Low Power Sleds for 2017

If you're new to the sport or don’t need tons of horsepower, then these entry-level snowmobiles are for you!
2017 Arctic Cat ZR 3000 LXR snowmobile
The Arctic Cat ZR 3000 LXR provides smiles all around, as anyone will enjoy its warmth, comfort and smooth power delivery.
Kort Duce photo
“Don’t just focus on the 800cc man-killers!” That’s just one direct quote from one of our impassioned readers on our last issue survey. (See, we DO read those comments!) We’ve heard similar remarks about performance sleds so many times. So we decided to do a story on intro-level sleds, because these machines won’t break your spirit … or the bank.

We’re not dense enough to think everyone in the market for a new snowmobile is interested in ultimate high performance machines from the OEMs – although novice buyers usually move up the ladder quickly. For now, maybe you’re just getting into our great sport, or maybe you’ve got an up-and-coming sledder who’s not quite ready for a “man killer,” or you want a spare sled for novice or younger riders.

Whatever your reason for shopping in the lower power sled market, AmSnow has you covered. In this article, we dig into two great low power, entry-level options: a 2-stroke from Polaris and a 4-stroke from Arctic Cat.
2017 Polaris 550 Indy LXT snowmobile
The Polaris 550 Indy LXT stretches your dollar further with things like 2-up seating, a cargo rack and soild engine reliability.
Kort Duce photo
The great debate
Even in this portion of the market, you’ll find a contested debate over 2-strokes vs. 4-strokes. However, in other areas of the snowmobile world, this argument might center on power. You won’t find many debating HP numbers here. Instead, the 2-vs-4 debate is more focused around things like price, noise, fuel efficiency and ease of maintenance.

If, for some reason, speed is of great concern, I’ll just tell you right now that the Arctic Cat ZR 3000 LXR with its 700cc EFI 4-stroke engine is roughly 5 blistering mph faster than the Polaris 550 Indy LXT, which is powered by their carbureted 544cc 2-stroke fan-cooled twin. You’ll see 70 mph on the ZR, and maybe 65 mph (with a tailwind) on the Indy.

Those approximate numbers probably won’t influence your decision as much as other factors, including fuel economy. The ZR 3000 is a brand new model from Arctic Cat in 2017, and the engine is only one model year old, so we haven’t had much history on gathering MPGs. It is a 4-stroke, but Cat has never been guilty of making the most efficient sleds on the market. However, this is a Cat-built engine – not a Suzuki or Yamaha-bought engine – so the OEM has done its work from the ground up. Our little bit of testing of several pre-production units puts the motor in the 16+ mpg range.

The Polaris 550 fan engine is a long-known commodity, and one we’ve tested for fuel economy as recently as 2014 in the 121-inch version of the Indy. We can give you our virtual guarantee that the ZR 3000 will be better than the 10.62 mpg we saw on our last long-term test of the Polaris 550 motor.

So with the Cat you’ve got the 4-stroke engine, which is stronger, offers better fuel economy, plus no hassle with injection oil and the general ease of maintenance that comes with a 4-stroke. How does the Polaris compete?

A reputation for dependability is a good place to start.
Polaris 550cc fan-cooled 2-stroke twin engine
Polaris’ 550cc fan-cooled 2-stroke twin has embedded itself in every sled segment of the industry.
Can anyone handle it?
Of course! Both of these machines are user-friendly for even the most newbie of snowmobilers. Compromising situations should be rare on these two, as the smooth, gradual acceleration from their respective powerbands allow ample time to evaluate terrain obstacles as they come.

The Polaris is clutched with a bit more snap off the line, but nothing that should deter you or shake your confidence. The EFI 3000 engine from Arctic Cat has a nice tepid response and tame acceleration. Both sleds are very easily maneuvered through almost any groomed trail scenario. The Arctic Cat is hands down the better handling sled here with its shorter track, while the Polaris is the better option if you foresee 2-up riding or any future off-trail excursions.

The 3000 LXR’s suspension gets the benefit of some of Cat’s most proven technology. Up front, you’ll find the same Arctic Race Suspension sported by Cat’s race sleds and the rest of its trail fleet. Similarly, the Slide-Action rear suspension is also used by all Cat’s trail sleds. The 1.5 Arctic Cat IFP shocks up front and in back are plenty to cushion this particular ride.

Polaris’ Indy LXT also uses an established setup with the Pro-Ride front suspension and slightly redesigned Indy rear suspension with coil-over RydeFX MPV shocks. The removal of torsion springs and changes to the torque arms for 2017 reduced the weight of the back end, resulting in better trail manners and more flotation off trail. It’s not quite as sharp on the trails as Polaris’ AXYS sleds, but the Indy name is what kept the company atop the snowmobile pecking order for a long time.

Being honest with yourself about who will be riding the sled, and where they will be riding it, are at the forefront of buying any sled. The low power category is no different. Buying the best sled for your needs regardless of the manufacturer name is the best way to ensure you’ll get the most out of it.

If you want the honest truth about what I’d buy, it depends where I live. We live next to tight trails, so I’d opt for the Cat. If we lived at the cabin with deeper snow, and more woods, it’s the Polaris. That’s the honest truth.
2017 Polaris 550 Indy LXT snowmobile
Polaris offers some cargo hauling ability on the LXT with a standard cargo rack that’s ideal for carrying tool boxes, ice fishing gear, etc.
Kort Duce photo
Polaris’ little 550 is lightweight, fun, handles well and has proven to be extremely durable. Why else would the OEM keep churning out the same engine year after year? For the 2-stroke purist, this engine continues to do it all. You’ll find it throughout Polaris’ lineup of trail, utility, crossover and 2-up sleds. It’s always been a rock solid engine, within its realm of capabilities. Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of a little 2-stroke smoke embedded in your gear when you’re done with a ride?

Need for versatility

Bang for your Benjamins is important no matter what part of the snowmobile market you’re shopping. This is where the Polaris 550 Indy LXT has the upper hand.

Not only can you take the trails solo, but the 550 LXT 144 comes with a backrest and passenger handgrips for a comfortable 2-up ride. It’s not the cream of the touring crop by any means, but it’s a nice feature if you’ve got a significant other or kids that like to tag along once in a while.

Cat’s ZR 3000 and its 129-inch skid, on the other hand, are designed with a single rider in mind. An additional passenger seat can be purchased as an accessory to convert this machine into a 2-up, but that’s not its intended target.

Polaris also offers some cargo hauling ability on the LXT with a standard cargo rack that’s ideal for carrying tool boxes, ice fishing gear, etc. It’s another standard feature of Polaris’ extended tunnel. For the shorter trail-minded Arctic Cat 3000, you’ll have to purchase a cargo rack separately as an add-on accessory.

There’s also a little more versatility in the places you can go with the Polaris LXT. That longer track comes in handy again when you’ve got to get somewhere without the amenity of a groomed trail. You probably won’t be reaching the summit of Everest on this machine, but getting in and out of unplowed driveways and poking around for fun in the woods are entirely more possible.

From the very first bolt, the Cat LXR is built solely as an introductory trail machine. While its shorter track is a benefit in trail handling, off-trail situations will be much more comfortable on the Polaris.
comparison specs 2017 Polaris 550 Indy LXT Arctic Cat ZR 3000 LXR
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ TNT snowmobile
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ TNT
2017 Yamaha Phazer R-TX snowmobile
2017 Yamaha Phazer R-TX
Need more low power?
Both Ski-Doo and Yamaha offer lower power options for those not looking to set speed records, although we don’t necessarily consider them “learner sleds” for beginners due to their nuances in handling and technology.

Ski-Doo’s MXZ TNT with the Rotax 900 (or 600) ACE engine and its electronic iTC throttle control has a ton to like. Riders will be pleased with the rMotion rear suspension, handling of the RAS 2 front end, and the tempered performance of the 90-ish HP engine with high MPGs.

The TNT does feature a “Learning Key” that governs sled speed to around 30 mph, but the uniqueness of the light yet sensitive throttle pull does not always lend itself well to a beginner rider. It takes some time behind the bars to understand how a snowmobile responds, and the iTC-equipped sleds from Ski-Doo are certainly unique in that regard, and in our opinion are more suited for a non-novice, long-mileage rider.

Yamaha’s Phazer R-TX and its 4-stroke motor have longevity in the low power trail market. The Phazer has remained largely the same since it launched in model year 2007. Its 499cc, 80-hp twin 4-stroke is largely recognized as one of the most dependable in the industry.

The Phazer’s lively handling and “motocross bike” seating position requires a bit more active rider mentality, but the unique combination of playfulness and 4-stroke smoothness are what make it fun to ride. This one is for the pilot with the right snowmobiling acumen and conditions.
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