For the past few years, the lines have blurred as to what is a “trail” sled, what is a “mountain” sled and now what is a “crossover” sled. The differences between a crossover sled and the trail segment is pretty much a matter of track length and lug height, and when we get to how a crossover sled differs from a mountain sled it is once again in track length and lug height. Basically.
Arctic Cat has the most extensive line-up of crossover sleds, ranging from 136” track lengths with lower lug heights to 141” track lengths and taller lug heights. They now offer eight distinct XF models, with 28 different versions if we count engine sizes. Generally, the “trail” oriented options have wider front ends, lower lug tracks and more features in common with their ZR counterparts, where the deeper snow longer track models have narrower front ends and more features in common with their M-series counterparts.
Which brings us to the XF High Country. Just a few short years ago a sled like this would have been considered an all-out mountain sled, but in these days of extreme everything a sled with a 141” track length and deep lugs is now becoming wildly popular.
The 2015 XF High Country models blend back-country boondocking and high-performance cross-country riding. Its strength in the mountains is the result of the key mountain-specific components, including: 15 x 141 x 2.25- in. PowerClaw track: stand-up-oriented Vertical Steering Post; taller Mountain seat; adjustable telescoping handlebar combo (2-stroke models); and a 6” wide Mountain ski.
For 2015 the 40-41-in. ski stance is now narrower by 2 inches and reflects more emphasis on back-country riding. When it comes to riding the trails the High Country will run with the best of them thanks to its swaybar-equipped Arctic Race Suspension. With the FOX FLOAT 3 on the ARS front and FOX FLOAT 3 shock on the rear arm of the FasTrack skidframe, there’s no worries when you hit the big bumps.
Riders who want premium customization can opt for the High Country Limited which comes with a goggle bag, rear storage bag, ProClimb front bumper and electric start.
Now for the hard part – how much power, and will it be 2-stroke or 4-stroke. As always, this comes down to engine durability/longevity vs. weight. The 4-stroke engines are going to be more durable over the long haul, but they are heavier. The 2-strokes are lighter, more agile and easier to maneuver, as well as easier to dig out when you get stuck, but they just simply do not last for as many miles or hours of operation. 2-Strokes have a narrower powerband, 4-strokes have a wider powerband. And for some, the 9000-Series turbo engine offers the ultimate in convenience, as it produces the same power at all elevations so you do not need to change the clutching or gearing set-up if you should decide to ride at a different elevation. The 6000, 7000 & 8000 series engines will all require changes to the clutching and gearing with significant changes in riding elevation.
From a peak power perspective, the (new to the XF models for 2015) 6000 Series 600cc 2-stroke is rated at about 125 HP, but remember this is at low elevation. As is the 135 HP from the 7000 Series Yamaha-built engine (1049cc triple 4-stroke) and of course the 8000 Series 800cc 2-stroke, good for right about 160 HP. These number are all at low elevation. Generally we figure a power loss of about 3% per 1,000 foot elevation change, which figures out to about 24% power loss at 8,000 foot riding elevation. Your 600 2-stroke is only making something like 95 HP; the Yamaha triple is making more like 103 HP; and the big 800 2-stroke is good for about 122 HP. And the Turbo 9000? It is cranking out right about 180 HP, everywhere. High, low, and everything in between. Remember these are generalizations, but you should get the idea of how power numbers are really dependent on what elevation you are riding at.
As stated earlier, the ski stance on the XF High Country models has been narrowed 2 inches to 40-41-in. for easier side-hill maneuverability and carving. This makes it easier to get the sled to tip up, or lift up when you are sidehilling, especially since you still have a sway bar in the front end. The trade-off is that it isn’t quite as planted in the front on a flat trail, but the trade-off is appropriate for the sled and its character.
Another change for 2105 is how the idler wheel blocks on the rear suspension are now made from magnesium instead of aluminum and feature 6mm fasteners for reduced weight. Minor, but when you are trimming ounces here and ounces there it all does add up to a lighter, more responsive machine.
In the clutching we now find a new driven shaft assembly with a larger diameter, using a snap-ring bearing mount instead of a taper-lock bearing for improved durability and serviceability.
One of the complaints we have had with the 141” rear suspension for the past few years has been with the ride quality, or the lack of. Arctic Cat has responded to these concerns with new bleed shim valving in all three FOX FLOAT 3 shocks for improved comfort and control in bumps and on trails. When we rode the 2015 pre-production sleds these changes were evident and most appreciated, adding suspension compliance through the trail chop and making a pleasant improvement to the ride comfort.
When it comes to changing the preload in the FOX FLOAT 3 shock on the rear arm, it now has a side port air fill location so it is easier to get at with your air pump. At least when it is dry and in the garage. It is still a pain to make changes out on the snow, as you have to clear away whatever ice or snow is around the fill valve, but at least it is now easier to get the pump attached for easier calibration.
Unless you are riding in crazy deep fresh snow on a regular basis, a sled like the High Country will work better across a wider range of conditions. That is the essence of a crossover, able to work well in a wider set of conditions. Longer tracks are great for when the snow is bottomless, but for the rest of the time the shorter track High Country is going to be more versatile, more agile, able to maintain a higher track speed, and far better when the snow isn’t fresh and deep. AND it will be more fun running forest roads and yes, down the trail. If that matters. For some of us it does. Having a sled that works good almost every day instead of being the best on a single day makes sense. That is exactly why Arctic Cat has so many XF models for 2015, because we all ride differently. The XF High Country has the right blend of mountain capability with suspension and handling that give it such broad appeal. If you are a crossover rider who goes deep when the powder falls and demands the deeper lug track of a mountain sled, the XF High Country is ideal for you.
From the September 2014 Issue of SnowTech Magazine (Aug 2014)
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