In the relatively short lifespan of the Arctic Cat Twin Spar, the chassis and the models based upon its stout, twin box-aluminum spars that create an over-engine and steering-support structure have been almost un-Cat-like for the Thief River Falls manufacturer. For a company with a long reputation for adapting race proven snowmobiles into only slightly more refined trail sleds, the Twin Spar is a dramatic departure in both process and product.
The 2010 Arctic Cat F8 Sno Pro, however, is a major step in returning to the roots of Arctic Cat snowmobiles. The first years of the Sno Pro 800 in Twin Spar trim saw an almost overly refined species – the ride was plush, the fit and finish were admirable, but the machines lacked in the things that Arctic Cat were always known for: razor-sharp handling and raw performance. For 2010, the finish and finish are still there, but the performance and handling return – at last.
Freddie Gives Way to Hyde
Back in the mid ’90s, Arctic unleashed a big bore twin sporting 700 cubes in its then class-leading ZR chassis. The motor idled with authority, commanded instant respect at engagement and mustered enough top-end drive to be a threat to even much bigger cubed sleds. The character of the Suzuki 700 was respected and feared to the degree that it earned the nickname “Freddie Krueger” after the horror movie slicing and dicing villain for its aggressive take-no-prisoners approach on lakes and trails.
For 2010, Arctic has launched a new 800 two-stroke mill that is touting impressive class-leading numbers and upon initial first ride impressions will deliver in-your-face performance Cat fanatics crave.
With horsepower numbers running between 150 and 160, the new Cat motor should sit atop the power ladder in the 800 class for 2010. The new engine features a crankshaft that is 4.3 pounds lighter than the previous 800 twin, allowing the new motor to spool-up more quickly. Deep-breathing transfer ports increase in-flow of the fuel charge from new fuel injectors and revised fuel map of the battery-less EFI system. A new exhaust system and changes to the piston assist in vacating the spent charge more quickly.
All said the new engine delivers an 8 percent boost in power, along with the type of broad-shouldered torque you’d expect from a big twin.
But spec sheet aside, the proof, as always, resides from the throttle flipper perspective. The big twin idles with a lope of a big block muscle car, ski hoops and bar ends dancing in harmony with the vibes being produced by two 85mm bore pistons. But the rumble gives way to a smooth growl almost the instant you come off idle.
On our pre-production test unit, once engagement fetched the belt, the new motor delivered an almost pure linear pull. No harsh hit of power, nary a flat spot either, but ample doses of big twin power. If production mills run with this level of accuracy, this could very well be the new king of power and run quality in the 800 class.
Dr. Jekyll With An Edge
While an engine worthy of the Mr. Hyde moniker is now nestled within the Twin Spar confines of the F8 Sno Pro for 2010, the once subdued Dr. Jekyll chassis has been massaged over the past few seasons, turning what was once deemed to be an overweight chassis lacking the geometry to carve with top contenders in the class into a more agile feline.
The biggest and most noticeable change for this season is one that on the onset appears subtle but has a dramatic impact on handling. New composite skis that are a half-inch wider and tout a stiffer, deeper keel deliver much greater bite on trails and improved flotation off. This small nuance combined with much greater suspension and chassis geometry changes from 2009 have transformed the once maligned Twin Spar into a very worthy trail weapon.
Joining these handling improvements is an assortment of small but appreciated weight reductions and functionality improvements, including a revised seat, new rear close-off and LED taillight. The new seat, although still too low and too slippery for our taste, rids the Twin Spar of the somewhat “clunky” rear cargo area and non-traditional rear tunnel close-off and touts an integrated rear zipper cargo pouch.
While these small improvements to the aesthetics of the 2010 Arctic Cat F8 Sno Pro 800 are much welcomed, the biggest changes are those you don’t see but clearly appreciate from behind the bars. While still overweight compared to other trail performance entries, the improved acceleration of the new Suzook 800 gives the 2010 Sno Pro a “lighter” feel, with the ability to pull skis and transfer weight with a subtle jab on the go handle.
Perhaps even more appreciated is how the F8 Sno Pro now carves white top with almost effortless input from the cockpit. Where early editions of the Twin Spar had drivers performing an acrobatic routine behind the bars in an effort to acquire enough ski or track purchase to hook-up or carve, the 2010 F8 Sno Pro now slices twisties with predictability and ease. Steering is fluid, with just-right turn-in and resistance.
Unfortunately, the cockpit itself is still quirky, with a wide and slanted cowl that forces your legs apart during aggressive rides, and a handlebar set-up that screams for a bar riser.
Suspension duties continue to improve as well with a slide action rear damped with Fox IFP shocks delivering what many Snow Goer staffers deemed the best in terms of trail comfort. The 2010 Arctic Cat F8 Sno Pro required minimal adjustments regardless of rider weight or style, and only showed signs of weakness when speeds increased and/or bumps grew to Sunday afternoon craters.
At the front, Cat’s years of experience and working relationship with Fox shocks continues to pay dividends in what we found to be the best FLOAT package to date. While more aggressive riders may still prefer traditional coil-over, IFP clickers, the Cat/FLOAT package performs with a much broader range of compliance versus earlier air-shock designs.
The transformation of the Twin Spar from a confused newcomer to the Arctic Cat fold into one worthy of a screaming Cat head emblazoned down the side of its cowl is good news for Cat fans. While the Twin Spar still represents an overweight and complex vehicle by Arctic standards, each year of development brings it closer to what many had hoped the new Cat chassis would deliver.
There’s still more work to be done as we pine for more function over form changes in the future. But for 2010, the F8 Sno Pro appears to deliver a loud, in your face Arctic Cat that should give everyone a clear look of its backside once you leave the twisted trail. Now that’s starting to sound like the Cat we know and love.