This Polaris is a future classic
Early season buyers could order the 2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S with an optional Cobra track. If you didn’t, don’t worry about it. While nice to have for off-trail chugging, it’s not a deal killer to throttle power down to the base model’s 1.25-inch lugged RipSaw II track. Our test riding didn’t leave us with a feeling of want for the Cobra’s extra lug height.
Engine Type:Horizontal In-line
Displacement:795 / 48.5
Turbocharged:NoView Full Spec
If you did get the Switchback with the Cobra track, the real gain comes from the track’s design. The optional Cobra features cupped lugs versus the sharper angled lugs of the standard equipment RipSaw. You might notice this difference in loose snow, when the Cobra digs for acceleration or grips for braking. The RipSaw’s angled profile counters with more aggressive forward and lateral bite. We suspect that most riders in their varied miles of everyday riding would be hard pressed to really know the true differences. If you went for a dealer installation of the more aggressive Cobra 1.6 track with nearly a half-inch extra lug profile, that would be a different game altogether. But the differences between the RipSaw II and Cobra 1.35 don’t seem enough for in-season buyers to get riled up about.
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We feel that way primarily because the basic Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S is such a terrific snow machine. When the first snows hit the western mountain ranges, you’ll start to get inklings about the new to Pro-RMK 800cc engine that will cement what 2015 model 800 Rush and 800 Switchback riders learned last season. The redone Cleanfire 795cc twin ups performance. Polaris developed that engine makeover with the AXYS chassis in mind. Last year’s trail AXYS models gave a hint to what this year’s mountain AXYS riders can expect.
Because the AXYS platform is different from past sport and powder chassis design, Polaris engineers needed to fit performance and components together just right. Polaris made some power gains, but where the AXYS chassis sleds really gain is in the overall packaging that prompts quicker throttle response and dramatically enhanced power to weight performance. For low land riders, the gains are meaningful, but for powder riders the changes will be instantly appreciated. That appreciation carried forward to the Switchback, which will give you all the on-trail excitement you desire, but adds significant zip and grip off trail. The quick engine response and balanced chassis means you can lift the front end to maneuver better over off-kilter snow banks and have more control when breaking through ice-crusted snow.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-X + Video
The Switchback for 2016 carries into the new model year with little change as Polaris brought big news to the mountain sled segment with this updated engine package and a new AXYS chassis specifically intended for powder hounds. As noted last season, the revitalized Cleanfire 800 only fit the Rush and Switchback AXYS models due to a redesign of the engine compartment, including under hood airflow. That’s all before you get to the fact that Polaris also re-engineered its progressive rate rear suspension and created a neutral balance point for the rider, which Polaris refers to as “rider balanced control.” There was a lot going on with the Switchback last season.
Most obvious and the first improvement to hit riders comes at the throttle thumb. The Polaris designed and built Cleanfire 800 two-stroke twin retains its 795cc dimensions, but many other things changed. The 2015 and beyond Cleanfire 800 gained three-stage electronically controlled high-efficiency exhaust valves for crisper throttle response, smoother idle and improved fuel efficiency. There was a switch to an electronic oil pump to reclaim the power a mechanical pump draws and to improve durability plus dropping throttle effort by up to 35 percent. In addition, the new 800’s crankshaft was lightened by 2.5 pounds, helping it spin up to power more quickly.
What we appreciate almost as much as the newly improved Cleanfire 800’s power delivery through the Polaris P85 drive and Team secondary clutches is the chassis and suspension set ups. Polaris revamped its outside-the-skid-frame thinking to create the Pro-XC rear suspension with its lighter weight forged aluminum rear crank and redesigned pivot. Moving the front torque arm back resulted in better pitch control and more overall suspension travel. But the real key to the Switchback’s on- and off-trail performance comes from the way Polaris works the rider into the ride equation.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2016 Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 800
The idea behind the AXYS chassis was the creation of a neutral platform that encourages the rider to influence his ride – naturally. Ski-Doo started this trend with its REV chassis design and moving the rider forward to better engage the terrain. Polaris takes the next step by getting the rider in the sled’s sweet spot, where neutral rider balance can tilt forward for bite and steering control in corners or during deceleration. Slipping back in the saddle, the rider can achieve ski lift for acceleration and lighter steering feel for high mileage riding. The end result for the rider is having his hands, knees, and seat moved forward by 4.5 inches. This controlled riding position blends with the new AXYS performance seat that features firmer foam, tapered and narrowed front area, and grippier seat material.
The 2016 800 Switchback Pro-S is the lower to the ground, more rider-friendly Switchback. A stable mate of the Pro-X, the Switchback Pro-S is our preferred version. You get lowered suspension heights as the Pro-S features the more everyday ride-friendly Walker Evans piggyback compression adjustable shocks versus the stiffer and more aggressive ones standard with the Pro-X. As always, we find the Walker Evans shocks extremely friendly to tune and adjust when seeking different ride settings.
Polaris did a great job with the initial introduction of the Switchback and we have zero complaints about this second year version. It is fun to ride. The steering controls are easy to work, especially the left-hand set up which has been reconfigured to improve on-sled ergonomics, gloved hand operation and feel. You’ll probably miss it until you ride on a really cold day, but the hood and windshield are engineered to pass cold air and wind around you. The raised elements on the hood and side panels provide nifty styling cues, but actually work to channel air away from you while drawing cooling air under the hood.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Yamaha Viper XTX SE + Video
The overall fit and finish of these new Polaris models is outstanding; we’d have to guess that design and quality fitments demanded by Indian and Victory motorcycle buyers has rubbed off on quality control expectations on sleds. It’s all good. In fact, we’d rate the 2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S as one the best sleds you can ride this season. It’s nimble, quick, stylish, well engineered and, did we say fun? Maybe not a lot changed for 2016, but it didn’t need to. This Polaris is a winner.
|2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S (Cobra Track) Specs|
|Engine||Polaris Liberty 795cc twin cylinder 2-stroke; liquid-cooled; Polaris Cleanfire electronic fuel injection; two-into-one exhaust with 3-stage variable exhaust valve; CD ignition|
|Drive||Polaris P85 drive with Team LWT driven clutch|
|Front Suspension||AXYS dual A-arm with Walker Evans adjustable piggyback compression adjustable shocks; 9.3-inches of travel; Polaris Pro-Steer skis standard|
|Rear Suspension||Pro-XC parallel rail slide suspension with Walker Evans piggyback adjustable compression shock; 13.4-inches of travel|
|Ski Stance||42.5 in|
|Track||15 x 137 x 1.35 Cobra (Special Pre-Season SnowCheck Select Option)|
|Features||STANDARD: Pro-Steer skis; electronic reverse; AXYS performance seat; multifunction gauge/display OPTIONAL: electric start, Lock & Ride storage|
|Brake||Polaris AXYS radial disc system|
|Fuel Capacity||12.0 US Gal|