For those of you who’ve been around snowmobiling, and more specifically snowmobile racing, you will likely remember the second coming of the glory days of cross-country racing. During the late 1980s and more specifically the early to mid 90s, cross-country racing was king. Each fall the manufacturers would unveil their latest terrain weapon during an annual race school event and you could rest assured the sled would be dripping with the latest in technology all in an effort to reign supreme over the competition.
During that time, Polaris stood tall with the venerable Indy XCR, often doing battle in later years with their archrival – Arctic Cat and their own terrain champion designed ZR series. But the XCR came first, showing face in 1991 as the XC 400 (which in reality had a potent piston port 440 under the hood), followed by the 1992 season debut of the XCR 440; a sled ready to deliver a knock-out punch…and it did. Dubbed the “Red Rocket” the little 440 continues to hold a place in the hearts of Polaris faithful.
So what does this brief history lesson have to do with the 2017 lineup from Polaris you ask? Simple…the Red Rocket is back and it signifies the most significant news for Polaris trail bombers for the coming season. Dressed in red and emblazoned with the now iconic XCR nomenclature down both side panels, the new red rocket is a bonafide cross-country sled from tip to tail.
The 2017 XCR comes in both 600 and 800 power options, yet it’s the suspension and chassis upgrades setting this sled apart from both the Rush Pro-S and Pro-X siblings. The XCR is a hybrid of sorts, with a ride height and suspension that mirrors the lower and better corner carving traits of the Pro-S. From there however things get serious as the XCR is infused with race-ready goodies that were developed and tested on the United States X-Country (USXC) circuit over the past two seasons. Goodies include reinforced rail beams, a solid hardened jackshaft, chromoly rear suspension rear pivot and front torque arm, solid rear axle wheels, improved braking system with race pads and rotors along with a hood mounted scoop for added cooling.
Yet all this strengthened suspension and chassis bits and pieces will be overshadowed by the premium Walker Evans shocks found at all four locations. The front shocks along with the rear arm shock feature both high and low speed compression adjustments while the front arm shock touts an oversized 2-inch body Walker unit that can withstand more heat for less shock fade thanks to its added oil volume. All four units are calibrated for out of the box cross-country racing applications…in other words they are stiff as you know what.
Make no mistake the XCR is a true high-performance, attack the trail kind of sled. The lower Pro-S ride height gives it improved cornering over the big-bump Pro-X, yet it has the components to tackle rough terrain even better.
After throwing a leg over the XCR this past spring, each of our riders agreed…this is a serious sled for the “one-percenters”. Suspension calibrations are extremely stiff, even when backing-off all low-speed compression adjustments to the softest setting. Frankly we feel the entire range of calibration could be shifted towards a softer range and still satisfy nearly every rider who will pilot the XCR next season…even weekend racers who are looking for a sled to race on Saturday and trail ride on Sunday. Of course these were early calibrations and we will check in with Polaris later this summer to see where final production settings landed.
THE ASSAULT YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR – The transition to the much lighter and stouter AXYS chassis has been a major factor in the success of Polaris in both the RMK and second generation Pro-XC suspended Rush/Switchback models. The cast aluminum bulkhead not only eliminates fasteners and welds, but it ensures consistent geometry in suspension, engine and drivetrain mounts. Perhaps even more importantly, the cast bulkhead was engineered for the more formidable and quicker revving 800HO engine.
Over the past few seasons the versatile Switchback Assault has been one of the best selling sleds in the Polaris arsenal, aside from the RMK. The sled has resonated with a new breed of riders who truly crave both on-trail rallying and off-trail shenanigans and the Assault has proven to excel in both arenas. Yet, while other segments enjoyed the new power of the 800HO, Assault faithful had to settle for the older 800 and earlier generation RMK chassis…until now.
Finally the Assault has made the switch to the AXYS chassis complete with the 800HO engine and all the other goodness that comes with it including better balance, LED headlights, interactive LED gauge and a long list of integrated accessories. In total four new Assault models are on tap for 2017 including a dead sexy Limited Edition 800 LE version and a price-point 600 SP model that will be more trail focused than other Assault models.
Along with the move to AXYS, other new features for 2017 include a new Pro Taper handlebar with curved ends thereby eliminating those goofy plastic hooked bar ends found on Pro Taper bars of old. Even bigger news can be found under the tunnel where a new suspension dubbed the IGX takes up residence. According to Polaris the previous suspension had “a lot of old RMK technology in there” and the new design has increased front arm travel by 43% thanks to the use of the same torque arm used in the Pro-XC Rush and Switchback models. Also employed on the new Assault models are new PowderTrac hybrid running boards touting huge snow evacuation holes, oodles of foot traction, and are tailored for both on and off trail riding versus those used by 2017 RMK models.
Our spring sampling of the new Assault models left of with the impression that this very well could be the best sled in the Polaris line for 2017. In many ways the suspension calibrations were better than the Pro-XC suspended sleds, especially in hard edge trail chop where the Pro-XC still struggles when calibrated for optimum ride in other conditions. The new AXYS mounted Assault was more balanced and just delivered a better overall ride that was competent and assured no matter where we pointed it.
For sure the longer track length (144-inches) and taller lug track (you can choose between 1.35” Cobra or 2” track options depending upon model), the Assault won’t hone a twisted trail as well as a short track Rush, nor will it deliver the same level of comfort and confidence in big whooped trails. But those shortcoming aside it’s hard to argue on just how versatile this sled is, making it the easy choice for many Polaris faithful looking for that one sled that can run trails on Sunday and still hit the powder in Michigan or Montana.
THE RMK GOES BIG – It’s no secret Polaris has been on the gas in the mountain segment…in fact everyone has. The deep and consistent snow found to the west has whet the appetites of sledders across the snowbelt and the manufacturers have been leading them there with an infusion of technology not seen in the industry since the 1990s when long travel suspensions swept across the snow pack.
The Polaris RMK has been one of those key models leading this charge and the segment is so hot riders have been gobbling up these long track specialty buggies in places far outside the steep granite rocks of western North America. In fact, Polaris told us one of the biggest areas for their RMK sleds outside of the west has been the east coast where riders are looking to venture off-trail in areas where lake effect snows dump white gold measured in feet versus inches.
For 2017 much of the RMK line-up returns with subtle refinements, but continued pressure from other OEMs in this segment, most notable of which being the Ski-Doo Summit, means no one can take a year off. With that Polaris dropped an unsuspecting bombshell on many of us would be media experts this past January when the pulled the wraps of a massive 174-inch Pro-RMK. The new RMK is not just longer, but also features a whopping 3-inch paddle track.
The new 174 model is developed specifically for those super deep powder days, when the snow flows over the hood and flotation is king. Unlike other RMK models, the 174 features a chaincase drive system versus the open cog belt Quick Drive. Despite the added track length and drivetrain weight, the new RMK should tip the scales at a claimed 442-pounds. Our trio of mountain riders who hail from northern Idaho spent a day on the new RMK 174 and raved about its traction and instant “pop” atop the snow. Unfortunately spring snow conditions prevented us from truly gauging the new RMK’s abilities, but rest assured our western kids will have a full report in an upcoming early fall issue of OSM.
Polaris was quick to point out that the new 174 isn’t just a longer version of their current RMK. According to their ace deep snow engineer Marty Sampson, a lot of work went into making the longer RMK ride and react similarly to their 155 and 163-inch offerings.
“We found when you just add track length, the longer track tends to push the front of the sled down into the snow when not on the gas,” Marty said. “To get away from that feeling and to give this sled a more nimble and shorter feel we in essence rotated the chassis around the front arm…we moved the rear arm back, shortened the ratio and put in a softer spring…with those changes and few other tweaks you don’t even know it’s a 174 in most situations. It’s just really fun to drive.”