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First Ride: 2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro

By John PrusakDecember 04, 2015
2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro.

2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro. Snow Goer photo by Wayne Davis.

This review of the 2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Snow Goer magazine. To see similar sled reviews, how-to stories, aftermarket product evaluations, interesting feature stories, new riding destinations and much more, click here to subscribe today.

“Me and my boys are cocked, locked and ready to rock.”

This line was spoken by the blood-thirsty Captain Frye in the suspense-thriller “The Rock,” when he was trying to goad his leader to fi re a missile into the San Francisco Bay area.

It’s an eerie statement in that context, but it could also be spoken when a team of riders approaches a group of competitive 800cc performance sleds. It’s definitely a class of high-action snowmobiles, but none of them looks as cocked, locked and ready to rock as the 2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro 129. Aggressive, angular graphics with a smattering of bright colors, a joke for a windscreen and a stout looking front end seem to beckon as one approaches the machine, the wide-spread A-arms and long exposed shocks begging for big air.

Getting closer, the rider sees the 8000 logo, signifying the inclusion of the 794cc Suzuki two-stroke, one of the sport’s most powerful engines. Yes, it’s quick, and it’s fast. The heart rate rises before the rider even twists the key.

Ready. Aim. FIRE!

 

Conquer A Trail

The ZR 8000 Sno Pro comes in any color you want, as long as you want orange. Splashes of brilliant orange can be found on the hood, side panels, seat, spindles, ski tips and bumpers, offset by black and white. It seems appropriate considering the Sno Pro name and sled racing’s affiliation with the color orange.

The racing attitude continues when the cylinders are first sparked. The fuel-injected engine burbles on idle and occasionally loads up on fuel if allowed to sit for too long as the ski tips jiggle in nervous anticipation.

The tone changes, though, when the throttle is squeezed closer to the bar. The raspy-yet-high-winding performance sound that has long been an Arctic Cat trademark sings out of the engine bay as RPM climbs fast and the machine claws forward.

Arctic Cat suspension

A new dual-=rate spring on the front track shock of most ZR models helps improve cornering and compliance. Here it’s shown on a 2016 ZR 6000 El Tigre.

Power delivery feels an iota smoother for 2016, thanks to new TEAM Rapid Response clutches that trim some weight and some friction and should run cooler (see page 46 of this issue for an inside look). Cat officials aren’t promising any big performance gains from the new setup but the new clutches add durability and easier serviceability, they say, and our test mule’s drivetrain felt more dialed-in than previous ZR8s.

Cat claims its 800 twin tops 160 hp, and you can feel every one of those ponies pulling while in the seat. Yet the power doesn’t overwhelm the chassis. The ProCross feels wide and somewhat burly with “man-sized” handlebars, wide running boards with aggressive traction, a spacious layout and a long (by today’s standards) seat. Handlebars are located at a nice height, allowing a six-footer to stand when he or she wants to, whether ripping through bumps, hitting field approaches or just stretching out.

Arctic Cat gauge

The Deluxe Digital Analog gauge still has a sweeping needle, for those who are into such a thing.

Self-generated windchill hits the rider head-on – the tiny 5.5-inch “race-height” windshield is so small that Arctic Cat doesn’t even pretend that somebody will be able to duck behind it, as evidenced by the fact that it’s painted white. As a Sno Pro, we’d expect it to at least have hand guards. We know, it’s an easy – and in this case, entirely necessary – add-on, but some sort of standard protection from the elements would be nice upon delivery. Behind that window sits Cat’s Deluxe Digital Analog gauge, featuring a sweeping needle against a white face on the left and a rectangular screen on the right. It doesn’t have the classy-coolness of the twin-screen Deluxe Digital Gauge found on 6000 and 7000 Series Cats, but we find the Deluxe Digital Analog gauge easier to read.

Handling and ride quality are good overall. The split-runner skis do well on setup trails and push marginally more than some competitive skis in less firm conditions. Ski lift happens occasionally when trying to rail through a turn in stock settings, but if some air is let out of the Fox FLOAT 3 front shocks it becomes more stable. Also, riders have to accommodate for the strong side-bite of the base RipSaw track found on 129-inch Cats – when the rear end doesn’t slide as much, sometimes a ski will rise in a tight corner. Straight-line grip is solid with the 1.25-inch lugs, and the Radial Master Cylinder brake is quick to lock that track – too quick, by some riders’ standards.

It’s a broken record for our regular readers, and it’s even stated elsewhere in this issue, but we feel Cat fills Fox FLOAT shocks with too much air at the factory, making the front end more rigid than it needs to be. The Slide-Action rear, though, was dialed in expertly, with traditionally sprung Arctic Cat IFP gas shocks on both arms. Every year during our testing, the Cats keep getting better in the stutter bumps. Most 2016 Arctic Cat ZR models got spring rate changes that made notable improvements over the similar 2015 models; here with the Sno Pro calibration the year-over-year improvement is subtle, yet noticeable.

The other subtle change we noticed was in fit and finish – while still not on par with competitive brands, our test unit felt well-finished, without uneven gaps and strange noises when we engaged the electric start. Storage capacity is limited to a tiny belt bag behind the seat – related Limited and El Tigré models at least get a goggle bag in front of the handlebar and a true tunnel bag in back. The Sno Pro does, though, come with electric start, push-button reverse and a 12-volt outlet. Aside from the clutches, other year-over-year changes for the ZR 8000 Sno Pro include a new front arm and rear axle in the rear suspension, serviceable bearings in the Tri-hub rear axle assembly and a new chain and sprocket combination in the chaincase, all aimed at improved durability.

 

Have Fun

Aside from everything else, this Cat loves to jump – and that’s part of its “cocked, locked and ready to rock” attitude. A well-timed throttle stab on a rise on the trail or an off-trail hump or knob will send the machine skyward, where it flies flat and always wants to land on its paws.zr 8000 sno pro specs

The only time it ever seems to disagree with a flight plan is when crawling around in a field at just above an idle and then trying to suddenly punch it over a rise – the tendency of the engine loading up on fuel sometimes means it’s not completely ready for launch. That’s long been a trait of Arctic Cats featuring the batteryless EFI system, but it’s gone on 6000 Series Cats – another reason we’re eagerly hoping for a dual-stage injected 800 twin in coming years.

 

This review of the 2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Snow Goer magazine. To see similar sled reviews, how-to stories, aftermarket product evaluations, interesting feature stories, new riding destinations and much more, click here to subscribe today.

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