If you are a crossover sled rider, pay attention. Especially if you want to save a few dollars. Last winter we ran a 2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault side by side with a 2017 600 Switchback SP 144”. Same basic sled, one had an 800 with (adjustable) Walker Evans shocks and the other had a 600 with (non-adjustable) Fox shocks.
The Best Value In Crossover Sleds
While you can get a Switchback Assault in either a 600 or 800 engine package, Polaris decided to offer a less aggressive version of this basic configuration 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 zips 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 chassis (Pro Ride) Switchback 144 models it was in the rear suspension. With the 2017 AXYS versions (SP 144 included) Polaris introduced 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 IGX 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, in our opinion, is 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 now 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 almost 3,000 miles on a couple of 2017 Switchback Assault 800s (pre-production version in 2016 and a 2017 production model last winter), we became quite familiar with the firm damping of the Walker Evans 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. We were able to rack up 1,331 miles on our 2017 production model, and absolutely loved it. Some guys would scoff at a sled like this, thinking a 600 isn’t enough power. Maybe if you’re heading out west with it and riding at higher elevations, but in the Midwest it was plenty fast, easier on gas and oil, easier on the clutches and drive belt, less vibration, all of it. Everyone who rode our 800 Assault and then tried the 600 SP was flat out impressed. Granted, the most aggressive riders will want the added capability of the Walker Evans shocks, but the SP was about as perfect of an all-around sled as we have ever had. Seriously, it was amazing.
The suspension package 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 firm, but heavier riders 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 bump 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.
What about the handling? Everyone thinks that the 144” track length kills the trail handling. Not. The tipped up rails make it act much shorter. That said, it will not rail around tight corners as fast and as flat as a short track sled, but it is really similar to how a 137” sled feels. If all you do is ride groomed trails it works fine, but a shorter track sled will work better. What we gain here is the flotation, cargo capacity and the off-trail capability. You can ride it on groomed trails all week long and when it snows a foot you are going to be loving it even more.
Another consideration of course is price. A 2017 600 Switchback SP 144 retails for $10,899. Carry-over units can still be found for a click over $9,000 here in Minnesota. A 137” 600 Switchback Pro-S (2017) retails for $11,799, and the 2017 144” Switchback Assault 600 went for $12,199. These are all without electric start, which would add $400 to any of them. That means the 600 SP sold for $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 “Best Value in Crossover Sleds” for 2017, and again for 2018. We liked the one we had so much that we kept it for comparison, and will again be riding it this winter. It was that good.
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