of power for strong sea level riding needs. Interestingly, we’ve become quite familiar with its flatland performance over the years and thought the test units we tried in West Yellowstone felt eerily similar in performance. We should have noticed a 21 percent power drop based on West Yellowstone’s 6000-foot altitude. A near 25-horsepower differential should be noticeable even for us keyboard jocks. The 600 Polaris sleds all seemed very performance oriented.
Now we accept that these were sleds set up by factory experts. Admittedly we have always admired how much performance Polaris specialists have been able to get out of their sleds. In race days long gone by, there was a stretch when Polaris was winning virtually every Winnipeg-to-St. Paul 500 mile endurance run with a 340cc twin that based on its dyno sheet gave away upwards of 20 horsepower to some competitors. Those Polaris TX and TXL cross country racing sleds working with earlier iterations of the P85 drive clutch maximized performance for low end grunt pulling through snow drifts and smoothly shifted out for top speed road running. We thought that with a new breed of computer engineers replacing those old seat-of-the-pants mechanics, Polaris tuners might have lost their feel for fine-tuning. Apparently not. All of the Polaris models we test rode in West Yellowstone ran strongly and, like the 600 Switchback SP 144, left us impressed.
The Cleanfire 600 twin proved quick to react at the throttle, managing smooth driveaways and equally smooth transitioning when backing off to enter a turn and revert to wide open throttle when exiting. When we got into a power ride with our test crew, many of whom sat aboard the latest in high horsepower models, we expected to eat miles of hanging snow dust as we worked to keep up. Realistically the 600 Switchback SP 144 wasn’t going to challenge the new Yamaha Sidewinder on the straights, but it can throw up impressive digits on its speedometer read out.
The Polaris 600cc twin worked very smoothly through its 2017 version of the famed Polaris P85 drive clutch, now mated with a TEAM-designed lightweight driven. This drive package is a stalwart in the Polaris performance portfolio. You’ll find this combination in various 600 and 800 models and you’ll also find few complaints as the system rates well in reliability and durability, both things you want in a serious on/off trailblazer.
Fitting the 600 Cleanfire twin to the AXYS chassis means this drive system should be even more reliable as it can use the AXYS engine mounting and enjoy the advantages of an electronic oil pump and engine bypass thermostat. As the electronic oil pump eliminates gear drive, it doesn’t use power from the Cleanfire 600. Plus the oil pump feeds off the engine’s computer to establish more precise oil delivery, resulting in a 35% reduction in throttle pull and need for occasional adjustments.
Under the hood you’ll find similarities to the AXYS RMK models as Polaris engineering liberally lifted good ideas from those top of the line powder sleds to create the Switchback SP 144. Although designed specifically for crossover riders, the SP’s running boards share features with the deep snow runners but are wider and flatter in the front to offer comfort when sitting back during a cruise yet allowing for a quick move to stand up over rutted out terrain. The SP footboards are 56 percent open to minimize snow build up and taper upward at the rear for improved mobility and off-camber turning in deep snow.
While bringing RMK-thinking to the world of crossover sleds, the new Switchback SP 144 does it with an all-new rear suspension, the IGX 144. This is an uncoupled design that Polaris claims is the “Ideal Geometry X-Over” for riders who spend more than 50 percent of their riding time off trail. The dual rail IGX 144 suspension may be loosely based on RMK units, but it’s charged with a more difficult assignment: blend trail ride comfort with off-trail agility. To better control the suspension’s pitch, Polaris engineers gave the IGX 144 43 percent more front suspension arm travel to help reduce bottoming and off-trail drag. Since this sled needs to power through deeper off trail snows while still maintaining a quick turn-in for cornering, Polaris designers went with lightweight tipped rail beams. That was why this 144-inch tracked sled felt more like a 129-inch tracked one. Polaris did a very nice job with the IGX 144. Its length helps bridge minor stutter bumps on the trail. It puts down an ample 144-inch footprint and with its 1.35-inch lugged Cobra track provides all around good traction on and off-trail. Its tipped rail setup could be felt and appreciated when running hard on groomed trails. This is a very good all-around solution to the “wants” of most crossover riders. We figure this sled would work very well in the Land of Lake Effect Snow – Upper Michigan, northeastern Minnesota, Ontario and upstate New York.
While we don’t frequent those areas, we found ourselves really liking this model for its versatility. It has more than adequate power from the Cleanfire 600 twin. The ergonomics centering around the quite comfortable AXYS Performance seat tend to be overlooked because they are exactly what you’d expect. You get a flat top seat for cruising; narrowed frontal area to let you lean into a corner; and, a tacky gripper seat surface to keep you in position. You’ll be just the right distance to reach and react to the curved handlebar, access light switches, heater controls and read the new Polaris Message Center with its 25% larger display area.
As we said, we may have dozed off during the corporate presentations of this sled, but we were wide-awake when we rode it. The 2017 600 Switchback SP 144 just didn’t seem like much of a big deal when Polaris marketing staff introduced it. It came with many pieces with which we had familiarity and, truthfully, just didn’t seem all that new. It has familiar pieces, perhaps, but the sum of those parts, plus the addition of the new IGX 144 suspension, leads to a new and very impressive 2017 Polaris on and off-trail crossover package. The 2017 Polaris 600 Switchback SP 144 is definitely better than the sum of its parts.