We used to think Arctic Cat was one manufacturer that didn't follow the crowd, the manufacturer that, despite what others were doing, was going to do what it thought was going to sell in the marketplace.
That's why it's kind of sad to report that Cat has jumped on the "cutting carbs" wave that has swept across the country.?
Arctic Cat snowmobile product manager Joey Hallstrom said in late January, "The days of big cc, high horsepower carbed engines are gone."
That might be bad news for some-including those who like to tinker on their sled's engines-but for Arctic Cat, with its EFI engines, that's not a crushing blow.
Cat has evolved over the years to where most every one of its engines is an EFI. In fact, there are only two carbureted engines left in the entire Arctic Cat lineup for 2006-the F5/M5 and F7/M7. Of course, those two engines are also available in EFI versions, which include the new EFI engine package for the 500cc engine (80 hp). Cat has proven to be a leader in the snowmobile industry when it comes to EFI engines, so we don't suppose there will be too much moaning and groaning out there about the loss of carbs. So you see, Cat is still doing its own thing and not following the crowd.
Zeroed In On Emissions
With the looming EPA regulations, Cat has focused a lot of its attention on making its EFI's cleaner. The direct result of those efforts is the new 600cc EFI II, which utilizes an exhaust pipe sensor to help cut CO emissions by 25 percent. Other benefits include better acceleration and the lack of that little hesitation when it's cold and you hit the throttle to take off.
The reason for the swing to EFI is rather simple, said Chris Wright, Cat's emissions/EPA specialist. "We can get an EFI a lot cleaner than a carb engine," he said. "That's our motivation for having almost all EFI engines."
The elimination of carbs also means no more King Cat 900. You can still get this bad boy in EFI, but carbs are out. Aside from that bombshell, the other big news for the West is that mountain riders who buy an M6 or M7 now have an option when it comes to tracks. Sledders can choose between either the Cat Attack 20 or a Camoplast Challenger track. One knock against the Attack 20 is that in certain trail conditions (smooth, groomed) or on hard pack, the track spins (more than you want it to), because of its design. The Attack 20 is still perhaps the best powder track out there, but for some, that's a little too one-dimensional. "Customers who ride hard pack will want the Challenger track," Hallstrom said. And the track option isn't a spring-only promotion. You can choose which track you want in-season. Either track will be available in 153 or 162x2.25-inch.
The M Series, and particularly the M7, has put Cat back on the western map. The M7 shot to the top of the sales charts in the West, leaving some western dealers wishing they had ordered more. That brings up an interesting situation for 2006. As far as Cat goes, one of two things could happen next season-at least in the West. Either Cat could experience another stellar sales season with the M7 or sales for this hot mountain sled might drop off, something not uncommon in the snowmobile industry the season after an impressive machine first appears on the scene. Time will tell what will happen. We tend to think that because of the M7's light weight and strong powerplant, this is a combination western riders can't and won't look past.
Cat engineers tell us they are fine-tuning M Series sleds for 2006 and that includes clutching and suspension work. One engineer told us Cat is working on suspension calibration for a little better trail ride. We were told some customers want a better ride on the trails without sacrificing the M's very impressive off-trail capabilities. So Cat is focusing on shock valving and some spring work. As for clutching, Cat is working to help the Ms pull a little harder out of the hole. Word on the snow is that M owners, while they like the broad powerband of the Ms, wish their machines had a little more torque.
Aesthetically, consumers might notice that the Ms will no longer have a bun on the seat in '06. Cat wasn't quite sure how consumers would react to a flat top seat so it added a removable bun (we took ours off early in the season) on the '05 models. There were no grumblings so Cat just took it off for '06.
One of the best Cat innovations-the ACT planetary gearbox-will be back again in 2006. The benefits of the ACT system, which helps lose 11 lbs. compared to a traditional chaincase setup, just can't be touted too much.
Order an M7 Limited in 2006 and you'll get the incredibly popular Fox Float Shocks up front.
Back to the King Cat for a minute. With all the hype surrounding the M Series, this 900cc sled kind of got overshadowed in '05. We still think this is a great sled with plenty of power, around 150 hp. It returns with Fox Floats and titanium springs (suspension and clutch springs), helping give it a great power-to-weight ratio.
Cat has raised its presence in the crossover or hybrid class-one of the hottest sled segments on the snow right now-for 2006. Cat let the, well, umm, Cat out of the bag with the mid-season release of the Crossfire, which we first told you about on www.snowest.com(Jan. 10, 2005).
We were able to spend some time on the Crossfire in late January and think it has a lot to offer those riders looking for sleds in the hybrid segment. Based on the M Series, the Crossfire will be available with a 600cc or 700cc motor, both of which are impressively powerful. And it doesn't seem to matter where you are in the powerband, squeeze the throttle and you're off. Providing the hookup is the 15x136x1.25-inch Ripsaw. We look forward to dialing up miles on this sled the rest of this season.
We should spend a little time on the T660 4-Stroke Touring segment because Cat is offering some very cool techno features on these models for '06. The T660 has turned out to be a very popular trail sled for Cat and it's going to be even more popular for '06, thanks to heated seats, remote start and a cool communication system on the LE models.
The communication system offers two-way driver-to-driver contact and talking and a driver-to-passenger intercom. The driver-to-driver communication system offers 15 channels, a push-to-talk switch on the brake side of the handlebars (communication is not voice activated) and is AM/FM, satellite radio, MP3/iPod player adaptable. This system sounds cool but it's even sweeter to hear it in action. We were able to use the system on a ride and really enjoyed listening to music and talking to other riders while cruising down the trails. And communication was crystal clear, thanks in part to an antenna placed near the mirror on the windshield. To help all this work, you need the right sled and the right helmet-the Crosstec VRE, which includes two speakers and a microphone, among other features.
It looks like Cat has a homerun right there with its new electronic gizmos.