To really understand the Sno Pro 500’s significance is to put it in context. We don’t think the Sno Pro 500 would have near the excitement if Arctic Cat hadn’t first built the Twin Spar chassis to underwhelming fanfare.
Don’t get us wrong — as stated before, after years of tweaking and refining, the latest Twin Spar machines handle well and are the benchmark of comfort and ride quality, yet they remain heavier than Cats of lives past. Hang tags claim “Body Saving Technology” and we aren’t going to argue that any other chassis is better positioned for that claim.
That’s all fine and good, but what about the aggressive, quick-handling, agile machines for which Arctic Cat was once known? After a season or two of well-placed rumors about a race-chassis for the masses (most enthusiasts expecting a 600, ourselves included) the Sno Pro 500 quickly became more than just a consumer race machine. It made a splash when it debuted for 2010, but it’s been updated notably for 2011.
2011 Arctic Cat Sno Pro 500: Targeted Updates
To better target the Sno Pro 500 to the next round of buyers, Cat’s marketing team and the product manager pored over sales data to learn who was buying them in 2010 and found more ownership paperwork was filled out for cross country duty than for snocross events.
The 2011 buying group will be better served with higher speed, so the snocross-spec 1 3/8-inch track was 86ed in favor of the 1-inch lug Hacksaw tread. It’s important to point out this update was not on the model we tested in West Yellowstone, Montana, last March at our annual Rode Reports. We were told of a claimed 3-5 mph increase in top end.
Stiffer, 140-pound springs reside on the front coil-overs, which enabled removal of the sway bar. The goal was improved trail handling. One more update for 2011 was an ECU reflash to improve the engine run quality — a bizarre update due to the engine’s lengthy tour of duty, but one that was needed after the 2010 model would load up on fuel if left idling for more than 3.2 seconds. The new map on the 85 hp twin is also aimed at more sporty acceleration and a better match with the aggressive clutching and gearing.
We didn’t get a fair feel for the engine update due to West Yellowstone’s elevation, ranging from 6,600 to more than 8,500 feet, where the small bore had mild oxygen deprivation. But the other key update — the front end changes — didn’t go unnoticed.
Bottom line: the Sno Pro 500 is a decent handler with quick, agile steering and despite what visual cues imply, it’s a stable machine as well. The stiff springs controlled body roll in the corners, keeping the sled flat, but the removal of the sway bar added more corner push compared to the prior year.
From the perch, where drivers stand in command and control, the skis scrubbing out isn’t a handling detriment. It’s felt, but the sled holds its line intuitively. Look there, aim there, go there. Period. It’s a nimbleness we’ve attached to Arctic Cat for years prior to the Twin Spar.
That tight front end is elsewhere, too. Even though the Sno Pro 500 uses more price-point friendly Fox Zero Pro shocks instead of the FLOAT Evols, the valve stack is race-track ready. As such, the shocks are sprung too tight for most trail riders to embrace ride quality. Damping wasn’t felt unless the machine was taking a hit at full throttle. The tight front end forces impacts rearward to keep the track digging, too, maintaining forward progress in synch with the Slide Action skid (likewise, sprung tight). Rebound was quick, and other than the larger moguls and fly-aways in the terrain surrounding West Yellowstone, the suspension didn’t stroke into its travel very far.
Tunable, certainly, but like any other machine with built-in top-level aggression, candy-assing it down the trail will promote a less than ideal experience. The Sno Pro 500 is a taunting rig, forcing drivers to propel it with all the cojones available — the race chassis behaves best when giving it your all. That’s when the engine leaves you wanting more, especially at elevation with small bores that don’t move as much air to start with.
2011 Arctic Cat Sno Pro 500: In the Raw
Naked is a word to easily describe the Sno Pro 500, but due to the machine’s attitude and its sparse use of body cladding we prefer “nekkid” — naked, but clearly up to something.
Race machinery forgoes comfort in the name of bare essentials, and the cab does little to calm blasts. Rider’s knees, thighs, helmet, chest and arms aren’t immune to whatever element the Gulf Stream cues, due in part to sleek, low-sculpted plastics, low windshield and high driver position. Riders sit tall and in an aggressive riding stance when seated. With wide handlebars and a firm seat, the rider position feels right on top of the skis, and not surprisingly, standing is effortless. We desired more traction in the footwells.
The controls are delightfully unrefined. As one driver noted, “I like its minimal switchgear, yet this machine doesn’t feel or look cheap at all — just simple — and that’s an Arctic Cat achievement that shouldn’t go unnoticed.” That said, a dimmer switch should never be hidden on a sled that truly is intended for Joe Average to take down a trail or ditch.
2011 Arctic Cat Sno Pro 500: The Real Thing?
The stiff ride and ergos confirm the Sno Pro 500 is every bit race machine chassis aggression. The 500 engine is plenty to haul the sled around with abundant playful bliss, but it still leaves a portion of its faithful to wonder aloud if a Sno Pro 600 or 800 will exist. Keep dreaming.
Truth be told, this chassis beholding Cat’s potent 800 twin is overkill. The 500 is so much easier to digest, and there is plenty to whet the appetite as effectively as catching the right breeze outside of your favorite burger joint.
So while Arctic Cat may have built the machine to instill a sense of capability to its faithful, we also see the machine as instilling a sense of assurance to its fan base that the companyy can still produce a raw, lightweight trail machine (and you don’t need to remind its buyers that it’s race legal). After riding the 2011, we came to the same conclusion as we did after spending a season aboard the 2010 edition: It’s riotous fun, and in a ditch or twisty section of trail there’s little need for more. But it represents that more is indeed possible.