EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite a slow snow season this year, the major sled manufacturers — Arctic Cat, Bombardier, Polaris and Yamaha — each introduced plenty of new machines for 2004.
This is the first of a two-part report on these new sleds.
After a season of growing pains for its new 2003 Firecat line, Arctic Cat will expand the line for 2004.
The company will produce 12 Firecat models this year in three different packages and engine options. The Firecat F6 was the first 2004 release in January.
“We were in a situation where we had a hole in the line-up and consumers were wanting a 600 Firecat,” said Jay Lusignan, Arctic Cat’s media specialist. “We wanted to answer and we were ready with the product. The sooner we can fill that void and give consumers what they want the better.”
The Firecats come with a 500cc, 600cc or 700cc engines in the standard form (a standard suspension with a 1-inch lug track); in the Sno Pro (with a racing suspension package and a 1-inch or 1.375-inch track); or in the EXT package (with a track size of 122 by 15 by 1.25 inches).
Changes on the machines from 2003 include a new coupling block design to allow quicker coupling and minimized transfer. The suspension remains otherwise unchanged, with shocks all around supplied by Arctic Cat Technology (ACT), unless you opt for the Sno Pro package, where customers get ACT remote reservoir shocks.
The other addition to the Firecat lineup is the EXT model. This long-track hybrid ups the ante for Cat, and provides a response to the Ski-Doo Renegade and Polaris Switchback.
Problems associated with the 2003 lineup, including inadequate cooling and a cord-breaking recoil housing, are fixed for 2004, the company says. The coolant bottle has a wider neck, and a protective covering saves the recoil rope.
Performance sleds updated
Cat’s trail performance sleds get a major Firecat-like makeover for 2004. Not only has the name changed to Sabercat, but the machines are now in the F chassis with the same narrow track and the 1-inch lugs found on the Firecat. Suspensions are the same as Firecats, with different shocks. Sabercats get Ryde FX units on the skis and front arm, with a new ACT position sensitive shock on the rear arm.
The Sabercat is available with the 500, 600 or 700 engines, and riders have their choice of carb or EFI on the 600 and 700. A new designation, LX, replaces esr and stands for electric start and reverse. LX models have standard windshield mounted mirrors and a removable rear compartment that tucks behind the seat.
Sabercats are also available in the EXT version, and despite the longer tunnel, the trunk stays put. Also nifty on the Sabercat is the extra plug and belt storage compartment built into the molded seat. Similar to the integrated shovel compartment on the 2003 mountain lineup, the seat pops off by way of a couple thumb tabs to access the goods, saving valuable space under the hood.
New drivetrain on zr 900
Not much remains the same in the remainder of the 2004 Arctic Cat lineup. If the machine didn’t change much physically, it likely got a new name or suffix. There are several new models, a new drive system and an impressive new trick up the 4-stroke sleeve.
With the expansion of the Firecats, the ZR lineup has all but disappeared. Two models do remain — the ZR 900 and ZR 900 EFI — and they house some new-to-snowmobiling technology.
New on the ZR is the ACT Diamond direct drive system. This trick setup eliminates the chaincase and jackshaft, driving the driveshaft off the secondary through a planetary gear box. Cat claims a weight savings of about 11 pounds, and allows lower gear ratios than a sprocket and chain setup.
The system required both clutches to change diameter. The clutches also operate in a wider ratio. With the brake rotor mounted on the driveshaft rather than the jackshaft, it spins at roughly half the speed it used to. This means more pressure is required from the caliper to halt the sled.
To compensate, Cat went to a smaller diameter vented disc and a dual piston caliper. The combination allows for more force, while keeping the brake cool. Feel at the bars is positive, but different. The lever pulls back much farther than the classic Cat feel.
In addition to direct drive, Cat offers another industry first: a turbo four-stroke.
“We took it to heart when you said the 4-Stroke Trail was s-l-o-w,” said Joel Hallstrom, Arctic Cat product manager.
The response was the turbocharged T660 4-stroke. Built on the ZR chassis, the sled gets many of the features the ZR line does, including AWS-V front suspension with Ryde FX shocks and the FasTrack Long Travel rear with a Ryde FX front arm shock and a new ACT position sensitive rear arm shock. The sled is rated at 110 hp and makes triple digits easily.
The sled is available in Black or a new platinum color, has wide running boards and essentially the same suspension as the ZR, although it gets different shocks. The sled also gets a new look, as the hood had to change to accommodate the turbo unit, and the cooling that it requires.
King Kong Or King Cat?
In its series of industry firsts, Cat will win the track-length war for 2004 with its 162- by 15- by 2.25-inch whopper on the King Cat.
The machine uses the 900 carb engine and lightweight titanium springs in the suspension and clutches. Cat claims a 21-pound weight reduction over the 2003 1M Mountain Cat.
The 900 EFI engine also comes in the Mountain Cats this year. The other displacement Mountain Cats are the 570, the 600 EFI and 800 EFI.
The sleds get a couple changes to make the track more efficient: a plastic rolled chaincase to drop weight and 8-inch rear idlers to improve rolling efficiency. The 800 EFI, 900 EFI and 900 carb all have a standard option of a 151- or 159-inch track, while the 600 EFI get a 144-inch unit with 2-inch lugs and the 570 gets a 136-inch track with 1.4-inch lugs. Across the line, the 1M sleds received a 8.5 pound weight reduction and a 2-3 hp gain at the track, thanks to the larger idlers. For 2004 the sleds are available in green and black or red and black.
Little Change In Budget, 2-Ups
The Z line returns with the Z370 and Z370 LX, the Z440 LX and the Z570 and Z570 LX. Aside from the LX moniker, new handlebar pad and graphics, these models are unchanged. The kiddie ZR 120 didn’t change, either.
In 2-Ups, the Panther and Pantera lines stayed largely the same. The T660 Touring and T660 Turbo Touring replace the 4-Stroke Touring and are available in Platinum. The Panther 370 and 570 are largely unchanged, though the 570 now has a coupled rear skid. The sleds also get square steel torsion springs and a redesigned seat. The liquid-cooled Pantera models also receive the square wire springs and seat, plus remote start on the 600 and 800 engines, as they are both EFI units. The 550 moves up to a 43-inch ski stance from the 41-inch spread on last year’s model. All sleds get the coupled rear suspension. Colors for 2004 are black or gold, except the 550, which comes in black only.
Last season, Cat started calling its Bearcat Widetrack a “sport utility” model. That designation continues for 2004 with two models. The 4-stroke 660 engine returns with dual runner skis and an adjustable stance that moves between 38 and 40 inches. The 20-inch-wide track drops a quarter on its lug height to a flat 1 inch. Added to the Bearcat line is a new fan- cooled sled with the 570 engine.
Several requests from dealers drove Cat to build the sled, and it gets some different features than the WideTrack. First, the track is narrower at 16 inches. The sled also gets the tall handlebars found on the Mountain Cats and new footrests. Both Bearcats are available in silver for 2004.
Next Time: Ski-Doo, Polaris and Yamaha