2017 800cc+ Trail Sleds

Our three favorite short-tracked 2-stroke snowmobiles: Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited, Polaris 800 Rush Pro-S and Ski-Doo MXZ TNT 850
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ TNT 850 E-TEC ES snowmobile
Kort Duce photo
Dress rehearsal. That’s what our testing of these big 150hp+ 2-stroke sleds was. The Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited, Polaris 800 Rush Pro-S and brand-new Ski-Doo MXZ TNT 850 will no doubt be tested laboriously in full-production form this winter.

Whether talking about it in the cabin or comparing on the trail, we are sure that friends, dads, sons, brothers, sisters, moms, and daughters across the snow belt will be dancing through the trails on these all winter … and debating which one is “best!”

More credit for TNT 850
At least one of these sleds should have made AmSnow’s “Best of the Best” list printed in our Buyer’s Guide issue earlier this year. But there are so many great sleds and only so many awards. That doesn’t mean these sleds aren’t favorites of ours! In our pre-production testing, the TNT in particular was really a silent stunner. It quietly won over rider after rider without super flashy shocks, ultra-wild graphics, or even the newest gimmicks. The sled simply worked while being seemingly humble about it, and it was admired for that! What shocked us most is that you can get this new 850cc E-TEC direct injection 2-stroke snowmobile motor, with its big hp, in a new chassis for LESS money than you can buy an 800 (or 1200) Blizzard. The Blizzard has the smaller 800cc motor, the old XS chassis and the old RAS 2 suspension, but it still costs $799 US more than the newer TNT 850! Granted, the Blizzard has the Ice Ripper track standard, but is that an $800 upgrade? The MXZ TNT 850 is also the least expensive of the sleds in this comparison across the brands. If I were a consumer hunting for a new sled, I would look at this TNT 850 and lick my chops.
2017 Ski-Doo MXZ TNT 850 E-TEC ES snowmobile
With a new two-peice forged crank and new flatter running boards, the new 2017 MXZ TNT 850 has lots of upgrades over last year’s model … and it’s cheaper. Now that’s a dynamite deal!
Kort Duce photo
OK, we’ve established that this sled is a good value for new technology, but how does it ride? With a slightly lower engagement of 3600rpm than the 800 TNT (3800), this sled is smooth and quick out of the holeshot. A lot of the smoothness has to do with the 2.8-pound-lighter pDrive primary clutch. That’s a lot of rotating mass to take off a clutch! This is not a button clutch but a roller design, and we feel it is more responsive than the TRA III.

We also loved the stepped side panels on both sides of the cowl, which allowed us to get further forward and around the sled. However, many of our riders were not fans of the open toeholds for a trail sled. Braces are available as accessories, and we will be trying them out more on our long-term demo MXZ.

The rising rate/progressive motion ratio of the rMotion rear suspension is still very good for any trail application, but the standard HPG shocks on this one seem dialed back from other sleds with identical HPG Plus shocks on them. Maybe we should lay off the hamburgers and poutine (there’s a French Canadian reference for our friends up in Valcourt), but any slightly aggressive larger riders may want to dial up the torsion springs in the back. This sled is not made for a serious day of huge bumps, as the calibration both in the front shocks and rMotion rear suspension are softer than others in this comparo. These ARE rebuildable/revalvable shocks though.

This sled also has a 129-inch skid, not a 120-inch length. Just a couple of years ago, the 129-inch length was only available on the RS (race sled), and last year it found its way into the MXZ lineup.

One of Ski-Doo’s big goals was centering the mass of this machine on both the roll and yaw axes. Basically, you can’t get a sled (or any vehicle for that matter) balanced correctly if you are looking at moving weight forward or backward and not looking at balancing weight side-to-side as well. Think of it like an airplane; when it is not on the ground, it balances lift and thrust with pitch on the yaw axis (front-to-back), but it also moves on a roll axis (side-to-side). This is where the Ski-Doo engineers  made improvements with engine design/placement, ergos, rider placement, etc.

You might not be a fan of the snub-nosed look of the front of this sled, or the mostly white color scheme, but the engineering for balance and rider maneuverability is impressive! Unfortunately, the battery had to be moved below the seat, which is sometimes bothersome when the need to jump-start anything arises. The fourth generation of the REV platform came with the third generation of the RAS suspension up front, which is most notable for adding one inch of suspension stroke (not travel) to make this ride even more compliant. Plus, the RAS 3 is 1.4 lbs. lighter than the RAS 2.

Ski-Doo claims 165hp on their website and marketing material for the 850 E-TEC, but we recently saw 164.8hp on our own dyno test of the motor at DynoTech Research. Ski-Doo is very optimistic about this motor for equal efficiency with the 800 E-TEC. The fuel tank on the new 850 TNT is about one gallon less (9.5 vs. 10.6) than last year, so range will almost certainly be diminished some, even with a slight increase in fuel economy. Ski-Doo claims more usable fuel out of this new tank. We aren’t quite convinced of that, but we’ll see!
SKI-DOO MZX TNT 850 ▶ 3 Quick Opinions
  1. Most 2-stroke hp motor available (so far), and RF DESS is best “keyless” system of any current sleds.
  2. The “snub-nose” front end is not handsome or pretty for all tastes, and new seat height increases ski lift sometimes. 
  3. Ride height, seating, and ergos (panels, seat, bars, etc.) are noticeably different from the XS.
2017 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 LTD 129 ES snowmobile
If you think the snow camo makes the 2017 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited blend in, then you’re wrong! The blaze orange spindles, ProCross bumper, windshield and ski loops are definitely eye-popping.
Kort Duce photo
ZR 8000 Limited goes with status quo
OK, it’s not totally the status quo this year for Cat’s ZR 8000 Limited 129, but not a ton has changed. Honestly, the biggest change that affected my personal ride on this sled was the handlebars. I can’t remember how much I complained about the super thick Cat/Yamaha bars for years, but they finally have them fixed with a narrower diameter and better heating elements. I would say that the new bars are more like Ski-Doo bars but not as narrow, and a half-pound lighter than last year’s bars. They are a great balance!

We have talked about the changes to the ZR sleds for 2017, but they include a new TCL (torque control link) engine plate that is 0.75 lbs. lighter, with a new mount to the bearing hub on the secondary shaft. The exhaust pipe also has a new mount location. Most importantly, the headlight has a new reflector, which enhances safety by helping with high beam darkness penetration, sight coverage, and aiming down trail.

The shocks on the limited are the new-last-year FOX QS3 spring coil-over shocks. There are 1.5-inch-diameter ones over in the ARS front suspension, and a 2-inch-diameter one in the rear of the Slide-Action skid. A Cat IFP 1.5-inch-diameter shock sits in the center of the skid. These are NOT the Kashima-coated versions, however. There’s also a different front arm design in the rear suspension, with new limiter strap mounting.

The little extras that come standard on limited sleds like this include tunnel flares (to keep the snow discharge from the track down and away from the rider). You also get the extended and curved/hooked anodized aluminum brake lever from Hayes. This lever is comfortable and allows you to confidently tap or grab the brake in any situation, especially around tight, gnarly left-hand turns in the chop. A rear tunnel bag, a goggle holder in front of the handlebars and a newly revised ProCross bumper are still standard on the Limited. Snow camo graphics are a new ordering option.

This sled comes with an 11-inch windshield, which works well in most conditions. For days that get into the negative Fahrenheit digits, a 13-inch shield is available, and Rox makes some great hand guards to fit the ZR 8000.
2017 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 LTD 129 ES snowmobile
Kort Duce photo
ARCTIC CAT ZR 8000 LTD ▶ 3 Quick Opinions
  1. Cat sleds, for the most part, can look fast just standing still.
  2. Suzuki 800 motor is strong and ProCross chassis is durable, but both are aging.  
  3. Clutching is often too hard of a “hit” on engagement.
2017 Polaris 800 Rush Pro-S snowmobile
The Rush Pro-S 800 bites into the trails to keep you predictable and flat in the corners, and it’s still lighter than the competition.
Kort Duce photo
Pro-S gains popularity
The Rush Pro-S is still arguably one of the best 800 trail sleds Polaris has made in 15 years, second only to maybe the new Switchback Pro-S sleds. It’s not new this year, but with several model years under its belt, the 800 Cleanfire H.O. engine is in its prime. It doesn’t have the most horsepower of all the 800s on the market (156.0hp in our newest 2016 dyno test), but the sled is lighter than the other 800s. (Check out the October 2016 Buyers Guide, p. 64, for all our independent wet weights.) This motor also warms up faster, sounds better, and many of us agree simply feels faster than other current engines. We have the acceleration data to prove its potency (check out our Real World Shootout results in the Spring 2016 issue, p. 14), but we’re just talking physical rider feedback in this case.

The buzzword for this sled continues to be “rider-centric,” and after several seasons, we agree that the Pro-S has all the characteristics of a sled that is “bite or light” … meaning it can bite in the corners and be aggressive, or a rider can be light with it and carry it through bumps or sweeping trails with ease. The AXYS chassis (with the newer 800 H.O. motor and Pro-S setup) corners flat, offers great rider vision and maneuverability, and is more predictable than the previous Rush chassis.

For some, a big drawback on this sled is the look of the exposed rear end. The Pro XC rear suspension and Walker Evans piggyback adj. shocks work spectacularly, but the bumper is too low for digging out when you get stuck. Releasing tension on the rear suspension (i.e., putting the back of the sled up on a stand to work on) is also more difficult, because the entire rear of the sled is tied into the suspension. It makes doing things like studding the track (with the track still installed) or basically doing anything to the back end more problematic without using a full-body lift or removing the skid.

The 1.25-inch RipSaw track is plenty for this 121-inch machine, but for my personal taste, I would love to see this have a 1.325-inch lug option at no cost. I have asked for this before, but I figure there have to be a few more folks out there like me. Anyway, since not much changed on this sled for 2017, we just continue to give kudos to Polaris for a sled that accelerates well, brakes well, turns well, jumps well, sips oil and is predictable in almost every sense of the word. The Pro-S is a great trail sled, both the 600 and 800.
2017 Polaris 800 Rush Pro-S snowmobile
Kort Duce photo
POLARIS 800 RUSH PRO-S ▶ 3 Quick Opinions
  1. Planted, flat and predictable in the corners.
  2. Bumper is too low in back when you get stuck. You also basically have to take the skid out to stud the track.
  3. Most lightweight 800cc sled.
2017 800cc trail snowmobile specs
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