The rumors were really flying last winter about what the 900cc mountain sled class would bring for 2004, leading us to believe this class would double in size this year to two models.
Most notably we were hearing Polaris was ready to unleash its own 900 to join the Arctic Cat Mountain Cat 900 1M. The rumors were almost spot on, except instead of the class doubling, it tripled-but not in the way we expected.
The Polaris 900 never materialized (maybe next year) but Cat added a Mountain Cat 900 EFI to its 900 carb model and then really turned some helmets with the release of the King Cat (see separate story in this issue). So we think it's safe to say (yes, we're really going out on a limb here), Cat will dominate the 900 class this season.
Even if there were any competitors out there this season, it would be pretty tough to beat the Cat. In fact, if Polaris, or whoever chooses to join the 900 class next season, they need to be on their game to break what we think will be a stranglehold by Cat, especially when you throw the King Cat into the mix.
But for this article, we're going to zero in on the 2004 Mountain Cat 900 and MC 900 EFI.
There are reasons you would trade in your 2003 MC (or other model) for a 2004 . namely because Cat has kept its sleds on a steady diet through the year, shaving another 8.5 lbs. off the 2004 models. That puts the 900 1Ms at about 513 lbs. dry. To help you keep things in perspective, the 1997 Arctic Cat Thundercat 900 was 77 lbs. heavier and only had six more horsepower (156 vs. the 2004 1M's 150 hp). Yes, we expect all the snowmobile manufacturers to continue to churn out bigger and better sleds, but that's quite an improvement, especially in the power-to-weight ratio department. For those of you who are math-challenged like us, here's the equation: 150 hp/513 lbs. equals .29 hp/lb.
The Mountain Cat 900 1M has a year under its hood now and didn't experience any major meltdowns last season, or any minor ones for that matter. In our travels, we heard nothing but good things about how the MC 900 performed. "Plenty of power," was the most often heard compliment about the 900-a statement we echo. The 862cc liquid-cooled twin with mammoth 40mm flatslide carbs (carb model) or the 46mm throttle body batteryless EFI cranks out, as mentioned above, 150 hp. We were never in a situation on the MC 900 where we were wanting for power. Most SnoWest SnowTest staffers felt the combination of the MC 900's engine with the 159-inch track was a stellar combination.
The track may be one of the reasons to trade in your 2003 and buy the 2004. With the 2004 models, you have the option of a 151 x 2-inch or 159 x 2-inch track. We chewed up the 2-4-foot deep powder last spring in McCall and the Cat never whimpered or tucked its tail and ran.
The track wraps around a new 8-inch rear wheel (which replaces the old 7 1/8-inch wheel), which makes the track more efficient (less rolling resistance because the track doesn't have to bend as much to go around the wheel) and results in 2-3 more horsepower at the track and 4-6 hp at the engine. Cat was also able to save a little weight using the bigger wheel by using a cut-out design.
Other weight savings comes from flanged hardware (half-pound); a spoked bottom gear in the dropcase (half-pound); redesigned pipe saddle (half-pound); six post wide pocket clutch (half-pound; replaces nine post from years past); lighter rails (2.5 lbs.); new heat exchange brackets (half-pound); and a composite dropcase (1.5 lbs.).
One area Cat has really made an improvement is getting the sled up on the snow, so that the sled floats instead of doing an imitation of a Meyer Snow Plow. Cat has dropped and rolled the chaincase to get the job done.
Some of the coolest returning features include the adjustable ski stance (39-41 inches), which just can't get any easier to adjust, the handlebar setup ("It's just right"), sure grip running boards and a rear suspension which elicited comments from our SnowTest staff such as "Sweet, you don't have to feel the bumps," and "suspension package works well." Cat's FasTrack Long Travel System has proven to be one of the better rear suspensions on the market.
The MC 900 also returns with the removable seat, which features a nifty storage compartment for an avalanche shovel.
A Perfect World?
Is the MC 900 world perfect? In a word-no. But the gripes we have are minor, like the Mountain Cat's turning radius. It's the largest of the big mountain sleds, but not really a problem until you get into some tight trees or you really need to turn out while hillclimbing.
One more and then we're done. It can be a handful to get the motor to turn over. No 98-pound weaklings need apply.
But once you do get the 900 started, hold on.
Not all things are equal between the carb and EFI version of the MC 900, at least when it comes to pricing. There is a $600 difference between the MC 900 151-inch ($9,199) and the MC 900 EFI 159-inch ($9,799). The MC 900 159-inch retails for $9,399 while the MC 900 EFI 159-inch goes for $9,599. So, pricing alone will force you to do your homework before plunking down $$$$ on a MC 900. EFI or carbs? Cat claims-almost guarantees-you'll be able to start its EFI by the second pull, a claim we can't argue with.
The 151-inch or 159-inch track? This is definitely a personal preference. The longer the track, usually the better it will do in the deep powder and while climbing. So, what kind of riding do you do? If this helps any, the 900 has plenty of power to turn the longer track, so don't let that worry you.
Cat has proven there is a market for the 900cc sleds.
Cat has also proven it plans to continue to dominate this class, regardless of who dares to jump in and challenge them.