What do you do to the oldest chassis in the mountain segment? Take a tip from Hollywood: get a makeover. The 2009 Arctic Cat M-series mountain sleds are among the freshest models in the mountain segment. The M8 and M1000 have gone through a laundry list of changes, resulting in a claimed 22-pound weight reduction and a marked improvement in deep snow agility.
One look at the sled sitting still reveals the most drastic change. The running boards, which used to run the full length of the tunnel, now end at the rear suspension mount brace, leaving the tail end of the tunnel free to dig into the deep stuff without getting hung up. The aggressive edge roll angles inward at the suspension's rear mount and rivets to the tunnel, providing a solid footing for mountain maneuvers.
The tunnel still angles upward, and the taper is more aggressive than before. The tunnel enhancements lead to weight savings and much better mobility in deep snow. You can lay the sled into the hill without feeling the running boards hang up.
Aside from the weight savings and function of the new tunnel design, it also features a new rear bumper, tail light, close off and snow flap. Gone is the standard gas rack. The new close off features access points for strap hooks to attach to (additionally, Arctic Cat is expanding its line of accessories, including tunnel bags and fuel tank holders). The rear bumper is aluminum now and the tail light features 11 LED bulbs for increased visibility and reduced weight. The snow flap is wider and longer and more durable than previous models. To accommodate the new close off, the rear heat exchanger is new (shorter than previous models).
The rear suspension remains the lightweight Float skid, but with enhancements for further weight reduction. Every detail of the rear suspension was scrutinized for weight savings. Cross shafts were reduced to tabs where possible. The rails were machined, the limiter straps are narrower and the diameter of the bolts used in the skid was reduced to 5/16 inch hardware. And the rear axle has been revised to run only two wheels-both inside the rails (like the early Firecat models). All together, the 2009 skid frame is 3.5 lbs. lighter.
The front suspension went through a weight-savings routine, though without any changes to geometry or shock components. The focus was on replacing the steel bushings for anodized aluminum ones and using plastic spacers in the ski mount rather than steel ones. The ski skags are an inch shorter and now have 5/16 inch diameter bolts. Arctic Cat engineers took 1.7 lbs. off of the front suspension.
Things get interesting under the hood. For a few years, we've wondered why Arctic Cat didn't bite the bullet and get a license from Ski-Doo for the electronic reverse technology instead of opting for the heavier gear-driven reverse the 2007 and 2008 models had. No need to ask that question anymore. The 2009 M8 and M1000 feature what's known in the engineering rooms as ACER, or Arctic Cat Electronic Reverse. In short, electronic reverse stops the rotation of the engine and fires is in a reverse rotation, so that your drive train from the crank shaft to the clutches are operating in reverse. It requires a voltage regulator and a new helix with a reverse-catch notch cut into it, but it allowed Arctic Cat engineers to lose the mechanical Diamond Drive reverse system. The reverse-gear Diamond Drive is replaced by a two-gear drive case, although not the pre-2007 case. The net weight savings by going to the electronic reverse is 7.5 lbs and the ACER is only found on 800 and 1000 models. The M6 will still have the mechanical Diamond Drive reverse.
Arctic Cat's mountain engineers did refine the EFI calibration for 2009, though it's not a real significant change. Power output will be the same as the `08s.
What may first seem like more of a gimmick than a feature may actually become the most talked-about feature of the 2009 lineup. That is the telescopic adjustable steering post found on SnoPro versions of M and Crossfire models. A remnant design idea from the Jason Howell era, the telescopic steering post allows the handlebars to slide vertically up or down the steering post to match the rider's height. With four inches of height adjustment, the telescopic system can put the handlebars anywhere from 3/4 inch lower than the standard bar height of an '08 M-series sled to 3-3/4 inches higher. And the design adds only eight-tenths of a pound, which is less than a standard two-inch bar riser weighs. The telescoping post moves in 3/8 inch increments, so there are about 10 positions to select from. And keep in mind that all of the adjustment is vertical, so you are not changing the geometry of the sled the way a forward-moving adjustable steering post would. Allowing our test riders to put the handlebars in a position that best suited them seemed to have an impact on how well the sled handled for them and how much better they could throw it around.
Finally, what better way to cap off a makeover like this one than to throw a brand new track under the sled. The Power Claw track is a hybrid design implementing the best features of the ill-fated Attack 20 track (offered by Arctic Cat on King Cats and M-sleds a few years back), the Challenger and the aggressive Camoplast finger track. The track is a 3.0-inch pitch with a pattern that repeats every three pitches (or every six rows of lugs). Wide paddle-style lugs that have a 20-degree tilt to them paw their way up on top of loose snow, taking large bites of the white stuff for maximum propulsion. Those dominate the center of the single-ply track. The outer edges of the lugs feature firm 80 durometer towers that are strategically placed and designed to cup snow and hold it beneath the track rather than force it out the sides. The towers penetrate packed snow, giving positive traction where the old Attack 20 would slip and slide. A close look at the towers reveals a forward-tilting tip that stands vertical as the track breaks in or is under load. And, the towers are placed beneath the slide rails, where they receive the maximum pressure for a sure bite in inconsistent snow.
Each improvement to the `09 M8 and M1000 compliments each other. The track magnifies the weight savings and makes the front end easier to throw around and maneuver. The modified tunnel design helps the track get a solid bite in sidehill applications, where track washout is almost non-existent. The handlebars give any rider the perfect ergonomics to manage the refined chassis. As one SnoWest test rider put it, "The sled seems much easier to maneuver in the deep snow, especially while on its side. Pulling the 09' sled over and holding a line is much more rider responsive."