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4 Choices: High Performance Flatlander Options

By Jerry Bassett, Sr Executive Editor

Choices? You betcha says the Minnesota-based ride review staff. For model year 2018 we’ve pinned down what we’d want for high performance riding for the upcoming snow season. Fancy this, only one of our four choices is what the original equipment manufacturer would call its “trail” option. The rest come under the crossover label, mainly because they have tracks stretching out a bit more than the 129-inch length common to most trail models.

That “trail” sled we picked? It’s Arctic Cat’s ZR 8000 RR with the 137-inch length track underneath it. In truth if not for an XF version in Cat’s line, this sled would most likely be a crossover, too! Our other picks for high performance rides are Ski-Doo’s Renegade X-RS 850 (136-inch Cobra track), Polaris 800 Switchback XCR (136-inch Cobra track) and the limited, 50th anniversary edition of Yamaha’s Apex X-TX LE 50th (146-inch Backcountry track). These are all loosely viewed as crossover models, but we see them as all-round go-very-fast trail sleds with an ability to break trail and run the fresh lake-effect snows of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or the low ranges of the mountain West, such as the Black Hills.

If we had to put these four sleds in a definitive personal pecking order, we’d go with the Ski-Doo Renegade, followed by the Polaris XCR and Cat ZR 8000 RR, then the Yamaha-built Apex X-TX. Your order or what you make of it we suspect your ranking would be based on rider prejudice of your favored brand. That’s you. This is our thinking.

As is Ski-Doo’s style, the Renegade looks great on the trail or on your trailer. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

Ski-Doo-Renegade X-RS 850

A year ago, we would hardly have even given this sled a top 10 ranking for personal ride fave. That first-year sled seemed unsorted as the engine hit hard just about mid-range, which Ski-Doo spokespeople claimed was a good thing and was intended to give the rider boosted on-trail excitement. Agree with that. But we didn’t care for it. Of course, maybe we never rode hard enough to appreciate it. Don’t know, but we do know that this year’s midrange blast is more subdued making the 850 twin’s power output much more consistent and controllable. The entire power delivery seems way smoother. There’s strong pull across the rev range with above average pull off the turns, which allows you to plan your exits based on the trail and not on the drivetrain’s quirks.

We also like the balance of the all-new GEN4 chassis as it centers that powertrain almost perfectly. There is vastly improved handling balance side-to-side and front to rear. The GEN4 chassis setup is Ski-Doo’s best ever rendition of the REV platform.

Ski-Doo includes premium KYB Pro shocks on the Renegade X-RS offer compression adjustment that work well with the RAS 3 double A-arm front suspension. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

In the recent past, we’ve found racer replica sled’s to be too racing oriented, making them rough riding and harsh for every day snowmobiling. That’s changed as now Ski-Doo, Cat and Polaris make terrific race-bred models. We figure the key to the change lies in the new breed of sled shocks, which better control the range of damping on whatever amount of suspension travel the individual sleds have. In addition, like the latest Ski-Doo 850 drive train, these racer replica sled engine and clutching combinations provide smoother transitions from drive away to straight away.

Mounted on the Renegade REV seat you have a “trick” handlebar that can be set for deep mogul riding, all day cruise or high speed cornering. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

We especially like the seemingly unlimited adjustability of the Renegade X-RS. As a rider, once seated on the REV forward seat you have a “trick” handlebar that can be set for deep mogul riding, all day cruise or high speed cornering. Blend that with the optional TS “dagger” style skis that let you literally dial in front end bite and the quick adjustments of the rMotion rear suspension and the KYB shocks. As noted these new style shocks can be tuned to maximize the full length of the shock stroke. You can get a racer ride if you want, but what you really want is a ride that uses virtually all of the suspension and controls it along every millimeter of travel.

From our viewpoint, the Renegade X-RS 850 is an adjustable marvel. It’s strong, quick and very comfortable on or off trail. With the power of these sleds pushing 160-plus horsepower non-turbocharged, ride comfort and precise handling matter. The Renegade’s 136-inch length track works well on the trail and seems to be the new “normal” for trail performance as the length helps lay the power to the snow better on groomed trails and is a good starting point for breaking trail after fresh snow drops.

As is Ski-Doo’s style, the Renegade looks great on the trail or on your trailer. It’s got great ergonomics and there are ample options for personalizing it.

We found Polaris’ XCR is a great all-around ride that excels when ridden hard as it invites rider movement back-front and sideways better than the other sleds in this selection. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

Polaris 800 Switchback XCR

Polaris’ 800 Switchback XCR hangs in with its external shock rear suspension. Over the years we’ve noticed that the suspension’s rearmost shock has become more laid down from the original Rush. In the years since its introduction this suspension system has come to epitomize Polaris’ premium trail set up, although we wonder how much longer this will be the case as it has to cost more to produce than a straight tunnel design such as the 2018 800 Switchback Assault with the newer and more conventionally styled IGX 144 rear suspension design. Considering that the XCR weighs almost 30 pounds more than the Assault with essentially the same power and nearly three inches less of rear travel… well, we’re just supposing that straight tunnel sleds may offer some advantages.

Still, we do like the overall handling and ride of the XCR Pro-XC unique design. In this 160-plus horsepower category battle the Polaris Cleanfire twin and its attendant Polaris/TEAM clutching works well, but feels a bit tame compared to the newer 850 Ski-Doo and Cat’s new 800 C-TEC2 twin. On trail the XCR’s ergonomics are excellent and the sled responds quickly to rider movement. Slip back for less ski bite and transfer for holeshots. Move up for more bite to grip a corner.

As with the other racer style models, the XCR features premium, highly adjustable shocks up front. Dial in how you want the Walker Evans Hi-Lo speed compression adjustable shocks to dampen the front end’s 9.3 inches of front travel. To alleviate shock fade, the XCR uses Walker Evan’s piggyback reservoir.

Polaris re-designed the Pro-XC progressive rate suspension geometry, adding a lightweight forged aluminum crank with new pivot point and moved the front torque arm rearward to better control pitch, increase overall travel and maximize the rail to snow profile. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

At the rear of the Pro-XC progressive rate suspension, Polaris re-designed the geometry, adding a lightweight forged aluminum crank with new pivot point and moved the front torque arm rearward to better control pitch, increase overall travel and maximize the rail to snow profile.

We’ve found that this sled is a great all-around ride that excels when ridden hard as it invites rider movement back-front and sideways better than the other sleds in this selection. We attribute that partly to the AXYS performance saddle with its narrowed front and wide butt section. The sled seems to enjoy being tossed around off trail, which it handles well thanks to its 136-inch Cobra track with 1.35-inch lug profile.

Indeed, this sled reminds us of the old “back in the day” original Indys. That sled design forgave riders doing incredibly stupid maneuvers. This one may eventually bite, but you’ll really have to provoke it. Polaris engineering truly hits the sweet spot of on and off trail performance riding.

Performance-wise the 800 XCR gives up some top end power as it is likely the least powerful of these models, probably on a par with the Yamaha Apex. It has good out of the hole acceleration and will pull well off a turn and churn through off trail snow as well as any another model in this grouping.

Only Polaris gives you an interactive digital display that includes Bluetooth functionality and GPS mapping capability that’s being used more and more by tech savvy riders. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

We especially liked the clever way Polaris designed very effective wind deflection into the cowling and windscreen. Of course, only Polaris gives you an interactive digital display that includes Bluetooth functionality and GPS mapping capability. Very clever and being used more and more by tech savvy riders.

Maybe not the fastest, but certainly uniquely Polaris, the 800 Switchback XCR is one of our top choices for everyday high performance ride.

The Cat RR is actually a trail model first and with the 137-inch Ripsaw II track a viable off trail performer secondarily. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR 137

We liked the 8000 RR with Suzuki power and we can state that we enjoy the Arctic Cat-powered ZR 8000 RR as much. We anticipate that after a year of fine-tuning that, like the Ski-Doo 850, this Cat 800 will get even better. For now though, Cat’s all-new 794cc C-TEC2 dual stage injection is said to have more power than the Suzuki it replaces. It also is claimed to be cleaner and more responsive.

In the 160-plus horsepower category of performance sleds, the Suzuki-powered Cats gained a loyal following, especially for their midrange. The replacement feels about the same, but our seat-of-the-pants judgement gives it better off the line and slightly better top end. The facts are that the new Cat twin powering through TEAM drive and driven uses less oil and is definitely cleaner than the older design. Cat engineering got this right.

Among our test riders and those who reviewed it, the 8000 RR was specifically listed as a test rider favorite. From our personal view, the RR has been a favorite, too.

Thanks to new Next-Gen body panels the RR enjoys more compact styling for 2018 as these panels cinch in the Cat’s gut. The streamlined effect actually works to help the sled move through snow better and enhance deeper snow turn ins. And it reduces frontal area for improved air flow.

The RR benefits from premium Fox ZERO QS3 Kashima-coated shocks on the front and rear suspensions. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

This sled benefits from premium Fox ZERO QS3 Kashima-coated shocks on the front and rear suspensions. The updated tall spindle Arctic Race Suspension provides incredibly simple shock tweaking via a quick switch that controls three different shock settings from moderate cruise to full-on racer-like bump control over the ARS 10-inches of shock travel.

Granted, Polaris and Ski-Doo come with more “trick” rear suspensions, but we’ve been won over with the capabilities of Cat’s Slide-Action rear suspension system. Again, you’ll find Kashima-coated Fox QS3 type shocks controlling the Cat’s 13.5-inches of rear travel. The half-inch inch of sliding action provided by the suspension’s U-shaped slot keys the sled’s reaction for holeshot accelerations and dive into corner deceleration. Simple and effective.

The Cat RR is actually a trail model first and with the 137-inch Ripsaw II track a viable off trail performer secondarily. The true crossover is the XF-based 8000 Crosstrek version, but we feel that this ZR chassis RR is more trail performance friendly and the one we’d want for a winter’s excitement.

The RR’s hydraulic brake with its lightweight rotor works well. The digital display can be read quickly at trail speeds and the handguards are a nice addition considering the fly speck nature of the race-inspired windscreen.

Cat’s RR has been a test rider favorite for the past few seasons and that continues for model year 2018 with the new 800cc Arctic Cat C-TEC2. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

Styling-wise we find other Cats more handsome than the grey RR, which in profile appears a bit stout from behind the A-arms back to the seat tip. It’s a personal thing, but give Ski-Doo stylists the thumbs up win. The fact is that the RR works. It’s quick. It handles well. It’s easily adjustable and sits well for on or off trail excursions.

The sled’s handlebar design remains, in our opinion, the best in the business. Its contours just match up with the rider better than anything we’ve ridden. The High Performance seat is on par with the Polaris and Ski-Doo, and it can be fitted with an optional heating element.

As noted the RR has been a test rider favorite for the past few seasons and that continues for model year 2018 with the new 800cc Arctic Cat C-TEC2.

 

We confirmed Yamaha claims the YRSS system helps control lateral roll with the net result being improvement in ride quality with more precise handling. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

Yamaha Apex X-TX LE 50th

Maybe its sentimentality that we include the Yamaha Apex X-TX LE in this category in lieu of a Cat-based Sidewinder. This is the last year of the Apex, but it is a true Yamaha snowmobile, not a “partner” model with Yamaha power in Cat’s chassis. And it is worthy for inclusion.

The Apex X-TX LE 50th comes with our favorite snowmobile powerplant, the normally aspirated 998cc four-cylinder four-stroke with upper 150 horsepower ratings. Yes, it’s heavy, probably the most of all our choices, but that’s mitigated with electric power steering (EPS). But, there’s that sound! The Apex four is unlike anything else in the sled biz. Its rear-mounted exhausts remind you of the engine’s superbike legacy. When the EXUP exhaust system hits, the engine comes to a crescendo like nothing has before or will once this sled leaves production. Your throttle thumb seemingly controls a mechanical symphony emanating from under a wedge-shaped stage and spilling out the rear exhaust speakers.

While not the most powerful of these four sleds, the Apex X-TX with its elongated 146-inch Backcountry track sets flat and grips a holeshot or throws out-of-bounds snow. The Apex power volley is smooth, nearly turbine-like in its ability to climb from holeshot through midrange up to top end. This is a very sophisticated powertrain and it responds like it. Quick, smooth and suggesting more power than a dyno collects.

Yamaha Reactive Suspension System (YRSS) technology allows oil flow between the shocks through a YRSS control unit to affect damping and volume transfer based on the movement and forces generated at each ski. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

EPS and EXUP come standard as do Yamaha Performance Dampers. In addition and for 2018 Yamaha adds a new concept for snowmobile front suspensions, the Yamaha Reactive Suspension System (YRSS) that hydraulically connects the sled’s front shock absorber bodies. This exclusive Yamaha technology allows oil flow between the shocks through a YRSS control unit to affect damping and volume transfer based on the movement and forces generated at each ski. Our test riding confirmed Yamaha claims the system helps control lateral roll without compromise to bump compliance and comfort. The net result of YRSS is improvement in ride quality with more precise handling.

Although new to snowmobiling, like Yamaha’s EXUP and Performance Dampers, the YRSS concept has been around for a number of years in either the automobile or motorcycle world.

As for on trail versus off-trail, the Apex X-TX uses a longer 146-inch track compared to the 129-inch length fitted to the strictly trail-suited Apex. While the longer and deeper lugged 146-inch Backcountry track may impede top end, the Apex X-TX puts this greater footprint to good use when powering through deep snows off trail as it adds flotation per square inch, beneficial since the Apex is not the lightest sled in this grouping. It also adds a bit of control at straight line speeds.

The Slingshot 146 rear suspension system with its Fox Float shock and nearly 14-inches of rear travel is a proven design that works the trail bumps well for all day cruising. The front suspension truly needs the advantages of YRSS as its 8.5 inches of suspension travel is the least of these four models.

Fit and finish stand out as this is a Yamaha “Yamaha” and all the parts meld as intended. Photo credit: Jerry Bassett

If you are a serious all day long haul rider, the Apex is great. The power steering takes the effort out of the sled’s excess front end weight. But, if you are pounding deep ruts the weight still matters and will wear you down, EPS or not. On groomed trails the Apex is a terrific cruiser, smooth and quick. This sled is not up to the ergonomics of the other three selections. The seat is too low in comparison. However, the wide, contoured and hooked handlebar set is excellent, our second choice after the Cat.

Fit and finish stand out as this is a Yamaha “Yamaha” and all the parts meld as intended. In our selection, we added the Apex as the true Yamaha we’d enjoy for a long season of riding. It has unique power, comfortable ride, okay ergonomics — oh, and did we mention that we love the Yamaha Genesis four-cylinder?

Specifications

2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR ES 137 2018 Polaris 800 Switchback XCR 2018 Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850 2018 Yamaha Apex X-TX LE 50th
Engine Arctic Cat C-TEC2, two-cylinder, two-stroke high-performance 794cc; bore/stroke of 85.0mm / 70.0mm; liquid-cooled; dual stage electronic fuel injection system Polaris Liberty 795 twin cylinder 2-stroke; liquid-cooled; Polaris Cleanfire electronic fuel injection; two-into-one exhaust; Clean-Fire 3D ignition Rotax 849cc, liquid-cooled two-cylinder 2-stroke; Rotax “ETEC” electronic direct injection with power booster injectors Yamaha Genesis 150FI; 998cc, 4-cylinder, 4stroke, liquid-cooled; electronically controlled 39mm Mikuni x 4 fuel injection; EXUP exhaust

 

HP 160+ claimed 155+ (Estimated) 165 @ 7900 rpm (claimed) 150+
Drive TEAM Rapid Response II with TEAM Rapid Reaction BOSS driven; 21/41 gearing Polaris P85 drive with Team LWT driven clutch Ski-Doo/Rotax pDrive with QRS; engagement @ 3600 rpm Yamaha YVXC drive clutch with Yamaha driven
Suspension:
Front Arctic Race Suspension (ARS) A-arm with Fox 1.5 Zero QS3R shocks with Kashima coating; up to 10.0-in of travel; Arctic Pro-Cross 6 ski AXYS dual A-arm with Walker Evans Hi-Lo speed compression adjustable piggyback-type shocks; 9.3-inches of travel; Pro Steer skis RAS-3 double A-arm with KYB Pro 36 Easy-Adjust aluminum bodied gas shocks; up to 10.1 inches of travel; Pilot 5.7 ski standard with optional Pilot TS available Yamaha A-arm with HPG aluminum shocks and YRSS; up to 8.5-in of travel; Tuner II skis; electric power steering
Rear Arctic Slide-Action parallel slide rail; with front arm Fox 1.5 Zero QS3 shock with Kashima coating; rear arm Fox 2.0 Zero QS3R shock with Kashima coating up to 13.5-inches of travel Pro-XC parallel rail slide suspension with external Walker Evans Hi-Lo speed compression adjustable piggyback shock on rear; 13.6-inches of travel rMotion parallel slide rail with aluminum body KYB Pro 40 Easy-Adjust shocks; up to 10.6-inches of travel Yamaha SingleShot 146 parallel slide rail with Fox Float XV aluminum shock; up to 13.8-inches of travel
Dimensions:

Length

Height

Width

Ski Stance

Track

 

121.0 inches

45.0 inches

47.75-inches

Adjustable 42-43 inches

15 x 137 x 1.25 Camso Ripsaw II

 

121.0 in

46.0

47.0

42.5

15 x 136 x 1.35 Cobra

 

123.0 inches

48.1 inches

47.9 inches

42.4 inches

15 x 137 x 1.25 RipSaw

 

121.0 in

47.6 in

47.3 in.

42.5 in.

15 x 146 x 1.75 Camoplast Backcountry

Brake Hydraulic brake system with disc mounted on drive shaft Polaris AXYS radial race-type disc system with external cooling intake

 

Brembo hydraulic racing brake system with braided stainless steel line 4-piston Nissin hydraulic disc brake with ventilated lightweight rotor
Weight NA 484lbs (Claimed) 503 lbs (Claimed) NA
Fuel Tank 11.7 US Gal (Minimum octane 91) 12.0 US Gal 9.5 US Gal (91 Octane premium fuel) 9.2 US Gal
Features Two-stage heated seat (optional); deluxe digital gauge, push button reverse, electric start; Pro-Steer skis; electronic reverse; AXYS performance seat; one-piece IQR hooked handlebar; 3.5-inch fixed riser; multifunction gauge/display; OPTION: Interactive gauge, electric start, storage; security system

 

Generation 4 REV platform; gauge with LCD screen; trail performance seat; push button mechanical reverse; standard electric start; multi-position forward adjustable riser; aluminum handlebar with J-hooks Electric power steering, Electric start, reverse, LCD speedometer /odometer, DC Outlet, performance dampers, one-year limited factory warranty
MSRP (US $) $14,399 $13,799 $14,849.00 $16,149.00
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