As we travelled the state highway straight north towards Thief River Falls, there was more snow in the ditches than what we had seen the past couple of years. The trails were groomed, hard flat and fast. The trees thin out and the land flattens. It all reminds you the how and why the Arctic Cats work the way they do. This is where they test and build them.
We didn’t really know what to expect when we got to Thief River Falls. The snowmobile industry had seen an excellent December and start of January, so we figured the mood should be pretty upbeat. We expected to maybe see a new four-stroke engine, but didn’t know what else. Since the 2010 EPA requirements call for a 50% reduction in hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO), even more clean technology would be in order.
Would we see any derivative of the new race sled? That would really be asking a lot, there just didn’t seem to be much time to jump from race sled into to consumer production, in any shape or form.
Arctic Cat riders know they’ve got some excellent mountain sleds, great riding trail sleds, capable crossovers, and comfy touring machines. Arctic Cat knows that too, so they’ve capitalized on what they have that works well, and enhanced just about every one of their segments.
The big news from Thief River Falls that day was multi-faceted; lighter longtracks, a new top-cat turbocharged four-stroke, engine reverse (yes!) and twin spar Bearcats. But wait! They didn’t forget or ignore the calls for a lightweight sled, something to please the Firecat riders who weren’t ready to become veteran trail riders quite yet. And to top if off, one of the neatest innovations in years that should have came out, well, years ago.
Arctic Cat wasn’t about to let Ski-Doo run off with all of the “lightweight” thunder. They’ve been the lightest for quite a while, so this XP thing kind of didn’t sit too well with them. They had learned first hand some of the issues with making a sled so light, as their Firecat was one of the biggest platform weight reductions the industry had ever seen. Yet, they knew they could make their machines even trimmer.
So what the M-Series mountain guys get for 2009 is a twenty-two pound weight reduction. About ten of these pounds come from the addition of electronic engine reverse, and getting rid of the mechanical reverse in the Diamond Drive. Yes, it appears Arctic Cat came to some form of technology trade or agreement with Ski-Doo to let them use the push-button reverse. No official word, but that was the understanding. Cool, we’ll take it.
One of the things a rider will notice when they hop on a M-Series or Crossfire is how tall the handlebars are. Great for stand-up riding, but ape-hangers for sitting down. How does a manufacturer keep everyone happy? Take a cue from NASCAR and give them a telescopic steering column! No crap, this is one of the best innovations in years. You can adjust the handlebars vertically, on the fly, with a spring-loaded clip that gives you a total of four inches of vertical movement. Lift the bars for standing, drop the bars for sitting, set them anywhere you want them. It is awesome to use and you wonder why it took so long. The catch? It’s only on the M-Series and Crossfire Sno Pro models. Cool, we’ll take that, too.
“Back in Black” was the next theme. Bad-ass, kick your butt, mean-looking, they all apply. Arctic Cat likes having the biggest, baddest sled in town, and they almost couldn’t keep the grin off their faces when they pulled the wraps off of their 177 HP turbocharged and intercooled Z1 engine fitted into a knarly-looking F-chassis. They call it the Z1 Turbo, we call it the King of Cats. Torque you ask? 121 foot-pounds, broad and as flat as the land around Thief River. Now remember, this engine will make this same power at ANY elevation. None of this 3% per 1,000 feet loss in power. That means no clutching changes when you go West. No carb jets to mess with. Turn the key, pull the trigger, hang on. Cool, we’ll take it!
What about the meat of the market, the trail riders? This is the bread and butter segment, where most of us fall into (SnowTech readers are about 70% trail riders, 25% mountain riders, and 5% uncommitted). How would Arctic Cat improve upon their great riding F-Series sleds? Could they make the Firecat fans happy?
According to Cat, they wanted to improve the handling of their F-Series sleds. This was the single biggest complaint from their following. We couldn’t really disagree, as we always swap out the skis as soon as we burn the stock carbides off them in early December.
Remember how last year when they came out with the T-Series touring version of the Twin Spar platform that they had “tipped” the chassis forward? Same basic deal here for 2009 with their F-sleds. The whole chassis has been tipped forward around the drive axle to give us more ski pressure and more responsive handling. Sweet, oh so sweet. Just what the doctor ordered.
We then realized the Firecat lovers weren’t going to respond like we did. They wanted a agile rocketship, and the F-Series was standing solid as the better trail sled. So, onto the Crossfire models. We didn’t expect much change here, really. Imagine our shock and pleasant surprise when the Crossfire was both shorter AND longer. Say what? The overall sled length was shorter, but the track was longer! Really?
Sure enough, Arctic Cat had seen the same requests as we had for something in between the 136” x 1.25” sleds and the all-out mountain sleds with 2” and taller tracks. Thus, the 2009 Crossfire was being stretched to 141” track length. Un-coupled, mind you. This takes the ratio of the Crossfire from a 70/30 to more like 60/40 on-trail/off trail. If we could only get a 1.5” track to make it a true 50/50……..
Introducing the 2009 Crossfire Sno Pro, fitted with a 141” x 1.5” track! And, telescopic steering column, shorter overall sled length, push-button engine reverse and all of the ten pounds of weight reduction that affords.
We were reeling in delight to see somebody agreed with our call for a sled to “fill the gap”. Then a picture of a Firecat was up on the big presentation screen. Yes, a Firecat. What the heck?
They proceed to explain how there were riders that wanted a model with blistering acceleration and maximum top speed, but with improved handling, stability and rider-forward ergonomics over the Firecat. Hmm. Isn’t that what the Crossfire was, but with a longer track?
Yep. Cat knew that, too. So here we have the all-new Crossfire R. This is a rider-forward Crossfire with a 128” track length, 15” wide. The new-age Firecat, rider-forward ergonomics, better stability and handling, but not as heavy and solid as the F-Series. Clever, very clever. They had been busy up here.
Ahh, if you have a new turbocharged engine you have to use it in an all-out touring sled, right? So many trail riders are getting older and want more luxury and comfort, but don’t want to give up their beloved throttle. We’re all adrenaline junkies, admit it. That’s what the throttle is for. So when we next were introduced to the new Z1 Turbo Touring models, we all thought “Canada”. What an awesome big-trail sled for overnighters.
We were about ready to get up and analyze the new hardware, but the Arctic Cat product leaders weren’t done. How dare we come into their house and expect so little?
The good old three-cylinder Suzuki 660 was obviously missing. The international markets are heating up and filling in some of the gap created by the slowly eroding sales in North America. Smartly, Arctic Cat has filled that gap as well with new Z1-based Bearcat utility models. We call them utility, the rest of the world calls them normal (we’re the weirdos by their standards). Take a Twin Spar chassis with the Z1 four-stroke, beef it up and you have a do-all go-anywhere snowmobile that the rest of the world will embrace. Yawns from the press indicate they don’t get it. No matter, the Bearcat sells well everywhere else. Things seem to be just fine in Thief River this year.