Every year after evaluating snowmobiles for the upcoming season, Snow Goer names its Top 10 snowmobiles of the season, along with the Snowmobile Of The Year.
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For 30 years, Snow Goer has named a Snowmobile of the Year, a choice that has annually resulted in much fanfare and also occasional semi-intense debate. Supporters of the winning brand love to gloat about our choice, while backers of the other brands love to tell us why we’re wrong!
Less controversial but ultimately equally important is our annual Top 10 Snowmobiles list. In it, our team identifies the machines that best fit the needs and desires of riders in various segments of the market.
For 2020, these are the 10 machines that stand out and – when added to the selections from the previous 29 years – are among the 300 best snowmobiles built in the past three decades.
Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme 850 E-TEC
Already dominant in the utility segment, Ski- Doo went high-end with its new Expedition lineup, and the Xtreme 850 E-TEC is appropriately the most extremely capable of the bunch. Found in a beefed-up version of the REV Gen4 chassis and powered by the dynamic 850 E-TEC twin, the Expedition Xtreme can pull weight and haul gear like a utility sled; haul the mail down the trail like a supreme touring machine; and float in powder almost as well as a Summit. From its quiet and efficient drive- line system – including cutting edge wide track, transmission and chaincase technology – to its incredible array of custom accessories, this big boy is the epitome of a go-anywhere, do-anything snowmobile.
Polaris 850 Switchback Assault
Look up “Outrageous Fun” in the snowmobiler’s abridged dictionary, and you should see a picture of the Switchback Assault. On trails or off, in the woods, ditches, fields or hillsides, for riders who like to get a little rowdy when behind a handlebar there isn’t a more amusing sled. The way it delivers power from the 850 Patriot engine, transfers weight and reacts to rider inputs – it does everything in an instant, allowing helmeted daredevils to bound over obstacles, lift skis on rises in the trail, carve in a meadow or blast across a frozen laketop. If its gauge had a setting for SPM (smiles per minute), it would often be pegged.
Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One
It won Snowmobile of the Year honors last year because of its innovative design; it returns as a Top 10 sled in 2020 because it flat-out works! Backcountry agility is redefined, thanks to the single beam rear suspension that allows riders to carve and play seemingly without limitations in deep powder. It’s super easy to initiate and tilt on one ski, making powder turns, side-hilling and crawling between trees easy and entertaining for backcountry experts and relative newcomers alike. Its biggest problem may be that some people over-ride it – throwing too much effort into a turn instead of allowing the machine to create the fun with you with more subtle inputs.
Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850 E-TEC
It has the sport’s best factory rear suspension (rMotion), with the best shocks the brand offers (KYB Pros) utilizing the easiest adjustment system (the Quick Adjust package). It also has the best injection system (E-TEC), the smoothest running big-bore two-stroke engine (Rotax 850), the best adjustable handlebar system (Forward Adjustable Riser) and best fit-and-finish (REV Gen4). With that many advantages, how could the Renegade X-RS 850 E-TEC possibly be overlooked when naming the Top 10 snowmobiles? It can’t, because the total is even more impressive than the sum of its parts. From its rack steering system to its transparent handguards, Ski-Doo engineers left no stone unturned when designing this premium ride.
Yamaha Sidewinder SRX LE
For those seeking the high-end allure of a luxury sports sedan, the Sidewinder SRX and its Arctic Cat sister machine, the ZR 9000 Thundercat, stand above the heap. Already one of the most stylish machines on the snow, the SRX returns in dynamic black and silver for 2020, adding to the mystique offered by its nearly 200 HP turbocharged engine and its low-slung yet spacious chassis. Updates for 2020 add to its indulgent appeal – including revised front suspension geometry, more dynamic choices in the adjust-on-the-fly iQS shocks, push-button start and a tether. Go ahead, take one for a test drive: It might change your perspective on what a performance snowmobile can be.
Polaris 600 Indy XC 129
When it comes to 600-class trail sleds, Polaris always finds a way to wow our test team, and the 2020 Indy XC 129 is the best yet. Like its predecessors, this Indy is quick to react to an assertive driver’s desires, with the punchy 600 Cleanfire engine, spot-on clutching and an easy-to- move-around-on chassis that is sensitive to riders’ inputs when slung down a twisting trail. However, that same snowmobile can still be driven comfortably by the proverbial “little old lady” (whether male or female, young or old) due to its innate stability and balance. The second-year Pro-XC rear suspension is Polaris’ best yet at soaking up the energy from bumps while still feeling connected to the trail below.
Ski-Doo Grand Touring Limited 900 ACE
Though not in danger of extinction, the luxury two-passenger touring segment has narrowed in recent years, but one brand is keeping it sharply on its radar. Not surprisingly given its Quebec location – the long-term heart of 2-up sales – Ski-Doo is that brand with its Grand Touring Limited machines. Luxury features abound, including heated grips and seats for the driver and passenger, a heated boot outlet, premium wind protection, copious storage and ideal ergonomics to make both riders comfortable for long cruises on endless trails. Add in the best-in-class rMotion rear suspension with an adjust-on-the-fly air shock, a SilentDrive package that limits track howl and vibration, plus the smooth and efficient ACE engine family, and you’ve got touring perfection.
Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR 137
Much has been written, whispered or implied about Arctic Cat’s narrow 2020 snowmobile lineup, but for the brand’s long-term core audience of ditch riders and racer-wannabes, it showed up at the 2020 Rode Report with a true gem in the ZR 8000 RR. For aggressive Cat riders in the Upper Midwest and East, this is the machine that dreams are made of – agile, forceful and ready for abuse, with the usual chassis reinforcements and high-end clicker shocks that come with the RR package. New for 2020, though, is revised front suspension geometry that, on this model in particular, sharpened the machine’s handling both on smooth trails and when thrashing through mogul fields. Aggressive Cat fans, this one’s for you.
Ski-Doo Summit X 850 E-TEC Expert
When it comes to mountain sled innovation, Ski-Doo just doesn’t stop – raising the bar each year so its riders can similarly raise their riding to the next level. For 2020, the Expert Package – featuring a shorter tunnel, virtually non-existent snowflap, remote limiter strap adjustment, new spindle and ski stopper, compact Forty7C seat, revised running boards and more – delivers again on that promise, available on special-order Summit X 850 models. That piles on top of already existing Ski-Doo advantages, like the 850 E-TEC engine, REV Gen4 mountain chassis and tMotion rear suspension. Suddenly, previously unreachable powder is within the easy reach of riders looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Polaris Indy Evo
The relatively diminutive Indy Evo isn’t going to beat the SRX in an impromptu drag race, nor will it out-climb an Alpha, bound through moguls like an Indy XCR or haul as much wood as an Expedition. What the capable, affordable and easy-to-operate little snowmobile will do, however, is provide a gateway to the sport for people who might someday buy a high-end sled. With its 550 fan-cooled engine, lowered
Pro-Ride chassis and shrunken ergonomics, the Evo is un-intimidating and inviting for youth transitioning off of smaller snowmobiles, newcomers to motorized recreation and riders who are smaller in stature, and its price ($5,499) also helps make it approachable.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published in the October 2020 issue of Snow Goer. Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door or your computer for a low cost.