With spring sales program orders due from most factories, now is a good time to share our thoughts on the snowmobiles that really stood out at our spring testing at the 2020 Rode Reports event.
After our testing of the 2020 pre-production machines concluded, we asked our test team to name the one machine from each brand that most impressed or surprised them. The group answer is below, along with names of other nominated machines.
Arctic Cat: ZR 8000 RR 137
Sometimes a snowmobile just feels so unbelievably dialed-in that it can make you feel bulletproof when in the saddle. That was the case with the ZR 8000 RR 137 that Arctic Cat brought to Rode Reports.
Certainly our team has grown accustomed to the general list of features and benefits found on “race replica” ZR RR models in recent years – the ProCross chassis, high-end Fox shocks, reinforced chassis and running boards, etc. What’s different for 2020 is revised ARS II front suspension geometry for flatter cornering plus updates to the CTEC2 engine – with new cylinders, pistons, combustion chamber and fuel rail.
Frankly, the front suspension alterations on this model were barely noticeable, and the run quality on pre-production 800-class Arctic Cats at the Rode Reports event was inconsistent – some models ran strong enough to chase down 850s while others had burps and stall-outs at times. Clearly calibrations were still being finalized.
But when the ZR 8000 RR we had out there was running clean, it was an absolute blast – it was perfectly balanced, allowing us to rail through see-through corners with ease or attack huge moguls and jumps with reckless abandon. Then, once you work in the unbelievably low price that Cat has put on this model for 2020, it gets even more attractive.
Other Arctic Cats nominated: ZR 9000 Thundercat 137 iACT, M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One 165
Polaris: 600 Indy XC 129
Some observers think that the 600 class in snowmobiling might be going down the same extinction path as the dodo bird, wooly mammoth or Milli Vanilli fans. However, one ride aboard the 2020 Polaris 600 Indy XC 129 we tested at Rode Reports would change their minds in a hurry.
This is one fantastic snowmobile for running tight and twisting trails. The Axys chassis is light, easy to move around on and laid out expertly. The Indy XC’s dual A-arm front suspension featuring Walker Evans Piggyback Needle is truly the best in the business. Its second-year Pro-CC rear suspension is second only to Ski-Doo’s rMotion in absorbing energy, and it also provides an excellent, connected feel to the trail. Mix in the time-proven 600 Cleanfire engine with its strong pull coming out of every turn and you’ve got a winning combination.
Not a lot is new for the sophomore year with this machine – Polaris upgraded the starter, added a battery charging port on electric start models and made it available to be ordered with a stud-infused Ice Ripper track for 2020 – but it shined at being just what it is: a top-notch trail runner.
Also Polaris sleds nominated: 850 Switchback Assault 144, 800 Indy XCR 129
Ski-Doo: Summit X 850 E-TEC 165 with Expert Package
Year-after-year, Ski-Doo continues to up its game in the mountain segment, surging past previous deep-snow dominators with machines custom-designed for riding in specific conditions. The brand did it again for 2020 with an impressive Expert package available on X-package Summits.
The Expert machines are powder-churning monsters, with new running boards that hold less snow, a shorter tunnel and virtually non-existent snowflap that offers no resistance, a new spindle bottom and rubber ski damper that helps stabilize the front end and revised ergonomics – including a smaller seat, lower handlebar and smaller bars ends.
These upgrades are on top of the features that have allowed Ski-Doo to win our mountain muscle shootout the last two years – include a tMotion rear suspension that makes the sled tilt easily, the 850 E-TEC engine that is hyper responsive and the cool SHOT start-hot system.
The Expert package may not be for everybody: For instance, the small seat was rather firm on trails, the smaller bar ends received mixed reviews and the tunnel design isn’t great for all conditions. However, for the pure powder riding, it was glorious.
Also Ski-Doos nominated: Summit X 850 E-TEC 175, Grand Touring LTD 900 ACE
Yamaha: Sidewinder SRX LE
Let’s face it: With its smaller, revised lineup in the last couple of years, Yamaha is selling power and speed more than anybody in the market. When it comes to exhibiting that speed, nothing is more impressive than the Sidewinder SRX LE.
Bathed in majestic black with classy touches of silver for 2020, the SRX returns not just as the fastest sled on snow but also as arguably the best looking new snowmobile as well. But once the 180+ horsepower, turbocharged triple is sparked to life, the real fun begins.
We’ll say again here what we’ve also noted in print: This is the fastest production snowmobile ever built (take that, all of you triple-triple hoarders from the late 1990s!), with a composed chassis that handles the speed very well. Get it up to 80 mph, and it feels like you’re at half-throttle – it’s got plenty more to give. Give the throttle another stab and triple digits are achieved in short order, and then the speedo just keeps climbing.
It’s true that all Sidewinders are fast and carry the same engine, but with its slightly lower ride height the SRX is more composed. For 2020, revised front suspension geometry improves on a good thing, keeping the front end flatter on the sort of weaving trails where this machine shines best.
Other Yamaha nominations: None – the SRX selection was unanimous.