Finally, for 2024 Arctic Cat is bringing their new platform to market. The Catalyst platform has been in the works for a very long time now. Patents were filed many years ago. It’s just taken this long for them to bring it to market. Some of it was due to the parent company doing the required house cleaning of what they bought and then we had that pesky thing called covid that slowed down the big wheels even more. That is all past us now and we can move forward.
We’ve ridden all of the Catalyst sleds, from trail to crossover to mountain. We have a ZR600 in our possession right now that we’ve got 2,000 miles on. We don’t know of anyone else, outside of the factory, that has put 2,000 miles on a Catalyst so far. What are they like to ride? We’ll make it easy for you. They might look more like a Ski-Doo but when you sit on one they feel more like a Polaris. That said, they are unmistakably an Arctic Cat in how they sound, how they ride, and how they handle.
Their handling is their strong suit, along with responsiveness. This is due to their continued refinement of mass centralization and their unique engine placement that only they have. Only Arctic Cat has engines with the intake and exhaust on the same side (front) of the engine. The empty air space on the chassis where the airbox sits on a Ski-Doo or Polaris is where Arctic Cat places some of the heavy mass of the fuel tank. This is a huge difference. True, Ski-Doo really got the whole mass centralization thing started back in 2003 with the REV but Arctic Cat has been making their sleds better with each new platform.
If there is one area we feel might not be up to what you’d expect it could be the rear suspension performance. Hey, they work good enough for the cross country racers to continue to win the big races so you know it works, but it doesn’t seem to have the broad performance window that the competition has. This is why we say Ski-Doo riders will be the tougher sell for the Catalyst. They know how wide of a calibration window their rMotion rear suspension has, how compliant it can be and how good the anti-bottoming is so they have high expectations. Meeting expectations is how you make people happy. This is why Lynx is seeing such success, their rear suspension exceeds riders’ expectations.
Enough of the comparisons, let’s take a closer look at what Arctic Cat has going here as it is truly exciting. When we get the big bore 858 motor next season all of this 600cc engine talk will be a complete non-issue. Truth be known, many riders will be way quicker on their 600cc Catalyst than most others will be on their 850cc sleds from the competition. Just wait until more cross country racers start running the Catalyst sleds and we see how they dominate, that should tell you all you need to know. Zach Herfindahl showed us what he could do on one in the Pro Open class at the end of the season last winter and it was impressive.
2,000 Mile Test Report
Our test sled is the ZR 600 in the 137” track length with the IFP shock package in black. We ran it bone stock other than the addition of our LinQ Fuel Caddy and Cargo Bag, made possible by mounting a LinQ adapter plate from Up North Technologies to the ATACH system holes in the tunnel. The ATACH system is little more than four screws holding two plastic plates onto the top of the tunnel. We wanted to be able to use our 3-gallon LinQ Fuel Caddy or Cargo Bag back there so we removed the ATACH plates and mounted our LinQ adapter plates. Problem solved. Up North now has adapter plates specifically for the Catalyst to allow even further forward mounting than what we were able to achieve with the adapter plate that we had on hand and shown in the photos here.
One of the first things you notice looking at the sled in real life is how small or short the seat is. This worried us, but riding it you just don’t notice it as being small or short. This surprised us. We’re tall guys and this was a pleasant surprise. It’s not as roomy as say a Polaris AXYS or Matryx but it was just as (if not more) comfortable than a Gen4 or Gen5 Ski-Doo. The seat was really a non-issue for our riders, if anything it allowed us to get wrapped around the front of it and rail around the corners. After riding It you do not have the feeling the seat is too firm, either.
The handling and cornering capability is what this sled does best. Back in March we proclaimed this was “the best handling, most agile and most responsive sled, ever”. We still believe this to be accurate. Like what the Gen4 Ski-Doo and Polaris Matryx did to their platforms, the Catalyst lets the rider get forward and into a position to better maintain control and simply rail around the corners. You notice a very light steering effort afforded by the progressive steering geometry, this is most noticeable and again impressive. We ran the stock skis simply because we wanted to evaluate the sled as delivered, but plan on switching over to a set of Straight Line Tracking skis from Starting Line Products to give us more bite and confident response.
All of the talk about mass centralization is for real. The sled responds very quickly and with minimal effort on your part. This is what makes riding the Catalyst so much fun. It does what you want it to without fighting it or having to muscle it. It is very responsive. But what might be the single best strength of the platform is the confidence it gives you as a rider. When you hop on it, the sled pretty much can handle anything you throw at it. It will do what you want it to. Push it a little harder and you are amazed at how well it performs. Even with the stock skis and wimpy wear bars it would rail around the corners. The more you rode it the more you trusted it and the more you liked it.
The rear suspension works well, but it feels more like a Polaris than a Ski-Doo. That should make sense to most of us. It’s not as broad of a window, but set up properly it can handle riders of varying weights with decent comfort and anti-bottoming. The 129” skid is the darling of the bunch, but our 137” gained our respect and again, our confidence. It’s like you don’t really notice it back there as you are so much more into the handling and responsiveness of the total package. Smaller, lighter, quicker, flickable, reactive, these are all adjectives that our riders would use after riding this sled. Never would they say heavy, sluggish, pushing, lifting, none of that. You have a flat cornering sled that does what you want it to and makes you feel like a better rider as you are having more fun and riding in more confidence. That right there pretty much says it all.
Yes, we had the 600 down to the bars quite a bit of the time but it sure was fun. It got the power to the ground quickly and efficiently, which we credit in part to the belt drive. You actually could tell it would spool up quicker, or at least we thought so. The time delay was reduced from throttle to traction, if that makes sense. We really do not believe this new version of the 600 makes any more power, it just makes better use of what it has. Truth is for most trail riders they will be plenty fast and capable with the 600. It’s quick for a 600, but it is still a 600, don’t be fooled into thinking it is going to perform like it is bigger than that.
We’re told the new 858 Stroker motor will weigh LESS than the 600, if you can believe that, but for going out and riding groomed trails at low elevation the 600 works great. We did feel the lack of power on any and all of the longer track models. Yes they are geared down so they work well, but only up to a certain speed then you run out of torque to carry you further.
OK, what didn’t we like? Not much. The fuel tank is pretty small as we suck it dry in a hurry, thus our desire to carry extra fuel for where we ride. The low windshield is worthless but can be easily replaced, which we did once they became available. We will be running this exact same sled this coming winter. Fine by us as it gives us an even better feel for the long term durability, quality and reliability. The only true issue we had with this sled was the gauge would shut off completely and go blank for several miles at a time, then come back on. We do not know the exact cause right now but will keep you informed as we troubleshoot it to resolution.
With 2,000 miles on this machine we do plan on doing a quick refresh, going through the clutches and refresh the shocks so we have the best possible experience this winter as well. This is an IFP sled at all four corners so we’re going to try to get our hands on a clicker shock for the rear track position to give us some adjustability for varying conditions and different riders. Not that the stock shock was bad, but adjustability is always better. We were very pleased with the overall suspension calibration for trail riding, even with 250 pound riders, but we weren’t jumping with it or doing snocross style mogul bashing either. We rode it like the trail sled it is with this suspension package and were very happy with the calibration as delivered.
We believe riders lucky enough to get one of these sleds this year will be pleased with the performance and overall package. We were, as this sled actually exceeded our expectations. Even after riding various Catalyst sleds for several days, when we got this sled and rode it on the trails we know and ran it hard for days and weeks it continued to impress each and every one of our riders. It’s still got two skis and a track but a very good rendition of the formula. Make no mistake, the Catalyst puts Arctic Cat back into the game in a big way. Naysayers who are waiting for more power will have their desires put to rest here quickly with the 858 package now being offered for 2025. It’s been a long wait, but sometimes the wait is truly worth it. Congratulations Arctic Cat!