Like a gunfighter coming down the trail, the Polaris 650 VR1 MATRYX test proves this chassis is ready to fight its way to the top of the heap in the mid-size sled segment for 2022 and beyond.
Just how does the VR1 MATRIX chassis, powertrain, and suspension stack up? Is it all the Polaris faithful had hoped for? Stay tuned to find the answer to these questions and some special insights about the Polaris snowmobile brand.
Polaris Designs Sleds Riders Want
It’s no secret that Polaris has been hard at work designing sleds that riders want to own. All you have to do is look on the trails to see more Polaris riders enjoying the machines. A peek on their website reveals that Polaris is quietly, and doggedly, burning the midnight oil in Osceola and Roseau for the ultimate ride experience. In this writer’s opinion Polaris sleds have come a long way in their models and choices, such that brand faithful riders of Arctic Cat, Yamaha, and Ski-Doo just have to take notice.
Most of you hard core Polaris fans know the engine troubles they had in the past are well behind them and the new Patriot motors are proving to be ultra-reliable. Motor reliability combined with Polaris sticking to a traditional chassis design means things are shaping up for them to regain the glory days of the extremely popular Indy series of the 90’s. What a great time to be a snowmobiler!
Polaris Starfire Series
For this test of the 650 VR1 MATRYX, I reached out to the Polaris Ambassador, Kim Bergeron, for the chance to ride this new Spring-only Starfire series sled. Back in the vintage days, the Starfire series of sleds were very dominant on the race scene. Polaris executives wanted to make sure that same “over the top” performance carries over to today’s iteration of sleds. As stated earlier, we shall see whether the Polaris brand has met that self-imposed benchmark.
Choice of Colors
Upon first view the machine has a pleasing color scheme of light brown, black and burnt orange. It’s a subtle color scheme that I could keep in my garage for years to come without the “in your face” trim of a one-year-only Special Edition version. I applaud Polaris for offering what seems like unlimited color choices on their website. Honestly, it was real fun just going through the color selections of the tunnel, side covers and trim options available. It turned out to be like a video game and was a hoot.
Fit and Finish of Polaris Snowmobiles
The second thing one notices is the fine quality of fit and finish of the VR1. Polaris has come up a few notches in the last couple of years on that front as well, and it’s a very much welcome value-added perk.
To be clear the differences between the sleds of the big four are getting smaller and smaller each year. Competition for market share is really getting fierce now and we snowmobilers are right square in the bullseye for receiving all that the Big Four offer. Manufacturers know that fit and finish, extended warranties, and generous accessory options make a huge difference on sales numbers. Bring it on I say!
Polaris 650 VR1 MATRYX Test
The sled has a short starter engagement and the engine fires right up, unlike the odd sounding starter on the 850 tested last year. Just minor but pleasant mechanical clatter. No real smoke is detected and the engine idles nicely. No, I won’t state the cliché, “it purrs like a kitten.” Don’t want to get the Cat guys all fired up.
Polaris 7S Ride Command Overview
Next, your attention is drawn to, fixated on I might add, the gauge pod. Called the 7S (7-inch Screen size, get it?). It’s an additional 1,200 bucks plus an install kit and a small $100 fee for hooking it up but it rocks the house and blows everything else out of the water. Honestly, Polaris has really dropped the gauntlet on this display and it’s so far ahead of anyone else’s offering. It’s just plain hard to believe.
It’s so good that you could park outside of Larry’s Burger Barn and just show the Cat, Ski-Doo and Yam guys how good it really is. Drool you must. Why is it so good you ask? Well for starters, the gorgeous seven inches of screen dominates the dash, in full color, I might add. The screen color can be seen in darkness or direct light, it doesn’t matter. No squinting or positioning the sled to get out of the sun like a cell phone.
7S Display Color Touch Screen
The 7S display shows coolant temp, fuel level, compass heading, heat level of grips and throttle. What set this one apart from other manufacturers’ type displays though is the addition of the Polaris Ride Command with maps of virtually every state already loaded. Bonus! The Ride Command App has your route displayed and that of additional riders in your group.
Interestingly you can send a text message short distances to tell the riders in your group whether you are heading back, low on fuel or all is okay. Control of the screen is either on the upper left of the pod or on the left handlebar, whichever you choose. You can save past rides in memory so you can recreate the best moments from previous years. About the only addition I could suggest is they add outdoor ambient temperature.
MATRYX Chassis Carbon Fiber Spars
Back this year, and with good reason, is the stiffest chassis in the business, based on the carbon fiber spars and quality bonding techniques, as described in my prior 850 report. In addition to stiffness, Polaris has followed the lead of Ski-Doo, producing a narrow chassis.
The shock reservoirs combined with the narrow chassis makes it look like a gunfighter in a frontal view. I have mixed feelings on the narrow chassis. On the positive side there are better sight lines from the driver’s seat and a feeling of being more in control. On the other hand, lack of wind protecting effects hand warmth, and my legs suffered somewhat.
Polaris VR1 MATRYX Ergonomics Review
Redesigning the side panels with flare-outs might cut down on wind intrusion. The windshield is good for keeping the rider warm and is just about the perfect height. Handlebars are made of smaller diameter aluminum and are curved at the ends which fit the hands quite nicely. Handlebar warmers could use a little more warmth, I would rate them just average.
The flat seat is a nice feature that I wasn’t sure I would like. It has good foam and support while using body English to corner on the edge of the seat. Somehow you would think a tapered design is better but in real world testing I think the flat top seat is best. Go figure.
Polaris has a beefy cast aluminum bulkhead and the A-arms are of equal length. Walker Evans reservoir shocks round out the suspension with an easy to use compression-only clicker mechanism.
Headlights were subpar, as the low beam was a yellowish color. Best views were gained from the high beams. The beak is easy to remove, with two Dzus style fasteners up top and two twist-locks on the side panels separate it in a jiffy. Voila, access to everything – even spark plugs. Yeah!
Listed above are all the vitals but just how did all of this tech merge into one seamless package? For starters this engine had zero miles with an electronically controlled break-in of 10 hours. After that waiting period is when all the magic happens.
Patriot 850 vs 650
I rode the sled for nine hours and could feel it loosening up, getting more power as the hours racked up, but never made it out of full break-in mode, so I can’t say how the power compares to sleds in its class. Suffice it to say I felt good power but did have to go deeper into the throttle coming out of the corners as opposed to the effortless nature of the 850. Maybe apples and oranges comparison but nevertheless a valid consideration when purchasing.
Do you want over the top performance of the 850 or the easier feeling 650? The motor had a few stutters in fuel delivery down low but I chalked that up to a richer condition based on the fuel mapping selected by Polaris for break-in.
Polaris 650 Patriot Fuel Mileage and Oil Consumption
Interestingly, the gas mileage was as follows: Fill-up #1 – 14.2 mpg, #2 – 14.5 mpg, #3 – 15.5 mpg and #4 -15.1. Not bad for break-in, and you won’t be the first person in the group looking for gas. I found the fuel gauge to be very accurate based on the tank size of 11.5 gallons and its display at the top right of the 7S always put me at ease.
Gas selection was non-ethanol which was available in high-test only in Pittsburg NH. This would also apply to the 850 as well and can be changed in the fuel settings to be ethanol based and thus lower octane if so desired.
Oil consumption during break-in testing of the Polaris 650 was very low. Although I was never able to precisely measure it, I did note the oil level in the 3.75-quart tank before and after the 300-plus mile test run. Oil usage matches quite well with the MPG of around 14-15. No excess smoke or annoying fumes were noticed either upon startup, during break-in or when riding down the trail. Take that you four stroke lovers!
Give Them A Brake
The brakes were of the top-quality Hayes variety and I would rate them as nonlinear and grabby. Just a slight amount of pressure begins to lock the track up. This might be due to the break-in ofthe brakes but I doubt it. Polaris is the last holdout to offer brakes based off the jackshaft, not the trackshaft, and this may be why the grabby nature.
Two reasons sled makers abandoned jackshaft mounted brakes is that if the chain case were to fail there will be no braking power, and second, you get better modulation of the brakes off the trackshaft because it actually rotates slower than the jackshaft. This is something Polaris needs to address but is not a total deal breaker.
Ride and Handling of Polaris VR1 MATRYX
The ride quality is above average as the long front arm suspension and 137-length track bridges the bumps quite well. I was able to keep a solid straight line in the nasty bombed out trails when the heat got turned up. The track is the standout here as its 1.5-inch lug height had gobs of traction and held its line well in the corners. I would love to see more sleds have the 1.5 track option available to the consumer as traction is the number-one component to performance.
My biggest concern during the Polaris 650 VR1 MATRYX test was inside ski lift. The sled just didn’t seem to like the corners at all. No matter how I adjusted the Walker Evans front shocks for compression damping it would result in either a better ride or less inside ski lift but never really got to that perfect balance. When entering a corner, the front outside ski would bite hard and force the inside ski to lift. After a while I found best to steer with the throttle, which chews up the trail. That style of riding is best reserved for experienced riders and could catch a novice or casual rider off-guard.
The main reason for the lift is the limited uncoupled nature of the long front arm in the rear suspension. This uncoupling is only for the first few inches and begins to couple as the suspension goes deeper into the travel.
As I had limited time with adjustments (both front and rear) on the trail I could have possibly solved the annoying trait. Of interest, the 850 Polaris Switchback Assault MATRYX did not behave like this at all. Suffice it to say, no adjustments solved the problem during my test. It would be in the best interest of Polaris to better address this issue before releasing it to the consumer, as most do not understand how to adjust the suspension.
Conclusion: Polaris 650 VR1 MATRYX
To gain perspective, the 2022 Polaris 650 VR1 Starfire series deliver way over the top in instrument display, excellent fit and finish, great accessory and color options, a stout engine, and a terrific ride to boot. To be fair I have not ridden the Ski-Doo 650 or the Cat 6000 to compare performance ride and handling (I tend to ride big bore sleds). Despite the inside ski lift, it should be right near the top of the food chain.
Polaris offers great two-stroke performance options in the 650 and 850 Starfire VR1 and XCR. They also offer one of the least expensive snowmobiles to the public in the Indy Evo. And let’s not forget the class-leading RMK mountain sleds. I’m excited to see what’s next in their future lineup.