Year Two for the Axys of Domination –
It is really a shame that so many snowmobilers (at least in the middle sections of the U.S. and Canada) didn’t have much of a chance to ride their new sleds last winter, because many of them don’t fully realize how awesome the new Polaris AXYS machines are. The AXYS is their next-generation premium performance platform that is rider-balanced for the ultimate in control. Polaris began development of the AXYS platform with the goals of raising the bar in the three dimensions: control, performance and comfort.
When one looks at the new AXYS Switchback it might not look all that different from the previous Pro-Ride models, but while similar in appearance this truly is a very different platform from the Pro-Ride sleds of 2010-2014. The AXYS chassis is 93% new, including a carbon-fiber overstructure. The new chassis and design made it possible to change the rider positioning, centralize vehicle mass, redesign the rear suspension, add more power, remove weight, and evolve the rider’s riding experience. In short, it is the key to delivering rider-balanced control, incredible acceleration, and rider-centric comfort. And the biggie – it really works.
Polaris believes their AXYS platform put the rider in the right location on the sled. On the new AXYS platform, the rider is moved forward (compared to the Pro-Ride Switchback) to a more balanced position on the sled. The rider’s hands are moved 4.5” forward, the feet are 2” forward, the knees are 4.5” farther forward, and the seat is 4.5” forward to put the rider into what Polaris calls “the perfect position” to enjoy complete control of the sled and a great ride.
Polaris believes that the rider is too far forward on a Ski-Doo XP/XS platform, but make no mention of Arctic Cat’s Procross platform, which we have always felt was as close to perfect as possible. By placing the rider in a more centralized riding position, they have better centralized the vehicle mass and optimized the suspension geometry to better control pitch. Translation – the rider is in better control of the vehicle. If you want ski pressure for more precise cornering, simply lean or slide forward. If you want traction for wicked acceleration, simply lean or slide back. Polaris believes that this kind of rider positioning gives the rider flatter cornering and more precise handling in all conditions, with better control in big bumps AND chatter bumps.
In this neutral riding position, the AXYS platform allows the sled to corner like it’s on rails with very little tip in the corners. Make no mistake, this thing corners very flat. When the trail gets rough or the rider jumps off into the powder, rider balance then enables the rider to move back and make the front end light to climb up on top of the snow or the moguls. Polaris proudly claims this is the only platform that lets you corner flat, but also be able to carry the front end as needed. Bold statement, but it is very accurate.
Polaris clearly targets Ski-Doo by telling us “this perfect balance is unequaled by rider-forward competitors whose sleds can handle unpredictably in the rough, or can exhibit excessive ski-pressure on-trail, effectively diminishing the fun factor.” Polaris truly believes they deliver a better riding position and a better balance where others deliver a forward bias.
When we look at the rear suspension, it again appears to be very similar to the Pro-Ride progressive rate rear suspension we had from 2010-2014 with the funky hinged rear that almost looks like part of the sled is missing or something. It has redesigned and is now called the PRO-XC rear suspension with revised geometry and increased travel. This suspension is both lighter and stronger. It features a lightweight, forged aluminum rear crank, and has a completely redesigned crank and pivot. Perhaps the bigger change comes from the front torque arm being moved rearward.
The all-new PRO-XC suspension delivers what Polaris calls “Active Pitch Control”. One of the key goals here was to control pitching more with geometry and less with spring rate. With Active Pitch Control, vehicle pitch (rocking, squatting in the rear and diving in the front) is controlled by completely redesigned suspension geometry and not simply by a high spring rate. This makes the sled less sensitive to adjustment (and rider weight) while allowing optimal weight transfer. This is a very real improvement and not just talk; compared to the Pro-Ride you will notice a HUGE improvement in this area.
As a result, the PRO-XC suspension delivers improved performance in ALL conditions, at all speeds. In big bumps and stutter bumps, at high and low speeds, the more compliant suspension setup produces fatter cornering, as inside ski lift is significantly reduced. You instantly notice this when you ride the Pro-S AXYS Switchback. Vehicle control through chatter bumps is also significantly improved. The front end of the sled stays planted even when accelerating through a corner. Some of this comes from the torque link on top of the rear arm mount, but some of it comes from the geometry changes as well. We also experienced more-controlled weight transfer. You can enjoy strong, high-acceleration launches without any compromise in cornering precision. Gone is the transition point of a coupled suspension, gone is the ski-lifting of an un-coupled suspension. Active Pitch Control works.
The AXYS platform also delivers more power and less weight, resulting in exceptional acceleration. Polaris achieved a 15% improvement in the power-to-weight ratio on AXYS compared to the Pro-Ride, and when you crack the throttle it shows. These things are really quick, especially out of the hole. The 600 and 800 engines, respectively, should be the quickest through the quarter mile and up. Coming out of a corner at 30 mph, they should also be the quickest up to at least 50-60 mph. The Polaris 800 H.O. engine is finally on par with the 800s from Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo in terms of peak power, and it is impressive. We logged over 2,300 miles on one last winter and it is a rocketship.
Being quick is not only about engine horsepower, but power to weight, and this is where Polaris shines in having the lightest sleds in their classes. With its clean-sheet approach to developing the AXYS platform, Polaris engineers minimized weight throughout the sled without compromising strength, durability or reliability. Some models are up to 38 pounds lighter than they were on the previous chassis, and should weigh close to 30 pounds less than competitive models.
The 2016 Switchback Pro-S models come in two familiar engines sizes, the Polaris Liberty 600 CleanFire (semi-direct transfer port injection) and what Polaris is calling the 800 H.O. engine (also an SDI). Developed in conjunction with the AXYS platform, the 800 H.O. engine delivers outstanding performance with a noticeable gain in power, and a new integrated mounting position that optimizes the balance of the chassis.
Both engines feature a high-efficiency intake and exhaust, with the 800 H.O. getting a serious upgrade to 3-stage electronically-controlled exhaust valves (power valves). This delivers improved running quality and quieter operation, along with an improvement in fuel economy. An automotive smart actuator provides feedback to the ECU for more accurate valve positioning and failsafe performance.
The 800 H.O. also features an electronic oil pump, eliminating the power-robbing gear drive oil pump. This provides more precise, improved oil delivery along with a reduction in throttle pull effort. Oil delivery will be accurate & consistent, along with being altitude and temperature compensating. The pump features diagnostics and a failsafe mode to ensure engine reliability.
Overall the engine weight was reduced by 3.5 pounds, including a lightweight new engine mounting system and lightweight materials that help reduce noise and weight.
Other features include a thermostat with bypass so the engine warms up to operating temperature 40% faster. Coolant flows through the engine at all times and there is no possibility of cold shocking the engine with the bypass system sending warm coolant back through the engine instead of full-cold coolant.
The 800 H.O. is also fitted a new throttle body that is lighter in weight with a reduced throttle pull. An improved TPS location & orientation prevents water intrusion for improved reliability, which was an issue on the older 800s.
Looking inside the engine compartment you will find a really crazy-looking airbox, or more accurately, intake system. Polaris drivetrain engineers optimized the airflow in the 800 H.O. engine with high-efficiency intake and exhaust and free-flowing, less-restrictive air flow, resulting in increased power output. The airbox is not smooth and hard on the inside, rather it is a softer textured material that helps to dampen engine noise and makes a real difference in the amount and frequency of the intake noise. This is one of the first things you notice when you ride the new 800 is how quiet it is, how refined the sound is, and how advances it seems. You will not believe how quiet and refined this package is, especially considering how much power it is producing.
When you crack the throttle on the 800 H.O. it spools up quickly and accelerates hard. Part of this is due to a lightweight crankshaft with less rotating mass, part of it from factory-installed next-generation V-Force reed cages. The lightweight crankshaft provides the same balance as the previous crankshaft – with a 2.5-pound weight reduction in rotating mass. That produces a 25% reduction in inertia, improved throttle response and increased acceleration. The engine reaches its optimal operating RPM faster, and you will for-sure notice the difference, especially in corner to corner acceleration. It is almost explosive for a stock machine, making it extremely fun to ride, but you do need to pay attention when you crack the throttle as it really jumps out of the hole.
Polaris offers their AXYS platform in two distinct levels for both RUSH and Switchback models: PRO-S and PRO-X. Polaris dealers will stock PRO-S models, where the PRO-X models were only available exclusively through the spring SnowCheck Select pre-order program. All versions have Walker Evans Piggyback Clicker Shocks, though PRO-S and PRO-X models have different ride heights and spring rates for optimized performance. The PRO-S models deliver the most precise handling and the flattest cornering on groomed and bumpy trails. The PRO-S has the more compliant suspension calibration that most effectively erases the stutter bumps. If you ride groomed trail or forest roads, this is the one you want. Our riders preferred the lower ride height of the Pro-S for trail running, but would have preferred the stiffer rear coil spring (for our big guys) and taller riser block of the Pro-X (easier standing).
The Switchback PRO-S also features a 137” x 15” x 1.25” Ripsaw II track, giving you an excellent combination of packed trail traction and top speed with improved off-trail performance over the Ripsaw I track. This track is far more durable than the cupped-lug Cobra track, but is not quite as capable as the Cobra in off-trail or looser snow conditions.
Compared to the shorter-track RUSH models, our test riders easily agreed that the Switchback Pro-S models were the smoothest riding and most versatile of the new AXYS sleds. Where the Pro-X versions sat taller and were better suited for true cross-country terrain bashing, the Pro-S Switchback was a perfect sled for long distance trail riding and moderate off-trail excursions. The main limitation, as it always has been, to off trail or deep snow performance is the hinged rear end that restricts the evacuation of snow from the tunnel. This isn’t much of an issue in dry powder, but as the snow gets wetter it becomes more of an issue so you will need to give the sled more throttle to compensate. If you should get stuck, the extra low bumper height becomes the bigger issue.
That said, what we have here is the most comfortable riding Polaris models ever offered. The handling is so responsive we question why anyone would opt for the shorter tracked RUSH unless they were a smaller rider (under 170 pounds) or only ride very tight narrow trails. Otherwise, we would take the added track length for the flotation and comfort it provides, along with added room to mount accessories. Overall, this is the sled we all knew Polaris was capable of building. This is the most complete and total package they have ever offered, in our expert opinion, and we believe it will be well received by anyone lucky enough to be riding one. Ask anyone with a 2015, they love it. For the Polaris faithful it has been a long wait, but we can tell you the AXYS Switchback is the real deal.
The 2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S retails for $13,099, and the 600 Switchback Pro-S sells for $11,799.
From the September 2015 issue of SnowTech Magazine
Subscribe to SnowTech and have every issue mailed right to your door, 5 times per year!