For 2006, Polaris has an all-new line-up of IQ chassis Switchback models with two 2-stroke engines; a seriously re-worked Cleanfire Liberty 900 and a screaming 600 H.O. with carbs that is 15% cleaner than the industry baseline. Gone are the Switchback EDGE models.
We give Polaris credit for starting the concept of hybrid, or crossover models. The 121â€ track length has long been the industry standard for trail sleds, and it wasnâ€™t that long ago (2001) that 136â€ was still a standard track length for mountain sleds. For a very long time, Polaris offered their â€œSKSâ€ (Snow King Special) models in a 133.5â€ track length (still one of our favorites). This length became somewhat of an oddity, so the SKS models graduated to a 136â€ track length (and later 144â€ as Switchbacks). Some Minnesota dealers found that 1/3 of all their yearly sales were SKS models. Why? The longer wheelbase afforded added stability, flotation, ride quality, storage and cargo capacity, and the tail wasnâ€™t as apt to pass you on icy corners.
Fast forward to 2005. Polaris introduced their new IQ platform, with two body styles; Fusion and RMK. Mid-season Polaris introduced a limited-build IQ Switchback 900 with a 144â€ track length.
144â€? The attraction to 136â€ is that this length is half way between 121â€ and 151â€. Track length and tunnel length. It really isnâ€™t the 144â€ track length that is a problem, as the Switchbacks are fitted with tipped up rear rails. The rail tip-up starts at the idlers where the rear arm mounts to the rails, so it can act even shorter than a 136â€ sled when riding in packed snow conditions. According to Polaris, this provides â€œshort track handling with long track benefits (smooth ride / floatation)â€. To a point, it does.
Our gripe is with the super-long tunnel. Polaris didnâ€™t want to have to make a unique tunnel for this sled, so the 144â€ track and suspension is fitted into the same tunnel as a 151â€ RMK (parts commonality). So now instead of getting a cross-country sled that is between a 121â€ and 151â€ we have the sled length of a 151â€. Fine and dandy to reduce production costs, but the snow flap is a long ways away from the track, and the sled looks very long when compared to a 136â€ from the competition.
So, is 144â€ better than the 136â€ length? If you are in deep powder, the added length really does help, or you can easily install a 2â€ deep lug track and pretty much have a 144â€ RMK. If this is how you use your Crossover sled, then it is a bonus. But for many (most) Crossover buyers, the length is more of an inconvenience than a bonus unless the snow really gets deep. Few riders buy this kind of sled to take out west for a week or two, most of those riders have an actual mountain sled for that purpose.
Enough on the length. This is a Camoplast Predator-style lug pattern, very capable and durable 1.25â€ lug height. The uncoupled rear suspension transfers weight very well, so holeshots and acceleration are quite strong and impressive. The rear suspension components donâ€™t appear to be as beefy as what one typically finds on cross-country sleds, but this doesnâ€™t seem to be much of a problem unless maybe if youâ€™re into jumping your Switchback. Fox shocks all around soak up the bumps, with a Fox Zero PRO with a compression-adjustable remote reservoir in the rear (why not the center if weâ€™re moving the rider forward?)
Up front, the Switchback is (basically) a Fusion front end and a stable 42.5â€ stance. The exclusive canted a-arms make the front suspension predictable and consistent. Those familiar with the â€œfeelâ€ of a Polaris EDGE will be impressed with the similar handling character and confidence the new a-arm suspensions. Steering effort remains light and easy, not demanding, both on and off trail.
New for 2006 spindles not only look slimmer but work better as well. The caster angle has been reduced by four degrees for even more precise steering and reduced push in the corners, as well as reducing the load input into the control arms. The slimmer profile presents less drag in deeper snow, also making it less prone to a frontal impact. Our guess it is less expensive too, being a cast piece instead of machined. Saddle-less composite IQ skis are different from what comes on the RMKs, with single runners and more precise steering.
The Polaris-exclusive Rider Select adjustable steering column allows the rider to adjust the steering column position to one of seven positions, for handlebars that are low and back, high and forward, or in-between. Rider Select has been improved for 2006 with a new sliding cover that reduces engine compartment noise, an easier to use locking mechanism, and flatter handlebar rotation (less impact with your legs at full crank). The arc of rotation was a complaint on the 2005 IQs, so now the bars are 1/4â€ taller, and the outside edges of the bars will now be 3/4â€ higher at full turn for an added mechanical advantage, helping make the sled easier to turn going down hill.
Seeking to lower the vehicle center of gravity and eliminate a â€œtop heavyâ€ sensation, the jackshaft and secondary clutch are 3â€ lower and the chaincase is now 3â€ shorter. This means the lower left cargo stow is gone, but eleven pounds of mass is three inches lower and itâ€™s three pounds lighter. The lower cg reduces the â€œtop heavyâ€ feeling from last season, and improves handling as well.
These changes also reduce the belt pull angle, so there should be less belt slippage and heat generation, with improved efficiency and belt life. Weâ€™re told there will also be a broader range of gearing combinations now afforded by the shorter chaincase. The track driveshaft was actually raised slightly to improve durability (prevent specific landing impacts). Other tweaks include a Vespel (nylon) chain tensioner (slider block) for quieter operation and improved chain life, and a nylon chaincase cover with an oil level sight glass that is visible from the footrest so you can visually check the chaincase oil. Cool.
The list of detail changes continues. The windshield is 4â€ taller for added warmth, and the removable rear seat is an RMK base but with a Fusion top profile. The side panel tabs are thicker and stronger with more positive engagement. Snow ingestion has been reduced via a headlight foam seal, a plenum foam seal to the hood and a foam seal at the hood opening to airbox. An improved airbox rubber seal provides a better fit and is of more durable material, with a reduced chance of drawing power-robbing (warm) underhood air into the airbox.
Letâ€™s talk torque. The high-torque long-stroke Liberty 900 twin gets enhancements for 2006; the biggest news is found in the CleanFire fuel injection system as each cylinder gets a second injector, placed above the existing injector in the cylinder wall for improved low speed operation. This addition allows for greater calibration capability; starting and running quality is improved, as is throttle response and fuel economy, now making this engine EPA compliant. Enhanced cylinder porting and a lighter flywheel boost peak output by 3 HP (now up to 152 HP) and improve throttle response. Directional motor mounts better isolate engine movement to help keep clutches aligned, but she still shakes some. Pistons now have stronger skirts and domes for improved durability.
The difference in running quality these changes make is noticeable, but is it enough? It is quicker to rev up, with noticeably quicker acceleration as it reaches peak operating RPM faster. Engine starting and running quality has improved, as has the throttle response. Fuel economy should be greatly improved as well, as any engine that meets the EPA 2006 requirements all on its own (without averaging) is going to be better in this regard. Gains of 25% have been seen in controlled dyno testing. The high-pressure injection system atomizes the fuel better, helping to make this mill 40% cleaner than the industry baseline so it should be fully compliant by itself up to 2010. The â€œsoftwareâ€- ECU mapping of the ignition and fuel delivery – also continues to evolve. With the plug-in Polaris Digital Wrench capability, such software upgrades can now be performed by a dealer in a matter of minutes instead of having to send in the ECU for reprogramming.
In addition to the 900, new for 2006 is the carbed Liberty 600 H.O. This engine freaking screams for a 600. Itâ€™s â€œconventionallyâ€ mounted with the exhaust up front and the carbs on the rear. Based on the 440 race engine with a high flow intake system, redesigned cylinders and â€œWâ€ shaped reed cages let this baby breathe. Electronically controlled solenoids actuate the VES power valves, helping make this mill 15% cleaner than the industry baseline. Power is a class-leading 120 HP at 8250 RPM, with 77.1 foot-pounds of torque. Yes, DET and PERC are standard. Sweet.
The Switchback is aimed at the Midwest and eastern rider who spends a fair amount of time off-trail as well as on trail. The longer 144â€ track length adds flotation and aids ride quality bridging the bumps, tipped up rails give it a shorter wheelbase in packed conditions. All of the upgrades to the IQ chassis are here, too, but perhaps most surprising is how well the 600 H.O. Switchback works for groomed trail riding. All of our test riders were totally impressed with the 600 H.O. in this chassis, it cornered as well as any of the Fusions unless it really got tight and narrow. Really. While the 900 adds about 30 HP (120 vs. 150), it adds forty pounds (488 vs. 528, dry weight specs). It pulls like a tractor, but the 600 H.O. is the stand-out, especially for the price.
The Switchback 900 retails for $9,999 and the Switchback 600 H.O. goes for $8,199. Both are offered in blue with red accents, or a red/blue racer graphic package.