Normally it goes something like this. You really like how fast and easy to maneuver (throw around) your Firecat is, but you sure would...

Normally it goes something like this. You really like how fast and easy to maneuver (throw around) your Firecat is, but you sure would like to have reverse. And being able to carry a bunch of gear would be nice. If the suspension was a bit smoother, that wouldn’t be bad either. A taller windshield for those cold January riders would also be nice, and maybe the mirrors are a want. Maybe not.

But you’re not going to give up one ounce of power or torque. Nope. You still want the thing to rip when you get into it. And have fun doing it.

Thus the Sabercats. The Sabercat provides Arctic Cat riders with the engine performance of a Firecat, but with a seating position that is more traditional and a suspension calibration that is more comfortable. Numerous bells and whistles make the Sabercats more comfort sleds than their Firecat brothers; things like electric start, reverse, mirrors, and a huge removable storage compartment at the rear of the seat! Most obvious is the position sensitive rear track shock that deliver a super-cushy comfy ride in trail chop, yet is surprisingly capable in rough trail conditions. It transfers weight well, rides good, and the handling remains quick to react, almost an extension of your body, making you think you are such a good rider.

Sabercats come in many sizes and versions; the value-priced Sabercat 500 EFI comes with a position-sensitive rear track shock and a high windshield while the LX models add electric start, reverse and mirrors. There’s also a 700 EXT with a longer 144” track length for added stability, flotation and ride quality as well as added cargo capacity.

They boast many unique innovations, ranging from the first laydown engines with centralized mass to the narrower tunnel and tracks for weight reductions to their sixth version of their A-arm front suspension (while others are on their first and second versions), to the cold air intake in front of the windshield. Sabercat models also feature the Arctic Cat exclusive ACT Quiet Track feature where “wedges” are molded into the track belting to reduce track noise and vibration caused by the idler wheels dropping into the valleys and rolling over the internal track reinforcement rods. It is a subtle, yet measurable and noticeable improvement.

The Sabercat models are relatively unchanged for 2006, with the biggest difference being in the 500 and 600 class engines. Engine options this season include an EFI-enhanced price-point 80 horsepower 500 (non-APV), a revised 118 horse screamer 600 EFI II, and the world-famous lay-down 700 Firecat engine with an incredible 140 (OK, 137) horsepower. Most everybody should be familiar with the Arctic Cat 700 engine by now, as it redefined the 700 class in terms of power and acceleration. The laydown design places the engine mass as far down and back as physically possible for a low center of gravity and centralized mass.

This is where much of the agility and responsiveness comes from. The intake is at the front of the hood, allowing cold air to be drawn into the engine for even more power.

While the 600 and 700 engines are the same as found in the Firecats, this 500 is not the same engine. Firecat 500s have a tricked-out 105 HP mill where this one is aimed at price and fuel economy. This is a non-powervalve 500, designed for economy; fuel and pocketbook. It produces a respectable 80 HP, making it well suited for less experienced riders or those who don’t need to break the speed limit to have fun. This brings the benefits of a light throttle pull, reduced emissions and improved fuel economy to this segment. This engine package was highly requested by Arctic Cat dealers and consumers.

It is with the 600 class that we find another enhanced engine package for 2006, the “600 EFI II”. This “next generation” throttle body fuel injected two-stroke adds the Arctic Cat EPTS (exhaust pipe temperature sensor) to the ECU inputs, providing tighter control over the engine’s operating variables. Carbon monoxide emissions are reduced by 25% with this engine package, as the ignition timing is the main element that is varied with this new input. Cold driveaway characteristics are also improved, as the ECU compensates for the lower exhaust temperatures. Acceleration is also enhanced in most situations, and definitely more consistent across the board. This is, for the most part, the same EPTS system that has been featured on various 440 race engines and the carbed 500 for the past few seasons, initially used for performance benefits, but now tapped for the emissions gains as well.

All Sabercats feature Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) that provides easy throttle pull, something some riders would never give up. It starts religiously on the first or second pull, and automatically adjusts for all environmental issues with the exception of bad gas, this due to the lack of a knock sensor.

Ride Impressions

While the Sabercat models have added convenience features, the basic performance difference between them and the Firecats is the suspension calibrations. Firecats offer a taller “SnoPro” calibration and a lower cg “Standard” calibration, so the actual difference between a Standard Firecat and a Sabercat is less than you’d suspect. The position sensitive rear track shock adds to the comfort and compliance, but does make a Sabercat less capable of all-out high-speed duty. You’re going to have to really push a Sabercat hard to find the limits of where a Standard Firecat is going to do better. Keep it on the trail and it’s at home, air it out along a ditchline and you’ll discover the difference from a Firecat.

Big riders really like the seat; it’s not cramped, there’s plenty of room to move around and do your own thing. The Sabercat seats you a bit lower and back, where the Firecat (standard) brings you forward and up slightly, the Sno Pro a bit more so, and the Crossfire (M-Series chassis) brings you even higher and further forward yet. The handlebars are an extension of your arms, but many riders find them to be too low so consider a riser block. The gauge is large and easy to read, even at warp speed, with big digits.

Sometimes it’s the other features that make riders go for the Sabercat. Think of it as a Firecat with extras that make it better suited for logging thousands of miles. Since the Firecats added the ACT Diamond Drive gearbox, reverse isn’t even an option unless you find one of the oddball chaincase (& reverse) equipped Firecats, something a number of riders simply will not do without. The taller windshield and awesome rear storage compartment are also trail-rider delights, far better suited for those day trips and safaris that require extra gear to be carried. This is one of the best cargo boxes offered, as it comes off quickly so you can carry the whole thing inside instead of having to pack and unpack it out in the cold. The seat also pops off with two clips (unlike the Firecat) with belt and plug storage underneath and ease of drying out.

The ride quality is as good as you’ll find in the Cat line-up (for this track length). Transfer is controlled, yet adequate, and in the bumps you feel the travel stroking and working. If anything, the front arm seems to bottom more than it does on other brands. The handling is as aggressive as the carbides you put on it (and skis). Box-stock the runners are docile, with light steering effort. Better runners make it more responsive. Better yet, a set of Starting Line Straight Line Tracking skis are a nice match.

With the addition of the outside idlers in 2005, there seems to be no lack of stability with the narrow 13.5” track. This remains a unique feature that aids acceleration and lightweight flickability, something Cats are so well known for. Less rotating mass to accelerate, quicker pulls. On packed trails, no problem, but pushed to the limits of deep snow performance and the missing width is noticed.

Turning radius is also an issue; good thing you have reverse, because the combination of the 128” track length and how far the skis crank keeps it from quick turn arounds in tight quarters.

We logged nearly 3,000 miles on our Sabercat 700 LX last season. We installed bar risers (the stock handlebars really are quite low) and SLP skis (we don’t care for the staggered dual-carbides) and aluminum cam adjusters (the stock plastic ones are total garbage if you adjust them with any frequency). It never fouled a plug, never blew a drive belt, and other than having a bracket for the battery come loose it was very reliable. The high windshield, rocket ship performance and exceptional ride quality make it a favorite among our test riders for trail riding. The mirrors remind us how nice it is to not have to spin your head around to see if there’s anyone behind you. The storage compartment gets an “A+” for trail sleds, we can carry extra oil, water bottles, dang near everything you’d ever want to bring with you. The reverse gear was not as simple and as light as the PERC or RER systems, but it performed flawlessly and was as smooth as any mechanical unit we’ve ever experienced. The noise level was OK, but not as quiet as the Ski-Doos or Yamahas.

The 2006 Sabercat 500 EFI goes for an incredible $6,199. The Sabercat 500 LX (electric start, reverse & mirrors) lists for $6,899. The Sabercat 600 EFI LX goes for $8,499, but we’re talking 40 more HP! The Sabercat 700 EFI LX goes for $9,199, and the 700 EFI EXT (144”) goes for $9,399. The 500 and 700 EXT only come in black, while the LX models are all offered in black, red and green; of course.

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