By Dustin Pancheri – SnowTech Western Test Staff
2018 came early for those of us waiting to see what Arctic Cat had coming down the pipe line. In fact, it came just as the 2017 calendar year was getting started but we aren’t complaining….who wants to wait to find out, let alone purchase the latest and greatest? Yep, you read that right….the new 2018 M 8000 with the all new USA built CTEC2 motor is available in dealerships now!
Arctic Cat has already been using a version of the CTEC2 motor in the 6000 series machines so we are familiar with the technology Arctic Cat is using here but the 8000 series motor benefits from what Cat has learned and incorporated a few improvements.
The motor is still a lay-down style engine like the previous Suzuki version with the Exhaust and intake positioned on the front side of the motor. Bore and stroke remain at 85mm x 70mm but that is where most similarities end. Unlike the previous 4 sparkplug design, a new head utilizes the more conventional single plug per cylinder system and the combustion chamber shape is completely new. A new exhaust valve system has some resemblance to the previous version utilizing a traditional guillotine style main exhaust port but Cat is now controlling the boost ports as well with rotary style cutaway valves that are mechanically connected to the main valve and open simultaneously. The ECU utilizes one of several maps to place the valves in one of the 3 available positions to create a seamless transition and smooth power delivery.
Intake air is fed through larger 50mm throttle bodies connected to “w” style (think V-force style) reed cages. Fuel is no longer injected into the throttle bodies but rather a semi-direct intake port injection system located on the opposite side of the cylinder (single injector per cylinder). Oil is also injected into the fuel rail allowing oil and fuel to be injected into the top end simultaneously. We are not aware of any other manufacturer injecting oil into the fuel rail, so this is a unique feature to Arctic Cat.
Although other manufacturers have used semi-direct injection, none have used what Arctic Cat calls Dual-Stage Injection (DSI). Here is how it is unique: The piston has a slot cut into the skirt directly in front of the intake transfer port which allows the injector to deliver the fuel/oil mixture at any point in the stroke.
The two stages are as follows:
1) The ECU can control the injectors to deliver the fuel/oil mixture based off piston location. If the mixture is delivered when the piston is below the injector, the result is cleaner emission through the lower cruising throttle positions than compared to the previous throttle body injection system.
2) When the injectors are allowed to deliver fuel/oil through a longer part of the piston travel, the mixture of fuel and oil will also spray to the underside of the piston and will be directed at all of the moving top end parts. This will make for better lubrication and cooling which can also make for improved power.
An electronic oil pump mounted to the bottom of the oil reservoir replaces the previous mechanical unit that was mounted to the crank case and gear driven off the crankshaft. The ECU controls the new oil pump and uses several imputes such as throttle position and RPM to determine how much oil the injection system needs to deliver. Not only is oil injected into the fuel rail, it is also injected into the bottom end to help lubricate the crankshaft. Arctic Cat claims a 30% reduction in oil consumption below 7000 RPM. Less oil consumption is always a welcome improvement. The previous Suzuki 800 is known for being very reliable and Arctic Cat claims the new lubrication system improves on what was already a good system.
A new ECU with a quicker processor was required to help support the added functions of the motor and injection system. The number of flywheel pickups was increased to help feed more accurate crank position information to the ECU.
Arctic Cat matched the new motor to a new tuned pipe and stainless steel Y-pipe while utilizing the same stainless steel silencer as the 2016 machine. Optimum engine RPM for best performance is 8200-8250 RPM with peak engine horsepower landing slightly higher than its Suzuki predecessor. The real gain is in the midrange where power is increased as much as 8 horse power and torque was increased by 18%. Bottom end torque is much better with a claimed 36% increase over the previous motor.
A new Team Rapid Response II Drive clutch uses an idler bearing on the main shaft in the area where the belt typically rides at idle. This allows the belt deflection to be run under full tension at all times requiring no adjustment as the belt wears. This provides a 12.5% lower starting ratio that results in a smother engagement and reduced belt wear at lower speeds. This design has been used in the UTV industry for many years but Arctic Cat was the first to use it on a snowmobile last year on the 9000-Series models and now it is being adopted to 8000 motors.
Arctic Cat was able to shave weight off the new machine in several areas. The new engine cases are lighter with total engine weight coming in slightly less than the previous version. A new hollow jack shaft is 2 pounds lighter while the new brake system (rotor, caliper and pads) are 1.5 pounds lighter. A new compression molded composite steering support is .8 pounds lighter. A thinner gauge aluminum on the rear tunnel section combined with strategic cutouts in the front tunnel section result in a loss of 2 pounds. Total weight savings is around 6 ½ pounds.
The 2018 M 8000 also benefits from many changes to the chassis that result in a much narrower package and some of the changes mimic the 2017 Mountain Cat. The front portion of the running boards are 1 inch narrower per side for a total of 2 inches narrower overall. The clutch cover and oil tank have been narrowed allowing the side panels to be tucked in a total of 4 inches. The all new panels feature a new mounting system that is much quicker and easier to secure. The panels form a smoother, narrower line from front to back allowing the machine to slide through the snow on its side with less effort. The machine can be leaned over farther before the machine “pans out” in the snow. This means that it can handle steeper angles without lifting the track or catching body parts.
The driveshaft has been located 1” lower and 3/4” farther back (same position as the 2017 Mountain Cat) resulting in a much flatter approach angle compared the 2017 M 8000. This allowed the use of 8-tooth track drive sprockets vs the 7-tooth that was previously used. The larger sprocket provides more surface area for the driver to contact and drive the track. The larger diameter also reduces rolling resistance. The new lower drive shaft position allows the use of the 3” tall track lugs even with the 8-tooth drive sprockets.
The 2018 Cat receives new shocks to improve ride quality, especially in the initial part if the shock travel. Front ski shocks received increased air volume and new valving while the rear track shock received an inch in length and new valving to accommodate the length.
The first thing we noticed and the biggest improvement (in our opinion) is how much narrower this machine feels and looks. Just standing on the machine and looking over the nose made us realize how much Arctic cat had narrowed the chassis. The narrower chassis allowed us to lean the machine farther into the snow which enabled us to make tighter turns and hold steeper hills with less effort. The panels are smooth with no sharp edges which prevents chassis drag when on its side or in deep snow conditions. This is a big improvement over the previous chassis because anything that helps us use less energy allows us to ride longer and have a better experience. We also liked the sculpted knee area on the rear side of the side panels. This helps keep the rider centered during downhill descents preventing the panels from splitting the rider’s knees apart.
The new panels and hood are much easier to remove and install taking literally only a few seconds for both processes. The panels are fastened with plastic 1/4 turn knobs the line up with slots in the hood and are easy to find and operate even while wearing thick gloves. The hood can be removed my removing two 1/4 turn Zeus connectors and one forward facing bolt located in the lower front of the nose.
The lower driveshaft location helped the machine get on top of the snow faster than the previous M 8000. Some machines require carful throttle imput to prevent trenching but the new driveshaft location and approach angle makes the rider’s throttle control less critical.
The best way to describe the new CTEC2 is that it still feels like the Suzuki 800 motor but with much better bottom to mid-range mannerisms which is impressive considering the new engine has larger throttle bodies. Power delivery is smooth and we never really felt the transition between exhaust valve stages like we do on some of the other 800 class engines.
Another welcome change is the lack of smoke output during cold start up or idle. The previous motor would often act and smell rich near idle and lower throttle ranges but the new motor and oil injection system is much cleaner.
Engagement is very smooth which we can say has not been the case in the past. The new Idler clutch seemed to be very consistent and although we don’t yet have much time on the clutches, we like how smooth and responsive the new system is.
We have been somewhat critical of air shocks in general compared to spring shocks but the changes Arctic Cat made for 2018 are better than what we have ridden in the past. The new shocks are a bit more compliant in the small stutter bumps. They don’t transfer the sharp feeling to the rider as much and offer more confidence through the really rough sections. We would like to experiment with shock pressure a bit as this has led to improvements with other air shocks in the past. One major advantage the air shock gives is the ability to quickly tune for a variety of rider weights and styles. The best part about these shocks is that they are very light and for today’s mountain rider, weight is a big deal.
So, what’s the overall result? Although it still has a similar look to the 2017 model, a new motor, new plastic, upgraded suspension and new clutch package mean that this machine is mostly new parts and new function. As they say the proof is in the pudding and in this case, the results are a much easier machine to ride that is more responsive, takes less energy and is more predictable than the 2017 model it replaces. That means it can take us more places with less effort making for a better overall experience. And the best part…….you can buy the new Early Release 2018 M 8000 right now!