Working Utility Sleds with an Edge for 2018

Working man sleds with lots of flare
2018 Polaris 800 Titan XC 155
Gone – mostly – are the days of a utility sled being a big ol’ hulking moose of a sled with about as much style or pizazz as a refrigerator box. Like the rest of the world, utility sleds are copping an attitude and getting ostentatious on us. That’s not to say they can’t haul or tow or slide that fish shanty out on the frozen pond, but they look a little sexier and feel a little friskier on the trail, or in the deep snow.

This season Arctic Cat rolls out its new Norseman (I hear a Viking horn blast in my head whenever I see that name) to challenge the likes of the strong Polaris Titan XC and the long-established Yamaha VK Pro. The Cat and Polaris fancy themselves as something fun and useful while the VK remains the proverbial denim work shirt of snowmobiles.

Here’s how we see these bad boys of the utility world stacking up.
■ Polaris Titan 800 XC
Titan is the new “extreme” crossover from the red team, riding on Polaris’ AXYS chassis and extending the Polaris lineup. The working man’s version, the 800 XC, offers more power and a wider track than Cat’s Norseman.

The 800 XC features the Polaris 800 H.O. Cleanfire engine that creates roughly 157 horsepower (AmSnow’s New York Shootout test numbers) and works smoothly through its Alpha transmission to help the sled pull 1,200 lbs. Plus it’ll simply haul butt on the trails when you’re not using it as your utility beast.
Low-end power is extremely strong, so if you want to power down the trail to get to where your buddy has been waiting for you to help him harvest firewood, well, you’ll have a blast getting there.

Need to back into the woods for the load? Well, this track is articulated too, and my tests in deep snow showed the Titan XC to not bog down, whether in low or high gear, and of course, reverse. A quick note: The shift lever for the tranny is easy to get at and use, so no fumbling around when you’re out in the brush and distracting yourself from driving between brambles.

Helping it stay atop the snow is a monster 20x155x1.8-inch Cobra track and Gripper skis up front. Handling on-trail was good, but with a little more tail wiggle than the Cat in our tests. But off-trail the Titan was an unstoppable force. Handling is also light and easy and trail ride is nice. The XC comes with FOX QS3 shocks up front.
I also found the Polaris brake lever easier to grab than on the Cat, plus the pull is shorter until you get a firm application of the brakes. The result, the Polaris’ Hayes-built brakes are especially quick to react. Note, Polaris’ 800 engine is louder, with more growl than the Cat or Yamaha.
2018 Polaris 800 Titan XC 155
Fox QS3 shocks on the Titan XC.
I like the narrow seat on Titan though, especially compared with Yamaha’s VK Pro. Even though your legs are positioned wide, thanks to accommodating that 20-inch-wide track, I found it easy to maneuver on and comfortable for a trail ride. The Cat seat is softer and plusher.

Standard features include electric start, and the cool Polaris Lock & Ride storage platform on the tunnel. A utility user can mount a variety of storage units on the tail with quick attach and removal. Plus the platform carries 85 lbs. That, my friends, is utility!

Other points to ponder: Polaris uses a power boosting regulator, an industry first. This boosts electric power output at low RPMs, such as at idle. The benefit is warmer hand-warmers, quicker battery charging and more power available for rider extras - think heated helmet screens, etc. The Titan also includes a mountain-style grab strap atop the handlebars with a 3.5-inch riser. Like the Cat engine, the Titan’s 2-stroke prefers 91 octane fuel. A J-hook hitch is standard.

If you want to upgrade this to a 2-up, a Lock & Ride Touring seat also is available.
2018 Arctic Cat Norseman 6000
Norse Power! It may seem as though you are channeling a Norse god as you plow through anything on the Norseman 6000.
■ Arctic Cat Norseman 6000 154
The Norseman is a darned comfortable trail rider. It handles well on trails and its 154-inch track soaks up bumps like a sponge; a good thing when trails get lumpy.

It’s surprising how well Norseman’s mega skis - ProUte 10/8s - handle on-trail because they are purposely wide for maneuvering in deep snow. These start out at 10 inches in width and taper to 8 inches, while aiming to give the Norseman stout floatation. The tipped-up design keeps them from diving in deep snow, a necessity with a utility sled.

I took this one into some tight spots of deep snow out West and it always went where I wanted, plus I backed it around generously with nary a hint of it sinking or getting stuck thanks to the sled’s articulated Xtra-Action rear suspension. That articulation gives the long track a little shorter feeling when navigating the trails. This Cat suspension comes with adjustable torsion springs and a Torque-Sensing Link rear arm, plus it provides a generous 13.5 inches of travel, good for on- or off-trail fun.

Power is solid from the clean C-TEC2 2-stroke. This twin liquid cooled 599cc Cat-designed and made engine is a plenty powerful. It has enough juice to propel Norseman down the trail or through the deep off-trail. It’s a little noisy at low-end, but smooths out after 40 mph.

Clutch engagement is smooth with the Norseman’s use of TEAM Rapid Response II and Team Rapid Reaction BOSS, drive and driven clutches. These cut down belt skid and create smoother and quicker engagement.

Churning beneath this big boy is a 15x154-inch Cobra track with 1.6-inch cupped lugs to move the powdery snow and keep you atop. Those cupped lugs are designed to improve the sled’s handling and acceleration. That seemed fine in our test, but I noticed the traction teeth on the lugs helped in hard-packed snow too. Much less tail wagging in the Norseman than on some other “fun crossover” type utilities, especially on hard trails.
2018 Arctic Cat Norseman 6000
Extremely useful is what standard options like a hitch, ARS front suspension and articulated rear suspension are for a utility machine.
Braking also is first rate with a race radial master cylinder hydraulic brake. Reach distance (throw) for the hand brake remains a bit wide on almost all Cats, so those of us with smaller hands still must stretch to fully embrace the wide distance between the brake lever and the bars. Anyone looking at the Norseman’s white and green color scheme will notice it features Cat’s new body panels that not only look better but fit snugly. They easily latch and unlatch with a quarter turn of each panel’s two quick-release tabs. Panel removal and replacement is much easier than in past years.

Naturally the windshield is large with a 17-inch high model available. That keeps wind off the rider and creates a better long-term ride that is less tiring than the mid-level and small shields.

Cat’s seat is comfortable and fairly soft to create a better ride, especially off-trail and in bumpier conditions. The riser is 6.5-inches with adjustable handlebars and a grab strap, so standing on the Norseman is easy and it’s simple to get good leverage on the bars.

Standard is a 12-volt outlet on the dash, a single gauge instrument pod, electric start and push-button reverse.

In back, Norseman features a big open metal rack and there’s a storage bag under the seat too. With bungee cords you could attach several gas cans and other equipment. In Cat’s accessory catalogue there are a couple base and storage system options available, but nothing quite as easy as the Ski-Doo LinQ accessory attachment system. Cat and Polaris are catching up here though!

For the record, the Norseman and its 2-stroke prefers 91 octane fuel and has a sizeable 13.7-gallon fuel tank to give it sufficient range for a deep foray into the woods. And yes, there’s a hitch in back.
2018 Yamaha VK Pro II
Made to work, maybe even a little play ... but mostly work is the focus of the VK Pro II from Yamaha.
■ Yamaha VK Pro II
Sexy the VK ain’t. But it’s a powerhouse for towing and has proven to be as sturdy and reliable as anything on skis.

That starts with the strong 1049cc Genesis 3-cylinder 4-stroke engine. It’s the only 4-stroke here, which means you won’t be feeding it as much oil as the other models, not that they drink a lot anymore. The Genesis has major low-end power and feels strong throughout its power band. Yamahas have always been known for their engine design and long life.

This one comes with electric start and Yamaha’s electric power steering, which makes it easy to handle although this is much more a utility sled than trail sled as opposed to the other two compared here. While handling is fairly light, the VK Pro isn’t a great cornering sled, it’s more about straight line pulling power and its wide skis, as with the others, help it float well in deep snow.

In back is a 20x154x1.5-inch Cobra track with a dual-shock, coupled suspension that is easily adjusted with a flip-lever torsion spring system, that can help a rider quickly adjust it to trail, off-trail or two-up riding. The system includes a 40mm, High Pressure Gas (HPG) shock that does a good job of sucking up bumps for long periods. Naturally, if you’re towing a load that shock will be a big benefit too. Like the other sleds here, this one has an articulated track to make for easier backing in deep snow.
2018 Yamah VK Pro II
Yamaha also includes a gull-wing A-arm front shock design to increase ground clearance up front. This has the potential to save you from tearing up the suspension on rocks or tree stumps that may be hiding beneath the off-trail snow. Shocks up front are KYB gas cell numbers.

Wind protection doesn’t get any better than the VK’s giant windshield that not only protects the rider from wind, but wraps around to deflect branches from the head and body. That’s very utilitarian.

The seat isn’t for everyone. It’s big and wide, designed for a big guy with a wide stance. It’s so low, in fact, that your knees extend more upright than on other sleds. The surface is soft enough, but knees can become tired or feel awkward here.

The big upside is a huge storage area under the seat, again extremely utilitarian for carrying tools out into the brush to do work. Likewise there’s a big open cargo rack behind the seat, so strapping on tools or materials is simple with a few bungies.
American Snowmobiler Utility Sled Stats
Mirrors are standard, on the inside of the windshield, this protects them from errant branches, but they vibrate pretty substantially from the engine revving. It’s a pretty noisy power plant too, especially at lower speeds where you might be operating a utility sled. Think of it as the price for power.

The VK Pro touts an 11.6-gallon gas tank, which gives it good range. You’ll notice it’s less than the other models, but then again this 4-stroke engine usually gets substantially better gas mileage, so a larger tank is not required in this model.

■ Bottom line:

If you plan to spend more time on-trail than in the boonies with your utility sled, the Cat and Polaris offer more comfort and superior trail handling. All will tow and pull, but the Yamaha feels like it delivers more grunt. If it’s attitude you seek in a utility sled, the Norseman should put you in charge of this game!
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