Next Generation Trail and Crossover Platform
With the new Polaris MATRYX platform for 2021 the body panels and rider ergonomics have been changed to allow the rider to better conform to the sled, have more room for maneuverability and be able to get further forward, all combining to make the ride experience less fatiguing and more enjoyable. The end result is most impressive.
Polaris has been chasing Ski-Doo’s tail light since the 2003 introduction of the rider-forward REV. Their first serious attempt at closing this gap came with the 2010 introduction of the Pro-Ride platform RUSH, which admittedly fell short. But with the 2015 introduction of the now-popular AXYS platform, Polaris has been gaining ground and making headway.
Now that the AXYS has been out for six years, Polaris is ready to take their next shot at the market leader, and it is truly a serious and worthy effort. Enter the latest Polaris snowmobile platform, the MATRYX.
With the MATRYX, Polaris took their popular AXYS chassis and addressed the bodywork and chassis issues that made you adapt to the sled – as opposed to having the sled designed around the rider. That sounds easier than it actually is. While the base chassis and suspensions remain similar, 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, along with being narrower at the fuel tank area.
Polaris Product Manager Marty Sampson compares the benefits of the MATRYX platform to riding a motorcycle. MATRYX allows the rider’s body position to more naturally align itself with the centrifugal force generated during cornering. 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.
The first time you see a MATRYX you will notice a sled with more refined styling yet still retains the Indy wedge look of the 90’s. It is clearly a Polaris, but different. One key difference is how the MATRYX is 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. 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).
MATRYX sleds come with a tool-less “Lock& Ride” windshield system, offering a variety of windshield options that can be changed without any tools. Easy to pop on and off, the design attaches the shield to a base wind deflector. Behind the windshield is a large glove box that eliminates the need for a windshield bag, large enough to hold two pairs of goggles plus a spare set of gloves.
The MATRYX handlebars have been redesigned with a slight rise. If you’re a mountain bike rider you will notice right away the riser bar influence. The LH control has been redesigned and is now backlit for night time visibility and ease of operation. The Hayes brake lever is significantly shorter and easier to modulate thanks to a redesigned master cylinder. The parking brake lever now has also been redesigned and way easier to set. All the cable routing now is much cleaner and routed to prevent wear and pinching of electrical wiring. Handlebar grips are re-textured and with bar ends that are “kicked” forward that enhance steering control while cornering.
Polaris engineering took a design cue from Aston Martin with their new Nightblade LED headlight assembly. Six dihedral LED projector beams are arranged so that less stray light is created, and shadowing is reduced. The result is better illumination of the trail in front of the sled. The rear taillight assembly is now integrated with the rear snow flap for a cleaner look.
The front suspension on the MATRYX models remains the same but with new forged spindles that reduce unsprung weight and are cleaner looking. Caster and camber are unchanged. Re-styled ski loops are used on the same Pro-steer skis. The Indy VR1 comes with 2” Hi-Lo Compression Adjustable Walker Evans Velocity shock package calibrated for the trail rider (not as stiff as an XCR)
Out back the PRO-CC 129/137 rear suspension returns unchanged. Again, the Indy VR1 version comes with 2” Hi-Lo Compression Adjustable Walker Evans Velocity shocks calibrated for the trail rider (not as stiff as on XCR).
Also new on the MATRYX platform are forged footwells with Powder Trac running boards that have even more openings for snow evacuation to reduce snow buildup. The larger footwells might seem like a small change, but it’s been a long time coming. Gone is the stamped aluminum foot rest so your boots are not nearly as tight of a fit as before, very noticeable.
We have talked about where your feet and hands interface with the sled, now let’s talk about where your butt rests. The seat dimensions are like the current AXYS, but there is a new integrated storage bin under the rear of the seat as the cargo bag is gone. Polaris claims more room and it will keep your items warmer and snow free. The seat is ready for integration with several new Lock & Ride Flex storage products. The top of the tunnel has also been cleaned up with integrated slots for the New Lock & Ride Flex system on all track lengths.
MATRYX does not replace AXYS – at least for now. MATRYX models are in addition to Indy and Switchback models. Well, models with the 800 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 exist in a few models; there is still a 600 Switchback Pro-S and a 850 Switchback XCR, but the RUSH has been retired. The 600 Switchback Assault is 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.
Patriot 650 Engine
2021 Polaris MATRYX models come with either a Patriot 850 or a new Patriot 650 engine. The new 650 is a smaller bore version of the 850, as it has the same stroke as the 850 (crankshaft is similar but with smaller pork chops for reduced rotating mass and rotating inertia) and uses the same engine mounting strategy as the 850.
Instead of just making a smaller bore motor, Polaris took aim at providing many of the benefits that 4-stroke motors provide – especially since they don’t offer a 4-stroke. Their strategy behind this new motor is to offer all the advantages a 2-stroke has over a 4-stroke and tune it so it delivers comparable fuel economy at low to mid-range throttle running. It has been designed to provide outstanding durability with smooth and quiet operation, and it is calibrated to run its best on 87-octane fuel – a huge cost savings for high-mile riders.
Polaris tells us the 650 approaches their competitor’s 4-stroke fuel economy at 25 to 45 mph. Compared to the Liberty 600 users will experience 10% more power and 14% more torque with 20%+ mpg improvement @ steady state 45 mph and 50%+ mpg improvement@ steady state 25 mph operation.
Surprisingly, the bottom end torque of the 650 is very much like the Liberty 800 H.O. In fact, Polaris engineering tells us the 650 Patriot runs the same flyweights in the primary. It pulls with thick meaty torque down low and through the midrange, to the point you have to look at the decal on the side panel to see what you are riding. Perhaps most amazing was how much lighter it feels than the 850, something we attribute to the reduction in rotating mass and inertia. It is more agile and responsive in this manner. Up top it sure feels like we’re above 130 HP for peak power, which is right where many of the 700-class machines were for so many years. For the riders who wanted more than a 600 but just didn’t need the 800/850 power this could be a true sweet spot. It runs so good we could call it a 700 and doubt many would argue with us after riding one.
MATRYX Ride Impressions
We’ve just completed five days of 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 some 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 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.
You figure it must be that single sled 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 intentionally took a familiar uphill trail that winds up a mountain and through the woods to really find out what we had here. Normally on this trail you’re working hard, using the brakes, handlebars and throttle to get the sled to wind around the corners. You really have to 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.
We rode many different MATRYX models and versions over several days, from the top-line VR1 to the XC and 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 in that 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.
Understand the MATRYX models are not XCR-style cross-country sleds. They are not the big-bump crushers like an XCR, or XRS for that matter. The VR1 version is the top-line model with the Walker Evans Velocity Series shocks, which places them a notch about the current Indy XC sleds. The MATRYX XC models better line up with the current Indy XC AXYS sleds. The Launch Edition uses re-named Walker Evans FORCE shock package, but it is incredibly well calibrated as the 650 Launch Edition was one of our favorite sleds.
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 off the sled are not 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.
Two other new features found on the 2021 MATRYX that are awesome are the “Smart Warmer” handwarmer controls and the new HUGE color digital display gauge. With the Smart Warmer controls 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.
The huge 7S touch screen gauge is another awesome feature. 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.
2021 Polaris Switchback Assault MATRYX
When we got our time on the MATRYX Switchback Assault versions, we had extremely high expectations. We’ve been HUGE fans of the AXYS-based Switchback Assault models ever since their introduction, and were really worried that going to a new platform and longer track would screw up the magic.
Going from a 144” to 146” track length is like nothing, the difference of track length on the ground is maybe a half inch. The tunnel and suspensions are basically the same, with the exception of the footwells and spindles. It’s the rider interface that has changed.
Knowing this, we fully expected to be as impressed with the 146” MATRYX models as we were with the trail-friendly 129” and 137” MATRYX models. But….
We rode both a 650 and 850, the 650 with the standard 1.375” Cobra track and the 850 with the new Ice Storm pre-studded 1.5” track. Both sleds, in comparison to the 2017-2020 Switchback Assault sleds we know and love so well, felt taller, narrower and less stable. They truly felt like they had migrated ever so slightly to being more of an agile off-trail sled and less of a stable trail sled. Ever so slightly.
For comparison, the MATRYX Switchback Assault didn’t feel quite as off-trail agile as say the Ski-Doo Backcountry sleds, but were still the more stable trail sled with their flatter cornering, but they did lift the inside skis far more often than what our AXYS sleds do.
We tell you this with great hesitation. Polaris reps were not really able to explain why we felt this way. They did not admit to making these sleds more off trail agile at the expense of their on trail stability. So, perhaps this impression comes from the ability to maneuver and get your body weight to influence the sled in a manner that was previously not there. It was like with the AXYS you could sit back and ride it, where with the MATRYX you had to be more active to keep it flat. We would have liked to get more miles on them in a wider range of snow conditions, so we do worry that our ride impressions on this model were influenced by the specific snow conditions (set-up groomed hard pack) of that particular day.
With so many thousands of miles on so many different AXYS 144” sleds over the years we were able to quickly notice the differences with the MATRYX version. Where we were impressed with the shorter track MATRYX models, we just aren’t as sure about the 146” versions – yet. If you ride an AXYS Switchback and would like it to be slightly more agile off trail and less stable on trail then we believe you will love the new one. If you highly value the trail behavior of your Switchback Assault then do not be surprised if we’ve went from a 50/50 sled to a 60/40 sled. Maybe 55/45. Slight, but noticeable.
Worthy of mention is how these sleds are equal to the VR1 trim level when compared to the shorter tracked MATRYX XC models, fitted with the 7S color display with Ride Command, the Walker Evans Velocity Series shock package front and rear and a Walker Evans shock with a 2” body at the center, or front toque arm position. This use of the Velocity Series shocks elevates the calibration of the SBA to new heights as the bypass position-sensitive valving adds to the compliance and comfort of this model. For 2021 Polaris does offer both AXYS and MATRYX versions of the Switchback Assault. The 800 is gone, the 850 can now be bought in season and the 650 only comes in the MATRYX.
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