The new 800 DSI engine is an excellent motor in every regard. Power up top indeed seems to every bit as strong as our beloved Suzuki 800, with quicker responding pick-up at partial throttle settings through the low end and midrange, in addition to improved fuel mileage and reduced oil consumption. That said, it took over 800 miles for the engine to break in and make full power.
It is kind of funny at times how things go full circle. My heart has always been with Arctic Cat, but in the years of late they did not offer the ride I was looking for. I remember my ‘99 Powder Special with a 136” long 1” lug track. At that time we thought we could go anywhere with the deep lug long track. From there I went to a 2001 Mountain Cat 800 LE with 144” 1.25 track. To this day that still sets my personal bench mark for a true crossover sled. Since then I have built many crossover sleds by re-tracking, gearing, clutching and skis, for almost two decades. I guess what I am saying is that I focused my riding on the crossover segment which, to my delight, is exploding. With all of my attention being focused on the crossover segment I have kind of ignored the trail sleds until I was assigned by SnowTech to give the new ZR 8000 a try. I have been fortunate to be able to ride and evaluate many different sleds with them for a number of years, but I somewhat unexpectedly fell in love with this ZR 8000. I managed to put approximately 1,100 miles on it in just a couple of great weekends. This is after a couple of our other test riders logged the first 750 miles on it in three days of riding the Keweenaw Peninsula. Here is what I learned.
The New Motor
I have always been a big fan of the old Suzuki 800 because of the durability. It was not overly clean or efficient, but it did make good power that you could run the hell out of. So the new motor had to fill big shoes in my eyes and at the end of the day it did just that. In the beginning it seemed a little down on power and fell short on the big end. As the miles came on so did the power, it was very deceiving because of how smooth the power delivery is. It took well over 800 miles for the engine to break-in and make full power.
The new 8000-series Arctic Cat C-TEC2 engine delivers a stronger low-end and mid-range thanks to its new APV exhaust valves featuring 3-stage control of all exhaust ports. An electronic oil pump delivers reduced oil consumption, complementing the reduced fuel consumption and cleaner emissions from Dual-Stage Injection.
I don’t know if it is new clutching or the fuel mapping or how the powerband is, but the power delivery is very linear, almost electric motor like. It is almost sneaky in a way, in that you might not realize how hard it is actually pulling. Power up top indeed seems to every bit as strong as our beloved Suzuki 800, with quicker responding pick-up at partial throttle settings through the low end and midrange. This is where you will notice the new engine the most, with much crisper and responsive throttle response.
The running quality of the new engine was also exceptional. This was a different winter, as some of the days riding it was 57 degrees and the next ride it was down towards zero degrees. Point is, the new 800 never missed a beat!
Being more of a crossover rider I have been spoiled with piggy back fully adjustable shocks on most of my sleds. One of the reasons I may have not been a Cat rider as of late is I was never a huge fan of FLOAT (air spring) shocks, so I was happy to see the Fox Zero Pros on the sled. Even though the only damping adjustment was on the front shocks the calibration was way better than I expected. The ski shocks stroked out real well and no matter how aggressive I hit the bumps the front end took it with ease. The bump steer was also nonexistent as a rough corner was very easy on the shoulders and the sled held its line.
The steering is so light and consistent that it was like “cheating” because of how easy the sled was to ride. With the Ripsaw II track, ski lift was non-existent.
The rear skid is coupled with the slide action front arm and torque sensing link. This skid has been out for years but I have a new found respect for it. It may not be the plushest ride but works well over a broad range. I could run a whooped out corner harder than I should and it tracked straight and never gave me the spine jarring g- bump problem. It was nice to go back to a coupled skid. My biggest problem I seem to have is when the front arm is working alone I always bottom it out, but on this coupled skid it is very difficult to do so!
If I had one word to describe the handling it would be “effortless”. One of the trips we went on was a 420 mile saddle bag trip where the longest straight stretch was about a mile. That trip, the conditions went from epic to mashed potatoes. The steering is so light and consistent that the other people in my group called it cheating because of how easy this sled was to drive. Due to the Ripsaw II lug design on the track, ski lift was non-existent. It would be scary to see what a pair of Starting Line’s SLT skis would do to this sled. And with the aggressive gearing the corner to corner speed would make this a very hard sled to catch. I also noticed with this track that the braking was amazing, you could methodically brake hard into a corner and slide partially thorough it and accelerate out. It was fun.
Next Gen bodywork provides increased airflow to the engine, improved fit and finish, easy on/off body panels and distinctive Arctic Cat styling.
Everyone’s opinion of this term can be different. I am 6’2” and I like to stand when I ride. I have loved the adjustable bars on my old HCR’s and installed them on different Ski-Doo’s. I found on the ZR I was comfortable with the stock riser, sitting or standing. By riding many different sleds one begins to realize how import a good seat can be. The seat becomes an integral part of the suspension and they did a good job on this one. In 2018 Arctic Cat gave the Procross platform a “plastic” makeover like Ski- Doo did when they went from the XP to the XS. At first it appeared to be just for aesthetics but I found it to be a huge improvement giving your knees a place to lock into. It is a subtle change but I found my legs weren’t constantly being forced apart like in the old chassis.
There are a couple things I noticed over time that are small downfalls, none of them would be a deal breaker. On one of the warmer days it was crazy how wet I was all day. Thank God for GoreTex, the snow chunks were passing me up and as I stood when riding my seat was continually wet. They have accessory snow-skirts to help with this, sure needed them. And I realize that having the oil tank play double duty as a reservoir and chain case cover saves weight but there are two reasons I don’t like this. One, it is hard to know how much oil is in it (quick visual) and I like to inspect my chain at the beginning of every season. I would think having to worry about disconnecting the oil lines would be a pain to get at the chain.
Another issue was with the new dimpled hand grips. They are too aggressive for me, most days I just wear a light pair of gloves and on one trip I wore a hole through them. A quick wrap of surgical tape on the grips to take the edge off the dimples and it was fixed.
The 2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137” is an excellent snowmobile, very easy to ride. The new engine is more responsive and uses less fuel and oil, with a new primary clutch that automatically adjusts for belt wear. New body panels give it a fresh look, with improved ergonomics.
Overall, as I said earlier, this was a very easy sled to drive. It is an excellent snowmobile for most anyone out riding trails, with decent fresh snow performance. At times I may have looked past Arctic Cat, but I remember the old marketing saying, “The Cat is back”. I know they never went away, but if you haven’t owned an Arctic Cat in a while and you are a Cat guy at heart, don’t be afraid to give this one a try.
By Karl Lueck – SnowTech Test Rider