High-Horsepower Trail Sleds

For 2017, this "ultimate" segment features Arctic Cat Thundercat, Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S, Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 850 E-TEC and Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX LE
2017 Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX LE turbo snowmobile trail
The Yamaha Sidewinder utilizes engineering from numerous sources: the Yamaha YSRC transmission (clutch), FOX shocks, Cat suspension, Hayes brakes and more.
Kort Duce photo
It’s not new anymore. We had talked enough about it. We were done …  150-ish hp was the new norm and the 137-inch skid had officially replaced the 121-inch sled for performance riders. Then two new engines debuted for 2017!

The horsepower wars in the super sled trail category, or “ultimate” segment, have undoubtedly heated back up again. But most of the trail riding focus (not unsurprisingly) is centered on the 137-inch length super sleds. This group includes the Arctic Cat Thundercat, Polaris Switchback 800 Pro-S, the Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 850 E-TEC, and the Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX LE. We laugh, but it is a running joke among many of us that we used to ride the 136-sleds as “mountain” sleds.
2017 Arctic Cat Thundercat trail snowmobile
The name Thundercat hasn’t been around since 2002, but its 2017 return means more power and 4-stroke turbo thunder!
Kort Duce photo
Thundercat and Sidewinder – the same sled?
Yeah, we get it. The Arctic Cat Thundercat and 9000 series sleds have the same 204.1-hp Yamaha 3-cylinder 998cc FI turbo 4-stroke motor as the Yamaha Sidewinder sleds. Still, they are not 100% the same. There are differences, just like there are differences between the Yamaha Viper sleds and Arctic Cat 7000 series machines that utilize the Yamaha 3-cylinder 1049cc FI naturally aspirated motor. To some extent, however, some of the differences between the Thundercat and Sidewinder show up a little more simply due to the power of this new machine.

There are at least 11 Arctic Cat models (not counting color combos or other variations) that carry the new Yamaha turbo engine in them. The Thundercat and Sidewinder differ on the same three major fronts that the Viper and 7000 sleds differ: skis clutching, and suspension calibration.

Clutching for the Thundercat is a TEAM Rapid Response II primary clutch and a TEAM Rapid Reaction BOSS secondary clutch. These clutches are produced by TEAM for Arctic, much like Hayes produces brakes for Cat (and now Yamaha) and Polaris. These suppliers work tirelessly and directly with Cat and are purposely picked from the Midwest because they are close to Cat’s headquarters and manufacturing. The Arctic Drive System on the Thundercat has a magnesium chaincase, and the new TEAM drive clutch has an auto-adjusting belt tension that supposedly never needs manual adjustment and has supreme durability. We have yet to test that longevity, but certainly the fact that this clutch system has a 12.5% lower starting ratio than the original Rapid Response primary should help with belt wear and smoothness during engagement.  

Yamaha does not take this transmssion approach, instead it uses its own YSRC clutching. The Yamaha primary has new weights that are different, obviously, than the YVXC from last year, but the new the drive clutch can still accept weights from the YVXC if you want to try different tuning. Both sheaves are new on the primary, as is the spider, slider, pin and bolt, and weights. A new reverse larger diameter cam roller secondary clutch features new casting designs and cooling fins to decrease temps and increase power. The sheave on the secondary is also stronger to handle the big power of this engine, and belt durability was also taken into account with the new YSRC. So both secondary sheaves are new, and the seat secondary spring is new, as are the rollers.

Basically, this year’s Yamaha clutch has better cooling, larger operating range, smoother and more efficient shifting and better belt life than last year’s clutch. It’s also stronger and has some common parts with the YVXC. (For more info on the Yamaha YSRC clutch, click here.)
2017 Ski-Doo Renegade X 850 E-TEC snowmobile trail
Don’t adjust your screen! But you can adjust your handlebars, clutch clickers, skis, and more on the new Ski-Doo Renegade. The shown color scheme on the X model is slightly different from the Renegade Adrenaline.
Kort Duce photo
If we were judging strictly clutch performance between these two sleds, the Yamaha has a slight edge. However, in our straightline testing, we saw a consistent 116mph on top end for both Thundercat and Sidewinder, and that was across several riders of varying height, weight, etc. That being said, the Yamaha clutch calibration showed more smoothness and quickness in shift-out when we were on and off the gas in the trails.

As far as shocks go, the Thundercat and the Sidewinder L-TX LE both have FOX QS3 setups. However, there are some big differences in the packages between these two. Over the skis, the Sidewinder has the upgraded R version of the 1.5 QS3 Zero shocks, which have genuine Kashima-coated 6061-T6 aluminum bodies, and dual air spring allowing you to adjust the EVOL and main air chambers independently controlling ride height, roll control and bottom-out. there is adjustable velocity-sensitive damping with Hi-flow damping piston and a wide range rebound. The L-TX LE also has the R version as the rear shock in the skid, while the Cat just has the standard 2.0 QS3. Finally, the center shock on the Thundercat is a Cat IFP 1.5 gas shock, while the Sidewinder L-TX LE has the upgraded Fox 1.5 QS3R Zero, again with all the R version upgrades.  

Finally, the skis are significantly different on these two sleds. The Thundercat has the ProCross 6 single keel ski with a dual deep split runner and 4-inch carbide. The Sidewinder comes with Yamaha’s dual keel Tuner III ski with four inches of carbide on the runner on the inside keel, and a round bar runner on the outside. The Tuner III is Yamaha’s best attempt at pairing a dual keel/double carbide ski with a high-performance, big power engine. The split runner/carbide system on the Cat also works well. However, many consumers will be putting studs in the track for these big power sleds, and that is when picking the right ski and carbide combination really comes into play. We will have our own in-season demo versions of these sleds in our upcoming Real World Shootout, so look for info from that soon!

If we had to choose after our initial testing, we would again pick the Yamaha Sidewinder over the Cat at this point. The Cat might dig a bit better in mid-corner with the deep single keel ski, but otherwise, the Yamaha is smoother, quicker out of the hole, more predictable, more precise and responsive. Both topped out at 116mph on the speedo, but how you get along between 30mph and 80mph is where most of the really fun trail riding occurs.
2017 Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 850 E-TEC snowmobile trail
It took us a while to get used to the new off-white and creamsicle-orange colors of the Renegade Adrenaline.
Kort Duce photo
The 800s are not second place
Again, between 30mph and 80mph is where most people (even high-performance riders) spend most of their days on the trails. This means that the 800s (and even most of the 600s) are not in second place 90% of the time. However, the super sled crowd needs to know that their sled can “hang with the big boys.” Never fear; the 800s are still in the ultra-high-performance market, and better than ever.

Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 850 E-TEC
Ski-Doo’s new E-TEC 849cc twin 2-stroke direct-injection motor is just as highly discussed, if not more so, than the new Yamaha 4-stroke turbo, and for good reason! This 2-stroker puts out 170hp according to Jim Czekala at DynoTech Research (read full report). It is THE highest horsepower 2-stroke engine currently built, and in the slightly longer 137-inch Renegade crossover chassis, it is arguably the most versatile high-horsepower 2-stroke snowmobile engine ever built. What we noticed most about the new 850 vs. the old 800 was the smoothness in the throttle pull from about 1/2 to 5/8 throttle. This is where the butterflies in the old 800 really started to open up, and it almost felt like you had nitrous kicking in! Great fun, but having predictable and 100% smooth throttle response all the way through the cable pull is more enjoyable, and makes you faster.

The new 850 shows no difference or bobble when you whack or chop the throttle anywhere in the powerband, and then get back onto the gas hard. This is often where you’ll notice how good your clutching, fuel delivery and overall setup is working. When you are hard on and off the throttle for miles on end, you start to really get to know how your sled reacts at every RPM and through every kind of corner, road approach or off-trail foray. Max RPM and clutch engagement RPM are pretty much the same as the old 800 E-TEC at 7900 and 3900, respectively. Fuel economy is said to be on track with 2016 models, but initial claims of better oil efficiency have been tempered back by Ski-Doo recently. The fuel tank is roughly a gallon smaller for 2017, so range may be slightly diminished, while wet weight is most likely lighter.

The 137-inch Renegade Adrenaline has the trail friendly 15-inch-wide RipSaw track with 1.25-inch lugs. Just a couple model years ago (in 2014) the Renegade Adrenaline models still had a 16-inch-wide track. Since changing to a slightly narrower track, these longer Renegade crossover sleds have become even better trail sleds. Fast forward three model years and two front end suspension redesigns later, and the new RAS 3 suspension with tight-performing rack steering system is helping the Renegade slice corners more efficiently. Note that the rMotion rear suspension is quoted as having 10.6 inches of suspension travel versus almost 16 inches in the 2016 models due to that measurement being taken at the bump stop for 2017 instead of the rear bumper in 2016.
2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S snowmobile trail
Look like a pro! On the Pro-S, it’s simple to look good and have fun. Light, manueverable, planted on the trails, and good power = Pro-S.
Kort Duce photo
More things we liked regarding handling included the side panels, which work with the new seat to let you really hug the sled with your legs and lean more aggressively in corners to keep the front inside ski down on the snow in aggressive cornering. That’s great for shorter riders, as they can still handle the machine with confidence. The adjustable 4.7-inch-tall riser also helps in cornering and conforming to conditions and different riders. Four positions covering four inches of forward or rearward motion, the bars easily change the attitude of the rider with just the readjustment of a pin.

There are always things the OEMs do that they can’t 100% sell us on, and in our direct out-of-the-box testing, many of our testers felt we still wanted a better shock calibration. These are just the X-model shocks and a more potent “X-RS type” shock package is available through Ski-Doo’s catalogue. (Part #860201555, $2,230.00) We also prefer the standard Pilot skis for cost savings over the newer TS adjustable skis. We feel that the TS skis NEED the 7.5-inch accessory blades put on them, not the standard four-inchers, in order to handle as well as the standard Pilot skis. Also, from a cost and weight standpoint, we don’t think you are gaining that much performance for the higher cost of the “adjustable” package and higher cost of replacing carbides. We also might be feeling some of the affect here of narrowing up the ski stance slightly as well.

Furthermore, the open toe-hold feature on this sled also brought out a “love/hate” relationship with many of our riders. Most of us agreed that the optional side braces in the stirrups that you can buy as an accessory out of Ski-Doo’s catalog (Part #860201402, $99.99) are necessary for most trail riding applications. Finally, the seat height is taller than last year, and it sometimes seemed a little tall for extreme leaning in tight cornering, especially for the shorter folks in our group.

Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S

We’ve done long-term testing on this sled since model year 2015. We know this sled, and like it! Polaris sales show riders like it too, as it is one of the best-selling sleds in their lineup and outsold competing crossovers in 2016. It handles like it is said to (razor sharp), but it’s still easy enough for just anyone to feel comfortable on it.
2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S snowmobile trail
Black and red and fun all over! That is what the Switchback Pro-S can claim as it will corner, accelerate and give you goose-bumps of joy, either in the air or on the trail.
Kort Duce photo
Little has changed on this machine for 2017, but there are some things on the SnowCheck spring order sleds we liked. Don’t worry; most dealerships end up having a few SnowCheck models available during the regular season, so if you try, you can find one. The Rox adjustable riser package was nice and especially liked by our taller riders. There were some that were “just set it and forget it” guys, though, it’s a matter of personal preference.

Adding the Walker Evans Hi-Lo speed compression shock is a nice addition for super performance folks, but not necessary by any means. The standard WE clicker shocks are more than capable. But for the guys who want to make their Switchback Pro-S become more like a longer version of the new 2017 Rush XCR race replica machine, these shocks will do the trick.

We tested the LE spring-buy version and the standard version this year with the others in this grouping, and people gravitated naturally toward the LE. But we want more than just the choice of windshield on the Polaris sleds when you are plunking down well over $13K. The LE version will run you $14,599, which is the second-most expensive sled in this group. It’s pretty crazy that this sled costs more than the new Ski-Doo 850 E-TEC-powered Renegade. But you get two different bags on the Switchback LE, handguards, a big ultimate front bumper, and the new Polaris Interactive Digital Display (PIDD). We are excited about the PIDD’s Bluetooth connectivity. For us, the possibility of connecting directly to the office without taking our gloves off during a test ride is pretty enticing. But still, the standard 800 Switchback
ES is $13,699. Nothing about this group of sleds comes cheap.

One thing we wished we had as a no-cost option to make the LE’s price more palatable would be to make the 1.352-inch lug Cobra track available on the Pro-S. It was only available on the Pro-X for 2017.

We have tested the Rush & Switchback sleds extensively and our Real World conclusions are that the Switchback Pro-S with the 800 Cleanfire H.O. engine (with lightweight crankshaft, grooved piston design, V-Force Reeds, electric oil pump, and 3-stage electronic exhaust valves) is the lightest 800 crossover in this category … even after it is packed with snow. It is also arguably faster on top end than the shorter 800 Rush. However, we do not see fuel mileage increasing.
If it was our money…
If we had all the money in the world for a long trail sled, we would buy the Sidewinder L-TX LE. If we were sticking with the 800 models, then we would be on the new Ski-Doo Renegade X 850 … we like trying new things. If you are more of the conservative “go with what is proven” type, then the Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S will never, ever steer you wrong.
2017 high performance horsepower trail snowmobile sled specs
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