Arctic Cat put all its chips in the pot and called it this year. For years it has had majority ownership of the mountain backcountry segment. The M-Series chassis that carried the first M7 in 2005 is gone with the last M8 of 2011. From here on out, it's all ProClimb, whether the sport is ready for it or not.
Is the 2012 ProClimb M 800 better than last year's M8?
Yes. While the 2011 is still revered as one of the most maneuverable and nimble mountain chassis ever, it lacked several things compared to its two main competitors. Suspension, ride quality, rider position and ergonomics are a few that immediately come to mind. What last year's M8 lacked in suspension control and ride quality, the ProClimb M 800 dominates in.
What did Arctic Cat change on the 2012 ProClimb M 800?
Everything but the track and engine.
That's what we mean when we said Arctic Cat has all its chips on the table. Cat went with the new chassis on every model across the board. Last year's M-Series chassis is history. Replacing it is the all-new ProClimb chassis, which shares the same core chassis as the ProCross chassis, found on Cat's 2012 short track performance sleds. Both chassis are derived from Cat's race-bred and proven race chassis, which was brought out back in 2008.
Everything on the ProClimb chassis is new or updated compared to the 2011 M8. The front A-arms are mounted at a 30-degree angle to direct load into the chassis. The shock mounts sit at the base of a pyramid frame that tops off the chassis. The big A-arms connect to a new one-piece spindle made of forged aluminum. The steering radius tightened up by 5 degrees and a lot of the slop in the steering system is gone.
The ProClimb chassis is simplified and uses fewer parts. The taller spindle opens up the A-arm mounts, which opens up the air box design for a big increase in available air volume at the throttle body intakes.
The tunnel is a two-piece design that features a new tapered box design. If you look at the tunnel from the back, the tunnel sides taper in about an inch from the footbeds to the top of the tunnel. It's something Cat picked up from the race sled that led to increased rider comfort. The two-piece tunnel is lighter and more rigid and the corner heat exchanger is gone. A wide heat exchanger runs to the tail of the tunnel on the underside.
The rear suspension has a new 8-inch tri-hub rear axle assembly that is lighter and more durable than two separate wheels. The skid also has a new track tension adjuster design and runs Fox Zero Pro shocks.
As for the drivetrain, Cat runs the power from its proven 800 lay down twin through its new Arctic Drive System or ADS. The ADS is a chain drive system that replaces the ACT Diamond Drive. Cat uses a new 10.75-inch driven clutch, which is mounted to the jackshaft and tied directly to the engine mounts. The Torque Control Link holds the center distance between the two clutches at a constant parallel and at a fixed distance. Cat claims the TCL increases belt life, improves performance (by being efficient) and drops clutch sheave temps. The jackshaft rides on self-aligning bearings at both ends, which allow the PTO side of the shaft to move with the Torque Control Link while the drive case side stays put.
Speaking of the drive case, the 2012 uses a magnesium drop case and cover with integrated oil tank. A self-adjusting chain tensioner controls chain tension inside the drop case.
Though the oil tank is magnesium, there is a sight glass that shows oil level and the instrument gauge shows a low-oil light when there is one quart remaining.
Magnesium is said to be 36 percent lighter than the same components made from aluminum.
Cat's 2012 mountain sleds all get a new radial hydraulic master cylinder brake system manufactured by Hayes Brake. The system incorporates a new caliper and 12 percent larger rotor that is thinner and 6 percent lighter than last year's rotor. Despite having a trackshaft and chain drive, the brake caliper and rotor are mounted to the track shaft, a move that Cat engineers say goes back to being able to still have working brakes in the event of a chain failure.
While the air intakes are still in the upper portion of the hood (below the handlebar), the intake on the 2012 M800 has a new noise reduction system incorporated into the hood plenum.
The 2012 seat is taller than last year's by an inch, but has no storage.
And the pull rope handle has been moved to the center of the sled, above the fuel cap. Cat uses the same pull rope handle as it did last year.
Does the 2012 have the telescoping steering post?
Yes and no. Yes for the Sno Pro model, no for the base model.
The base model M800 does not have vertical steering nor the telescoping steering post. Its steering post is more horizontal, similar to how the Yamaha Nytro MTX is. The M800 Sno Pro and M800 Sno Pro HCR both do have vertical steering and the telescoping posts, so the feel is very similar to what you're used to on last year's M8. On those models, the lowest setting on the 2012's telescoping post is about one inch higher than last year's lowest setting. The highest setting for 2012 is 1.5 inches taller than last year's.
The ski looks new, but is it just a new handle?
No. The 2012 mountain ski is new from front to back. It features a deeper keel, topside grips for your boot and new loops. And it's lighter than last year's ski.
How wide is the ski stance?
The 2012 M800 and Sno Pro have an adjustable stance of 40 to 41 inches. Last year's M8 had an adjustable stance of 39 to 41 inches. Last year's spindle allowed for two spacers, so you had three width settings. The 2012 M800 uses one spacer, so it's either 40 or 41.
Is the 2012 lighter than last year's M8?
No. Cat is claiming the dry weights are the same (although that could change slightly by production). Cat says its focus for the new platform is durability. It didn't gain weight, so it's still the second-lightest sled in the class.
What changed on the 2012 engine?
Nothing. It's a 2011 engine pulled from an M8 and dropped into the 2012 M800. The mapping is different, but mainly to adjust for the increased intake air volume.
Is the rider position different on the 2012 M800?
Yes, and it's one of those moves where Cat felt it needed to change to follow the trend in design and modern rider ergonomics.
The rider position is three inches forward compared to last year's M8. But it's significant to note that the rear suspension mounts are three inches forward compared to the 2011, too. This shortens the vehicle's wheelbase. So while the rider's hips are three inches closer to the spindles, they are the same distance from the rear axle.
How does the 2012 handle?
Interestingly, while the spindle-to-rear-axle length is shorter than the 2011 M8 and the 2012 M800 has a taller feel, it's a more stable sled. Through rough terrain, there is no comparing the 2012 M800 to any previous M-Series model. Ride quality and suspension action are so much better with the M800's Arctic Race Front Suspension and Fox Float 2 (Sno Pro) or Zero Pro (base model) shocks. It handles rough uphill terrain without flinching. Last year's M8 would bounce off every bump and ricochet off every rut. The 2012 tracks straight over holes, ruts and bumps.
As for what it feels like to ride the 2012 M800 compared to the 2011 M8, the difference isn't really apparent until you get off the 2012 and climb back onto the 2011. If you've been a Cat rider long enough to remember the King Cat's 1M chassis, the 2012 feels about as different from the 2011 as the first M7 did compared to the King Cat. It just feels like a modern mountain sled.
What did we like?
There's a lot to like about the 2012 M800. And as the snow piles up this year, we imagine more seat time will add to the list:
Running Boards. They have good traction and good snow evacuation holes.
Power. It's the same engine we've loved for years. That means it has a reliable, proven power plant. Power delivery is smooth and strong from bottom to top end.
Skis. The deeper keel of the 2012 ski feels more like the HCR's race ski of last year. It has a better, more positive bite.
Suspension. Finally, you can hammer through rough single-track trails or mogul-filled canyon bottoms without needing a chiropractor appointment. This is Cat's best mountain suspension ever.
What did we hate?
It's a first-year model, so there are the usual small things. But there are a few big things as well.
Tall spindles. It's a catch-22, because they are responsible for the excellent front suspension ride quality. But in technical tree riding, they represent a lot of metal dragging in the snow.
Toe holds. There aren't any. A lot of mountain maneuvers use the outside foot to pull up on the toe hold to lift and control the chassis. Without a toe hold, your upper body has to do that much more work to twist the chassis through the handlebars.
Seat storage. The price tags keep getting bigger and the simple features keep disappearing.
Automatic chain tensioner. That just means that it's impossible to fix if it breaks out on the mountain. We'd prefer an external tensioner bolt and lock nut.
If we could make one change to the 2012, what would it be?
We think a narrower ski stance option would make this sled all the more agile in the backcountry. Something in the 37- to 38-inch range.
How do we really like the 2012 Arctic Cat M800?
It's a great sled. There are certain technical riding aspects where it may not be that far ahead of last year's model, but the trade-off for the modern rider position, race suspension and outstanding ride quality make it an easy pick over last year's M8. You can always learn a few new ride techniques for a new chassis. But you can't always make a weak suspension feel like it works like a race sled.