There’s a new king-of-the-hill engine in the snowmobile market, and it comes from Yamaha. For 2017, Team Blue is launching a new line of sleds called Sidewinders featuring a new, high-tech, turbo-charged, 998cc four-stroke triple that is said to produce more than 180 hp. Pay attention, speed demons and lake racers: This one is for you!
This is more than just a regular engine with a run-of-the-mill hair drier stuffing extra air into the cylinders – the Sidewinder’s new engine is specifically designed to produce boost every time the driver touches the throttle, eliminating the spool-up time and delayed burst of power found on previous turbo-equipped models, Yamaha claims.
We had a chance to test drive the Sidewinders, and the ride was mind blowing. Once the RPMs crest about 6700, the acceleration pull borders on stunning — you definitely want a firm grip on the handlebar. Yet the engine is also amazingly quiet and smooth.
This engine and the slightly modified version of the SRV chassis that will house it will be found in a full line of 2017 Yamaha snowmobiles – from R-TX short trackers to L-TX and X-TX crossovers all the way up to the M-TX and new B-TX platform. Yamaha also brought a two-stroke back to the North American snowmobile market, though only in an entry level utility sled. Also, new shock combinations upgrade select SR Viper models, and M-TX and B-TX models in both Sidewinder and Viper platforms get a new mountain ski for 2017.
The Boosted Sidewinders
The lineage of the new 998cc triple in new Sidewinder models traces back to Yamaha’s 1049cc triple snowmobile engine of Nytro/Vector/SR Viper fame, and it’s related to the 998cc four-stroke triple that was a part of the YXZ1000R side-by-sides launched last summer.
This, though, is not just a repackaged powerplant. Instead, the new engine has a high-tech turbo charger and many internal updates designed to make more power while being ultra-durable. This engine new and different in many ways, from the bottom (pressed, forged crankshaft) to the middle (lightweight, hardened steel connecting rods) to the top (forged aluminum pistons with a dished dome riding inside ceramic-coated aluminum cylinders). There are three separate throttle bodies with four-hole injectors feeding the cylinders, and a cast steel three-into-one exhaust manifold emptying them out – and channeling exhaust pressure to the turbo charger to feed the engine more air.
The turbo charger was designed in conjunction with famed boost builder IHI. It, too, uses many exotic metals and processes to handle the heat and pressure of a boosted engine. Better yet, Yamaha officials say the turbo system has a bypass process that captures the pressure of the turbo after a rider releases the throttle heading into a turn and then has that pressure available again when the driver re-engages the throttle coming out of a corner.
There’s also new clutching, with a reverse cam roller secondary and beefed up primary, both aimed at smoother shifting, cooler running and longer belt life, plus new water and oil pumps designed to handle the additional heat and pressure, plus a new ECU to gather and interpret more information. The chassis also gets new skin above and beside this new powertrain to allow more airflow.
The engine is available in 129-inch Sidewinder R-TX SE and LE packages; 137-inch L-TX SE, DX and LE models plus 137-inch S-TX DX and X-TX LE machines; 141-inch X-TX SE and LE models; 153-inch B-TX LE and SE models and a 162-inch M-TX.
M-TX & New B-TX Models
Increasingly mountain sleds are starting to become far more popular east of the Rockies than most folks had previously imagined. In fact, Yamaha officials say that 60 percent of M-TX models have been sold east of the Mississippi River, predominantly to backcountry explorers in those areas or folks who only occasionally make a foray into the high-country.
For those customers, however, the 34.5- to 38.5-inch ski stance and tall lugs found on M-TX models are not ideal, so Yamaha created the 2017 SR Viper B-TX LE and Sidewinder B-TX SE and LE with deep snow features but somewhat of a flatland setup. B-TX models come standard with a 40-inch ski stance and a sway bar for better trail stability, yet they aren’t as wide as normal trail models so riders can still squeeze between trees off-trail. The SR Viper B-TX SE and Sidewider SE models also will come with a 15- by 153- by 1.75-inch Back Country track, offering plenty of flotation without the big paddles, while the Sidewinder B-TX LE has 2.25-inch lugs on its Powerclaw track. All have Fox FLOAT Evol shocks, a heated mountain seat, storage at the handlebar and under the seat, plus a mountain-style handlebar with a center grab strap.
A new mountain ski was unveiled by Yamaha for 2017, and it’s found on those B-TX models as well as SR Viper and Sidewinder M-TX machines. It is wider than the previous ski and features a single keel. Yamaha officials say the ski provides improves flotation and provides very low steering effort while also tracking straight across a sidehill.
Aside from the skis, the SR Viper M-TX SE 153 and 162 models return unchanged with 3-inch lugs on their Powerclaw tracks, while new turbo-charged Sidewinder M-TX SE and LE models become the new top power choice for Yamaha off-trail riders, instead of sending those people back into the dealership for an aftermarket turbo.
A Yamaha Two-Stroke Returns
Ever since Yamaha squeezed the last two-strokes out of its U.S.-based snowmobile lineup in model year 2006, rumors have floated about whether the brand would ever have another oil burner. Some folks even looked at the new partnership with Arctic Cat as proof that a new performance two-stroke was just around the corner.
Well, those folks finally get what they wished for or 2017… well, sort of. Yes, Yamaha has a two-stroke back in its lineup, but it’s not targeted at the enthusiast crowd. Instead, the 2017 Yamaha VK540V is a true work sled, as evidenced by its strut-based front suspension, flat seat and rear cargo rack, among other features.
The VK540 actually never disappeared on a worldwide basis – it was made for more utility-oriented Russian and Northern European market during its entire dark period in North America. But it’s been highly updated for its return to this side of the pond.
It starts with the engine. Yamaha designers bumped up the ECU and the magneto, gave it new, electric-heated, flat-slide carbs and improved air flow to the engine. These changes allow the engine to now create 49 horsepower, with better throttle response, more torque at mid-range and 25 percent better fuel economy, while also allows it to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards that the previous VK540 engine would not have cleared.
Also, a new 20- by 156- by 1.5-inch track that wraps around an improved articulating rear suspension. Ergonomics have been improved thanks to a taller handlebar and a thicker and 2.3-inch taller seat. The sled also gets body panels and running boards, a larger, 10.5-gallon fuel tank, a new twin-bulb headlight and new skis.
Yamaha’s other snowmobiles return mostly unchanged, though there are some targeted updates within various segments.
A full line of SR Viper snowmobiles returns, powered by a roughly 130 hp, 1049cc triple. SR Viper R-TX SE and L-TX SE models have new, coil-over Fox shocks on the front suspension that have internals similar to the company’s QS3 shocks, except without the piggyback and with a rebound clicker on the eyelet. Those shocks are also on new Sidewinder R-TX and L-TX SE models. The spring-available SR Viper L-TX LE plus the Sidewinder R-TX LE and L-TX LE come with upgraded Fox Zero QS3 Kashima shocks all the way around. All four shocks have piggyback reservoirs with three-position soft/medium/firm compression settings plus Kashima coatings for less stiction. The two front shocks plus the rear arm shock also have a rebound adjustment clicker on the bottom of the shock, while the center shock is compression-adjustable only.
Otherwise the rest of the SR Vipers plus the Apex, Vector, Phazer and Venture lines return mostly unchanged, while the SR Viper R-TX LE, M-TX LE and RS Vector LE have been dropped from the lineup.
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.