The Gun Show: The Top Trail Sled Weapons Square Off

The epic 2-Stroke VS. 4-Stroke battle with 2018 trail sleds
The XCR gets all the good stuff, like Walker Evans hi-lo compression adjustable piggyback needlee shocks and the Pro-XC rear suspension.
Step right up folks! Try your itchy throttle thumb out on the latest high-caliber batch of the baddest performance sleds in the industry!

The newest sleds to join this cadre of the most expert focused, fastest, trail sleds include the rough-trail targeted Polaris Switchback XCR 800 and the Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850.

We lined these two up against the pure power of the turbo powered 4-stroke Arctic Cat ZR 9000RR and Yamaha Sidewinder LTX LE 50th anniversary edition. For our test riders this was like watching a group of urban combat guys with machine guns fight bunker-busting guys with bazookas, it was all great fun!
We were surprised at some of the similarities between all the sleds, and not so surprised at some of the obvious differences in this 2-stroke versus 4-stroke shakedown. Here’s our skinny on the battle royale!

■ 2-stroke Tough
Switchback XCR & Renegade X-RS
Things these two sleds have in common? Well, neither of them have new motors this year. They are both billed by their manufacturers as “big bump” or “rough trail” or “mogul mashers”. Take your pick of the taglines, but these two sleds are 136-inch and 137-inch long high performance sleds based on race technology and toughness. They are made for extreme riding in conditions that any groomer would shake their head at.

Polaris had their 129-inch version of the XCR last year and the 136 was a foregone conclusion for 2018. Same thing can be said for the Ski-Doo as they had an X-version in both the 129 and 137-inch lengths last year, so everyone thought the more racy X-RS must be coming out in 2018… and it did. So neither of these sleds were a surprise.

Track width is similar between the two at 15 inches, but lug-height is the main difference with the XCR sporting a 1.35-inch lug Cobra and the X-RS having the option of 3 different lug height tracks. This was a spring-buy sled and for that Ski-Doo offered either the 1.25 –inch lugs Ripsaw, the 1.5-inch lug Ripsaw, or the 1.6-inch lug Ice Cobra. To be honest, my personal favorite set-up is the 1.5-inch Ripsaw with a standard stud (traction) package and 6 – 7.5-inch aftermarket carbides up front. But the 1.35-inch lug Cobra on the XCR is a VERY close second, and I would run a similar stud package and carbide as well. The 1.6 Iceripper is a little too much lug for what I consider to be a trail sled. Conversely, the 1.25 Ripsaw does not churn enough in the loose snow after a storm, or off trail. However, initial consumer spring-buy orderings of this sled showed the 1.6 ice ripper to be the choice of the masses so far.

Adjustable and still capable. Often times adjustability means you give up capability or durability, not so with the new TS adjustable Pilot 5.7 skis. You pay more, but get more.
Clutching is another area where Ski-Doo has an advantage with their new primary roller clutch. Polaris, Cat and Ski-Doo have all used roller secondary clutches for years, but the new pDrive primary differs greatly from the P-85 primary on the Polaris. The engineering that goes into a primary roller clutch is much more complicated compared to a secondary roller clutch. Vibration, torsion loads, firing order and more are all taken into account when designing a clutch like the pDrive. Like a roller secondary, having a roller primary enhances belt life, reduces belt slippage and more. There are also easy tuning options built into the pDrive including clicker positions adjusted by loosening a bolt on the flyweight.

One obvious advantage that the XCR has over the X-RS is in pricing. At over $1,000 cheaper for the base set-ups of both these sleds, there is a significant cost savings that goes along with buying the Polaris. Depending on deals, offers, programs, financing, sweet talking and all the other ways us snowmobilers look to save a penny on sleds, it is important to note that the XCR could potentially save you 7 - 9% compared to the X-RS.

Both of these sleds have adjustable clicker shocks over the skis with the XCR having Walker Evans hi-lo speed compression adjustable piggyback coil-over shocks and the X-RS having KYB Pro 36 R easy adjust shocks. These are both pretty comparable and super top-end shocks that will out-perform nearly any rider that thinks they need to “crank ‘em all the way up.” The Axys front end on the XCR and the RAS 3 front end on the X-RS are the two best trail front ends to date, and it really comes down to preference as they both corner flat, have little inside ski lift, take chatter and big bumps extremely well. They are basically race-ready. Personally, if I want to ride a full day and not ever be tired, I know I can do it on the RAS 3, but if I want to muscle something around to get a little more performance, then the Axys responds more positively to the added effort.

Front suspension travel on the RAS 3 is also stated in the specs to be slightly bigger than the Axys, but that is not always telling of clearance or capability. It is often compared that suspension travel equates to either better big-bump performance or ability to clear certain obstacles. While the second can be debated, the first is hardly ever true. In the rear suspension, where companies choose to measure from is often the source of much debate in regards to suspension travel, but in the specs, the Polaris XCR is the clear winner with 3 inches more claimed travel, but Ski-Doo does not measure at the bumper, like the other OEMs. Can we blame that on Trudeau? (Sorry, bad Canadian prime minister joke.) Political humor aside, the ease of adjustability in the rear-end goes to the X-RS, but the fine tuning goes to the XCR simply because the hi-lo compression adjustability can be dialed better.

Another big decision is whether or not you get the Pilot adjustable TS skis on the X-RS or you just stick with the standard Pilot 5.7 skis. This is one place that the XCR can save a lot of weight vs. the X-RS. Each of Ski-Doo’s adjustable skis weigh roughly four pounds more than stock, so eight pounds total can be taken off the front-end without using the TS skis. However, adjustability is great with the skis and with the longer accessory carbide blades in them they work REALLY well. On the Polaris ski side, there is a lot of audible feedback through the Polaris Pro-Steer skis, but they are light and work well either stock, or an array of carbides from numerous aftermarket companies.

Ride height and rider positioning are quite similar between both these sleds, and honestly, we see many more people moving back and forth between Polaris and Ski-Doo than we had ever thought we would. In the trail areas of much of the Midwest, Northeast, and Canada we see some of the fiercest battles for consumers currently being fought between these two sleds and the Polaris Switchback Assault and the Ski-Doo Backcountry X.
2018 Arctic Cat ZR 9000 RR
Cat gets mean with the ZR 9000 RR which simply claws its way up to faster and faster speeds. It's nasty-fast!
■ 4-stroke Fast
ZR 9000 RR & Sidewinder LTX SE 50th
So what is new for the fastest stock sleds on snow for 2018? Since these two are basically carbon copies of each other (minus some small details), it is pretty easy to give the updates. Technically, both Cat and Yamaha have these listed as “new” sleds for 2018, but there are only small changes. The ZR 9000 RR is the Race Replica. The biggest difference between the top of the line LTD version of this sled from last year and the RR are the shocks.

The Cat RR has the totally big bump qualified Fox 1.5 Zero QS3R Kashima coated shocks. These are basically the upgraded version of the 3-clicker capable QS3R shocks on so many Cat and Yamaha sleds. The rear shock in the skid is the larger diameter 2.0 version of these coil over shocks for even more bump smoothing, and hard landing possibilities. Same shocks come on the Yamaha Sidewinder LTX LE 50th anniversary edition with remote reservoirs and adjusters for both compression and rebound separately. The coupled long travel suspension has been paramount to the success of the ProCross chassis sleds on the race track and fun in the trails.

The ZR 9000 RR and Sidewinder LTX LE 50th sleds are just two of the culminating sleds of five model years of supply agreement status between Yamaha and Arctic Cat. Yamaha now supplies two separate 4-stroke engines to replace the motors provided in the old engine supplier contract Cat had with Suzuki. Cat has in turn supplied Yamaha with their ProCross chassis. That chassis, which is the base for both these sleds, has been a top performing chassis since 2012, but it is showing its age performance-wise compared to the new REV Gen 4 chassis from Ski-Doo and the AXYS platform from Polaris. What the ProCross chassis does extremely well is handle big bumps, big hits, and it is highly durable. Mistakes that would total a REV chassis often do not phase this platform. I have experienced this first hand in off-trail, and on-trail surprise situations.
2018 Yamaha Sidewinder LTX LE 50th
The Sidewinder and Cat ZR 9000 RR are both capable of hitting these ludicrous speeds seemingly instantaneously!
You'll need the heat because at triple digit speeds, it gets cold real fast!
Differences between the ZR RR and Sidewinder are in that the Cat has the new next generation body plastics, and more styling than the Yamaha, with a new windshield, body panels and hood. All the airflow and heat exhausting were taken into effect with the new plastics and basically all the lines on the Cat are new except for the headlight cowl. In the specs, you will notice that the fuel cell capacity is stated as 9.9 for the Cat and 8.9 gallons for the Yamaha. We have talked to both camps, but our own tests are closer to the 9 gallon mark of usable fuel. Yamaha runs its YSRC clutching with roller secondary, and Cat runs the TEAM Rapid Response II primary and Rapid Reaction Boss secondary clutches. The auto-adjusting belt tensioning system is great for less maintenance and the system is also smoother on the bottom end. Gone is the old hard engagement hit of past Cats. Both sleds also get a new LED headlight set-up and low “do nothing” windshields. The Cat also has a new 12% larger and 60% lighter racing brake disc.

Yamaha’s 50th Sidewinder sleds are really just commemorated with a limited retro graphics scheme and cool shocks of course. We are big fans of the looks of the Yamaha though, and for overall trail riding, the clutching and shock calibrations we rode have been slightly better. Remember, harder is never better when starting off dialing shocks and trail riding. Start almost as soft as you can go and dial up from there. We think the sweet spot is a little larger on the Yamaha, but that could change unit to unit and depends on a lot of factors when test riding.

The Yamaha turbo 4-stroke 998cc liquid cool EFI triple in these two sleds pumps out over 200 ponies and is the undisputed king of snowmobile horsepower. At over 30hp more than the next biggest sled motor (the Rotax 2nd generation E-Tec 850cc motor in the Ski-Doo X-RS), there is no catching this sled in a straightaway. There is also no catching this sled in cost! The ZR 9000 RR is one of the most expensive sleds on the market at $17,199 US. The Sidewinder 50th is pretty darn close at $16,899 US. That’s at least $3400 more than the Polaris XCR 800! You could buy a decent used snowmobile for your kids, or cover most of your travel costs for the season for that money. But with financing so cheap these days and the chance to be the “big dog” on the trails, it may be worth it for many high performance folks.
2018 Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850 E-TEC (ES)
■ WHICH IS BETTER, 2 or 4 stroke?
I often picture two old snowmobile master riders sitting on a lonely mountain top debating this question. But are these new 2-stroke race replicas better or more fun than the very highest end race replica and limited build big 4-stroke turbo sleds?

I am going to take a stand and say that I personally prefer to ride the 2-stroke X-RS and XCR versus the turbo ZR RR and Sidewinder. But that is mostly because of where I ride, and who I usually ride with. Tight, twisty trails that are extremely rough is what I tend to ride because it is more challenging and the scenery is better than the more wide-open riding that the big 4-strokes dominate. Call me up after this article comes out and I will probably change my mind. I am supposed to have the Yamaha in my garage soon. Having that kind of power at the end of your thumb is simply addictive! The top Fox shocks in the suspension of the RR and Sidewinder are crazy good, too. So I’ll be doing my best to prove myself wrong by tossing these big-power 4-strokes around some more tight trails this winter.

That’s as clear cut as I can make it. If you like durability, speed, reliability, and longevity, go 4-stroke. If you want the absolute best handling sled with less effort, best flying, and sharpest throttle response, go 2-stroke.
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