We still remember vividly, as if it was just last year, the new snowmobile introduction of the Polaris Fusion and IQ RMK models. That was what, 2003 model year, and here we are at the 2009 new model introduction. As we look around the room, some of the faces are familiar, but many of them are new.
Instead of trying to convince us how good their new sleds were, they now are confident they are on the right path. Customer satisfaction index ratings tell them what they need to know; their build quality is much improved, their buyers are so much more satisfied with the performance, reliability and quality. The last one is what they firmly believe will be their ticket back to fame.
Good thing, because their snocross dominance hasn’t exactly translated to big time sales. Maybe it was a race promoter who first said “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”. Polaris just hasn’t been able to really capitalize on their race success.
Much of their efforts the past couple of years has been aimed towards the future. They firmly state their commitment to the snowmobile market, as being their “core” element of the business, even though ATVs have been more profitable the past several seasons.
The quality theme continues for 2009. They want every sled they send out the doors of the factory at Roseau to work properly and meet (and exceed) customer expectations. That means what they build is engineered, tested, validated, and built to last. No half-cooked calibrations, no guessing as to what flyweights or springs, no corner cutting, no more excuses. They’re serious. They’ve listened to their customers, and have developed sleds built to the strictest manufacturing quality standards.
The tone for the 2009 new model introductions was relaxed, almost casual. Welcome to Roseau, enjoy our new sleds, tell us what you think. They’re all ears, asking many questions, and actually want to know if there is something they’ve missed or are off the mark with.
Currently, Polaris has the most powerful engines across the board in the two-stroke world. Their 600 CFI with 4 injectors makes 125 HP; their 700 CFI makes 140 HP, and the wicked 800 CFI wails at 154 HP, all best in class figures. 2008 saw the limited introduction of the new 800 twin with Cleanfire (transfer port) fuel injection, and 2009 sees an all-out expansion of this engine size across the board into many different models, from trail to crossover to mountain. The 800 CFI will be available in nine models in three distinctive segments, from performance to crossover to mountain. This much we expected.
What we didn’t expect was to see a new 600 CFI, this one with only two fuel injectors. The intent was to provide a clean, yet economical 600 with better fuel economy and slightly less power.
Polaris has also found great success with their stripped-down IQ Shift models. They’re great value sleds, providing plenty of performance for the price, and providing a great sled for riders to build their own version of what a snowmobile should be. No frills, just excellent performance. For 2009, Polaris has expanded upon the IQ Shift theme with many more Shift models to choose from, including a new 136” Shift to fill the crossover demand for a value sled, and an all-new 550 IQ Shift! Polaris is now offering a lot more accessories for these unbranded black sleds, but we wonder why they don’t offer any of them with a red hood. Oh well. Now you can choose from a base level Shift, a “standard” issue IQ model with more color and graphics and features, or step up to a pimped-out Dragon version with all the bells and whistles. Different levels of performance and features for different prices.
Polaris also continues to enjoy a solid following in the West with their RMK models. Continuing on the theme of doing what they know best, we find even more RMK models to choose from. The intent here is to give riders sleds that target their specific needs. The 800 “Assault” is one of them, which Polaris calls the first true production backcountry/freestyle snowmobile. From the long-travel suspension to the handlebars, the entire sled is built for riders who take a stock sled and beef it up for their style of riding; jumps, fall-aways and extreme terrain. Shift RMK models now total three, with two track lengths and two engine sizes.
One curious addition to the Polaris line is the 800 Dragon SP, and it truly is “special”. More than an 800 Dragon, this sled adds even more lightweight trickery for maximum acceleration and maximum performance. Trick shocks not only look good, they work even better. This sled showcases the IQ platform at its finest, and it really works well.
Polaris has trimmed their new model offerings for 2009, making things easier on their dealers and consumers. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, they’re concentrating on what they do best. By our count, there are now 30 models to choose from, including the kid-sized 120 Dragon. One way they’ve accomplished this is by getting rid of all of the 700 CFI models, with the exception of a single 700 RMK 155”. Instead of having 600s, 700s and 800s in various models, they’ve went to 600s and 800s. Also gone are IQ LX models with the Polaris version of the M-10. Instead, Polaris is going to try to sell their dealers and riders who want a sled like this to go with one of the Switchback models, using the argument that they will still get a premium ride with electric start now standard on all Switchback models (isn’t that curious). Standard Switchbacks even come with a decent mid-height windshield in an effort to satisfy more of these riders. We’re not so sure about all of this, but getting rid of models from the line-up has to be a good thing. Positioning the Switchback as a premium ride quality model in addition to its on/off trail capability is curious, and true crossover riders still have the Dragon Switchback models to choose from.
It seems like everyone is paying more attention to the expanding international market, as Polaris has a new Widetrack IQ for 2009. This workhorse now combines capability with ride and handling, features that we’re not used to hearing in the same sentence. European and Russian buyers flock to sleds like this, as they use them in far broader conditions with far wider expectations that we do here in the states.
What about our calls for a 50/50 sled, something in between the 136” x 1.25” Switchbacks and the RMKs with longer tracks and 2”+ lug heights? Polaris gives us several options, but nothing squarely like what we asked for. We can put a 1.5” track on any of the 136” Switchbacks, or we can take a 144” RMK Shift (600 or 800) and install a lower lug 1.5” track and get there. That’ll work.
What about EPA compliance? Polaris is actually sitting in a good position. 2010 calls for a fleet average of 50% reduction in hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO). Take the cleaner CFI engines, along with the new two-injector 600 that replaces the carbed 600, and then add the FS and FST four-strokes and they should meet the required averages. It all adds up.
One thing that surprised us was the obvious omission of the one-year wonder 600RR. The consumer version of the race sled that so many riders asked for just didn’t see many takers. Maybe the high price tag scared them off, maybe they just buy old 440 racers and build what they want. Used 440 race sleds go fairly cheap, what else are they good for? We have to wonder if this is what the freestyle riders do when it comes to building a sled to their liking. Time will tell.
What we’ve really noticed is how the running quality and consistency of the Polaris sleds has come around. Out of the box, they work well. No nickel and dime issues like we were used to. They’ve taken this quality thing to heart, and truly believe it will bring them back to where they want to be. We agree, to a point. It will also take technology and innovation to light a fire in the hearts of the riders. We want reliable sleds that work right the first time and every time, but we also want a sled that excites us and thrills us. Their new 800 Dragon SP does just that. Now that they have the quality thing under control, we wonder what they’ll do next.