The Sleeper 50/50 Switchback
Every now and then a snowmobile manufacturer surprises us with a new model that kind of sneaks in under the radar. Instead of being the biggest, baddest or meanest of the year, it is an all-new sled that doesn’t get as much attention as the fire-breathers. But once you ride it and start to understand where it is coming from, what it is capable of and why it is being offered, you begin to appreciate the vision and foresight of its existence. Such is the case with the 2017 Polaris 600 Switchback SP 144.
Much of the excitement for Polaris in 2017 is with the new Switchback Assault 144 models now on the AXYS platform. While you can get a Switchback Assault in either a 600 or 800 engine package, Polaris got sneaky and decided to offer a less aggressive version of this basic package, one fitted with non-adjustable yet very capable Fox IFP shocks at all four mounts. Other than the shock package, the differences between the Assault and the SP are minimal – the Assault gets Pro Taper bars where the SP has standard steel handlebars. The Assault gets a slightly lower windshield, the SP gets a slightly taller mid-height shield, and the SP does not come with a cargo bag as standard issue. Both versions share the excellent crossover-duty Cobra 1.35” lug height track, giving it great versatility both off and on trail.
On the SP 144 we also find the magical combination of 144” track length and tipped-up rails for a sled that rails around the corners on packed trails defying the track length with the tail end of the track lifted up slightly off the hardpack, making it act far shorter than it actually is. When you pull off trail you have all of the length of the 144” track giving you excellent flotation and snowability. We have long told you about how we continue to find the 141-144” track length to be the ideal length for a true 50/50 crossover, and with the tipped up rails we have what could be one of the very best crossover sleds ever offered for the widest range of conditions.
If there was a weak spot on the previous (Pro Ride) Switchback 144 it was in the rear suspension. With the 2017 AXYS versions (SP 144 included) we now find a new IGX 144” skidframe that shares front arm geometry with the 137” Switchback models for excellent ride quality, mated to a new progressive rate rear arm for ideal crossover geometry. Where the previous Assault was a great sled off-trail but was lacking suspension performance on-trail, the new rear suspension is now just as good on-trail as it is off-trail. Actually, calling it a 50/50 doesn’t do it justice as it performs so well both on and off trail.
All in all, the 600 Switchback SP is a very refined machine that could easily be one of the single best snowmobiles Polaris has ever built. Yes, we said the exact same things about the 2017 Switchback Assault models, and the 600 SP is really just as good, minus the adjustable shocks, and for a lot less money.
We have spent quite a bit of time and miles riding this new machine, as we really wanted to get a solid grasp of how good it was and how it differed from the Assault. With over 1,000 miles on the 2017 Switchback Assault 800, we became quite familiar with the damping of the shock package and what its capabilities were. When we hopped on the 600 SP we wondered how soft it would be in comparison, and if we would find ourselves wanting the shock adjustability. Walker Evans Needle shocks are very good units on the Assault, but the Fox IFP shocks are very familiar and Polaris should know exactly how to calibrate them for this machine, and the intended rider.
All B.S. aside, the 600 SP did not disappoint. It is not too soft, by no means. It is very similar to riding the Assault with the Walkers clicked down towards the bottom, which is still an aggressive calibration for aggressive conditions. Lighter riders much below 200 pounds might even find the 600 SP, at least when brand new, to be quite firm, but heavier than that should fall right into a perfect zone. And, as the shocks get a few miles on them they do loosen up and become more compliant. This is far more of a capable bump sled than the Pro Ride Assault ever was. That said, if all you do is ride groomed trails then you will find better compliance in the shorter 137” Switchback or 120” RUSH Pro-S models. Understand this. But if you do any significant amount of off-trail riding where the added length is such a bonus, or if you really value the cargo capability on the top of the tunnel, you will want to give the 600 SP serious consideration. The tipped up rails really make the 144” handle and corner very much like a 137” Switchback, so what you gain in off-trail capability easily offsets any handling difference. It really comes down to ride compliance vs. off trail & cargo capability if you are deciding between a 137” or 144” Switchback.
Another consideration of course is price. A 600 Switchback SP 144 sells for $10,899. A 137” 600 Switchback Pro-S sells for $11,799. A 144” Switchback Assault 600 sells for $12,199. These are all without electric start, which would add $400 to any of them. That means the 600 SP is $1,300 less than the Assault 600 and $900 less than the Pro-S. How badly do you want or need the adjustable shocks of the Assault? Like we said, the 600 Switchback SP 144 is the “Sleeper 50/50 Switchback” for 2017. We will be riding one this winter.