The Return of the Legend
The much anticipated release of the all-new Ski-Doo Mach Z is finally here! Ski-Doo faithful have long awaited this day, wanting a muscle sled that could shred the lake like the Mach Z of old. Housed in a beautiful all black chassis and body work with silver Mach Z badging and trim, this model is sure to attract the attention of all who spot it.
There has always been a (small) number of hard-core riders who still live by the lake racing genre, who want the baddest and fastest machine available. When Arctic Cat and Yamaha introduced their 180+ HP Thundercat and SRX turbocharged 4-stroke turbo sleds, the Ski-Doo faithful cried foul. They wanted a lake racer machine from their brand. Things got testy when Ski-Doo first introduced their ACE 900 Turbo models with only 150 HP. Now for 2022 we get the high-output version of the 900 ACE Turbo with a 20% increase in power.
We are told this will be a limited-build model and only available this year as a 2022, which will quickly make it a collector’s item. If anyone knows the snowmobile market, it is Ski-Doo. They do their research. They know how many of a particular sled will sell, and for how long. With a sled like the Mach Z, they admitted they could sell a good number of them the first year, but believed the sales numbers would drop sharply with each successive year. They even had the data from SRX & Thundercat sales to back it up. This is what we believe to be the logic of offering this new machine as a one-year wonder. They know that it will sell like hotcakes the first year, and drop off after that. This way, they come right out and tell us it will be a one-year model. You want one, you get it right now. As crazy as it might sound, it makes perfect sense. This creates some anxiety and serves notice that it will truly be a limited build.
Ski-Doo started with their wide-body Gen4 REV platform and went wild from there. Key features are a new 180 horsepower 4-stroke ACE 900 Turbo-R engine with a unique “launch mode”, a suspension package that allows the chassis to sit 1.5” closer to the ground, cable operated throttle (no rheostat) and electronically-controlled semi-active “Smart Shox” suspension package for the ultimate in ride and handling.
With several years of trouble-free operation of the 150 HP ACE 900 Turbo, Ski-Doo felt comfortable turning up the boost (from 10.2 psi to 17.4 psi) on their 4-stroke turbo package and giving it a healthy 20% increase in power. We all knew this was coming, it was simply a matter of when.
When BRP introduced their Smart-Shox technology for select 2021 Can-Am side-by-side models, we openly wondered how long it would take the technology to make it to the snowmobile line-up. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t very long at all!
Smart-Shox technology is an industry-first, fully self-adjustable suspension technology for superior performance, control and comfort. It is the only suspension in the industry that automatically controls both compression and rebound for enhanced precision, delivering superior ride and handling, no matter the terrain or conditions. Shock adjustments are a thing of the past – now drivers can dominate the terrain at the touch of a button.
The Smart-Shox control unit reads five chassis sensors for shock position (length), shock direction, shock acceleration, shock velocity and steering position, plus other parameters like engine RPM, RPM rate of change, throttle position, vehicle speed and braking. The control unit reads the sensors and sends signals to the shock solenoids every millisecond to calibrate shock damping that delivers the desired ride characteristics. Being able to adjust quickly is key; changes on the compression side happen between 20 – 28 milliseconds, while the rebound adjustments are from 22 – 34 milliseconds long. With response this fast to control both rebound and compression, Smart-Shox eliminates the compromise between race-winning handling and a comfortable, all-day ride.
Combined with rMotionX and RAS X the ultra quick responding system gives riders the best of all worlds; superb handling with less chassis roll, capacity for both big and small bumps without sacrificing super smooth comfort, and best of all – it’s automatic and instantaneous, no more twisting knobs to find that sweet spot, the system does it for the rider. There are three modes available with the console mounted switch: Comfort, Sport and Sport+.
The real beauty is you can just get on and ride. No need to be a shock-tuning genius. Now anyone can reap the benefits of the semi-active technology while the system does all the work. It also means less mechanical stress, with reduced impact loads on key components. And beyond that, the improved ride quality means less rider fatigue, so you don’t have to think twice about extending epic days. You will automatically become a better rider!
We had the unique opportunity to ride this model already and it is pretty impressive. No, it’s better than that – it’s REALLY impressive! These shocks are able to automatically sense the conditions you are encountering and adjust automatically to compensate. They have three modes, “Comfort”, “Sport” and “Sport+”. We liked the “Sport” mode most of the time, but found that the “Comfort” mode would all but smooth out the light trail chop. On the trail, when set on Sport mode these shocks provided extremely good stability in the corners without being too stiff in exit bumps and holes. Sport+ firms up the response for the ultimate in handling and bump capability, clearly not as cushy but better able to maintain vehicle pitch and attitude. All you do is set the torsion springs for the vehicle ride height (rider weight) and select the performance mode. The system does the rest, automatically. You will be blown away at the result.
Launch mode is a holeshot program that builds boost before clutch engagement. With the sled stopped and the engine idling, the rider simply holds the performance mode button forward in the Sport position for three seconds. The engine rpm will increase to approximately 1800 rpm, upon which you pull the brake and mash the throttle to the bar. The engine pops and bangs as the turbo spools to 9-10 psi of boost and as soon as you release the brake……. away she goes! You had better be ready for the launch. The model we were on utilized the 1.25” x 137” Ice Ripper track, but Ski-Doo is also offering the Mach with a 2-ply RipSaw II 1.25” with a stud pattern. Conditions were hardpack trail and the sled had a tough time hooking up until about 50 feet out from the start. We can only imagine what it will do on ice or with an aggressive stud pattern. Leaving at partial boost and ultimate traction is sure to put a smile on any face. Ideally, one would not want to use this mode on a groomed trail simply because of the pile of snow it would leave on the trail, leaving a hazard for those who would follow.
Lowered Ride Height
Let’s face it, a sled like this is aimed to please those looking for top speed capability. The low slung chassis (1.5” lower than other MXZ and Renegade models) is done in an effort to enhance its aerodynamics at speed. By reducing the frontal area presented the wind resistance is greatly reduced and top speed is rewarded accordingly. We didn’t really have a safe place to line it up against a Renegade model to see just how much the lowered ride height helps at top speed, but if history proves itself again, we’d guess you will see an extra 3 to 5 mph with this lower stance. It also lowers the center of gravity for improved cornering, for those who like that “corner on rails” feeling. For many this will be the true benefit.
One change from the previous 900 ACE Turbo is the cable-operated throttle. The electronic rheostat throttle on all previous 900 ACE models has been a point of disagreement for many performance riders. While the “drive-by-wire” technology seemed fitting for the lesser 600 & 900 ACE engine packages, there were a good number of riders (us included) who wanted a traditional throttle lever on their 900 ACE Turbo sleds. One of the main reasons was to get back to a long-throw lever with some friction, or resistance. We wanted the engine response to be more linear – push on the throttle a little, get a little more power. With the drive-by-wire there could be an abrupt transition that would catch you by surprise, where a small lever movement change gave you a non-linear increase in response.
The new cable operated throttle brings back a long-travel throttle lever that gives us a more linear (less jumpy) feel than the electronic throttle lever. In reality, the iTC (rheostat) unit is now down under the airbox so it is still, in effect, and electronic throttle, but with a mechanical lever pulling a cable so we have greater control. It is much easier to modulate in bumpy conditions and far less sensitive. Bottom line, it makes it feel more like a snowmobile throttle should.
The 900 ACE Turbo R still has three selectable performance modes – Sport, Standard and Eco. We found it easy to navigate between these modes even on the fly. Where Sport mode is great in more open terrain where all out acceleration is desired, the throttle is still a bit sensitive in the tight twisty trails. We found the Standard mode to be perfect for these areas. And, if you really need to save on fuel to make your next fuel stop, Eco mode will keep it tame so you can go the distance.
Where this sled differs most from Mach Z models of the past is it truly is not just a point and shoot straight-line muscle sled. The new Smart-Shox system truly makes this sled far more capable in both cornering and through the bumps as it is remarkably compliant for the reduced ride height, even through rough sections of tight, twisty trails. This alone allows this sled to be ridden comfortably and confidently on the trail rather than just being a point and shoot lake racer like the Mach Z of old.
If you should scoff at the 180 HP claim, remember this is all Arctic Cat originally claimed for their Thundercat 4-stroke turbo even though we all know it pushes closer to 200 HP in stock trim. Our guess would be the new Mach Z will also be making more than the claimed power, but we’re all going to have to wait until production sleds are built to really nail this one down. It seems unlikely for Ski-Doo to offer a sled like this if it isn’t going to be competitive. Having a semi-active suspension allows for more transfer and the launch mode will make more power available out of the hole, so it might not be a true apples-to apples comparison to strictly consider power output alone.
Some might question the use of a turbocharged 4-stroke engine vs. a turbocharged 2-stroke engine. To that we have to believe Ski-Doo opted for the greater reliability. As good as their turbocharged 2-stroke 850 has been in the mountains, we all know that when it comes to high-mile durability the 4-stroke turbo is going to be a more reliable engine package as the miles rack up. Nobody should dispute this fact. Yes, the 2-stroke would have been lighter, but people aren’t going to buy this sled for its sheer bump capability, that’s what we have MX Zs and Renegades for. A sled like the Mach Z is designed for the lake racer and image seeker. Now we get that plus the added capability of improved cornering and decent bump performance.
This is perhaps the most rounded, or capable, high-powered rocket combination ever offered. Going fast in a straight line is easy; being able to do so while cornering or though the bumps is truly a trick. While not for everyone, the Mach Z will satisfy even the most demanding riders. Seeing how it is only being offered for this one year, it is certain to be in high demand and instantly become a subject of lust and desire. And, rightly so.