Arctic Cat unveiled the original Thundercat for model year 1993 when triple-triple musclesleds were all the rage. All of the Big Four snowmobile manufacturers produced big iron that could run well past the 100 mph mark, but with its 900cc Suzuki engine and sleek and menacing style, the Thundercat was the most feared sled of them all.
The Thundercat snowmobile was eventually bumped up to 1000cc and produced until 2002, and later that name was put on the side of Arctic Cat’s most-powerful ATV. But for 2017 the model returns to the snow with an all-new engine – this time built by Yamaha – a new clutch and fresh, sleek styling.
There are a bunch of updates made to the rest of Arctic Cat’s 2017 lineup, with many of them aimed at improving the snowmobile trail riding experience through more comfort, better performance and improved quality. And after making major changes to the M Series mountain sleds for 2016, Arctic Cat engineers pulled a few more tricks out of their sleeves for a model exclusively available this spring.
Back to the Thundercat: It and all other 9000 Series ZR and XF models will be powered by the same turbo-powered, 998cc three-cylinder four-stroke engine found in Yamaha Sidewinder models.
From the bottom end’s pressed and forged crankshaft; to the middle’s lightweight, hardened steel connecting rods; to the top end’s forged aluminum pistons riding inside ceramic-coated aluminum cylinders with a dual overhead camshaft, Yamaha officials explained at a media sneak peek event that the engine is different than other four-stroke, turbo-boosted powerplants. The new 9000 Series engine has three separate throttle bodies with four-hole injectors feeding the beast, and a cast steel, three-into-one exhaust manifold emptying it out – and channeling exhaust pressure to the turbo charger to feed the engine more air.
Adding turbo caused engine designers to rethink many internal components, too, including a new water pump and oil pump designed to handle the additional heat and pressure, plus a new engine control unit that can gather and interpret more information.
The charger itself is also a high-tech marvel that uses many high-tech metals and processes to handle the heat and pressure of a boosted engine. Better yet, the turbo system has a bypass process that captures the pressure of the turbo after a rider releases the throttle – like when heading into a turn – and then has that pressure available again when the driver re-engages the throttle.
Arctic Cat Snowmobile Product Manager Troy Halvorson said his company didn’t want to put the “same old plastic” on the new flagship Thundercat. “We wanted something that honored how well it works and makes the parts function the way they need to work,” he said. Other goals of the new body were better fit and finish to make it easier to remove and reinstall the parts for maintenance and service, Halvorson said.
All 9000 models will be fitted with the new plastic. The Thundercat and other 9000 models will have a new TEAM Industries Rapid Response II drive clutch that, as the belt wears, will continue to push the belt up so it stays tight and performance is consistent, Cat officials said. Owners will not have to adjust belt deflection. The pulley also has a lower starting ratio for smoother engagement and less wear to the belt and clutch components.
Click here to read Snow Goer’s ride impression about the new 2017 Thundercat.
2017 Arctic Cat Snowmobiles: Updates Across The Lineup
Nearly every model in the 2017 Arctic Cat snowmobiles lineup has been updated with new features aimed at improving reliability and longevity, better ride quality, reduced weight and more rider comfort.
All ZR models with a 129-inch track will have a longer shock on the front torque arm – this changes the geometry and motion ratio for better bump absorption. Also on the front arm, a revised limiter strap mount location improves clearance between the strap and the shock. At the back of the rear suspension, a new Torque Sensing Link arm is a new, simpler single-bolt design for less weight and more strength, Arctic Cat says.
All ProCross and ProClimb models have a new handlebar that cuts 0.5 pound, and new handlebar grips have a smaller outer diameter – 3.7 mm smaller – so it’s easier for riders to hang on. And the grip material has more rubber and less plastic for a softer and better feel for the hands. The headlight reflector was reworked so, when the high beam is on, it shines 5 degrees lower for improved visibility. There are other changes specific to certain models, including:
- ZR 120 also gets the thinner grips, but it will also have handwarmers for 2017;
- ZR and XF Sno Pro models will be equipped with Fox Zero RC coil-over ski shocks and a revised calibration for the Arctic Cat IFP 2.0-inch rear damper aimed at better ride quality over small and medium bumps;
- ZR RR models will have Fox Zero QS3R ski and rear track shocks with remote reservoir and external rebound damping, in addition the three-position compression damper;
- Two-stroke ProCross and ProClimb models will utilize a new composite intake plenum that weighs 1.25 pounds less than the nylon piece it replaces;
- 800cc models get a revised exhaust pipe mount that saves 0.25 pound.
2017 Arctic Cat Snowmobiles: New Mountain Cat Package Expands M Lineup
In its quest to build what Arctic Cat Snowmobile Product Manager Troy Halvorson calls “the best mountain sled out there,” engineers developed the new M 8000 Mountain Cat with revised ergonomics and a repositioned driveshaft.
The driveshaft has been lowered 1.125 inches for more clearance of the track’s 3-inch paddles. The lower driveshaft position also enables eight-tooth drive sprockets (instead of seven on other M models), which provides a smoother track approach angle to help the machine get on top of the snow and improve handling.
A new nosepan shape allows the rider to move his or her feet 2 inches farther forward to make the driver more influential during sidehill and rollover maneuvering. Running boards are 1 inch narrower so they’ll be less likely to dip into the snow when the machine is laid on its side.
The bright-green M 8000 Mountain Cat includes a tunnel bag and will have Fox FLOAT 3 Evol shocks over the skis and in the center position. The rear track shock is a Fox FLOAT 3 Evol R damper with external rebound adjustability.
New to the M 8000 HCR for 2017 is a data acquisition connector will let racers and tuners plug into the harness for information about exhaust temperature, driveshaft speed and engine RPM.
All M Series machines also received the updated engine Torque Control Link and new intake plenum, plus new suspension rails save up to 2 pounds, depending on length, and a ceramic-coated muffler that cuts almost 1.5 pounds. Worth noting is that the M 7000 and M 9000 four-stroke models have been cut from the lineup.
2017 Arctic Cat Snowmobiles: Special Models Available This Spring
Arctic Cat will have more special models that will be available for order during the sales promotion than years past. Though, dealers are free to order for stock as many of those machines as they’d like, so suitors might be able to find one in the fall. Thundercat, El Tigre, RR, HCR and Mountain Cat, plus sleds dubbed “Limited” like the new XF Cross Country Limited machines are the exclusive spring models. The Spring Guarantee sales event runs from March 2 to April 18.
A special new model available this spring is the XF Cross Country Limited. The ProCross-based models have a 1.75-inch Backcountry X track, Slide-Action skidframe, Fox QS3 shocks over the skis and on the rear torque arm, mountain seat and rear storage rack. Engine options for the XF Cross Country Limited are the 6000 and 8000 Series two-strokes, or the all-new 9000 Series four-stroke.
For more photos, quotes from manufacturer officials and complete models lists about the 2017 snowmobiles from Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha, check out the April 2016 issue of Snow Goer magazine. It mails to subscribers in mid-March and hits newsstands on March 24.