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Niche Utility Sleds for 2017

Three top touring and hard-working snowmobiles that won't die
RELATED TOPICS: ARCTIC CAT | SKI-DOO | YAMAHA
2017 Yamaha VK 540V utility snowmobile
Yes, it’s a 2-stroke! Your eyes have not deceived you. Yamaha is back in the 2-stroke market with its 2017 VK 540V. It has an updated 540cc twin that meets EPA regulations, and that poses some interesting possibilities for the Arctic Cat engine supply agreement, which includes the 1049cc NA and 998cc turbo 4-strokes.
Kort Duce photo
It’s conceal and carry with these sleds, because you CAN take it with you wherever you go. These three sleds are not 100% new, but they do have all the upgrades, storage options, versatility and longevity you want for specific applications: long-distance utility in an affordable engine (Yamaha VK 540V), extreme backwoods utility mobility (Ski-Doo Tundra Extreme), or super warm and comfortable 2-up touring with bruteforce utility (Arctic Cat Pantera 7000 XT Limited). These sleds are the best in their niches of the ever-evolving snowmobile market.

Yamaha VK 540V: Back in black … and orange and white

Even though it never truly went away (it’s been killing it overseas all this time), the Yamaha VK 540V is back in North America. Many never thought the day would come when Yamaha would once again produce a 2-stroke sled for those of us in the Western Hemisphere, but oh how wrong they were.

The VK 540V, with a redesigned 540cc 2-stroke carbed engine, is indeed back and better than ever. It now meets EPA standards, which is the reason it’s back in the North American mix. To do that, Yamaha claims reduced fuel consumption by as much as 25% from the previous model. Combine that with an 11.6-gallon fuel tank, and Yamaha has nearly doubled the range this work stallion is capable of.

There are two big engine improvements that will make the experience of owning a VK 540V far better than it’s ever been. First, a large multi-coil stator ring produces 400 watts of electrical power, more than twice as much as the previous. Second, that increase in power allows the use of a heated Mikuni TM33 flat slide carb. When you pair heated carbs with redesigned plastic minimizing snow ingestion into the engine compartment, you greatly reduce any chance of plugs fouling.

That increase in power produced by the stator is also used to power the new dual-bulb headlight and adjustable hand warmers. Both are welcome improvements for this sled’s return.

Sitting on the sled also feels better than in years past. You wouldn’t think a little more than two inches is a very big deal, but your knees and elbows will thank you as they no longer chatter together down the trail. Transitioning from sitting to standing is much easier now too.

Just about the only thing I didn’t find user-friendly on this sled was the access to the massive under-seat storage area. The seat got caught on the passenger handgrips, so it only opened about halfway. That’s still plenty of room to access most things that would fit in there, but it meant you had to use one hand to hold the seat up while you accessed the compartment. It would be better if the seat were able to flip all the way up and remain open on its own.

The bottom line on the VK 540V is this: It’s exactly what you would think of if you were to draw up your own Yamaha utility sled. Reliability and function are the primary focuses, while style and performance take a back seat. The very utilitarian look of the sled tells you all you need to know.

It’s a pack mule, and I mean that as a compliment. That’s exactly how Yamaha intended it to be. One squeeze of the throttle, and you’ll realize this redesigned engine and Hi/Lo/Reverse transmission are just begging to tow something. Whether it’s a passenger, provisions or pelts, you can haul them all a long way in comfort and confidence.
2017 Arctic Cat Pantera 7000 XT Limited utility snowmobile
Too cold to ride? That’s nonsense when you have the 2017 Arctic Cat 7000 Pantera XT Limited with heated seats and handles for everyone on board. Ample storage and extra fuel are nice, and we can’t overlook the utility aspects of the 1049cc engine, “lock-out” rear suspension and huge track.
Kort Duce photo
Arctic Cat Pantera 7000 XT Limited: The Escalade of snowmobiles
Arctic Cat called the Pantera 7000 XT Limited “the luxury SUV of touring snowmobiles.” That’s accurate when you consider how big and beefy this thing is, yet it boasts refined features. Things like heated driver AND passenger seats, passenger hand warmers with wind deflection, visor plug-ins, accessory outlets and more make the XT Limited the envy of just about every 2-up riding couple on the block. Heck, any passenger should be happy on the back of this thing for days at a time! And that’s entirely possible! You’ll easily haul all the necessities along in an oversized rear storage compartment AND detachable, hard-sided saddle bags.

So it’s easy to see where the “luxury” side of things comes in, but it probably sounds more like an upscale RV than an SUV at this point. Let’s dig into the mechanics of the XT to uncover its best utility features.

Under the hood is Cat’s 7000-class engine, better known to most as a 1049cc Yamaha 4-stroke triple that shines right where a working-class sled needs it most – in the low- to mid-range. It’s extremely strong and snappy on the low end of the throttle pull, which is perfect for this application, especially when you pair that engine with Arctic Cat’s WR3 transmission. And don’t forget about that auxillary fuel tank!

The Hi/Lo/Super-Lo transmission setup makes the Pantera 7000 XT a versatile sled, and the easy shift feature makes selecting your desired gear simple. In Hi gear, there’s no hesitation to get up to trail cruising speeds. Even Lo gear gets you moving decently down the trail. When you pop it into Super Lo, it gets down and dirty to do the heavy lifting.

An extra-wide 20x154x1.375-inch track provides plenty of traction for those big jobs too. The sled also sports a “lockout” feature of the Xtra-Action articulating rear suspension, allowing you to lock the back end in place so it acts as a solid rail, giving you the extra oomph necessary for towing heavy loads.

The XT is a sled with near Bearcat-like capabilities, but with the amenities of a five-star hotel suite (if you fill the cargo compartment with hot water and call it a Jacuzzi).

And if everything about the XT sounds good to you, your wallet better be XL, too! The sled that was named AmSnow’s 2017 Best 2-Up Touring Sled doesn’t come cheap. It’ll run you at least $4K more than either of the other two sleds in this article!
2017 Ski-Doo Tundra Xtreme utility snowmobile
Going somewhere? You most certainly are with Ski-Doo’s Tundra Xtreme! Just where you go is up to you with the Xtreme’s suprisingly good trail manners, nimble off-trail abilities, and a powerful yet efficient 600cc E-TEC engine that’s more play than work.
Kort Duce photo
Ski-Doo Tundra Xtreme: Carving out your own place
In all honesty, I’m not really sure what article Ski-Doo’s Tundra Xtreme should be discussed in. That’s why it’s here in an article about niche sleds. It’s definitely not a trail sled, but it’s not your typical mountain sled either. Nor is it a 2-up or a straight utility sled. The Xtreme might be in its own category, as unique as its looks.

It’s easy to think of any Tundra model as a utility sled. After all, if you look at the Tundra LT or the Tundra Sport, both come with a more tempered personality than the Xtreme, from their engine options (550 fan or 600 ACE) to paint jobs, to price (both start under $8K). Both also come standard with a cargo rack, and the LT even features a standard hitch.

You’ll find no such standard features on the Tundra Xtreme, but you will find things like a 16x154x2.5-inch ProLite track, LTS telescopic front suspension and an ultra-flat belly pan, along with Pilot DS 2 skis that speak to deep snow capabilities. You can float the Xtreme effortlessly through powder, and the tight 32-inch ski stance allows you to maneuver through forested areas rather easily as well.

The tall riser and grab bar on the handlebars will have you thinking mountain, especially when you see that long track, but that’s not exactly this machine’s calling either. It comes with the 600 H.O. E-TEC engine, which has decent power and is a proven performer. But it’s better suited for riding at lower elevations than high peaks. The necessary HP just isn’t there when you get up in the thinner air.

We can’t classify the Xtreme as a 2-up sled, as it comes with the REV-XM mountain seat. It does include storage now, but it lacks that 2-up capacity sported by the other Tundra models. With Ski-Doo’s many LinQ accessories, however, you can easily add additional seating, storage or fuel to this sled with the flip of a lever.

So what do we call the Tundra Xtreme? It’s just plain fun in a nomadic sort of way. It’s been that type of sled since its 2011 inception. The Xtreme begs for room to roam, as it can pretty much get through anything. If you’re off-trail in the lower elevations east of the Rockies, this sled is perfectly suited to a free-range lifestyle. Haul all your gear back through the woods to that secluded ice-fishing hole, snowboard hill or off-the-grid cabin.

Deep-drifted ranges or untracked forests, the Xtreme handles both well. Its eye-catching graphics go anywhere boldly. The REV-XU platform is easy to handle and instills a durable confidence in situations where you might otherwise think of turning back. The Xtreme will take you places other utility or 2-up sleds simply won’t.

That feeling is often worth the price of admission. If you don’t enjoy yourself on this sled, you’re doing it wrong!
2017 utlity snowmobile specs Arctic Cat Ski-Doo Yamaha
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