Arctic Cat’s 2011 model line has subtle changes, but among the product tweaks and updates is a new-model — the Z1 Sno Pro.
The machine’s origins could be as simple as the product group’s decision to take existing parts and platforms, add a new page to the brochure and tell its dealers that indeed, they have new product for the coming year. But we believe there is more to it.
Evidence that the 2011 Z1 Sno Pro has a market is the data Arctic Cat shared with us: The performance trail segment is 37 percent of the market volume, and four-strokes are gaining an increasing percentage of new unit sales. That suggests that more performance sled heads want less maintenance, better mileage, less smell and a longer-lasting machine — all four-stroke benefits.
“Sno Pro” in Arctic Cat nomenclature has meant an added measure of suspension performance, more aggressive ergonomics and louder graphics over the same-engine base model for nearly a decade — all aimed at performance riders. The standard Z1 (and its Z1 Jaguar predecessor) had a subdued, vanilla reputation. Wrapping it in Sno Pro flavoring with the added candy coating has us believing that Arctic Cat thinks its Z1 deserves more than a cruiser image.
2011 Arctic Cat Z1 Sno Pro: Upgraded look, Suspensions
The Z1 machines handled well in the past, and the new Z1 Sno Pro is no different. The base Z1 in years past had handling that some two-stroke Twin Spars aspired to match. The heavier engine sitting low in the chassis meant a more planted front end, even though the weight was felt up front.
Switching into Sno Pro clothing (green or orange, either dressing comes adorned with the saber-tooth cat screaming down the cowl) doesn’t change the handling. That flat, stable cornering feel remains.
The primary difference between the standard and the Sno Pro is the suspension package. Fox FLOAT shocks on the seventh-generation AWS front end are about 6 pounds lighter than conventional coil-over shocks, and can more easily be adjusted. They hold the heavier front weight of a four stroke admirably.
We’ve come to believe that even in Sno Pro trim the long 128-inch rails are plush on the Slide Action skid. However, on the Z1 Sno Pro the rear suspension wasn’t quite as forgiving in terms of comfort. The response was quick and the skid lessened impact comfortably, but the calibrations of the test machine we rode had more of a staccato shock stroke when compared to the two-stroke Sno Pro sleds we rode with Twin Spar skeletons. Reminiscent of Sno Pro models that were pre-Twin Spar, it behaved well at a casual pace, and even better the harder it was pushed.
That’s the new opportunity with the Z1 Sno Pro: in standard trim, the basic suspension package could be overtaxed when pushed. The valving and higher spring rates of the Sno Pro calibration are better suited to manage the machine’s weight when it comes time to boogie.
Its fine handling manners are assisted by the strong Twin Spar chassis. To refresh your memory, the Twin Spar gets its name from two extruded aluminum spars attached to a subframe and a forged front clip. It’s a tough, triangulated structure to provide rigidity.
The sled also has a long wheelbase and laid-back chassis with the skis stretched out in front, meaning it’s less driver-forward than other machines. While it creates a larger vehicle that reduces its flickable feel, the Twin Spar sleds have leading high-speed handling.
While the Z1 Sno Pro won’t reach near the speeds of its 177 hp turbo variant, the chassis is the same. With a frame built to handle triple-digit bursts at radar runs and the drag strip, at the more sedate speeds of trail use the Z1 Sno Pro feels confident and safe. The Z1 has the best handling in its class, but it isn’t the most powerful.
2011 Arctic Cat Z1 Sno Pro: Not Race Ready
In addition to handling, another primary ingredient for a performance trail sled is power. For the Z1, it’s adequate, if not overly thrilling.
The 1056cc EFI parallel twin four-stroke delivers in the neighborhood of 125 hp, comparable to 600-class two strokes. Power is smooth, without hard impacts or aggression in the rev range — just a steady pull to the top. One test driver noted a good “sweet spot” around 40 mph to come out of the corner, where the tach read about 6300 rpm. Peak power comes on at 8500 rpm.
It doesn’t measure up when matched to its closest competitors: the Ski-Doo MX Z 1200 and Yamaha Vector GT, which both feature engines that hit and accelerate harder. There is plenty of power, but overall the Cat’s engine is smooth by nature, which is in contrast to the attack-mode graphics and ergonomics.
If you still champion the mantra that performance needs to be unrefined and minimalist, you’re in luck. Wind and weather protection is poor from the low-cut window, so there’s your sacrifice. Taller bars with the 5-inch riser remain adjustable and put drivers in a commanding posture, with square shoulders ready for point-and-shoot journeys down white-carpeted forest trails or for culvert dodging in a favorite ditch run. The adjustable seat is wide and can hamper quick side-to-side moves while aboard. To maintain optimum handling and have the flat, stable feeling up front requires drivers to lean through turns.
2011 Arctic Cat Z1 Sno Pro: Sno Pro Name, Sno Pro Image?
The Z1’s move to the Sno Pro suspension adds a new dimension to its terrain ability, even if at the slightest penalty to comfort for cruising.
Picture a dancer with sore feet — the performance is there, but there is a slight handicap. By going backwards and building a Z1 Sno Pro in the same setup as the stellar F8 Sno Pro and Z1 Turbo Sno Pro, Cat is clearly trying to shift perceptions and open its normally aspirated four-stroke to the trail performance crowd. But with a chassis built to handle greater power than what the Z1 delivers, the result is a handling package and overall attitude that can leave some drivers wanting more from the engine.