Back in March I reached out to Polaris Ambassador Kim Bergeron for a chance to test ride the Polaris Switchback Assault MATRYX with the mighty 850 under the hood and a 146 skid-frame out back.
Due to deteriorating conditions later in the season I wasn’t able to test the 650 version of the 2021 Polaris Switchback Assault Matrix, as planned. Suffice it to say, riding the Polaris MATRYX was truly an eye opener and revealed things I wasn’t quite prepared for.
Riders ordering the Patriot 650 will get the same chassis benefits of the 850, minus (of course) the extra power.
Polaris Bragging Rights
For years Polaris has been sitting in the number two slot, sales-wise. I’m sure that doesn’t set entirely well with the brass in Medina, MN, nor for that matter the Polaris faithful in the states. Sure, the shareholders see that Polaris is in second place, and that’s no small achievement in itself, but as Americans we are never satisfied with the runner-up trophy. Every manufacturer, and rider I might add, wants bragging right, claiming that they have the best sled in each segment.
Few manufacturers have reached the pinnacle of that achievement but I would submit to you at this writing that Ski-Doo has the widest range of sleds in each segment. And you know how Americans and our Canadian friends up north just love choices.
Polaris has really added fuel to the fire of late, giving riders more and more within their lineup as well. From the “King of the Hill” RMK series to the Indy and their Titan crossover, there really is a lot to choose from. Polaris is seriously turning up the heat on Ski-Doo, and everyone else for that matter, in technical innovations to ultimately achieve what Polaris calls “Terrain Domination.”
At this writing Polaris seriously lacks anything in the four-stroke segment but if I read the tea leaves correctly that might soon change. Make no mistake, the Polaris snowmobile faithful want the Polaris star on the hood with all the benefits a four-stroke mill can deliver. Stay tuned for further updates on that from yours truly.
Polaris Switchback Assault Aluminum and Carbon Fiber Chassis
For the record I will state this here and now. The Polaris MATRYX has the stiffest bulkhead and chassis setup out there, bar none. Yep, I’ve ridden them all and I’m astonished at how rigid the bulkhead is compared to other brands. It’s not that the rear tunnel of the chassis is the stiffest design, it’s the fact that its mated to a super stiff bulkhead that makes the package stand head and shoulders above the rest of the players.
Ski-Doo introduced pyramidal snowmobile chassis construction in the 2003 REV, which laid waste to previous chassis deigns as far as stiffness goes. Recently innovations at Polaris have dropped an Anvil squarely on the heads of the competition.
And just what is this new innovation you might ask? It’s carbon fiber and aluminum bonded by epoxy for the spars and struts on the bulkhead. Used in the aerospace industry for decades, the brainiacs at Polaris were first to widely adapt this radical technology to our snowmobile universe.
Epoxy, surface prep and material selection are key of course and it seems that Polaris has really done their homework on those systems found in the Switchback Assault MATRYX. I’ve not heard of any major delamination claims or breakages of bulkheads. Boy, would I love to get my hands on some of that epoxy!
Test Ride the Polaris Switchback Assault MATRYX
Now that we have a stiff bulkhead the shocks will come right to the forefront in performance, making them easier to read, if you will, and dial in. Shocks on the Switchback Assault 850 were the Walker Evans Velocity Series. I found them to be good in damping but very difficult to adjust due to the small size of the knobs.
Conditions for the test ride of the Polaris Switchback Assault MATRYX consisted of bombed-out craters and over-used trails. Perfect! Up and down hills gave us little respite and posting over the worst parts were the order of the day. It was a marvelous opportunity to test the MATRYX suspension compliance.
The most often repeated word through the communicators that day was “bumps!” The146 rear suspension bridged the gaps well and provided assuring rebound and compression compliance along with the 2-inch track lugs that furthered absorption capability. Thank God I was on a 146 that day!
Polaris 7S Display with Ride Command
Another innovation that Polaris brings to the table is the new color 7S display. Its large, easy to read and has multiple screens for your viewing pleasure. Right now, it’s the industry standard for display technology and almost has too much information to show. Equipped with “Ride Command” it can display the location of each snowmobiler in your “Group Ride” (so long as they are also equipped with a 7S or compatible phone app).
Bluetooth capable and able to play music or take calls is nice but I’d rather listen to the sweet sound of the 850, thank you. Phone calls can wait! On screen the installed GPS map feature was nice and touchscreen enabled was a real plus.
Fellow riders often wanted to check out the S7 map and came over to the Polaris to view our whereabouts whenever we stopped. Another notable feature is the ability to plan your trip in advance using map waypoints on the S7 touchscreen. Really slick. Honestly, I can’t think of anything Polaris could do to improve their display- it’s that good.
Polaris Switchback Assault 850 Performance
It’s no secret Polaris was second to the 850cc engine party but by no means are they going to take second place to anyone in the performance department. The Polaris website states the 850 has “ferocious acceleration” and I can honestly say those are exactly the words I would use to describe it.
Although there were no lake pulls during my Switchback Assault test (due to late season ice conditions) I felt there was way more power than I ever needed. Like Ski-Doo’s 850, I was never able to come even close to holding half throttle for any amount of time while riding most trails.
Engine run quality was outstanding. There were no issues, no burbles, misfires or popping sounds that came from the fuel calibration side of the house. Let’s assume that Polaris engineers invested lots of time and dyno hours so riders would have perfect fuel delivery for this 50cc larger motor.
Ethanol Fuel Mode vs Premium
Interestingly, a sticker on the dash reads “use 91 octane non-ethanol fuel.” What? I think this must be a typo by Polaris as I can’t see how snowmobilers in the northeast could ever deal with that requirement. Fortunately, there is a sub-screen in the 7S that prompts you to different choices of fuel types which adjust the engine’s fuel map and ignition accordingly.
Starting the sled first thing in the morning was no fuss, as the starter spun the engine over well and it always fired right up, although it had an odd, unfamiliar sound to it. Not quite sure why the odd sound from the starter but it was a new to me for sure. Once past the warm up temp of 80 degrees Fahrenheit you were good to go. Fully warmed, the idle stabilized at a higher than normal 1800rpm.
There was detectable smoke from the exhaust but not much to speak of, so no worries there. I started off with a full tank of oil and after 125 miles I had over 2/3 of a tank left. On the dream-o-meter I logged a respectable 13.2 MPG. During the complete course of the test ride the engine temps ranged from 128 to a max of 138 Fahrenheit. At the 138 degree mark we were running muddy logging roads and the sled never even hiccuped or came close to overheating. Kudos to Polaris for giving us a cooling system that can withstand those types of unpredictable but sometimes real-world conditions.
Polaris Switchback Assault vs Ski-Doo vs Cat
So how does the 850 Polaris Switchback Assault MATRYX register on the comparo-scale? From this writer’s prospective the blue color scheme rocks the house and was a looker everywhere we went. The Polaris MATRYX is narrow and rider vision is enhanced because of it. You notice Polaris sleds right away coming down the trail. They look all business and ready to conquer.
The Polaris gauge cluster is top notch and once lit up everyone wanted to see it. The solidly constructed bulkhead is a gamechanger. Others could learn from this build technique. On the flipside, the molded side panels had a very annoying ridge and my knees took a beating as I was constantly readjusting my riding position. Cat’s new Blast has them beat there with their cupped side panels.
Overall handling was great but at times the sled would not hold its line while hammering through the bumps. The skis had slight understeer, not as precise as Cat or Ski-Doo. I also found the clutching somewhat lazy, not up to the Riot or XRS standards. Possibly, further set up and tweaking would erase these two quibbles. Gas and oil consumption were superb for a big twin. You won’t be the first one looking for fuel.
Run quality of the Polaris 850 engine is superb and with a warranty up to four years, you can sleep at night. Handlebar controls were intuitive, with most on the left-hand side and the hand warmers were toasty. The diameter of the bars was slightly larger compared to the thinner Cat and Ski-Doo, which I prefer.
All in all, a winner for sure and yes, I can picture this sled in my quiver of sleds. Can’t wait to see what Polaris comes out with next!