Back in the Saddle
2009 marks the return of the performance trail sleds from Polaris. We’re talking the bread and butter, the meat of the line-up. Last year, Polaris only offered us a 700 IQ, which was kind of a head scratcher. Not to worry, they’ve made up for it by coming with a 600 IQ and the mighty 800 IQ for 2009.
Polaris hard cores will be sure to notice that there are also 600 & 800 Dragon SP models for 2009. This is true. The Dragon SP models are truly a notch higher, mostly in their suspension calibration and capability. But they also cost $700 more than the IQ versions. For the majority of performance trail riders, we believe the 600 & 800 IQ models are a better match, but you do get a lot for the $700 when you step up to the Dragon SPs.
That’s why Polaris smartly offers different levels of performance at different prices. The 600/800 IQ is a prime example; it gives you the latest technology, but does so with a suspension calibration that is better suited to sit-down trail riders. It’s still a high-performance sled, not a cushy cruiser, and surprisingly only slightly less of a mogul-masher than what a Dragon SP is. If you want an even smoother ride, turn your attention to one of the IQ Shift models (with Ryde FX MPV gas cell shocks) that tone down the shock package for better small bump compliance. Gas cell shocks are almost always smoother than high pressure ones, but on the flip side they don’t control the bigger high speed hits nearly as well.
Frequently, riders will ask how the 600/800 IQ differs from a Dragon SP. They’re all IQ models, with the Dragons being white and the IQs black. Like stated above, the shock package and resulting suspension calibration is going to be the single biggest performance difference. Dragons are made for more aggressive riding, able to take on stand-up terrain more so, able to take on higher speeds and bigger bumps. This makes them more of a cross country sled than a trail sled. This is through the Walker Evans Piggyback shocks on the front of the Dragon SP, and a Walker Evans compression-adjustable rear track shock complimented by another Walker Evans shock at center.
The 600/800 IQ tones this down a bit with coil-spring Ryde FX Pro shocks in front, still high pressure IFPs. For the rear track shock, the 600/800 IQ has a FOX PS5 position-sensitive shock for comfort and ride quality. Don’t let the Fox PS5 track shock fool you; this is not a slow-speed cushy ride. The 600/800 IQ is a fairly compliant trail sled that can be ridden quite aggressively. It really surprised us
For comparison, there are X-packages and the Adrenaline models from Ski-Doo; the Sno-Pro and standard F-Series from Arctic Cat; the RTX and GT versions from Yamaha; and the Dragon SP and IQ models from Polaris. The higher-end versions are calibrated more for the harder charging rider, but not really up to the stand-up calibration of a race sled, where the lesser models are aimed more at the sit-down trail rider crowd, but still quite capable when the trails get rutted and rough.
With us so far? Some years, we find certain models are set up firmer or softer than what we expect for the intended rider. Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat have been known to offer their X-package or Sno Pro with more of an expert calibration, only to have the masses of buyers complain about how firm they are. This was more of an issue back 7-8 years ago than lately. When we get to Polaris, we have found their 2009 models are extremely capable sleds in the rough, but they carry their performance through a broad range of conditions. The Dragon SPs are every bit as capable as a Sno Pro or X-package, and when you really push them hard they perform even better. Arguably the most controllable with confidence.
When we get to the 600/800 IQs, you find them to also be very capable when you ride them fairly hard, to the point you might wonder why anyone would need a Dragon SP. They are on the higher end of what we would call a “trail sled”, as they are not as comfortable as a Ski-Doo Adrenaline or a Arctic Cat F-Series, but again, we find them to provide excellent control in the trashed out rough trails when you really push them hard. Part of this has to be the IQ front suspension, as it gives you control and confidence through the travel. We don’t believe they have quite as responsive of steering as the Ski-Doos or even the 2009 Cats, but they’re plenty adequate and can be given more responsiveness with simple carbide replacements and suspension adjustments.
The 600/800 IQ also comes with a slightly taller windshield (that doesn’t work much better) compared to the low chrome shield and handguards of the Dragon SP. The IQs get a 1” Hacksaw track for improved top speed, where the Dragon SPs get a 1.25” RipSaw that is better suited for loose snow more often found off trail. And the 600/800 IQ comes with a shorter 2.4” bar riser with standard handlebars that is better suited to sit-down riding (compared to the tall 5.25” riser and straight bars with hooks on the Dragon SPs that are better for stand-up riding).
One area where Polaris leads the pack is in all-out engine performance. Their 600 H.O. CFI and 800 H.O. CFI are industry leaders for their classes in terms of raw acceleration and peak horsepower. The 600 H.O. is rated at a stout 125 HP, and the 800 H.O. comes in at a whopping 154 HP, making it the one to beat in this class. They’ve pretty much proven themselves in terms of durability and reliability and are pretty easy on oil. About the only points we can take away here would be for fuel economy, as they use some fuel to make this kind of go-fast power. They’re not that much different than the Arctic Cat engines of these sizes, and nowhere close to the fuel economy of the Yamaha four-strokes or the Ski-Doo two-strokes.
That being said, once you mash the throttle on the 800 IQ you’ll soon forget about the tank size or the range, as the rocket ship blasts off the pad and your ride to the moon begins. We had one of the limited build 800 IQs late last spring, and it was one of the most outrageous stock sleds we’ve ever had. This was almost mod sled throttle response and acceleration. It was very surprising and the torque was as thick as you could get from a two-stroke, to the point it made you forget about 900s and 1000s. No need to go that big with an 800 that pulls like this one does. That’s because of the magical 100 foot-pounds of torque. Horsepower is a calculation, where torque is what you feel; it is a measurement. The Liberty 800 H.O. CFI never gives you anything less than 80 foot-pounds of torque from 6000 RPM on up. That is what you feel when you squeeze the throttle. It jumps to attention and you smile a very big smile.
For most anyone under 200 pounds, the 600 H.O. CFI is going to be plenty of thrust for your rocket ship, and is easier on fuel (and your wallet). Lighter riders have more difficulty getting the power of a bigger engine to the ground, and they bring a more favorable power to weight ratio to the seat by being so much lighter. This is why we like to use a body weight figure as a good indicator for engine size. We’re sure there are some of you out there who weigh under 200 pounds and are perfectly capable of hanging onto an 800 IQ, so don’t be offended. We’re just trying to help out those who might not know which way to go. Where the Arctic Cat 600s now seem slightly underpowered in the F-chassis, we don’t get that feeling with the Polaris 600s (or the Ski-Doo 600s).
Our suggestion for aggressive Polaris trail riders is to add a taller windshield, strap one of the custom-fit Polaris gear bags on top of the tunnel and get the suspension set to your liking. We were very pleased and impressed with the 800 IQ we have. Not as cushy as a Cat, not as good of fuel economy as a Ski-Doo, but “wow” what a motor, and it’ll go through the rough with more confidence and control. Polaris calls that “ride and handling”. We say, where was this sled five years ago?
The 2009 Polaris 600 IQ retails for $8,999 and the 800 IQ sells for $9,999, making it an extreme value in the world of hyper sleds. Both models are black with white and red graphics.