2018 Real World Shootout

We cannot tell a lie!
Groomed, great, goodness!

That’s what we had at our Real World Shootout this year. At our not-so-super-secret test facility we were able to secure a professional groomer and pack down three feet of white gold into over a ½-mile straightaway that ensured a level playing field for acceleration testing between all our 2018 model year, long-term test sleds.
2018 AmSnow Real World Shootout
Every year we break-in our demo sleds per manufacturer specs. We use only OEM preferred lubricants, and adhere to their individual break-in standards. This includes but is not limited to such things as correct timing for oil changes for 4-stroke machines, following RPM and fuel guidelines, and watching countdown timers on units like the Ski-Doo E-Tec sleds. Each sled is well beyond their break-in period when we run them for both initial MPG testing and for acceleration testing.

In addition, we test each sled in a manner we feel a normal consumer would set them up. Therefore, we often put on slightly larger windshields on certain trail sleds, traction and carbides on many 800cc and larger sleds, storage bags, etc. We want to see how the average person would feel riding his or her own sled. There are no performance modifications made and other than small accessories like those mentioned, these are bone stock machines.

This year during the Real World Shootout week we had bitterly cold conditions. The thermometer hardly broke single digits for a high and lows were far below zero. We had snow every night for the entire week and there was several feet of snow on the ground. On the acceleration test day we had 10-15 mph tail-winds and overcast skies with spotty snow-showers and a high of 8 degrees. Needless to say it was a crisp, but nearly perfect morning for snowmobile testing!

Like every year, we bring a cadre of test riders that run the gambit from young folks to old folks and includes both men and women. A big part of the Real World Shootout is acquiring data through various standardized tests, but it is also to get a seat-of-the-pants discussion from each of our test riders after each day of riding. These opinions help form many topics that are touched on in articles such as our Long-Term Test reviews. We have ex-racers, touring riders, western riders and average trail riders in our group so experiences and opinions vary widely.

After decades of consecutive years compiling data we have a large base of information that allows us to compare and draw more conclusions from than any other snowmobile media.
2018 AmSnow Real World Shootout
We had a nice mix of sleds this year for our demo fleet, which did not disappoint.
■ Accelerating through 2018
This model year saw an even larger increase in the products available with 800+cc engines and the even higher horsepower 4-stroke Yamaha turbo engine. While we still love to ride 600cc and lower horsepower sleds, many of the new machines (which we need to evaluate) were of the larger engine nature again this year. We hear from many readers that they “do not need an 800,” and we agree that the majority of trail riders do not, but in this demo sled test we try to test newest models and engines released. Don’t worry, there will be more small-sleds in 2019!

We also were lucky this year to have sleds that compared fairly nicely to each other, including the Arctic Cat ZR 8000 ES with a 137-inch long track, the Polaris Switchback XCR 800 with a 137-inch long track, and the Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS with a 137-inch long track. Lugs on these sleds were 1.25, 1.352, and 1.5 respectively so that played a part in the data. Also, we did not have time to stud the Cat, but the other two were lightly studded with two studs per bar, down the center of the track.

One could also make an argument that our Ski-Doo Backcountry X 850 and Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX were comparable sleds if you just looked at the literature from each OEM separately. Both are deemed close to 50-50 off-trail and on-trail sleds, but in reality the Yamaha is still much more suited to on-trail riding.

The outlier in the acceleration testing was the Polaris Titan. This 155-inch long extreme utility/crossover sled was never made to be a speed machine. But like everything else, we put it through the paces. Our perfectly groomed test track and a slight tail-wind meant faster speeds in the acceleration course than what we saw last year and you can see all the speeds and compare on your own in the accompanying timed speed results chart.
2018 Polaris Switchback XCR 800
The Polaris Switchback XCR 800 137 was the over-achiever of the group.
Just like last year, and at our New York Shootout, the 203.8hp Yamaha Sidewinder was the fastest sled in our demo group. We had a slightly longer version than last year’s 137-inch LTX. Our Yamaha demo this year was an X-TX that was 141 inches long and had a 1.6-inch lugged standard Cobra track on it. The Sidewinder was not the fastest sled out of the hole, but once that turbo spooled up, the arm stretching power was on and it was uncatchable. It did 103.01 mph as a top-speed which was over eight mph faster than the Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry X 850, the next closest machine.

The Backcountry X 850 was the lightest sled of all the units tested in this test, and it had the 2nd strongest motor (at 168.7hp), so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it was the 2nd fastest sled next to the Yamaha Sidewinder. With a 1.6-inch lugged Ice Cobra track and the snappy 850 Gen II E-Tec motor the Backcountry had plenty of pull out of the hole being the quickest sled to 30 mph. The 146-inch track rolls easily around the new CMotion rear suspension with slightly tipped up rails at the rear. We have found that the 144-inch Polaris Switchback Assault tipped up rail skid, the older Apex XTX 144 skid, and others are actually faster than the shorter track straight rail skids.

The Polaris Switchback XCR 800 137 was the overachieving sled of the entire group in this acceleration test session. It was fast, actually faster than the Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850 mph-wise in the ¼-mile hitting 94.84 mph to be the third fastest sled (though the ETs were actually even in the ¼-mile with the X-RS). This was a BIG turn-around from the short-track XCR we tested last season, which was slower and had worse ETs than almost any demo sled in our fleet on the acceleration course. This year, the Switchback XCR was the sled we were hoping it would be, and it impressed.
2018 Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850
The Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850 had a longer lug track than the Polaris XCR or Cat ZR 8000, but was still just as quick or quicker in the ¼-mile elapsed time, plus it was quicker off the starting line and throughout every interval in the ¼-mile. We believe a couple things held the top speed back on this sled including a little more weight than the XCR, the longer studs installed to accommodate the 1.5-inch lug, and we’ve found the adjustable skis up front have more drag unless you pull the carbide blade all the way into the sleeve of the ski. We left the blade halfway out at a standard ‘trail setting’, just like an average person would ride it down the trail.

The Arctic Cat ZR 8000 had an impressive top speed of 93.95 mph as well as a fast ¼-mile speed of 92.84 mph. This was the smallest lug of the entire group at 1.25 and it did not have studs. Once the Cat finally caught some grip it was clawing its way quicker in each interval ET and speed came up nicely. We think a 1.352-inch track and a few studs would make this sled extremely competitive. The crazy thing about this sled is that it feels like you are going about 60mph when you are topping out just as fast as any other 800 or 850 on the market.

The big Polaris Titan XC was obviously not made for speed, but was only a second or so behind at the ¼-mile mark and topped out a 78.03 mph. That’s plenty fast to be hauling an ice fishing shanty!
2018 Polaris Titan XC 800
Titan is no tank! The workhorse utility sled from Polaris was a crowd-pleaser.
■ First Impressions
For some of our riders, this week was their first shot on these models, and most of the test riders’ first shot riding true “production” units in one place. Opinions and experiences were voiced and here’s a bit of the banter.

The Polaris Titan XC was a crowd pleaser! Yes, it weighed in at 728 pounds wet before we put a rack and storage system on it, but no one in our group could deny it was fun to ride. This sled was surprisingly easy to handle, even for the smallest of our test riders. The big 20x155x1.8 Cobra track threw some chunks behind it on the trail, but for whoever was driving, it was arguably the smoothest ride in the entire fleet. We towed a seven-foot sled with 500 pounds of gear in it, through two+ feet of powder, to our remote location. This thing never struggled even a bit. Early downsides include heavy snow-dust coming up through the open running boards at slow speeds, and a lack of a larger stock windshield and very little to no stock storage.

The Polaris Switchback XCR 800 made frowns go upside down. Seriously, this sled is just fun to ride trails on. Early upsides included better-than-expected engine performance and off-trail capability. The transfer on this sled makes you giggle and it will bury your buddy behind you if you pin it from a stop in the deep snow! Consistent drawbacks include ice buildup in the front of the footwells, plus a tight right-side footwell. In addition, we had to adjust the belt earlier than we have with other Polaris 800s and there was only a tiny stock storage compartment in front, not even big enough for goggles.
2018 Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry X 850
The 2 Ski-Doo Renegades (X-RS and Backcountry X) got a lot of praise from even riders who traditionally lean towards short track sleds in our group. The RAS 3 front suspension and rMotion rear suspension work together better than any other sled on the market. We also were able to start these electric start sleds at -29 degrees Fahrenheit one morning without problem, after sitting out all night in temps colder than -40F. We noticed the break-in period was greatly reduced this year. These have a “countdown percentage clock” on the gauge which counts down from 99% break-in left to go, all the way down to zero. Break-in for both Renegades was just over 300 miles on the odometer. Compare that with over 400 miles in previous model years. With the extreme cold temps we had early in January we needed to add windshields and handguard extensions on these sleds, plus the LinQ system for some storage. Arctic Cat’s ZR 8000 ES seriously felt like it was a 600cc machine … in a good way! Everyone thought they were going slower and not being as aggressive in turns, simply because it was so easy to steer, predictable, snappy and smooth. The acceleration numbers don’t lie in the charts, this thing is right there with all the other 800s. Since this is more of the base model we felt the shocks could have been a bit better, but otherwise the new American Cat-made motor was flawless. The downer was that at 8.4 mpg it really drank the fuel, and oil efficiency was not much better.
2018 Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX 141
Finally, the Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX pulls like a rocket-powered freight train. After four exclusive shootout events done by AmSnow, it’s safe to say it is the undisputed top dog on the “hyper-sled” market. It was almost 7mph faster in 660 feet than the closest 800+cc sled. At 636 lbs, this machine is heavy. We also experienced some icing-up of the steering in the combination of deep snow, high snow-dust and low temperature variations we rode in. We put a much larger windshield on this sled, but with most models, the medium-tall windshield is actually worth about 2-3 mph more at top end, since the driver is able to tuck in.
Woody's traction is ALWAYS smart
For many years we have been working with Woody's Traction, testing their products on our annual long-term demo sleds and for other events including our new Ride-In event in Munising, Michigan. For the most part, we stick to their Gold Digger and Grand Master studs as these are long-lasting performance trail studs for two- and one-ply tracks that give us the trail traction we need.

Nobody has more options for getting you the correct set-up for your sled than Woody’s whether it is for trail folks like us, or top notch racing crews.

In addition to studs that were specific for each track, we also stayed with the Digger metal backers and nuts this year. These traditional metal backers weigh a bit more than many of the new plastic backers, but what can we say we’re a little “old school.” We usually stick to two studs per bar and we only stud down the middle of the track, a center pattern between the track windows. We do this for a couple of reasons; first, you are more likely to have a stud pull through the track on the outside edges and second, with only two studs per bar you can easily “stud around” caution rub-areas like the tops of shocks or idler wheels. This equates to roughly 96 studs on a 121-inch sled.

Using one of Woody’s numerous templates available on their website will offer plenty of grip for the average trail rider and even for the frozen river runner. The important thing is that studs help you stop faster. When paired with a slightly longer carbide runner on your ski you can turn better, be more responsive in corners, and be even more safe. When studding with the Gold Digger or Grand Master studs we follow Woody’s recommendation of 0.125” longer than the lug of your track. Sounds simple, but we often see trail folks with the wrong size traction product on their track. If you get studs that are too long then they are more apt to bend and pull. Studs that are too short won’t reach out past the rubber lug and therefore will not help at all.

On Woody’s website www.woodystraction.com you can simply put in the year, make and model of your sled and easily customize your own traction and carbide package for specific sleds.
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