1998 Arctic Cat ZL 500

ZR-type performance, longer front suspension travel, less money! What's going on here?
The old adage goes something like "let sleeping cats lie." While the ZL 500 may very well be the sleeper of the season,we certainly cannot leave it be. Priced a cool 500 bucks below the ZR 500,we think this sled will be one of the top sellers of the '98 season. Here'swhy:

The ZL carries almost every major component theZR 500 does, yet finishes ahead at the cashier. At the heart of the ZL is Arctic Cat's new lightweight case reed, liquid-cooled 497cc twin with triple exhaust ports. Cat claims the new mill can produce 95 horses. Our test riders found the perceived performance to be slightly below the ZR 500's, but it still managed to place tenth out of all the sleds we tested in Stanley.Remember, this is one of Cat's price-leader sleds.

The front suspension is a slightly different versionof the AWS V. With a slightly wider 43-inch ski stance and 10-inch nose travel, the ZL out reaches the 41-inch wide, 8.2-inch tall front suspension on the ZR. The difference is in the A-arms. The ZLs feature a rounded andlonger design geometry. Also, the ZL comes equipped with Ryde FX shocks versus the racer's Foxes. As is typical for all Cats, we found that themore we grab the gas, the better the ZL handles and feels. We had no problems making the sled do what we wanted in the corners. Point, shoot, turn, hangon.

The FasTrack rear suspension handles impacts well,offering 13.5 inches of travel. The Ryde FX shocks and torsion springs coupled with the Extended Travel Tunnel kept us from bottoming and still gave a comfortable ride. The triangle-shaped adjustment blocker for the torsion springs is easy to reach.

Riding any of the new-bodied Cats is comfortable.The new handlebar design puts all the necessary controls at you fingertips.The throttle warmer switch is within thumb's reach on the right handlebar,while the left thumb can easily reach the grip warmer and high beam switches.The ergonomic feature which stands out most on the ZL, though, is the rider position.

Riders can easily find a comfortable position for long easy cruises, and quickly get into a more aggressive stance when the trail gets twisty. The foot wells are roomy enough to shift position, yet designed to offer solid anchoring when needed. The seat material has just the right amount of "slideability" to shift from one side to theother quickly.

In the past we haven't had a lot of nice things to say about Cat's fit and finish. With the new sled design, we don't have a lot of bad things to say about F & F. The seams are clean, they lineup, there isn't any flashing left behind from the molding process. Wires,cables and fluid lines are all nicely bundled and routed cleanly to their destinations. This all flies directly in the face of what we had been told by Arctic folks in the past- you really can have solid fit and finish, strongperformance and still keep the prices reasonable.

In our serviceability assessments, we found the ZL to be right at the top. Spark plugs are right on top of the cylinders and are nearly impossible to obstruct, drive belt removal is pretty standardand oil refill openings are generally easy to get to. What sets one sledapart from its competition is the suspension adjustability. Remember when we said we liked the triangle adjustment block on the rear suspension? Well,the ZL's front end adjustability scored very favorably too. It's the littlethings that make a great sled, and those are what sets the ZL apart.

Aesthetically, the ZL scored well. Lime green maybe a polarizing color- you either love it or hate it- but black seems tobe a general crowd pleaser. The rounded out look brings the "ZR" body style in step with current vehicle industry design trends. The injectionmolded bellypan is clean and the high curve of the front suspension wellgives the impression of even greater travel.

The Final Assessment
If we were in the market to buy a sledon a moderate budget, this would be it. It carries many of the trick highperformance features of the ZR 500 but with a smaller price tag. In theareas where the ZL differs from the ZR, we think the consumer comes outahead. At $5,499, we think you'll really be happy you woke this sleepingCat.

1998 Arctic Cat ZL 500

Overall Height: 45 inches
Overall Length: 112 inches
Weight: 476 lbs.
Ski Stance: 43 inches
Engine: 497cc liquid-cooled, case reed Suzuki twin
Exhaust: Tuned pipe
Drive: Arctco (rpm sensing)
 Driven: Arctic roller cam
Suspension Travel:
 Front: AWS-V double wishbone A-arms, Ryde FX shocks, 10 inches
 Rear: FasTrack, slide rail, torsion springs, TSL, Ryde FX shocks, 13.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 10.5 gallons
Key Features: Wilwood hydraulic brake, 3-bulb headlamp, speedo, odometer with trip meter,tach, mechanical fuel gauge
Retail Price: $5,499
Riding Impressions:
" In many ways the ZL 500 will handle better than the ZR because ofthe two inch wider ski stance."
- Doug Erickson, Test Rider
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