Test Tracks: 2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137

Cat's new 800cc motor made an early debut
2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137
Cat jumped the gun with this grey and black 2018 version of the ZR8000 that was available early in the spring of ‘17.
Nothing beats that new sled smell, especially when it comes with a brand new engine to boot! To say we were excited about Arctic Cat’s decision to release their MY2018 ZR 8000 Sno Pro while there was still enough snow to ride last winter would be an understatement. We were downright giddy!

The extraordinarily patient Cat faithful had finally been rewarded with the shiny new 800cc 2-stroke that Team Green engineers and marketers had promised was coming. This motor is even designed and built on this side of the Pacific, at Arctic Cat’s St. Cloud, Minn., plant. Suzuki was Cat’s long time 800 motor supplier until now.

In media and marketing presentations, Cat claimed its new power plant was the “most refined 2-stroke engine that we’ve ever had in our arsenal.” Promises of increased power, better torque and fewer emissions followed along as well. That all sounds great, but performance and handling remain tops on our (and I’m guessing your) checklist. Here’s how we think Cat did with their early release models and the new 800cc C-TEC2 engine.
2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137
Not afraid to slice, likes to dice! If you are looking for a sled that likes to take abuse in corners and oddly spaced bumps in the turns, then this is a great option. The new motor allows more feathering throttle fun!
2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137
■ What matters most
A 36% increase in low-end torque, 18% increase in midrange torque, and 30% reduction in oil consumption below 7000 rpm are all well documented proclamations Arctic Cat has pushed out to the public. Some other non-quantified claims such as quicker throttle response and faster acceleration (compared to the previously used 800 Suzuki engine) are also well publicized by Cat.

Claims are one thing, and matter little to consumers other than catching their interest. What matters is the experience you have with the product. We were able to gain several hundred miles of experience among four of our test riders on this new snow steed before the snow vanished from the Midwest trails. Far from a full season, but enough to pass along to our readers what we feel they can reasonably expect from the new Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro.

From the second we unloaded it out of the trailer, we believed Arctic Cat had delivered on the claim of better throttle response. Just from burping it across the parking lot, we could tell there was a snap to this throttle that the 800 Suzuki just never quite had. On the trail, the new 800cc C-TEC2 is ready to give you a response at every fraction of the throttle squeeze. That’s a claim its predecessor could not make.

There is no debate between the new 800 C-TEC2 and the old Suzuki when it comes to torque. We’ve already told you the numbers Cat claimed in low- and mid-range torque improvements. Their marketing folks showed our editors a pretty nifty graph showing a 5-10 lbs.-ft. increase in torque at any point throughout the power band, with the largest improvements being around the 4200 rpm mark and the 5800 rpm mark. We even showed you numbers in our October Independent Dyno Test that showed upwards of a 15hp difference at mid-range. Wow!

Not only does that improvement sound good and look good on paper, it feels oh-so-good going down the trail. Knowing that “oomph” feeling will be there to stretch your arms is exactly what you want as you push that throttle level closer and closer to the bar.

Improving the torque and throttle response are both more than welcome in this new engine, and really were needed to stay competitive with the other big twin 2-stroke OEMs. While the improvements are noticeable and create a better riding experience, it’s not the type of improvement that makes your eyeballs pop out of your helmet. That reaction is typically reserved for the top end of an engine’s performance.

I have to be honest and say, seeing all this data and knowing what we knew, we were hoping for more out of this engine’s top end. That’s not saying this snowmobile is slow. It is right on par with the Polaris 800 Rush, and very close to Ski-Doo’s 800R, but with more grunt.

Maybe after hoping and waiting for something for so long, our expectations were just too high. We wanted this engine to completely blow us away, and it is a great improvement over the Suzuki 800, but we were left waiting for that hyper-top-end moment.
2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137
Will the efficiencies be there in the end? That is one big question we will be looking at this season with our full season demo sleds. We have data from this early model, but will do a full season ’18 test.
■ How does it handle?
Very nicely. The sled seemed to be a little lighter in the front end than other versions. We’ll get our 2018 demo sleds on the scales soon enough and see if this new engine is truly lighter, or if maybe it’s just better balanced than the previous models.

AmSnow readers know I’ll always opt for a 137-inch trail sled if given the option, and that’s what this ZR 8000 Sno Pro came with. Not only does this track length smooth the trail stutters, but I find the longer track adds some weight to the back of the sled, making it easier to lighten up on the front end when navigating trail turbulence.

I powered my way through 250 miles of heavily trafficked trails mutilated by weekend warriors one fine Saturday in February, and came away very pleased with the sled’s overall handling. The front end was great without so much as a wobble on washboard straightaways. It also handled the whooped out corners with about as much grace as you can ask for from a sled.

No doubt the ProCross chassis was as stout and rigid as it’s always been since its 2012 debut (yes, it’s been around that long), but one of the downfalls I’ve felt periodically plague these sleds is the feedback the rider feels through the bars from big moguls or extended periods of rough terrain.

Now, to be fair, shock setup can certainly help that situation. The FOX 1.5 Zero RC shocks that come up front on this machine are certainly a great match here. The feedback seemed to be far less apparent on the 2018 ZR 8000 Sno Pro. It was particularly improved in the handlebars. The ride was really nice, and rider comfort was very good standing or sitting. I found myself standing almost all day due to trail conditions, and some other snowmobiles would have left me disgusted at the end of the day had that been the case. I was just never uncomfortable on this Cat.

Credit goes to Arctic Cat for improving wind protection as well. A redesigned windshield for their trail sleds still looks short and sporty, but does a much better job of directing wind around the rider. We noticed particular improvement at the hands.
2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137
How does it handle? Very nicely. The sled seemed to be a little lighter in the front end than other versions.
■ Yet to be proven
The oil consumption reduction claims from Arctic Cat are yet to be proven in our eyes. Now, that may be partly because a good portion of our test experience occurred while the sled was still in “break-in” mode. We would call the oil consumption marginally better than the previous 800 engine at this point, but still heavier than competing 800cc engines.

BUT, we are never “gentle” on engines, and rarely see maximum oil efficiencies in any sled we ride. There’s also the fact that this is a brand spanking new engine that has yet to be really proven in the hands of consumers. Arctic Cat would not be the first OEM to have a little heavier oil consumption than their “up to” claims in year one of engine production. Do we believe oil consumption will get better? Yes. Do we believe we will ever personally see a 30% improvement? Not really, but that’s not on Cat.

What is proven is that accessing the oil fill is MUCH easier with the new body plastics. What was almost a two-person job to add oil (with those flexi-bag-oil dispensers for Cat oil) is now easily accomplished by one, thanks to a side panel that can be completely removed with a quarter turn of two plastic tabs.

Arctic Cat’s 800 sleds of the past were always easily located when warming up thanks to their ability to almost instantly fumigate any parking lot they were stationed in. That mushroom cloud visual is no longer nearly as pronounced. That alone has got to save at least a little on the oil consumption.

And so the question now becomes the one we always try to answer for our readers, “Would we buy it?” We won’t lie to you, there are some among our staff who would not, but the majority of us answered affirmatively.

Those in the “ayes,” would have many thoughts if we opened up the trailer this winter and saw the ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137 waiting for us. Disappointment would not be one of them.
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