AmSnow's Real World Shootout 2017

We line sleds up and let 'em go full throttle!
2017 Ski-Doo Renegade X 850 E-TEC snowmobile Klim Butch Veltum
Snowmobile bragging rights live and die by the radar gun. It’s the only true way to find the Real World facts through all the barstool fiction!
Acceleration testing is always fun, and this year we were able to do it with some of the most Real World conditions possible. That’s just one of our goals that we try to recreate every year at the Real World Shootout.

In acceleration testing, we ask ourselves, “How would consumers best gather results if they had to conduct their own tests?” Just about everyone has found an open field or lake or testing strip (with permission, of course), packed or groomed, and lined up next to their buddies. And that’s exactly how we always set up our acceleration test every year.
2017 Arctic Cat Thundercat snowmobile with studs Klim Butch Veltum
The factory-boosted 4-strokes proved their power is mightier than the 2-strokers’.
2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 AXYS snowmobile Klim Butch Veltum
The 800cc H.O. from Polaris might be the fastest it has ever been in the new Switchback Assault, now in the AXYS chassis.
This was not a professional race track, and that’s on purpose. We want a "Real World" scenario. So, with some assistance from the town of Munising, Mich., we commandeered a private test area and made our own track of more than a mile, giving us ample time to find top speed and a safe shutdown area. We spent two days packing down the track, giving it time to set up, and grooming it down again. And best of all, the weather blessed us with bright sunny skies for our test days and cool temps at night over our purpose-made test strip.

With everything in place, it was up to AmSnow test rider and snowmobile drag racer Butch Veltum to keep our test fleet on the straight and narrow. It was time for the sleds to perform and let the chips fall where they may.

But acceleration testing is only one aspect of the Real World Shootout. We are also wet weighing the sleds, spending time taking numerous fuel efficiency readings, trail riding and “seat of the pants” testing, as well as testing new accessories, products, and even new software and performance tracking equipment. It’s all done over the course of five days with the same group of riders each year. The idea is to be able to continually build a base of information that consumers can then look through, dissect and draw comparisons.

Before even starting to compare and test these sleds, we put well over 500 “break-in” miles on each of them. The 4-strokes all had their first oil changes and service done on them, and the 2-strokes had all eclipsed the specific manufacturer break-in times and count-down timers, done to respective OEM guidelines.

On the gun
The data doesn’t lie. On an acceleration track that resembled a worn-in trail through a grass field, we saw times and speeds slightly slower than what one might find on the straightest, low-snow groomed trail, or on a lake with little snow to drag on the sled. Even with the slightly slower speeds due to more loose snow, we can still gather a lot from the numbers in our acceleration chart. Plus, this is how MOST riding conditions end up when there is decent snow. It was perfect!

The overarching theme of snowmobile performance from each OEM is evident in this set of data. Most everyone views holeshot acceleration as a top priority when developing snowmobile performance. Every single sled, regardless of track length, went from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. So don’t worry, all the sleds are plenty fast out there. Plus, these are trail sleds, not racers, and we are not promoting racing on the trails by any means (only comparing as an independent third party for the consumer).
Ross Halvorson AmSnow Senior Editor camera Castle X
No manpower is wasted at our Real World Shootout. Every staff member uses every computer, camera, GPS and cell phone available to capture images, video and performance data when a sled hits the track.
The real eye-popper was the Yamaha Sidewinder. We knew it’d be quick, but we didn’t know it was this quick. Going 0-60 in 3.31 seconds, it’s nearly on par with some of the world’s fastest sports cars. Chevy’s Corvette Z06 is reported to clear 60 mph in 2.95 seconds, and that car was tested in the best environment possible (a professional closed test strip with perfect track conditions when it comes to traction, weather, etc.). The Sidewinder’s result was recorded in packed snow in a grass field.

The Sidewinder was the only sled to clear the 60mph hurdle in less than 4 seconds. The Thundercat was close, as you might expect, and there’s reason to believe the T-Cat may have done better if given the chance again. More on that in the sidebar below (“What a difference a day makes”).

Next off the line was the 144-inch long Polaris 800 Switchback Assault and our pair of Ski-Doo 850s. Polaris has this new Assault in the AXYS chassis working exceptionally well. It hung right with Ski-Doo’s new 850cc Gen4 137-inch long Renegade X and the shorter 129-inch tracked MXZ X package from the get-go. These three sleds were nearly dead even all the way through the quarter-mile. The Ski-Doos showed they have longer legs, besting the next fastest sled by 3-4 mph at the very tippy-top of the power curve.

Incidentally, that’s why we require our test track to allow for a full 20+ second throttle squeeze. Many times, these sleds require more than a full quarter-mile to really experience the top speeds from the engines. We had more than a mile of track to play with, and we used every last bit of it!

That’s all great, but what’s clearly evident in the first 660-1,000 feet is just how much more power the turbo triple 4-stroke from Yamaha is putting out than an 800cc or 850cc 2-stroke. Both the Thundercat and Sidewinder are picking up 5-10 mph more than the highest powered 2-strokes in the industry. And by the time they reach they reach the 1,000-foot marker, the boosted 4-strokes are simply on another planet when it comes to pure power.
2017 Polaris 800 Rush XCR snowmobile with studs Klim Butch Veltum
Pinned to win! Test rider Butch Veltum takes great pride in ensuring each demo sled gets a fair shake for its turn down the track. Many miles of trail testing give him a good feel for each sled.
Not one 2-stroke snowmobile cracked 90 mph in 1,000 feet, but the Thundercat bested 93 mph and the Sidewinder cleared it at 98 mph, and both had more to give! Not to mention they handled well.

We declared the HP wars back on the cover of last season’s Spring Issue. The first battle may have gone to the boosted 4-strokes, but we’re sure that we haven’t heard the last of the 2-strokers.

More than numbers

This week of testing is about more than just acceleration run charts, wet weights and mpg’s. We know you all love to see it, and that’s why we do it. We love it too, as it provides valuable info and validation to what we’re feeling on the trail most of the time.

But to some, speed numbers are a secondary concern. Handling, ride, and comfort are more important to some, and so we like to give a little recap of what we’ve liked and disliked about our demo fleet after some detailed conversations with the entire AmSnow flatland test crew. Here goes!

The Ski-Doo 850 sleds were both mighty impressive. Both the MXZ X and the Renegade X are superb trail machines. The added engine displacement, fuel injectors and pDrive clutch give every throttle squeeze the same consistent response when the engine delivers power to the track.
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 E-TEC snowmobile with studs Klim Butch Veltum
Many of our riders wished the riser was just a little taller on the adjustable bars of the 850s. Even in the tallest position, they are a tad too low to comfortably ride in a standing position. The good news is the rMotion rear suspension is as good as ever on these, so you’ll probably find yourself needing to stand less through the trails than on some other sleds.

The Thundercat and the Sidewinder L-TX LE are akin to cruise missiles on the long trail straightaways, and they pack more punch than a Tyson knuckle sandwich! But the real beauty here is how they harness all that power into a precise, controlled response. You can cruise comfortably at 30 mph just as easily as you can at 60, 80 or 100+ mph.

Obviously, the numbers in the charts for these two are a little slower than we expected. We’re inclined to chalk that up to conditions. These sleds are fully capable of 110-115 mph in stock form. We saw it from both of them early on in lake testing scenarios.

One of the consistent gripes from our test riders on these big 4-stroke sleds was the inconsistency of the hand warmers. That was supposed to be improved with the new handlebar design of the ProCross chassis, but most in our crew felt the high setting was too high and the low setting was too low. It made choosing a pair of gloves for the day difficult. Oh, and the ultra-low windshield on the Sidewinder is not ideal. You’re taking 200+ HP squarely on the chin. Pretty much all our sleds need bigger windshields and/or bigger handguards.
2017 Arctic Cat XF 8000 Cross Country snowmobile Butch Veltum Klim
Arctic Cat’s XF 8000 Cross Country seemed to have the same hand warmer issue, but the rest of the sled is very well built for its intended audience. The guys and gals who like to play off trail but need to ride the trail to get to those powdery meadows (and want to do so comfortably) will love the Cross Country. It’s a great trail ride, and it’s geared down to offer you a ton of low-end power for off-trail romps. The front suspension is awfully nice too, with FOX QS3 shocks that let you go from plush trail ride to big-bump capability with one or two quick clicks.

Polaris’s 800 Switchback Assault – finally updated to the AXYS chassis and 800 H.O. engine – has been the biggest hit of the early season. We first reported in our comparisons that this sled was greatly improved on the trail. After nearly 800 miles of testing, that report is more than confirmed. This sled, even at 144 inches, can keep up with any other sled on the trail or lake. Tight twisties, long straightaways or big bumps – you don’t lose much on the trails with this sled. It has the same high fun factor off trail as it always has, but with an even easier time of getting this sled on edge to carve up the pow.

The 800 XCR is a dream for trail purists. You just won’t get tired of riding it, thanks to its light weight and zippy engine. We would like to see a little more top end out of the engine, but you can’t take anything away from the trail manners and easy handling.
2017 AmSnow Real World Shootout Chart speeds elapsed times
Click to enlarge
American Snowmobiler 2017 test riders
2017 Real World MPG
Arctic Cat XF 8000 Cross Country – 10.85
Arctic Cat Thundercat – 10.38
Polaris 800 Rush XCR – 11.49
Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 – 13.48
Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 – 11.58
Ski-Doo Renegade X 850 – 10.65
Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX LE – 10.26

Test Rider Weight =
210 lbs. fully dressed (helmet, star, etc.)
2017 Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX LE snowmobile with studs Butch Veltum Klim
What a difference a day makes
Just like the real world, circumstances can be beyond our control when it’s time to run our sleds down the track. We report on everything, good and bad, in our Real World testing, and full disclosure is important.

Unfortunately, our Sidewinder had a mechanical service issue. Nothing was wrong with any parts, nor was there a recall or anything like that, but finding an additional O-ring where it was not supposed to be caused an oiling issue for a day. Unfortunately, tracking down the source of the problem forced our Sidewinder to make its acceleration runs a day later than the rest of the fleet.

The Sidewinder was run on the same track with no new snow and little temperature fluctuation, but the track did have an extra day to set up, meaning the track was that much crisper.

At every interval, the Yamaha was at least 3 mph faster and a half-second quicker than the Thundercat.

We could leave it at that, but that’s not the whole story. Both sleds are capable of much higher speeds than the gun showed. If you ask us which is faster, you’ll get a different answer from each of our test riders, because they are that close!
Intercomp professional racing scale snowmobile
Intercomp professional racing scale snowmobile Polaris Ground Up Lifts
It's just a little weight
Along with new engines, chassis and suspensions often come promises of reduced weight (at least from some OEMs). We’ve included wet weights from last season’s demo sleds along with this season’s so you can see firsthand how much the manufacturers have or haven’t reduced the weight of some sled models. These are obviously not the EXACT same models, but we find it interesting and think you will too! We take these weights using only the most accurate Intercomp professional racing scales on the market. This is the closest to a real “start-of-the-day riding weight” you’ll find in any publication, as our wet weights are taken not only with sleds fully fueled and oiled, but also with Stud Boy studs and carbides installed.

2017 Real World Wet Weights

Arctic Cat XF 8000 Cross Country: 626 lbs.
Arctic Cat Thundercat*: 684 lbs.
Polaris 800 Rush XCR*: 547 lbs.
Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144: 584 lbs.
Ski-Doo MXZ X 850*: 601 lbs.
Ski-Doo Renegade X 850 : 597 lbs.
Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX LE*: 671 lbs.

*Equipped with Stud Boy studs & carbides

2016 Real World Wet Weights

Arctic Cat XF 8000 CrossTrek: 637 lbs.
Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Limited**: 683 lbs.
Polaris 600 Switchback Pro-S: 559 lbs.
Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-X w/storage rack: 592 lbs.
Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS 800 (129)**: 604 lbs.
Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry 800: 571 lbs.
Yamaha SR Viper L-TX LE w/MPI Turbo**: 630 lbs.

**Equipped with Woody’s studs & carbides.
Stud Boy snowmobile traction studs
Stud Boy snowmobile traction Power Plate stud backers
Stay safe; stud it up
This season, we outfitted one trail sled from each OEM with traction products from Stud Boy. Each of our four studded sleds used Stud Boy’s safety stud package, and we’re also testing out three different styles of backers offered by Stud Boy this season.

Along with Powerpoint studs, we’ve also installed Stud Boy’s Shaper Bar runners with either a 7.5-inch or 9-inch 60-degree carbide. Studding your sled will give you extra grip on the trails, and you may find that your sled pushes through corners with just the stock runners. Adding a longer, more aggressive carbide gives your skis more of an edge to bite into those trail corners, keeping you and your machine planted on rails. The unique design of Stud Boy Shaper Bars also gives your sled a tighter turning radius.

Two of our sleds used Stud Boy’s unique Super Lite Pro Series backers. They look almost like a shovel, and when installed, they act almost like an additional lug on your track. The biggest difference we’ve noticed in the sleds equipped with these backers is an improved stopping ability in trail conditions, not just icy conditions. Installation takes some effort, but the added performance is worth the extra elbow grease.

We also used Stud Boy’s Power Plate backers (a more traditional style metal backer held on by a nut) and Super Lite backers (a cross between Super Lite Pro Series and Power Plate backers). Both of these styles are slightly easier to install than the Pro Series, but they don’t offer quite as much grip.

Whichever fits your style, we’d recommend Stud Boy traction products on any trail sled. Not only will you find better performance, but you’ll ride with more confidence knowing your setup is safer.
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