The Right 800: Three Trail Sleds You Should Be Buying

We take a look at three of the finest trail 800s on the market
2018 Polaris Rush Pro S
Sitting right to see well. Of all the 800s, the Rush has the best vision. You sit highest and most aggressively forward and that affords grade-A vision.
They’re the best!

That is often the reason I hear from people who buy big 800cc trail sleds. A large subset seems to gravitate towards only the very top of the line race replica or rough trail or off-trail 800s. Those sleds certainly have their place, but most of the time the same people that thought they wanted the most extreme machine, would be much happier on a more standard version of the same machine. That’s where these sleds come in!

These are sleds for the masses, that truly any seasoned snowmobile rider can have fun on. The new Blizzard 850 from Ski-Doo, the Polaris Rush 800 Pro S ES, the new Cat ZR 8000 El Tigre and the Yamaha Sidewinder LTX DX are the right sleds for a huge percentage of the trail riding population.

■ Pro S still super, and spiteful

Many people still love to hate the Rush. We think performance proof comes from the rider behind the bars, not the lens of a glamour photographer. What we mean is, this sled still takes a lot of flack for how the exposed rear end is not flattering to the overall look of the sled. Some people laugh, but it’s a serious debate among a subset of buyers. Is it too much to ask to be a good handling sled, AND still look good?… they will ask you.
2018 Polaris Rush Pro S
While our own personal thoughts are that the Rush style is not as appealing as some other designs, it has advantages. Remember when we said how iced up the rear shock and springs can get on the Arctic Cat slide-rail suspension? Well, the Rush 800 Pro S does not have that issue as the rear shock and spring are easily accessed for changing settings and due to their location above and out of the way, they are immune to most snow and ice accumulation. Now, taking tension off that rear spring can be difficult because picking up on the bumper will not do it like it will on other sleds. Speaking of the rear bumper, it is still too low to get to if you get stuck. Also being lower than any other sled on the market, I would not count on it stopping any other sleds in a fender-bender.

Another positive thing to the exposed Rush style Pro XC rear suspension is function. Due to its more dirtbike like design and progressive shock ratio, this sled is highly maneuverable, responds well to both rider body and throttle inputs, puts power to the snow extremely well, and is quite capable to “ride over the tops” of big moguls when you are on the throttle. Polaris calls the benefits riders feel “active pitch control,” but what’s that mean in real riders terms? The ride height and lightweight (due to components in overstructure) as well as centralizing the vehicle and rider masses give the Rush rider a feeling of balanced control in choppy trails, tight corners, hard acceleration and quick deceleration, as well as control in the air, off jumps, or “doubling up” large moguls in rhythym.

Very little has changed on this sled for three model years now, unfortunately. The disadvantages are still there, like the ones mentioned above. There is still the need for custom storage on just about every model Pro S too, and there’s the need for a minimum mid-height windshield with handguards in order to stay warm. Fortunately, this sled is still being sold at a much lower price point than the others in this comparo. For $12,899 you can get a brand new Pro S which will be lightest sled of any of the three we test here. That’s $1300 cheaper than the similarly equipped Cat El Tigre and $750 less than the Ski-Doo Blizzard.
2018 Arctic Cat El Tigre 8000
Major improvements for the ZR 8000 El Tigre include the all new CTEC2 DSI motor, and new windshield.
Finally, you may have a hard time believing the spec sheets on weight. Polaris quotes 431 pounds for a dry weight on the Rush Pro S, which is 56 pounds lighter than the listed dry weight for the Ski-Doo Blizzard. Even in the trail where weight is less important than in the mountains, the difference is big. If both sleds are set up correctly you will certainly feel the toll of 50+ extra pounds. We all take this weight thing with a grain of salt though here at the office, however our independent Real World wet weight tests show similar sleds at actual riding weight (the Polaris Rush XCR at 547 pounds wet with studs and the Ski-Doo MXZx 850 at 601 pounds wet with studs) are still 50+ lbs different.

■ Is Cat’s new 800 faster?
This is seemingly the most popular question of the year for Arctic Cat fans, especially those buying performance focused trail sleds like the El Tigre. Is the new 794cc twin Dual Stage Injection CTEC2 liquid motor faster than the old Suzuki 800 motor? Not that we can prove definitively right now, but our initial product testing, as well as side-by-side testing has the new ZR 8000 showing quite similar top speeds to the old Suzuki powered machine. But that is in line with the marketing materials and claims that Cat has made. For legal, and actual riding reasons, top speed is rarely discussed by OEMs. However, the new Cat 800 for 2018 is a much smoother engine getting to top speed and our tests do show it is slightly more efficient on fuel and injection oil. Roughly 2 mpg better in the fuel mileage mileage at around 13-14 mpg and oil efficiency is better, but roughly 20-25% better in real-world conditions. As with all our machines, we will not have 100% reliable data until we spend an entire season on the sled with it compared to other full production 2018 model sleds.
2018 Arctic Cat El Tigre 8000
Like we said, top speed has been very similar between the old motor and new motor. So sorry Cat loyalists, you won’t be screaming past your old buddies with reckless abandon just because you have a new 800. But check out the added HP in our dyno test from the October issue (pg. 26). You will have fewer emissions than the Suzuki 800s, and you get the benefit of the auto-belt-tension-adjusting TEAM Rapid Response II Drive and TEAM Rapid Reaction Boss Driven clutches. The drive system also has a lightweight magnesium chaincase.

The El Tigre pretty much took over the position held by the “limited” version ZR sleds from last year in that it gets all kinds of little goodies that the Sno Pro and standard ZR do not get. Also, the El Tigre has a lower price than the Limited last year, which was $14,249 US last year, with the El Tigre this year at $14,099 US. You are probably wondering why there is a flip-flop AND why there are five different versions of the ZR 8000 129 this year. We are too! Cat could have had one fewer model choice here. Instead of having the RR, El Tigre, Limited, Sno Pro, and Standard ZR, the Limited could have been dropped and the iconic El Tigre name kept. That would have made the lineup less confusing and probably sold more sleds at a higher price point. But what do we know? We’re just magazine guys who act like we could better manage SKUs, development cycles, tooling and all the other stuff that goes into building sleds.

Things we like particularly on the El Tigre? The new mid-height 11-inch windshield. This works better at diverting air-flow and looks better than any other “mid-height” windshield on the market. Having a tunnel bag and goggle bag (back from the gauges, up from the steering post) is also necessary. This is one area that Cat does well on this sled, Polaris does not do well on the Rush, and Ski-Doo does VERY well on the Blizzard. The LED headlights with accent light are great, and Polaris is also doing well in this area with stock sleds, while Ski-Doo is not doing as well with their stock lighting. We’ve said it before, but Cat’s Sno Pro brake lever on the El Tigre is still our favorite in the industry. It should be on every one of their sleds.
2018 Ski-Doo Blizzard 850
Busting out! The Blizzard finally has the 850 ETEC motor in it for 2018, and it didn’t take it sitting down! This is a trail and bump tamer.
The Fox 1.5 Zero QS3 clickers are great coil-over shocks too, but we’ve talked plenty about those in the past. They work, are easy to dial in and durable. Our only problem is that the slide-action rear suspension on the 129 ices up pretty quickly underneath and while chiseling out the ice to change any settings you are constantly worried that you are going to break the adjustable knob on the shocks.

■ Blizzard gets new 850 motor
This is really the Ski-Doo trail sled that 95% of the yellow team folks out there should be buying. It is not overly flashy, not the most expensive, doesn’t have $5,000 shocks on it, and is not made to climb straight up through five feet of snow. BUT, it can cut around a corner better than a scared rabbit!

The 850 is the fastest of these three sleds, by quite a good margin. Although, you really need to wait until after the break-in period is done to experience the full performance of this sled. The Shootout events that AmSnow does each year showed the difference between a sled that has gone through the ECM controlled break-in period on an MXZ and one that hasn’t. Out of the hole all three are pretty good, but in that corner-to-corner speed, the Polaris and Ski-Doo are a touch quicker. The Blizzard is hands down the fastest on top-end, followed by the Pro-S, then the El Tigre.

The Blizzard name is iconic in the Ski-Doo brand. Arguably known for performance over other badges, the new Blizzard lives up to the performance heritage, albeit this is not a race sled. Blizzard rides on the 129-inch rMotion rear suspension and it comes standard with 1.25-inch lug Ice Ripper XT track. This is similar in pattern to the Ripsaw, but has the built-in traction “studs” in the end of each lug. This is the only track option from the factory for this sled. This is not a Spring Buy sled, so it doesn’t have the three different track options like the X-RS and X model 129-inch 850 powered sleds did. Many folks ask me about the durability of the Ice Ripper and honestly, in all the years we have tested this track on several different manufacturer sleds of varying power, we have never had an issue with durability. We have even studded it (we are not telling you to do this as it is against the recommendations of Camso) but even that did not compromise the track.
2018 Ski-Doo Blizzard 850
This is the all-season, all-capable sled, and it lives up to its do-it-all mantra. The smooth engagement of the clutches starts at 3600 rpm and you can easily slip behind the larger 17-inch windshield with side flares to stay nice and warm and protected. Rack steering and a lightweight feel are provided by the RAS 3 front suspension with very capable HPG Plus aluminum and rebuildable/re-valvable coil-over spring-adjustable shocks.

Silky smooth brake operation and shorter stopping distances have been tested on the 129-inch MXZ sleds over the Arctic Cat 8000. The stainless steel brake-line Brembo system can be thanked for that. We do feel the Hayes Phantom braking system on the Polaris sleds is still the gold standard. The tight brake lever package, and intuitiveness of the braking on the Blizzard, even at high speed in corners, is a strong aspect of the performance feel of this sled.

One more surprisingly comfortable aspect of this sled is the seat. It is small, but this trail performance seat is deceivingly plush and sits up just high enough for good sight lines without sacrificing maneuverability.
■ Decisions, decisions
We like to have a clear-cut decision on our comparison tests. The “ultimate performance sled” here would be the Ski-Doo 850. However, the more comfortable all-around sled, for especially traditional riders, is the Cat El Tigre. Finally, the most affordable price point is the Polaris Pro S. Pick your poison, but we will be enjoying them all this winter!
stat box 800cc comparo Ski-Doo Polaris Arctic Cat
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