Moments ago, we completed our first ride on snowmobiles in Arctic Cat’s new Catalyst chassis platform, and we walked away very impressed – and also bummed that they aren’t letting us take one of these pre-production machines home with us.
The new-for-model-year-2024 chassis platform was first shown at the Hay Days Grass Drag event in September, with promises of significant weight reduction, revised ergonomics, a quicker-reacting driveline and a lot more.
Today, we were finally able to throw a leg over a handful of ZR 600, ZR 600 R-XC and Riot 600 machines in the chassis on a ride with a group of Arctic Cat engineers out of the brand’s Thief River Falls, Minnesota, factory. We spun up more than 150 miles, and came to this conclusion: The new platform exceeded our lofty expectations!
Frankly, we’re already late for the next engagement up here in TRF, so we’ll cut to the chase with some bulleted impressions.
Our first and most lasting impression is that the new chassis seems very “free,” like all possible friction has been removed. We don’t know if that’s the result of the significant weight reduction, the new steering system, the belt final drive, the revised suspension…. It’s undoubtedly a result of all of them combined and more.
If Arctic Cat truly ends up trimming 10 percent of the machine’s weight when it gets to final production, that’s a monstrous cut. We’re talking close to a 50-pound Slimfast diet, and better yet the attention to mass centralization makes it feel even lighter. This is a monstrous step in the right direction for Team Green.
One of the best things about Arctic Cat’s previous ProCross chassis is that the brand’s machines typically felt very planted in turns and connected to the trails. Some reviewers would use that as a “yeah, but” sort of statement: “The ZR is certainly heavier than its competition, but that makes it stick to the trail surface in corners.”
Well, now Cat engineers have stripped a bunch of weight, but their ZRs are still glued to the trail in turns, with no inside ski lift. Plus…
… The ZRs in this new chassis also steer very lightly. Using a unique steering geometry that was first designed for the brand’s race sled, Cat likes to refer to their system as a “poor man’s power steering.” Well, it works. The steering effort is very light, and the turning radius is impressively tight. We felt like we could have easily squared up corners and cut under the drivers in front of us – you know, if such buffoonery was allowed on media rides with pre-production snowmobiles!
Bottom line: The steering is light, but the skis stay planted. That’s a great combo.
The loudest and most frequent complaint we’ve heard from snowmobilers after Cat unveiled this new platform has been, “WHAT? WHY IS IT ONLY AVAILABLE IN A 600 IN THE FIRST YEAR?!?!” And yes, that is both a surprise and a disappointment.
That said, Cat spruced up their 600-class twin with the crankshaft from the 800-class twin plus new fuel mapping and a revised servo for the variable exhaust system. It revs quickly to 8300 RPM and is reactive and fun. It also sounds throatier than before – perhaps due to changes in the intake? Is it an 850? No, but for burning trails it’s a lot of fun.
From the side, due to the familiar looking suspensions and usual black and green colorations, the Catalyst machines don’t look like they’d feel much different from the cockpit than the previous chassis. They definitely do. The rider sits taller and more forward on a firmer and shorter-in-length seat, with a less obtrusive dash in front of them. It’s definitely a more centered and engaging perch, from our perspective, though we wonder if taller or some more passive riders who traditionally have liked to sit deep on the chassis will all agree. From our 5 foot, 11 inch perspective, though, it’s a big step forward, but ergonomics of course are personal.
The Riot was fun because it transferred a lot of weight, making it easy to pick up the skis and horse around when you wanted to. The ZR models were planted and light trail burners with a big fun factor. But the machine that stole our heart was the ZR R-XC. Whatever magic is inside that unique suspension system make it an absolute dream when ripping ditchlines up here in far northern Minnesota.