Crossover Sleds with 150+ HP!

Choose your adventure with 2017 Arctic Cat XF 9000 Cross Country, Polaris 800 Switchback Assault, Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline Backcountry X or Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX
Who didn’t love those “choose your own adventure” books as a kid? Well, the newest 50/50 crossover sleds will let you choose your own adventure in real life!

Three of the four sleds in this comparison are all new, but this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, as the new sleds in this segment include the totally revised Polaris 800 Switchback Assault, the Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX LE, and the Arctic Cat XF 9000 Cross Country. The last two sleds are 4-strokes with 200+ hp, but the new Assault will compare nicely to the Backcountry X.

Basically, we’ll compare two 800 2-strokes (Polaris vs. Ski-Doo), plus provide info and riding impressions on the new turbo siblings from Yamaha and Cat.

Switchback Assault 800: Worth the wait

Since 2011! That is how long we waited for a new version of the Switchback Assault. Five fun model years crept by before Polaris crossover fans finally got the next iteration. Basically, you get five major new things:  
  1. The most recent Liberty 800cc H.O. 2-stroke CFI motor;
  2. The AXYS chassis;
  3. A new 144-inch IGX rear suspension with tipped up rail design;
  4. Choice of 1.35- or 2-inch lug track;
  5. New PowderTrac hybrid boards.
2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 snowmobile
Pick your sled color! Arctic FX works with Polaris to offer cool customizable wraps like this one through the Polaris FX Direct web pages and the SledWrapR app.
Kort Duce photo
You get all that and more for just an additional $800 (when comparing base models from last year to this year).

I am sure there are folks that think I am “pro-Polaris” just because of how highly I have rated the Assault for so many years. Now, those same people are probably saying I will totally be “ga-ga” over this one … Well, yeah, so what?!

In all seriousness though, putting the Assault into the AXYS chassis was done too late in my eyes. I think this needed to happen two years ago. That would have put Polaris in a position to seriously contend with Ski-Doo on all fronts for the No. 1 spot in sledding for MY2015, when the new 800cc motor was released. That was also a very good snow year! It’s easy for us throttle jockeys who double as computer keyboard artists to tell product managers what to do, right?    

That being said, the sled handles as well as I expected, and in some cases, better than anticipated. In our March 2016 issue, I mentioned little things that I liked about this sled, such as the ProTaper handlebars. We tossed our short-term demo sled off all kinds of gnarly jumps and hard landings, including one bobble in particular that should have bent the bars, but it didn’t. The bars themselves are comfortable as well. Some bars are notoriously thick (Cat and Yamaha before this current model year), so they wear out your hand strength and are difficult for people with smaller hands to grip. Other bars are much skinnier (Ski-Doo) and feel too minimal for larger riders. But the ProTaper ones are durable and just the right diameter for nearly all riders.

However, Polaris makes the mistake of not including a mountain-style grab bar on the handlebars. Especially for shorter riders who can’t always reach the other side when we screw up in certain off-trail situations, a grab bar is the only option. This should be standard on any off-trail crossover sled.

The spring-buy version of this sled came with handguards, which are a necessity for this rider and should come standard. We also very much liked having storage in the seat. This was a huge issue on the Rush sleds, and in our eyes, there is no reason that EVERY seat shouldn’t have some storage. We would venture to say that 90% of riders would trade functional storage for a little more weight or a little less style (“extreme” mountain riders excluded).

The uncoupled new IGX 144 rear suspension takes cues from the mountain RMK sleds and helps the front end feel lighter off trail. It carves better than its Switchback Pro-X brother, and weighs only 456 pounds dry, according to Polaris. It certainly feels light in the powder, but it still holds the corners tight with the trail-width 42.5-inch stance on the AXYS front end.

Walker Evans compression-adjustable piggyback needle shocks will take the most gnarly bumps you can throw at them. Again, we tried! From big cornice drops to bouncing off tree stumps, these shocks take it. Compression adjustable piggybackers, minus the needle valve, are in the rear skid. From our experience, the performance of these shocks is fantastic, but longevity is not as good as some other mid- to high-grade shocks. Like any good shocks, they are fantastically fun until it is time for a rebuild.
2017 Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry X 800 snowmobile
It didn’t get many changes this year, but the Backcountry (in either the X or standard model) will still wow riders from the Northeast to the Northwest, in both the U.S. and Canada.
Kort Duce photo
From my own personal average rider standpoint, the two most important additional upgrades on this sled were the PowderTrac running boards and the LED headlights. Snow and ice buildup in the footwells on the old Assault were horrendous when you went off trail. The new boards arguably offer more than the advertised 43% better snow evacuation (more like 80% better when it comes to slippage due to less ice and better grip design). Also, the LED headlights are brighter, safer, and allow a wider range of vision at night.

Renegade Backcountry X: Waiting
Like many others, we were sad the Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry X did not get the new 850 motor. A sentiment is raging in all segments of the market for Ski-Doo fanatics. Naturally, any diehard Ski-Doo fan wants to see the 850 motor in their specific segment and sled. But logistically and strategically, that probably wasn’t possible or a smart move by Ski-Doo. The 850 is still a fairly limited build for 2017, and some decisions are made on which sleds get a motor and which do not. Also, manufacturers LOVE to have something “new and exciting” to announce the next model year! They don’t want to cash all the chips in on a single model year.

So, this sled got the BNG (Bold New Graphics) treatment. Last year, it was extended from a 137-inch FlexEdge  to a 146-inch Cobra FlexEdge track with 1.6-inch lugs and put into the REV-XM mountain chassis. The tMotion swivel rear-arm suspension with split front arm is also on this sled, which makes it more mountain-oriented with its ability to flex along the roll axis in order to initiate a carve or sidehill more easily. There was again a 2-inch lug track option for this spring ordered sled. Also, with all the leftover sleds from last year and the fact that this sled hasn’t changed should mean even better deals on a Backcountry X will be available.

Ski-Doo still hasn’t listened to our moaning about not having a quick-disconnect sway bar on this sled, but we are fans of the Pilot DS 2 mountain skis. We rode these skis on a Renegade X-RS this winter, and you would be surprised the places you can go and moves you can make with a 1.5-inch lug track on that sled. That said, the short-track Freeride fills much of this off-trail market segment space for Ski-Doo and DOES have a quick-disconnect sway bar. Still, at a starting price of almost $13,000 US for the Backcountry, it should have it. Honestly, all sleds in this 50/50 on-trail/off-trail segment should have quick-disconnect sway bar systems. Thinking as an advocate for consumers, not as an OEM product manager, I believe Polaris, Cat, and Yamaha are totally missing the boat here.

This sled is just as good as Ski-Doo promised last year, and we had a long-term test on our base-model demo sled in our October issue. We LOVE the REV-XP X seat! It’s comfy, grippy, just the right height, and matches the ergonomics perfectly for the right “feel” off-trail or on-trail.

Differences between the Backcountry X and the base model test sled include shocks, gauge (with engine temp on it) and handguards. On the X model, the HPG Plus R front shocks have rebound damping adjustability, and the KYB Pro 36 rear shock has easy Hi-Lo speed adjustment on a single knob to avoid confusion in shock settings. The center shock (HPG Plus) does not have quick adjust. These are fantastic shocks, and really they would be darn near race-quality shocks just a few years ago. There is also a race brake pad on the X, but the standard pad on the Brembo brakes with steel braided line works just fine. Having said all this, the standard Backcountry is still cheaper and works pretty much just as well as the X model, but we like the BNG orange look on the X, so maybe we are a little vain.
2017 Arctic Cat XF 9000 Cross Country Limited snowmobile
The rear rack on the Cross Country gives you space to add more accessory bags, a gas can, or whatever you need for the long haul or new adventure.
Kort Duce photo
Arctic Cat & Yamaha: Extreme turbo crossovers
The Cat XF 9000 Cross Country Limited is hair-on-fire fast! This sled boasts the most production horsepower sled engine in history, as well as a 137-inch Backcountry X track with new 1.75-inch staggered and arched lugs straight out of snocross. The Cross Country commands big power, but also big money! At $16,599, this is one of the most spendy production sleds ever made. Add taxes, shipping, setup, other dealer costs, and you are well over $17,000.

If you want a “deal,” then check out Yamaha’s Sidewinder X-TX 137 LE. The X-TX and the Cross Country are very comparable in the ever-increasing “enduro” segment. They’re basically twins with different manufacturer badges. Both have the same trail performance chassis (a 2-piece tapered ProCross design by Cat, called SRV by Yamaha), the same FOX ZERO 1.5 QS3  ski shocks and in the rear of the skid (front track shock is named differently for each). Yamaha lists 10 inches of front suspension travel versus 9 inches on the Cat, but that’s just measuring differences.

The Cross Country’s Slide-Action rear suspension is trail focused, and coupled with a sliding front arm that has been in use by Cat in some form for almost 15 years. Cat’s signature widely spaced A-arms (on the front of both sleds), along with the spindles and full front suspension, were bred in early versions by Cat’s snocross racing team before many recent college grads were even in high school. Both sleds have the 1.75-inch lug Backcountry track, mountain grab bar, etc.

Since the supply agreement between Cat and Yamaha began (Yamaha supplying 4-stroke engines to Cat in return for use of the Cat ProCross/ProClimb chassis), the differences between 4-stroke powered Cats and Yamahas have been clutches, skis/carbides, cosmetics, and calibration. These sleds (like all the comparable Sidewinder and 9000 models) run almost exactly the same top end speeds. Yamaha says its new YSRC roller clutch slightly upsized the new secondary to overshift and let the Sidewinder X-TX 137 LE “stretch its legs,” but the sled is still held back on the top end by gearing. There is A LOT of motor here!
2017 Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX LE 137 snowmobile
When you want pure track speed and a chassis built to take abuse, you turn your eyes to the Sidewinder. The X-TX is a 50/50 sled like no other Yamaha before it.
Kort Duce photo
However, these are crossover sleds, and they’re marketed to be able to go off-trail as much as on trail. Our experience with the Cross Country 9000 and the X-TX LE shows that they are capable off trail, but both are a lot of sled to muscle in deeper snow with just a 137-inch track. The solid wide front end (even at the narrower 42-inch setting) can be tougher to sidehill with its big 4-stroke engine. However, the Sidewinder sleds are dangerously close to convincing  off-trail riders that power can overcome weight, especially if you are talented rider.

This big 4-stroke motor is more comfortable either on the trail with a little less than the 1.75-inch lug track, or off trail with a longer 153-inch track … as in the Yamaha Sidewinder B-TX. We like the option of the 137- and 141-inch tracks, but with the balancing act of a big 4-stroke turbo, determining track length, rider positioning, and  suspension calibration are tough. We got both these sleds dialed in on our rides, and we even took the Cross Country 9000 off some double jumps to push the race suspension and see how the FOX Zero QS3 shocks really perform. These two big sleds can hit the off-trail rough and tumble just fine.

What is more important to us is how these sleds handle the everyday small- to medium-size bumps that seem to go on forever. Here and in the corners are where calibration of the shocks and skis really shine. Both sleds were predictable, flat, and precise in the corners over bumpy conditions. Overall, the Yamaha has a more plush feel and better command of the trail when responding to rider input in various snow conditions.

What we choose
For the money and overall on-trail and off-trail performance, I personally would be riding the Polaris Assault this year. For most, It’s a toss-up between this sled and the Backcountry X in the off-trail category. If we were to throw Cat’s 800 Cross Country in the mix too, it would still be between the Assault and Back-country for many of our riders.

If you have a little more coin and want a 4-stroke, then the Arctic Cat XF 9000 Cross Country or the Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX are both logical choices. Our nod goes to the Yamaha, but the Cat has the “cool factor” when it comes to looks and accessory options.
2017 crossover snowmobile specs Arctic Cat Polaris Ski-Doo Yamaha
LED lights are a must!
Many of us ride at night because we can see headlights and taillights more easily, but there’s no denying that it’s harder to see at night. Older riders have even more difficulty, because as we age, our pupils don’t dilate as much, and the cornea and lens get cloudier, making it seem as though there is a constant glare. Contrast sensitivity also declines, which means it can be tough to see animals or other obstacles at night. LED headlights, like those on the new Polaris AXYS sleds and the LED accessory light bar from Ski-Doo, produce a whiter light that penetrates farther than standard bulbs. LEDs also project light in all directions instead of just a single beam. Seeing those deer off to the side is extremely helpful! The Polaris LEDs in particular are 80% brighter than standard incandescent lights, will last the life of your sled, are lighter, more closely resemble natural light, and are always on, so there is no gap in vision that comes from switching from low to high beams.
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