Top Trail Sleds for 2017

Battle for trail supremacy is rekindled by the Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR, Polaris 800 Rush XCR, and Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 E-TEC
2017 Polaris 800 Rush XCR snowmobile
Back in the race for trail supremecy, Polaris introduced its newest XCR with chassis reinforcements and a new shock package that hits the spot!
Kort Duce photo
The embers of competition in the trail segment are never fully extinguished, but heated OEM rivalries have cooled in recent years. This year, though, the fiery competition has been stoked!

Polaris stirred the coals of trail competition in 2015 with the release of its AXYS platform and new 800cc H.O. engine. In 2016, The flames were fanned by Ski-Doo with new skid lengths, and by Arctic Cat with new engines (and alluding to a new 800 which should be coming for 2018) and new clutches.

Then MY2017 came along, and the OEMs once again came out with products that have turned this cordial wienie roast of a bonfire back into a raging barn burner. The competition that once drove the snowmobile industry to its greatest heights has been reignited with these top 2-stroke 800cc trail offerings!
2017 Polaris 800 Rush XCR snowmobile
Polaris sticks with the 121-inch track length for the Rush sleds, making it the only OEM to currently offer anything less than a 129-inch skid in a race-style build. The XCR gets a little extra lug with a 15x121x1.352-inch Cobra track.
Kort Duce photo
Polaris XCR rises
The letters “XCR” have been paired with many Polaris engines in the last 20 years, from 700 and 800 triples to 440 racers. It’s only logical that the XCR nomenclature would arise from the ashes to be mated with the latest iteration of Polaris engines, including the new 800 H.O.

The “race replica” market is an area where Polaris has stumbled a bit since the 2008 600RR, but that sled wasn’t all that successful with the average consumer. The new XCR is a counterpunch to Ski-Doo’s X-RS models and Cat’s RRs. There’s no doubt that the XCR is race track ready and will handle being pushed through the roughest of cross country trails with ease.

The peppiness of the 800 H.O. engine is what makes it our favorite Polaris power plant, but that’s not what sets this sled apart from other 800s. That distinction comes from the new beefed up components of the driveline and suspension developed on the track.

A chromoly rear pivot and front torque arm, along with reinforced rail beams, add strength for taking the big moguls. Solid bogey wheels and a heavy duty front track shock mount add another layer of durability. The XCR gets Polaris’ race rotor with brake scoop and Type 81 brake pads to keep things cooler when you work the binders.

The Walker Evans hi/low compression adjustable shock setup is very capable, especially with the XCR valving and a 2-inch diameter front track shock. Shock setup – as with any sled of this racy nature – is extremely important. There’s a ton of adjustment here, and if our test rides taught us anything, it’s that the responsive nature of the AXYS chassis really magnifies the need for proper setup in a sled that’s designed to be pushed harder than most other stock offerings. That’s not a bad thing at all, just something buyers should be aware of when looking to purchase. If you’d rather just sit down and ride without worrying about dialing your shock setup, something along the lines of a Polaris Pro-S sled has a much bigger sweet spot for the average consumer.

The best way I can describe the 2017 800 Rush XCR suspension is to call it a great blend between the Pro-S and Pro-X versions of the Polaris Rush sleds. By now, you probably know about the 2.5-inch higher ride height the Pro-X sleds have compared to the Pro-S versions.

Avid AmSnow readers also know that we really like the great suspension capabilities of the Pro-X, but aren’t always in love with the higher ride height in the trails. You’ve probably also gathered that we really like the rider positioning and precise handling of the Pro-S models, but sometimes wish the suspension had just a little more capability when it comes to rough terrain.
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 E-TEC snowmobile
Detailed readers will see the 2017 Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 E-TEC only offers 10.7 inches of rear travel compared to 16 inches in previous years. This is not due to a change in suspension, but a change in where Ski-Doo is measuring the travel. The rMotion still offers 16 inches of travel when measured at the rear bumper. For 2017, Ski-Doo engineers measured the travel at the bump stop in the skid, which is where the 10.7-inch measurement comes from.
Kort Duce photo
Put simply, the Rush XCR is Polaris’ way of letting us have our cake and eat it too. This sled has the ride height and handling characteristics of a Pro-S in the trail, and stiffer shock valving similar to that of the Pro-X for handling harsh terrain or race day conditions. Combine that with some added durability and the awesome 800 H.O. engine, and you’ve got one heck of a high-end performer for the trails.

MXZ X over the X-RS?

So why isn’t Ski-Doo’s X-RS in this comparison? Because this is a review of what we feel are the top 150+hp 2-stroke offerings on the market today. In recent years, that’s been the X-RS, but it unfortunately did not get the new 850 E-TEC engine and updated chassis for 2017. So, we feel the MXZ X 850 E-TEC is better to have in this comparison as Ski-Doo’s high performance trail offering for 2017.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s examine the MXZ X 850. One big difference is the engine – an all-new 849cc direct-injected twin E-TEC. With the larger displacement comes more power, but the longer legs are only one thing that set this engine apart.

AmSnow Tech Editor Olav Aaen already broke down improvements in this engine’s durability and performance in our Spring 2016 issue. So we’ll talk about the things a consumer will really notice when sitting behind the bars.

The throttle pull from the bottom to the top of the powerband is consistent. Buyers can expect the same instant throttle response from engagement at 3600 RPM to maximum RPM, and everywhere in between. This is thanks to the addition of booster injectors at the engine’s intake. They come into play at mid- to high-rpm range, so when you want to accelerate from mid-throttle, extra fuel is delivered to give you the instant response you’re looking for.

While the engine is quick and powerful, acceleration is strong yet smooth. A squeeze of the throttle instantly gets your attention, but it does not jerk your arms out. The pDrive primary roller clutch, with clicker adjustment, is so smooth through acceleration that it almost feels effortless.
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 E-TEC snowmobile
Ski-Doo offers optional add-ons to the MXZ X 850. Riders can add an Ice Ripper XT track, the rMotion Quick Adjust system and the Pilot TS adjustable carbide ski (pictured at right). An adjustable riser and bar system is standard too.
Kort Duce photo
The engine is now centered in the new Gen4 REV chassis, making the MXZ X very responsive to rider input. A beveled tunnel and a narrower seat makes for an easy time of moving around on the sled. While the MXZ X doesn’t have the chassis reinforcements of the X-RS models, the ride instills confidence, even in the rough stuff.

The rMotion rear suspension continues to cushion trail chatter with ease, and an updated RAS 3 front suspension keeps this new chassis feeling similar to the previous RAS 2 that stayed so planted on the trail. I’ll emphasize “similar,” because the handling of MXZ X 850 is sharp and crisp, but the rider positioning is slightly higher, so there is more body roll in tight corners.

Of all the steering and suspension benefits consumers will enjoy on the X, one of the best is the rack steering system. Ski-Doo marketing will tell you it eliminates bump steer and quiets feedback through the handlebars. Our test rides showed us that it performs tightly with light effort.

Another feature riders will enjoy is the forward adjustable riser, which gives you four handlebar positions of fore-aft adjustment to pick from. A rider who spends more time on the seat will probably want the bars farther back than a rider who spends more time standing. Now you have that adjustability.

For all the good things the MXZ X has going for it in 2017, there are a couple we’re just not sure about yet. First, the redesigned chassis moves the battery behind the seat. To access the battery, you’ve got to remove the seat. It might also make adding sled-powered accessories a little more challenging to install. Second, the size of the fuel tank was also affected by the chassis design. The tank now holds 9.4 gallons, more than a full gallon less than the 10.6 carried by the 800 E-TEC sleds.
2017 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR snowmobile
Cat continued to soften its RR shock package, and the addition of Kashima coating on all four shocks makes this one of the most durable and forgiving RR models to date.
Kort Duce photo
Like a fine green wine
Arctic Cat’s RR line of sleds gets better with age, and the 2017 ZR 8000 RR is no exception. In 2016, upgrades to TEAM clutching improved engine performance, and the shock package was slightly softened. In 2017, the shock package gets more refined, there’s a new 137-inch track length, and electric start is now standard.

You may remember back in 2015 when Cat took the approach of building the FOX shock package to their Team Arctic racer specs. We praised that move for the exceptional capabilities those shocks had in handling rough terrain, but it did not please as many riders as Arctic Cat originally thought it would. Not everyone constantly rides terrain akin to a cross country course.

For the 2017 RR, last year’s FOX Float shocks are replaced with the latest FOX 1.5 Zero QS3 with Kashima coating for further refinement in all four shocks. With three “clicker” settings of compression adjustability, the QS3 offers impressive versatility in ride quality. According to Arctic brass, the first shock setting is similar to the valving you’d find on an LXR – very comfortable for a swift trail cruise. The second setting firms up and is closer to a Limited or El Tigre setup, and the third setting is the stiffest, race-style calibration.

You may feel three shock settings is a little on the lean side for a “race” sled, but we can attest that there are not many riders out there who won’t appreciate this new QS3 shock package. Plus the ski shocks and rear track shock add rebound adjustment. The Kashima coating adds durability to a buttery smooth travel that’s sure to please any rider.

In my opinion, the premium shock package paired with the 137-inch track length is a killer combination when it comes to the trail. It’s my personal favorite track length on almost any trail sled because of the added grip from the increased contact patch with the snow and the ability to smooth small stutters otherwise felt on shorter trail machines. The 129-inch version of the RR is slightly quicker to respond in tight cornering situations, but it doesn’t hide the trail chatter nearly as well as the 137.
2017 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR snowmobile
Kort Duce photo
Not much has changed with the 794cc Suzuki 2-stroke engine. The only changes of note are a new TPO composite air intake plenum and slightly revised mounting location for the exhaust pipe. Both of these changes have more to do with weight savings (a total loss of 1.5 lbs.) than performance. The largest improvement to this sled’s performance characteristics came in 2016 with the change to TEAM clutching, which is back for 2017.

Cat went through the suggestion box with this one. There are ton of refinements on the RR (and other Cat sleds) aimed at improving the overall riding experience. The handlebars now have a smaller diameter (much more comfortable), the hand grips are primarily made up of rubber instead of plastic (better feel), and hand and thumb warmers are more consistent.

Riders will have better vision at night thanks to a new headlight reflector design which extends the high beam pattern down five degrees, creating less gap between what you see going from low to high beam.

From headlights to track lengths, this is one of Arctic Cat’s finest RR efforts.

What to do

There’s no shortage of fuel for debate here. Each sled has an area it excels at over the competition.

Arctic Cat’s ZR 8000 RR boasts the most complete shock package of the group, and it’s the most easily adjusted as well. You can go from a nice plush ride to a ditch-banging setup in two clicks. And the softest shock settings paired with the 137-inch track create a fantastically smooth trail ride.The Polaris 800 Rush XCR is the real rough riders’ sled of this group. Its chassis reinforcements and stiffer suspension give it a ruggedness with a lot of pop that’s hard to pass up.

Speaking of pop, the Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 is where it’s at if you’re after ponies. The added power from the 850 E-TEC is an obvious advantage over the competition. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of “apples-to-apples” comments from readers. That’s OK, and you’re right. If the best 2-stroke trail offering from Ski-Doo was still the 800R, that definitely changes things. But it’s not.

The 850 outshines the rest here with clutching as well. The pDrive primary is ultra impressive. And although the top end capabilities of the shock package might not quite provide the same rough terrain performance as the other two, the HPG Plus/KYB Pro 36 combo provides more than enough for probably 90% of my typical trail terrain.

The XCR was my Editor’s Choice pick, but if I opened my garage tonight and saw any one of these three sitting in there, I would not be at all disappointed.
comparison specs 2017 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR Polaris 800 Rush XCR Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 E-TEC
2017 Yamaha Sidewinder R-TX LE snowmobile
If we’re talking about the OEMs’ best short track offerings, we’d be cheating our readers if we didn’t mention the first-year Sidewinder R-TX LE from Yamaha. What a sled this is! No disrespect to any of the other OEMs, but the Sidewinder R-TX is one of the most exhilarating rides of 2017.

Another joint effort with Arctic Cat, the Sidewinder is based on the same Cat ProCross chassis as the SR Viper, but with a few minor tweaks to create enough room for engine mounting, exhaust, etc.

The Genesis 998cc turbocharged 3-cylinder is where the good times start to roll, as it churns out more than 200 ponies (see dyno test article on p. 26), and it’s one smooth handling trail customer. It’s much farther along in trail manners than the SR Viper was as a first-year sled. (Let the record reflect that the SR Viper has made strides in handling since its 2014 release.)

The Sidewinder R-TX LE is a sharp, predictable sled, and its ultra-strong, consistent powerband makes it difficult to believe you’re riding a turbocharged sled. Any turbo lag you’d expect from such an engine is eliminated by virtue of an ECU-controlled air bypass system that keeps the ideal air intake manifold pressure built up behind the throttle bodies. Result: one wicked awesome throttle squeeze after another!

If you’re ever offered the chance to throw a leg over the Sidewinder R-TX LE, do yourself a solid, and don’t pass on it.
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