Arctic Cat today took the wraps off of a slightly tweaked snowmobile lineup for 2023, the details of which has been floating around on the internet since the brand showed it to its dealers late last week.
New for 2023 are three models, each serving distinctly different niches in the snowmobile market.
For speed freaks, Cat is unveiling the Riot 9000 – technically a crossover but realistically a long and fast trail sled with added traction, an uncoupled suspension and power steering.
For ditch bangers, the brand is making its ZR 6000 R-XC available to consumers for the first time, giving them the chance to ride a sled very similar to the one that Zach Herfindahl recently used to win the Goodridge/Grygla I-500 cross-country race.
For entry level mountain riders, an up-feature new Blast 4000 M Limited offers better shocks and a mountain seat. And all Blast models – trail, utility, crossover, touring and mountain – get better hand and thumber warmer control for 2023.
Beyond that, the other big news from Arctic Cat is that its spring order program has been pushed deeper into the calendar: It’ll run from April 19 to May 3. It was pushed back to allow the brand to wrap up production and delivery of all 2022 models before taking new orders, according to Textron’s Sr. VP and General Manager of Powersports Heidi McNary.
“Obviously that’s non-traditional, but we need to finish delivering the  product, we need to give people the confidence that if they order product this year, we’re going to deliver this year and make sure that our supply chain is aligned to deliver all the  product by the end of the calendar year,” McNary said. “We could have launched Snowmageddon on March 15, but it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do to be asking customers for the next order when we haven’t filled the one that we have in hand.”
Let’s break down the Cat lineup by market segment.
ZRs Trail Burners
The full-sized line of two-stroke ZR models has been simplified for 2023, yet at the same time a new machine was added.
The ZR 6000 and ZR 8000 return essentially unchanged for 2023 except for colors and graphics that are far more appealing to our test crew, thanks to the return of black and green and the ditching of gray. The names are more straight-forward for the new year. There won’t be any sort of Limited, RR, Sno Pro or El Tigre suffix: They’re just straight-up ZRs, with either a 600-class or 800-class engine that spins Cat’s second-year ADAPT clutching.
The ARS II front suspension and Slide-Action rear suspension are used in both machines. The ZR 6000 features Fox Zero 1.5 QS3 shocks above the skis, a similar 2-inch bore QS3 on the rear arm and Cat’s own 1.5-inch bore IFP shock on the front arm. Buyers of the ZR 8000 can get the same shocks, or opt for iQS adjust-on-the-fly capabilities for an upcharge.
Technically, the ZR 6000 R-XC isn’t “new,” but in the past the only way to get the machine was to be a part of the formal Team Arctic race program. That changes for 2023, allowing a select number of “regular” guys and gals to see what a race-winning cross-country sled feels like.
Functionally, the biggest differences between a “regular” ZR 6000 and the R-XC model are found in the skid frame. The race skid’s front arm is 4 inches longer to make it handle better in big bumps, plus it has a seven-position rear coupling system and rides on Fox Zero QS3 shocks. Cat’s own 600 C-TEC2 engine spins a 15- by 129- by 1.25-inch RipSaw track.
To withstand the rigors of racing, key components in the chassis, rear suspension, chaincase and brake were upgraded. “It’s as race-ready as you’re going to get,” said Cat Director of Product Strategy Troy Halvorson. “It doesn’t come with studs, but pretty much everything else is good to go” for a cross-country race.
One other interesting feature is its seat. Directly in front of the driver’s normal position is an abrupt step down to a lowered section in front of the fuel tank. The lowered section is where your opposite leg falls when leaning far-off and forward into a turn. At first, the seat feels odd, but once you get accustomed to utilizing the space it provides, it allows the rider to really hang off in turns and get lower than normal – improving the handling and the speed-feel of the sled.
The other returning full-sized ZR is the four-stroke ZR 9000 Thundercat. It’s back for its sophomore season with electronic power steering, which makes this heavy, 200-ish horsepower beauty handle surprisingly well on trails.
A Mix Of Riots
In theory, the Riot lineup is supposed to appeal to true crossover riders. That math gets scrambled a bit for 2023 thanks to one exciting new models.
New for 2023 is the Riot 9000. It shares the Thundercat’s 998cc, turbocharged Yamaha triple that makes about 200 horsepower, but it harnesses that horsepower with a 146-inch long track with either 1.35- or 1.6-inch lugs. The Riot 9000 also gets the same power steering system that has so impressed our test team on Thundercat and Yamaha Sidewinder models.
The long track hooks up to hardpack very well, and the power steering doesn’t chase ruts – both key attributes to trail riding. But even though it has the uncoupled Cross-Action rear suspension, we don’t know if we’d want to do much sidehilling with this big dog – it’s heavy and digs big trenches. But on trails, it’s a ton o fun. It runs on a full-width ARS II front end that measures 42 inches on center. The sled can be ordered with either manual-adjust Fox QS3 shocks, or with the push-button-controlled ATAC system that allows the driver to adjust the compression rate of key shocks between soft, medium and firm on-the-fly.
The rest of Arctic Cat’s Riot lineup returns with only cosmetic changes. The Riot 8000 with a full-width front end and Cross-Action rear, but has a lightweight feel that can make it feel playful in a powder-filled field. The more off-trail focused Riot X 8000 has the narrower AMS front suspension plus the single-beam Alpha One rear suspension, making it far more playful in the hills. Each rides on Fox QS shocks, and can be ordered with manual adjust or the ATAC system controlled from the handlebar.
Family Fun: Blasts & Youth Sleds
Arctic Cat’s line of Blast sleds featuring a 7/8ths-size chassis and 397cc single-cylinder engine continues to grow for 2023 thanks to an interesting new mountain sled.
After launching trail (Blast 4000 ZR), mountain (Blast 4000 M) and utility (Blast 4000 LT) iterations for 2021 and then expanding with crossover (Blast 4000 XR) and two-passenger (Blast 4000 XR Touring) version for 2022, the 2023 addition is a more feature-rich Blast 4000 M Limited. This limited-build model will featured Fox FLOAT 3 shocks on the ski suspension plus on the rear arm of the rear suspension, a lightweight mountain seat and a 36-inch ski stance.
Meanwhile, all Blasts models will receive two-stage high-low hand and thumb warmers for 2023. Previously, they were either “on” or “off,” and when they were on they would get super-hot, so you always had to be reaching around on the dash to turn them off, and then later turn them on again.
The Blasts target new-to-sport riders as well as younger riders who are transitioning off of youth sleds – like the popular ZR 200 and ZR 120 machine that are returning for 2023 bathed in black with green graphics.
Few Changes Mountain, Utility Sleds
The rest of Arctic Cat’s lineup returns with only cosmetic changes.
Those seeking full-sized mountain sleds from Cat can again choose between the M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One and M 8000 Hardcore Alpha One – each with 146-, 154- or 165-inch PowerClaw track options. All are powered by Cat’s 800 CTEC-2 semi-direct-injected twin with ADAPT clutches.
The Mountain Cat version can be ordered with Float QS3 or ATAC shocks; the Hardcore gets Fox Zero QS3 shocks, with a QSL on the rear arm that can be locked out. Otherwise, the primary difference is the Hardcore has stiffer running boards and bracing in key suspension locations for more aggressive riding and harder landings.
The returning Norseman 8000 X is Cat’s lone full-sized workhorse with its 153-inch track, rear rack and XTRA-action rear end. It also is unchanged for 2023 other than the colors and graphics.