The Polaris You’ve Been Waiting For
Some of the most anticipated new sleds for 2021 are the new Polaris MATRYX models. Very few pre-production test sleds were built, and when the covid deal hit in March all of the snow shows and demo rides were nixed so about the only exposure the sleds saw was at some local dealer showings. So, for the most part, very few people have actually seen one of these machines, and far fewer have ridden one. They were scheduled for production in late September, so let’s hope they’re now on their way to the dealers.
The 2021 introduction of the Polaris MATRYX models is actually somewhat of a surprise. It was just two years ago (2019 model year) that Polaris introduced their Indy XC 129” models, and just last year (2020 model year) that they introduced their new Indy XC 137” models. People were just getting used to those sleds, many have never ridden one, and here they go again with a new platform?
The AXYS platform was introduced for the 2015 model year as RUSH and Switchback models, followed in 2016 with AXYS RMK models and then in 2017 with the crossover length Switchback Assault and Switchback SP models. 2018 brought us the sporty utility workhorse AXYS Titan models, and then we went to 2019’s Indy XC 129” introduction followed by the 2020 Indy XC 137”.
So, why would Polaris come out with new sleds for 2019 and 2020 and then bring their new platform for 2021? This one is kind of an odd deal. It could be argued the Indy XC models were a test bed for the suspensions that would be coming on the MATRYX sleds, as the base chassis and suspensions are the same. The MATRYX is NOT an all-new snowmobile, despite what many have told you. The rolling chassis is actually very similar to the AXYS platform.
What Polaris did with the new MATRYX platform for 2021 was they changed the body panels, console and fuel tank (rider ergonomics) to allow the rider to better conform to the sled, have more room for maneuverability and be able to get further forward. The base rolling chassis is pretty much the same as the Indy XC. That said, the changes to the ergonomics all combine to make the ride experience less fatiguing and more enjoyable and the end result is most impressive. The sled is easier to ride, using less energy and giving you a feeling of great confidence. Dare we say this could be the biggest change for Polaris since the 2010 introduction of the RUSH? Dare we say this is the closest they have been to Ski-Doo since 2002? Dare we say this is the best sled Polaris has ever built?
Refining the Details
With the MATRYX, Polaris took their popular AXYS chassis and addressed the bodywork that made you adapt to the sled – as opposed to having the sled designed around the rider. That sounds easier than it actually is. The entire hood-body-rider area has been changed to give the rider more room to maneuver and get further forward and around the front of the sled.
The first time you see a MATRYX you will see it is clearly a Polaris, but different. One key difference is how the MATRYX is almost 5” narrower at the rider interface. The sculpted side panels fall away from the rider’s knees to give you more room and do not hold you back.
These platform changes allow the rider’s body position to more naturally align itself with the centrifugal force generated during cornering. Go back and re-read that sentence. This is perhaps the single most important difference in how this sled performs. Polaris really didn’t do a great job explaining this phenomenon, either by design (they didn’t want to give away their secrets) or they simply didn’t understand why the sled acts like it does and just got lucky. We tend to believe it was the former. The less restrictive fuel tank and body work allows a rider on MATRYX to not have to use their legs and upper body strength to hang onto the sled with as much energy to counteract centrifugal force created when cornering. You can place your body mass in a location that is neutral, or natural, balancing the force of gravity with the centrifugal force or cornering (trying to tip the sled up).
Polaris Product Manager Marty Sampson did liken this effect to that of riding a motorcycle around a corner, finding that “balance point” between tipping over to the ground (gravity) and having the bike tip up (centrifugal force) when going around a corner. The MATRYX sleds, while they maintained a predictable cornering nature with pushing (understeer) when driven hard, they did not tip up like most any other sled you’ve been on that has that much front suspension travel. Again, predictable is the keyword here. This instills confidence, and this is what makes riding the MATRYX so much fun and enjoyable. You know what the sled is going to do. No surprises. It responds to your will. It makes you a better rider. This is where Polaris nailed it. Their front end was already good, now the rest of the sled takes advantage of this.
Another key benefit and improvement is how good the rider protection is on this platform. The side panels flare up and out with new wind deflectors that create an air bubble around the rider and provide excellent rider protection, which AXYS was lacking. The added wind protection is immediately noticeable in cold conditions (we had -18 degrees F one morning to validate this). You will be surprised at how warm this sled is to ride compared to an AXYS.
One noticeable difference is found in the footrest area. Gone is the stamped aluminum foot rest, replaced by a new forged footwell that increases the room for your boots at the chaincase. New Powder Trac running boards have even more openings for snow evacuation to reduce snow buildup. The larger footwells might seem like a small change, but it’s really nice to finally get this opened up so your boots are not nearly as tight of a fit as on the AXYS.
There are two MATRYX trail models for 2021; the spring-only Indy VR1 and the in-season Indy XC Launch Edition. Both are offered in 129” and 137” track lengths, both are offered with 650 or 850 engines. The main differences are in the shock packages and the dash instrumentation. The front suspension is the basically the same as the AXYS (caster and camber are unchanged) but new forged spindles are cleaner looking and reduce unsprung weight. Pro-Steer skis return with restyled ski loops. Out back the PRO-CC 129/137 rear suspension also returns unchanged. The Indy VR1 comes with 2” Hi-Lo Compression Adjustable Walker Evans Velocity shock package with bypass valving calibrated for the trail rider (not as stiff as an XCR) where the Launch Edition gets standard Walker Evans FORCE shocks (new name, same shocks as AXYS Indy XC). Track options include a 1.25” Ice Ripper, a 1.375” Cobra or a 1.5” Storm.
To be clear, MATRYX does not replace AXYS – at least for now. For 2021, MATRYX models are in addition to Indy and Switchback models. Well, models with the 800 engine are gone but the Indy XC 129, 137 and Switchback models with the 600 & 850 engines are still in the line-up. It is most curious. The hinged rear end of the RUSH and Switchback still have a following and continue to exist in a few models; there is still a 600 Switchback Pro-S and a 850 Switchback XCR, but the short-track RUSH has been retired. The 600 Switchback Assault is also gone, but now you can get an 850 Switchback Assault in either an AXYS 144” or MATRYX 146” length. There are no MATRYX models longer than this – yet.
Two other new features found on the 2021 MATRYX that are truly awesome are the “Smart Warmer” handwarmer controls and the new HUGE color digital display gauge. With the Smart Warmer controls (VR1) you can program the temperature of high, medium and low settings and the system uses feedback to maintain the handwarmer temperature, automatically. It works. No longer are you endlessly toggling the warmers on and off. You turn them on and ride. Your hands do not get hot, they do not get cold. The system varies the supply voltage to maintain the set temperature. This is a MAJOR improvement.
The huge 7S touch screen gauge is another awesome feature, only available on the VR1. Polaris already had the rest beat with their integrated GPS and now they’ve taken it to the next level. You can toggle between the GPS screen, speedo-tach-data screen, or Bluetooth phone interface. The screen is so big you can see everything so much better, and you can configure the screen to show you what you want to see. AND if your riding buddies have the Polaris Ride Command on their sled or phone you can see their position on your map screen. This is totally awesome. Bigger is better when it comes to seeing data on a screen. It might be expensive, but it really does elevate the ride experience. Once you ride with this gauge you might not want to ride without it again. Be warned.
Next there is the new NightBlade headlight assembly. This new headlight brings state of the art lighting technology to the MATRYX. Six projector beam optics deliver precision lighting with an engineered pattern to deliver exceptional visibility for night riding. It works extremely well and sets the new standard for snowmobile lighting.
MATRYX Ride Impressions
We spent five days with Polaris riding and learning about the new 2021 Polaris MATRYX models during the last week of February. When you look at the sled sitting there on the snow and listen to the Polaris engineers and marketing representatives tell you about what changed and why, it doesn’t immediately seem to be THAT different. In many ways it sounds like Polaris is doing what Ski-Doo did with their Gen 4 REV, allowing the rider to get further forward and wrap around the cowling more. In that sense the changes are indeed logical.
But then you hop on the sleds and ride them. After riding various AXYS sleds for thousands of miles over the past six years, you INSTANTLY notice the difference. It actually defies logic in that you can’t believe it would be that much easier to ride, that much more confident, that much improved. It feels so natural, so intuitive, so easy. But, why? Same chassis, same suspensions, why does it feel so different?
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The MATRYX riding position is still classic Polaris, with a flat and wide seat so you feel right at home when you first hop on. But once you start moving you immediately realize you’re not being held back by the side panels, so you move up and around and notice how the sled doesn’t give you the feeling of having to hang on so tight going around the corners. It’s really weird. The centrifugal forces trying to pull you up off the sled do not feel as strong. If you like your AXYS sled you need to ride a MATRYX. Then all of the words, specifications and descriptions mean nothing. You will then understand it and you will want one.
We intentionally took a familiar uphill trail that had not been groomed the night before that winds up the mountain and through the woods to really find out what we had here. It had some fairly decent chop on it, nothing too crazy or deep. Normally on this trail you’re working hard, using the brakes, handlebars and throttle to get the sled to wind around the fairly tight corners. You typically have to really work it to keep it flat and maintain your line. This is where it was really clear we had something truly special. It flat out worked. We were able to corner faster and transition from left to right with less physical effort. It was most impressive in this regard. It was here that we realized the 650 Launch Edition was one of the very best snowmobiles we’ve ever experienced. It was that good.
You figure it must be that first MATRYX sled you rode is super tuned, so you hop on another MATRYX. Once again, you are amazed at how well it handles, how smooth the ride is, how much less energy you are using to go fast. You can’t help but get a bit giddy.
We rode many different MATRYX models and versions over several days, from the top-line VR1 to the XC Launch Edition to the long-track Switchback Assault. And, we swapped back and forth with 2021 AXYS sleds for comparison. The AXYS sleds felt so familiar but you were held back in place with your knees and legs up against the side panels. Then you hop on the MATRYX and the world opens up. You have room to move, room to get forward, room to get around the front of the sled. Again, it feels so natural. Intuitive. Easy.
We jumped off the MATRYX and knew Polaris nailed it. We never would have believed it simply based on their presentation. We listen to marketing hype all the time, and rarely does the machine truly deliver up to the hype. This time it actually did as the ride experience has been improved. Like, holy crap, this thing works good!
Understand the MATRYX models are not XCR-style cross-country sleds. They are not the big-bump crushers like an XCR, or Ski-Doo’s X-RS for that matter. The VR1 version is the top-line model with the Walker Evans Velocity Series shocks, which places them a notch above the current Indy XC sleds but calibrated more like a RUSH Pro-S sled with the Pro XC suspension. Again, the MATRYX XC models better line up with the current Indy XC AXYS sleds, NOT the XCR. One wrinkle in all of this is the in-season Launch Edition models which use a re-named Walker Evans FORCE shock package. Not quite as compliant as the VR with the Velocity Series shocks, but they seemed to corner flatter without the bypass valving. We paid special attention to this and came away with the impression there was a slight bit more body roll on the VR models than there was the Launch Edition.
Despite the difference in shocks, the Launch Edition models were incredibly well calibrated as the 650 Launch Edition was one of our favorite sleds, ever. That speaks volumes. If you want a MATRYX, you might be able to find one of these in-season models if you’re lucky. Unless you are a big guy over 250 pounds you would likely be very happy with the new Patriot 650 version. It acts and feels like a 700-class sled, and for trail riding this is plenty of roost to keep up with anyone. The monster 7S digital gauge is sure nice on the VR1 models, but those had to be pre-ordered last Spring. If you didn’t get in on that party, the Launch Edition models are out there now, but will be hard to find.