Test Tracks: 2017 Polaris 600 Switchback SP

Purpose-built, 120hp-class sled fills a void in crossover segment
2017 Polaris 600 Switchback SP snowmobile
The 600 Switchback SP uses Polaris’ new crossover-specific IGX 144 rear skid.
Kort Duce photo
What is a crossover sled? We’ve been asked to define this category a lot, but maybe the better question to ask is, “What does a crossover rider want?” The answer is almost always, “The best of both worlds.”

All riders want the best performance no matter what category they fall into, but there’s always a trade-off. Mountain sleds often have some shortcomings in trail handling. Real trail riders accept they might get stuck if they try to sidehill off-trail. A true crossover rider doesn’t accept either very easily. They want to comfortably pound mile after mile of trails on Saturday, and then dodge in and out of sloped tree lines on Sunday – all on the same sled.

All the OEMs have taken their turn at building one, and many are tantalizingly close to that perfect 50/50 sled. The 2017 600 Switchback SP 144 from Polaris is definitely in the running.

A sled’s capability as a trail performance sled used to be defined in length. A 121-inch sled was, and usually still is, razor sharp on the trails. But what about the 129s, which are still trail sleds? Does the 121-inch sled handle better just because it is shorter?

Now, we realize track length doesn’t always mirror trail performance. It’s now the world of the 137-inch trail sled. They were just a few years ago the 50/50 sled, and a mountain sled a few years before that! But 137-inch sleds can be dynamite on the trail, especially when paired with more capable front ends like the AXYS from Polaris, the RAS2 and now RAS3 from Ski-Doo, or the updated SRV/ProCross from Yamaha and Cat.

The earlier 137-inch crossover offerings were a longer version of a 121- or 129-inch trail sled designed to stay planted on the trails with a little more flotation off trail. We’d argue they can be better trail sleds than their shorter siblings. So how long can you go and still have decent trail manners?

It turns out the 144 inches of the Polaris 600 Switchback SP are still very tolerable on the trails. The engineers who developed the new IGX 144 suspension were tasked with taking the off-trail qualities of an RMK suspension, and merging it with the best trail qualities of the Pro-XC rear.

They did the job in what we think is one of the best crossover rear suspensions. It’s not the best trail suspension or the best deep snow suspension, but it’s very good at checking most of the boxes a rider looks for in both scenarios.
2017 Polaris 600 Switchback SP snowmobile
At 144 inches, it easily bridges the chatter of trail stutters. And where you might think it would suffer in corners due to that length, the AXYS front end handles that added bulk in the back surprisingly well. You won’t be burning through hairpin turns like you might on a shorter Rush, but it’s impressive how aggressive you can get, even with the longer track. The front end stays fairly well planted, which is not always the case when you take longer tracks on the trail. That 42.5-inch ski stance does its job here.

There’s not a ton that needs to be said about the 600cc Liberty engine from Polaris. It’s nearly the perfect engine for  a trail sled. We suspect some updates may come very soon, but overall, this engine is dialed in for the trail and that all-important area between 30-70 mph. There’s no complaining to be done here. Asking this 600 to churn that 144-inch track is not asking too much either.

The hard part

We have to give Polaris props for taking the initiative to come to market with as close to a crossover-specific rear suspension as we’ve seen in the IGX 144.

The uncoupled IGX suspension, paired with the nimble AXYS chassis, makes this a very responsive sled when you get into some fairly demanding off-trail situations. I’m a big believer in the longer front torque arm travel of this suspension, as it affords you the capability to seek out those hops and jumps in the bush a little more than most elongated trail suspensions.

The IGX keeps both rear shocks inside the tunnel (unlike the 137-inch Switchbacks), creating less drag in deep snow. Incidentally, this also provides a better place to grab onto should you find yourself stuck.

Polaris addressed two of our usual knocks, particularly in an off-trail scenario: running boards and lack of storage. There was basically zero snow evacuation in the old Pro-Ride running boards, which led to some rather interesting foot placements when trying to maneuver off trail. That’s not a problem with the tapered PowderTrac running boards that grace this Switchback SP. They give you great snow evacuation, even on those mashed-potato snow days, and more clearance when sidehilling.

Why is storage key off trail? When riding the backcountry, you’re taking everything you need with you. On trail, you might carry a granola bar to tide you over between meal stops. Meal stops don’t often exist when spending the day off trail. The Switchback SP features a very generous 1,024 cubic inches of weather-tight, under-seat storage – more than any non-Limited Edition Polaris we can remember in a long time!

The track lug height (1.35 inches) is not quite where I would personally like it. I would like to see a 1.5-inch lug for adding a little more ability to scoop snow off-trail. That said, I do understand that moving to a taller lug might have meant the front end possibly getting a little overmatched on trail. But that’s another engineering discussion.

Is this the perfect trail sled? No. Is it the perfect off-trail sled? No. However, it IS a sled that I feel sufficiently meets the needs of a hard-to-define 50/50 crossover value market. It’s a sled that lets you traverse an insane amount of terrain.

And that is a fun power to possess.
3 Takeaways
  1. New running boards and storage greatly improve the overall rider experience off-trail.
  2. It’s light (454 lbs. dry), and you’ll notice the difference at day’s end.
  3. The 600cc engine still packs a powerful punch, even toting a 144-inch track. A little more lug would be nice off trail.
Engine: 599cc Liberty CFI liquid 2-stroke HP: 123.8* Drive: P-85 primary, TEAM LWT secondary Exhaust: Single SC VES Ski Stance: 42.5 in. Front Susp.: AXYS w/ FOX IFP shocks (9.3 in. travel) Rear Susp.: IGX 144 w/ FOX IFP shocks (16 in. travel) Track: 15x144x1.35 in. Cobra Fuel (tank/octane): 12 gal. / 91 octane Dry Weight: 454 lbs. Price: $10,899 US / $12,599 CA
*AmSnow Tested
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