2012 Mountain 4-Strokes Test

Now western sledders have lots of options

Published in the November 2011 Issue November 2011 Feature, Snow Tests Mark Bourbeau
"2012 Arctic Cat M 1100 with retro graphics and 2012 Yamaha Nytro MTX.
"2012 Arctic Cat HCR Turbo
"The 2012 Yamaha Nytro MTX equipped with an aftermarket turbo.
"2012 Arctic Cat HCR Turbo and 2012 Yamaha Nytro MTX equipped with an aftermarket turbo.
"2012 Yamaha Nytro MTX
"2012 Arctic Cat M 1100 Turbo LTD
"The 2012 Yamaha Nytro MTX equipped with an aftermarket supercharger.

The options for the 4-stroke aficionado on the hunt for a brand new ride in the mountain snowmobile segment expanded two-fold when Arctic Cat jumped squarely into the 4-stroke game. Not only does that create a new mountain segment of sorts, Cat's entry in the 4-stroke mountain market now gives Yamaha some heated competition.

Both Yamaha and Arctic Cat now offer either naturally aspirated or compressed air intake versions of the available models in their lineup, sans the Yamaha Phazer MTX, which is now in a third and/or entry segment or class all by itself.

If you've ever had the opportunity to take a properly tuned turbo or supercharged 4-stroke sled for a test spin, then you are quite aware of the fact that the "compressors" are a whole other animal, creating another class of snowmobile while leaving their naturally-aspirated siblings in the snow dust while you have a permagrin plastered on your face . literally. This particular situation has created a split or dual class for the 4-stroke consumer.

Before we jump into the nitty gritty of the mountain 4-strokes, let's just clear the air about something right off the bat. Yes, both Arctic Cat (ProClimb M 1100) and Yamaha (Nytro MTX SE) offer, as mentioned, naturally-aspirated 4-strokes. That's the easy part. When it comes to compressed air models, Cat's offerings come stock while Yamaha's are not stock but are offered as a dealer-add on, meaning you buy either the supercharger or turbo (both are manufactured by Mountain Performance) and then have it installed.

So we make some loose comparisons between the Arctic Cats and Yamahas knowing full well what the deal is and while some might cry foul and say that's not fair, we think it's a little more fun and interesting to compare the two. So here goes.


Which sled has the most significant changes for 2012?

The most significant changes for 2012 are not exclusive to an individual sled, but to an entirely new Arctic Cat 4-stroke mountain poundin' ProClimb lineup, dressed out and available in nine variations of either naturally-aspirated or turbo-charged models.


Which sled feels the most powerful?

That depends on whether you want your power now or later. If you look at the factory published numbers, the Nytro MTX turbo shows to be the most powerful, producing 180 hp at 7-8 lbs, versus the Cat turbo building 177 hp at 9 lbs. The Nytro MTX with the supercharger makes 170-175 hp. As you can see, all are within about five horses of each other and all three of these motor packages ran extremely hard during photo shoots in West Yellowstone, MT, where we were riding between about 6,700-9,000 feet. The Cat felt like it had the longest legs of the bunch with a more linear power delivery, yet the more immediate low-end bang delivered by the supercharged and turboed Yamahas most definitely tested the forearm strength and throttle management skills.

For the non-compressors, the power delivery of the naturally-aspirated Yamaha Nytro MTX felt noticeably stronger than the Arctic Cat ProClimb M 1100.


Which sled makes the least power?

This is kind of a no-brainer-it's the sled with the smallest engine displacement, the Yamaha Phazer MTX, which makes an advertised 80 hp. And, as we alluded to earlier, that places this machine as an entry level sled in a class all its own.

As far as how the full-sized sleds ran at photo shoots, the naturally-aspirated Cats were the most docile and we associate most of this with clutching and gearing, not necessarily actual horsepower.


Which sled's powerband is best for climbing?

Unless your particular application requires immediate up-in-your-face acceleration off the bottom, we liked the turbo Cat the best because of its more linear spool-up, giving you more options for line picking.

Just the opposite was the case with the naturally-aspirated sleds, as the punchier Nytro MTX had the upper hand on the Cats for uphill momentum.


Which sled's powerband is best for boondocking?

All of the 4-stroke sleds have a nice, fat powerband, especially when compared to their 2-stroke counterparts, and the Cat turbo throttle manners were very manageable at this discipline as were its naturally-aspirated siblings.

Which sled has the smoothest powerband for all conditions?

The non-turbo Arctic Cat motors and clutching/gearing had the most linear, hence, smoothest powerband of the 4-stroke sleds that we rode at photo shoots. One SnoWest SnowTest staffer wrote, "Very manageable and rider-friendly."

Which sled has the best front suspension?

Arctic Cat's ARS race-bred front end offers a better ride, stability and performance when compared against the Yamaha during our testing under widely varied conditions. It is nice to have options and Cat also offers three different shock packages for their ProClimbs, depending upon the model. Those three options include Fox Zero Pro (M 1100), Fox Float (M 1100 Sno Pro) and Fox EVOL (HCR). The Nytro MTX uses Fox Float 2 shocks.


Which sled has the best rear suspension?

The jury is still deliberating this one as each skid performed well but had some characteristics we are still sorting through. More seat time and some individual adjustments will help us figure this one out during the upcoming winter. We want a little more time on the Cat to make a fair comparison with the Nytro MTX.


Which sled has the best track?

The latest and greatest version of Cat's Power Claw performs great but Yamaha's new 162-inch Ascent track really caught our attention. Impressively designed and an excellent performer in deep powder, the Ascent track built for Yamaha by Camoplast is purpose-built to handle the big ponies produced by the compressors. This track's design is very unique in its construction to be light weight, durable for the biggest of factory produced horsepower, yet pliable enough to reduce trenching and increase traction. Yamaha hit a homerun with the Ascent.


Which sled has the best brakes?

Today's snowmobiles all have excellent braking systems and it is seldom that there is a noticeable difference. Having said that, the new radial bore master cylinder and larger/lighter rotor on the Cats gave us a slight sense of a performance advantage, yet the super long brake lever proved to be a nuisance in the dog hair timber and other occasional situations. Call this one a toss-up.


Which sled has the best seat?

We give the nod to Cat as the new seat offered on the ProClimb chassis is 1 inch taller compared to last year's seat, making for an easy sit/stand transition. However, to our dismay, the Cat seat lost its storage capabilities for 2012. The Nytro seat is the more comfortable saddle of the two but unfortunately has a low rider feel and design that is not as conducive for extreme off-trail riding.


Which sled has the best running boards?

Without a doubt, the Cat running board is superior in all aspects of our evaluation criteria, including width, length, boot traction and snow buildup. Yamaha's boards are antiquated and have insufficient snow evacuation and footing traction on both the outer roll and the pan. One SnowTest staffer said, "The Cat boards currently may be the best in the industry."


Which sled has the best handlebar/controls setup?

The Arctic Cat mountain bar package with the vertical speed adjuster is what the SnoWest team desires to get its paws on as we like the bar design for its boondocking functionality and the height adjustability to accommodate all disciplines of western riding and nearly all jockeys, no matter how short or tall.

When it comes to accessory and creature comfort controls, Yamaha has the best in the biz due to ease of operation, range of adjustability, location of switches/controls and readout of display. "Definitely high tech equipment that we appreciate," one SnoWest SnowTest staffer wrote.


Which sled has the best skis?

Cat's ProClimb mountain ski is an improved version of last year's ski that is lighter weight, has a deeper keel for enhanced control and new loops that reduce finger pinch when used for pulling. The MT-9 ski is a brand new ski of a blow mold design developed for Yamaha by Camoplast. It is also lighter by 1.8 lbs. than its predecessor yet larger for greater flotation. Even though there is a glaring difference in the appearance between the two, the performance was not so much other than the MT-9 did float better, but lacked sidehill bite in comparison.


Which sled feels the lightest on snow?

This is another no-brainer. That would be the Phazer MTX, due to its size. It is approximately 100 lbs. lighter when compared to all the other 4-stroke machines.

As neither Yamaha or Arctic Cat publish dry weights anymore-and we're not sure we want to see what any of the 4-strokes weigh-we're left to seat-of-the-pants feel.

When it comes to the big boys (M 1100 and Nytro MTX), it's the compressed air Nytro MTX that set a precedence of sorts. With immediate power at our disposal to work a weight transfer-responsive suspension, coupled with the stellar performing Ascent 162, the Nytro MTX turbo got up on plane much quicker than previously anticipated. "Nothing short of impressive," one SnowTest staffer wrote.


Which sled feels the heaviest on snow?

Right now, the dark side of us would be tempted to say something like, "They're 4-strokes. Which sled doesn't feel heavy on snow?" But let's move on. The naturally-aspirated Arctic Cat had a tendency to feel the heaviest in more conditions and circumstances than the other 4-stroke naturally-aspirated ponies and we attribute most of that to power delivery rather than a significant weight variation.


Which sled sidehills on open hillsides the best?

Well, that depends on the nature and severity of the sidehill, but if you're going big, then we suggest the M 1100 Sno Pro turbo. Our staff agreed that as the slope gains severity, the deeper tunnel cut, shorter "runners" and narrower ski on the ProClimb chassis allows those sleds to take a deeper bite while the turbo spools up enough track speed for the Power Claw 162 to go until you may run out of, well, let's say nerve.

Which sled sidehills under slow speed in technical terrain the best?

With the Yamaha Phazer MTX being the smallest and lightest 4-stroke on the market, it is a shoe-in for this discipline as this is what was in mind behind the design of the little Yammie.

Most of our staff leaned into the hill most comfortably and efficiently at a lower velocity aboard the naturally-aspirated ProClimbs when comparing the full sizer sleds. Having said that, the Nytro MTX, in about one to one-and-a-half feet of powder seems right at home. Any deeper and you're fighting the weight.


Which sled handles the best in deep snow?

The general consensus among the SnoWest staff is, "The M-1100 turbo 162 has all the right stuff to capture this honor, highlighted by awesome power and balance for maneuverability coupled with great traction/flotation to go forward fast."


Which sled handles the best on rough single-track trails?

Once again, the lighter and smaller Phazer MTX had a definite advantage over the big boy 4-strokes on a rough and/or confined trail.

The M 1100 Sno Pro 153 also scored high on the fun factor scale for rough-housing, thanks to its shorter track, predictable power and suspension package. One SnowTester said, "Significantly easier to control in the rough stuff than the longer tracked sleds and compressed intake horsepower."


Which sled handles the best on groomed trails?

We think the FX Nytro MTX 153 is almost perfect if you have more groomed trail riding in your total mileage than not. "This Nytro gives you a sensation of being on the trail on rails, enhanced by its lower stature and stability," one staffer wrote. Now, if we could just add a supercharger to this 153 recipe ..


Which sled are you going to hate to change the belt on?

Take your pick. None of these are easy.

Which sled are you going to hate to change the spark plugs on?

None of the 4-stroke machines are a peach to change spark plugs on, but if there is any consolation, the Yamaha top/side panels and attachment screws are easier to remove for under hood maintenance.


Which sled has the best gauges?

The SnoWest testers fav is the Arctic Cat premium gauge mounted in its adjustable pod, giving the rider more direct visibility whether sitting or standing. As we're always nitpicking about something, Cat might need to put a heated lens in the gauge to help keep it visible on those deep powder days when the gauge is sitting in the more horizontal position.


Which sled is our top pick for the 4-stroke mountain sled?

For 2012, the choices have become quite diverse in the mountain 4-stroke class and for most of our particular wants and needs, the Arctic Cat M 1100 Turbo Sno Pro 162 was our pick of the litter. 


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