The Ties That Bind

The IQ chassis debuted in 2005 on three machines. The concept spread through the Polaris lineup for 2006, with the FS/FST models included as the chassis’ beneficiaries.

The four-stroke models have more in common than not, with the main departure at engine performance.

They share the IQ chassis hallmarks including a taller, more forward seating position, a narrow seat and the Rider Select adjustable handlebars. The Classic’s Rider Select has a smaller adjustment range than the performance IQ-chassis machines. It adjusts five positions, rather than seven, to provide clearance for the brake lever and larger Classic windshield. The handlebars rotate on a flatter plane than 2005 IQ-based sleds, which works the back muscles more than the arms when driving.

The windshield is both tall and wide, deflecting wind around the driver. Mirrors attach to the windshield’s wings. We found that the mirrors caused the windshield wings to flop to the point of major distraction. We weren’t the only ones who complained, as factory reps said this was something scheduled to change for production. We liked the location, it just lacked the stability to make the mirrors functional.

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In addition to the tall windshield and mirrors, these machines are stocked with amenities. We’re most impressed by the push-button PERC reverse. This starts the countdown to the extinction of the clumsy mechanically engaged reverse.

The multi-function gauge on this machine goes above and beyond any expectation. We love the array of information it provides — including engine temp, riding hours and other stats — but the multiple toggle functions can be confusing. Buyers need to study the manual and do some toggle practice in the garage to make the best use of this informative feature.

The FS and FST share the same suspension package: the IQ IFS A-arm front suspension and the quality comfort of the FAST M-10 rear.

Polaris adopted the A-arm-style front suspension configuration with the IQ chassis, and it’s passed onto these sleds. It uses Nitrex Select shocks and offers 10 inches of travel.

The rear suspension uses Fox high-pressure gas shocks and offers 14 inches of travel. At 128 inches, it’s longer than a standard-length track and should place any type of suspension kick father from the driver.

We had mixed reactions to the handling of the FS and FST models, but all agreed that it’s not a rough trail machine. The weight of the engine makes the machine hard to steer and heavy to maneuver in large-bump conditions, though the FS was more nimble than the FST. Even the rear suspension seemed to have a hard time keeping up on both models. It rode much rougher than an M-10 should, to the point that we wondered if the calibrations were drastically changed.

We also had trouble getting this machine around tight corners. If agility is a prime buying factor, pick a different Classic.

This machine is ideal for riders who are choosy about their trail conditions. It’s best suited for sweeping trails that are relatively smooth. The word “Quebec” comes to mind.

Turbo-ize Me

We’d like to call the FST engine “cool,” but we can’t. It’s hot, and in multiple ways.

The engine is in the 750 class and uses natural aspiration. Standard, it’s at 80 hp, but add a small turbine that spins up to 200,000 rpm and watch it crank up to 135 hp.

We’re most impressed by this machine’s slight turbo lag. Polaris claims it has none, and that’s not quite true. We’d call it barely perceptible. If we paid attention, we could indeed feel a slight hesitation before the turbo kicked in at about 6500 rpm.

Turbo-powered machines do have a large issue to overcome: heat. Polaris engineers worked hard to mitigate the enormous amount of heat generated in this machine. For example, an internal fan will spin for at least 20 seconds after the machine shuts down.

One outlet for the excess heat is the footwells. It may feel nice on a below-zero day, but we tested at above-freezing temps and our feet got so hot that we had to sit with our feet far back on the runningboards. This made for especially difficult cornering.

Engine overheating was a major problem when we tested the FST at Rode Reports in Utah last March. We often had the temp light turn on, and the only thing that would cool it down was an extended stop. We know that this engine underwent post-season changes, and we’ll find out the success on our winter test model. The changes include a heat exchanger that’s 75 percent larger and increased coolant flow.

A Sea Of Calm

We had more consistent performance from the FS four-stroke. It’s still a high-tech engine, but doesn’t suffer from the same heat issues as does the FST.

The FS four-stroke engine uses natural aspiration, as well. It produces 80 hp, which puts it on par with a 500-class two-stroke. It has multi-port fuel-injection to adjust to temperature and elevation changes. It’s a quiet engine, too, and Polaris reports it at 78 decibels. We had it running on the top end in the 60 mph range in high altitude. Closer to sea-level, Polaris projects it will scoot in the 75 mph range.

We were not able to measure the engine’s fuel economy, but Polaris expects it in the upper teens per gallon.

This engine performs smoothly, but lacks some excitement. It didn’t feel underpowered, though, and we were able to keep up with the group even with the engine at half-throttle.

The Perfect Buyers

FS Classic

Gerald Erickson, 64, Duluth, Minnesota

A pro four-stroke recent retiree, Erickson would appreciate the quiet engine and the technology without having to worry about satisfying a speed demon quotient. He has a ’94 Indy Super Sport, but the comfort and long travel suspensions of a new sled would get him engaged in snowmobiling more than the once- or twice-yearly outings he currently experiences. He is giving serious thought to the Snow Goer Great Escape Tour, and this would be a great machine for the trip.

FST Classic

Tom Emmel, 34, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tom’s next snowmobile purchase could put him in a bit of a bind. He loves the performance on his 600 XC, but he’s definitely more in the “cruiser” category than “hotshot.” The FST Classic would be perfect for him. He spends long days on the trail, so he’ll enjoy the comfort features, but he’ll also like the IQ chassis upgrade and the performance of the turbo power.

Of The Same Breed

It’s unfair to say the Sabercat and F5 are of the same litter, but we can get away with calling them the same breed.

The machines share the F chassis, with its box-construction engine compartment. The engines are designed to lay down in the chassis, with the intake and exhaust ports on the engine’s front half. This centralizes the mass to keep the sleds stable.

The engines are cooled through heat exchangers on the running boards — with a side benefit of an ice-free place for the feet.

The machines share a similar look, too, and both have the Arctic Cat AWS VI A-arm front suspension.

These machines set the standard for how handlebars should look and feel. Every rider we know who has tried these Cats likes the height, the length, the feel and especially the heated, hooked ends. We’re surprised that the other manufacturers haven’t caught on.

Direct similarities on these machines stop here.

The “F” word

The “F” in F5 could stand for “feisty.” The heart of this scrappy fighter is a high-performance twin-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 499cc two-stroke with 105 hp.

The engine doesn’t come with EFI, but it does get Arctic Cat’s exhaust pipe temperature sensor. Our test model engaged at 4800 rpm.

The “F” could also stand for “flick-able.” At a claimed 447 pounds, it’s light enough to be affected by even the smallest amount of driver input. The high handlebars make it easy to stand, but the ergos are still best for sitting.

Many parts of the machine are made with weight savings in mind, including the narrow track and tunnel with the integrated heat exchangers.

The ACT Diamond drive planetary gear box also cuts weight under the hood. The unit replaces the jackshaft, chaincase, chain and gears from a traditional drive system. Electric start and reverse are not available on this machine.

This machine also qualifies for “F” as in “fun.” The suspensions are designed to take a pounding, but the sled we rode needed to be dialed in better. We found it too far on the forgiving side. Arctic Cat typically errs on the side of “firm,” so we know this suspension has it — with some adjustment. The rear suspension has four-way coupling to reduce ski-lift and excess weight transfer, and it shows up in the machine’s stability. The front suspension is the updated version of the wishbone concept. The result is Cat’s typical on-rails feel when on smooth trails.

This sled gets a decent shock package, considering its displacement and price. Arctic Cat didn’t cheap out on this machine’s dampers, either. It uses Cat’s ACT IFP shocks all around, that are tunable and rebuildable.

Cool Cat

We call the Sabercat 500 EFI LX the cool cat. The sled now comes with Arctic Cat’s EFI technology.

The addition of EFI makes the engine burn cleaner and gives better fuel economy. Arctic Cat also promises that its EFI machines will start by the second pull. History has shown that to be mostly true.

The engine has the same 499cc displacement as the F5, but without the high-performance setup of the F5. The Sabercat engine has a 80 hp output. While EFI is a great perk, it doesn’t use the company’s exhaust-pipe temperature sensor or variable exhaust valves, which are on the F5. We had some problems with engine hesitation when hitting the throttle, which could be due in part to our high-elevation test grounds.

The Sabercat’s territory is on the trail. Arctic Cat puts it in the “trail performance” category, which indicates it’s for riders who enjoy long days on the trail. It looks tough, but displays its soft side when ridden.

It comes with standard touring features including mirrors, electric start and reverse. We’d like a better key position on this sled: it’s hidden near the base of the handlebars. It’s hard to find, and especially hard to turn the key with thick gloves.

The windshield is significantly higher than the Firecat’s and really blocks the wind. We liked the removable storage compartment behind the seat. It blends into the machine so well that it’s hard to tell it’s not part of the seat. We packed it with two water bottles, a hat, maps and two fleece jackets. There was room to spare.

The Sabercat 500 EFI LX uses Arctic Cat’s IFP gas shocks up front with 9.2 inches of travel. The rear suspension has Arctic Cat’s position sensitive shock in the rear and its standard IFP as the front track shock. It has 13.5 inches of travel.

The suspension is set up for comfort, and we’ll agree that it was soft. The three-position rear suspension cam adjusts with tools from the tool kit, and we started off with the softest setting. “Grandpa’s Buick” describes the floaty, bouncy feel the best. We bottomed quite often, and felt disconnected from the trail. When we bumped it up to the highest setting, it was noticeably firmer. The bottoming issues didn’t totally disappear, but lessened significantly.

We lacked confidence in the corners due to corner push and a fishtailing back end, especially in the softest setting. It did corner with both skis on the ground, however, which is not something we normally expect from an Arctic Cat.

The Perfect Buyers

F5 Firecat

Todd Dalle Ave, 37,

Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin

He’s a long-time Arctic Cat rider, currently on a 2000 ZR 500. He’d really enjoy the power-to-weight ratio on this sled, and would like its simplicity. He’s not looking to be the trendsetter, but wants to have a good time. He would not need to buy new riding gear, either, which would be helpful to his budget.

Sabercat 500 EFI LX

Stephanie Dahl, 30, Waconia, Minnesota

She currently rides an older ZR 440. She rides a lot with her husband in Michigan’s U.P. and northern Minnesota. She would enjoy the newer chassis and the 500 would be plenty of power and good handling for her. She would also appreciate the easy throttle pull and mileage of the EFI.

Shared features

The heart of the Vectors is the four-stroke, three-cylinder Genesis 120 engine. It debuted in 2005, and received no significant changes for 2006.

Several features make this engine stand out. It’s a claimed 120 hp, which places it in the 600cc class. It is definitely in the right place in terms of power and performance. It does not have the same “POW!” power delivery as others in the class, but Yamaha has it dialed in so it ramps up pretty darn quickly. Slower acceleration on early-model four-strokes is not an issue with this engine. The engine offers immediate power when coming out of corners, too.

The engine scores high points in three important categories: low vibration, low sound and low fuel consumption. Expect about 20 mpg out of the Genesis 120 and a quiet, smooth ride.

New to each machine is the lightweight, hydraulic four-piston brake with a new lightweight, double-finned, self-cooling brake disc. That’s fancy talk for a brake disc that looks like Swiss cheese.

The machines share the same basic look, though they each have their own original graphics packages. Each have standard electric start and reverse.

New Blend

For The Original

Respondents to our Owners’ Report survey on the 2005 RS Vector ER (published in the January 2006 issue) requested more storage space, mirrors, the Mono Shock RA rear suspension and an accessories outlet on future models.

Consumers are one-for-four with the 2006 version. The storage space is still minimal and it won’t come with mirrors or a 12V outlet. It does get the Mono Shock RA, though.

The RS Vector ER’s bonus feature is the Mono Shock RA rear suspension with KYB remote-adjust shocks. It’s a good move for the machine.

The coolest part of this suspension is the dial, located near the driver’s left foot. It adjusts in a 20-click range, moving the shock from a really soft, springy feel to a progressively stiffer ride. There’s a noticeable difference in the suspension clicks when working up and down the dial.

That said, this is not a mogul-pounding rear suspension. It just can’t keep up, even in the stiffest settings. We experienced constant bottoming and jarring in the worst of the bumps. The good news is that once the minefield turns into more moderate bumps and groomed trails, this machine turns into a smooth operator.

The front suspension is unchanged from 2005 with HPG aluminum shocks. We found the front suspension worked best when we just sat back and let the machine do its job. Aggressive cornering with a more up-front seating position and big lean often resulted in ski lift.

different concoction

A re-visit to the list of items most desired turns out a bit more positive for the RS Vector GT.

The machine has more storage space with a 5- by 8-inch pouch in the handlebar padding. It has a DC accessory outlet and also the Mono Shock RA rear suspension. Still no mirrors, so some Vector customers will need to accessorize.

In addition, it gets a premium, highly adjustable shock package in the front suspension. This model is only $300 more than the ER, so we have to wonder why a buyer wouldn’t automatically go for the GT version.

The “GT” in the name means “groomed trail,” which is how Yamaha positions the machine. It adds the qualifier “comfortable ride with ultimate adjustability.” They’re on-target on both counts.

The GT has the same suspension as the ER version: Mono Shock RA with the 20-click adjustment dial by the left boot. It offers the same performance as the ER version, too.

The front suspension, though, is a major upgrade for this machine. The suspension is the same as the ER, with one notable difference: the GYT-R piggyback shocks. The shocks offer 20 clicks of compression and 20 clicks of rebound adjustability through dials on the shocks. The piggyback reservoir is designed to offer fade resistance.

We played around with the compression and rebound adjustments, and honestly, it was hard to notice a dramatic difference. We noticed a greater difference in the Mono Shock RA rear suspension. However, we like that this offers a wide range of adjustment possibility, and people who tinker will really enjoy the range and the ease of operation. A person who wants to set the suspension once and forget about it would be more neutral about this feature.

As for bump performance, it was the same as the ER version: low-average in bumps, but better on a smooth trail.

The Perfect Buyers

RS Vector ER

Sean Josephson, 31, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sean enjoys his annual snowmobile trip, but he’s not yet an owner. This machine is his chance. He’s price-conscious, so the savings off the GT are worth it. He’s an engineer and would find this four-stroke up his technical alley. He’d appreciate the clean styling and the trouble-free reputation of Yamaha.

RS Vector GT

Melissa Hinderschied, Rockville, MInnesota.

Melissa, one of our 2006 Rode Reports Guest Riders, calls herself the perfect candidate for this machine. She’s currently on an 2002 Yamaha SX 600 R, and it’s time for an upgrade. She liked nearly everything about the GT, including its suspension performance, the cornering, the speed and its looks.

Same Lineage

The MX Zs are not identical, but they do share several qualities that could throw a genealogist off track.

They use the same REV chassis, and this year “REV” could stand for “revised.” It’s not a total overhaul, but the changes are noticeable. The front ride height is lowered 1.5 inches, which reduced the shock stroke by a .5 inch. The result is a machine that has a lower center of gravity and more bite when cornering. The ride is still the same forward feel, but the stick-to-the-ground front end is even more confidence-inspiring. Even though the front end gets cranked down, it only loses .5 inch of suspension travel. Think of it as a tighter, more efficient feel.

Complementing the lowered ride height are the Pilot 5.7 skis. Its predecessors, the Precision skis, worked well in the ZX chassis but pushed on REV-based machines. This, in combination with a lawsuit that forbade the continued use the Precision skis, guaranteed that Ski-Doo would have new feet this year.

The Pilot 5.7 skis use the dual-runner idea from the Precision skis, but in a configuration that works better for a REV application.

Both the “X” and the Adrenaline get the SC-4 rear suspension formula that was introduced on the Mach Z and the MX Z “X” sleds last season. The two machines use different shock setups, per the speciality of each machine.

The Naughty One

If one of these machines is prone to mischief, it’s the “X” model.

As a spring-only model, it has the birthright in the clan, and it’s senior to the Adrenaline in terms of features.

Ski-Doo talks more about the “X” in its marketing literature than any other MX Z model, so we’re surprised its limited to early-season buyers.

“Spring only” doesn’t mean it’s not available, though. Chances are that a determined buyer will locate one if he or she makes enough calls.

This machine is most like Ski-Doo’s 440 race sled. The key word is “inspired,” not “race-ready.” While the “X” is significantly more hard-core than the Adrenaline, it’s not as stiff as the Arctic Cat Firecat Sno Pro series.

That’s good, because it means the “X” is more applicable to more buyers. Riders not quite realistic of their abilities can get quickly over their heads with a race-ready sled. Not so with a race-inspired machine.

The race-inspired features list includes: high-performance shocks, a steel braided brake line, a low-profile seat, tunnel reinforcement, straight handlebars with a riser block, hooked handlebars, handguards, special “X” graphics and a fixed low windshield.

The MX Z “X” uses Ski-Doo’s most premium shock package: the HPG take-apart piggybacks in the front suspension, the HPG take-apart as the front track shock and the C-36 racing clicker in the rear. The result is a decidedly firm setup that’s ready to tackle the whoops. If it bottoms, riders have a lot of easy adjustability at their fingertips with the clicker shocks. The rider who’s pounding hard 80 percent of the time will love this setup.

The front suspension uses the swaybar off of the Mach Z that, in combo with the lowered ride height, makes the sled corner even better.

We tested this machine in the 600 H.O. SDI package. The SDI engine costs more, but is more fuel efficient and cleaner-burning than the standard H.O. counterpart. It offers the same power from the seat of the pants.

The result is a sled that will play hard, and enjoy getting riders into trouble as much as getting out of it.

The Nice One

Saying something bad about the MX Z 600 H.O. Adrenaline is like badmouthing your grandmother. It wouldn’t just be rude, it would be wrong.

We feel this is one of the most perfect machines ever built. Some on our staff will likely argue that the MX Z “X” is more perfect, but that’s a result of their aggressive riding styles. For the rest of us, there’s the Adrenaline. It’s a struggle to come up with three “misses.”

This machine will play almost as hard as the “X” but it will clean up nice for church on Sunday. It will treat a novice rider with kind consideration, but will also show its wild side to those who know it best.

Ski-Doo says this machine is for experienced, aggressive bump-lovers, and we like to put this machine through its paces. The REV-chassis rear suspension eats up bumps like crazy, whether its the SC-4 or the former SC-3 rear suspension.

We call the Adrenaline suspension setup as moderately aggressive, or even top middle-of-the-road. It handles the more aggressive rider.

The engine in this sled is the high-output 594cc, two-cylinder engine. It uses Mikuni flat-slide carbs and has RAVE exhaust.

The Perfect Buyers

MX Z 600 H.O. SDI “X”

Jason Erickson, 33, Hanover, Minnesota

He currently rides a 600 Pro X and likes to ride aggressively in a variety of conditions. He rides mostly in the Midwest but goes out west once a year, so the SDI would save some jetting work. He would appreciate the lower height compared to other REV models. As he ages every year, he will appreciate the RER option.

MX Z 600 H.O. Adrenaline

Gary Oberg, 60, Litchfield, Minnesota

Currently has a 2003 MX Z 600 without RER. He likes the REV ergonomics and overall sled, but would appreciate the lower height because he mostly rides trails, not aggressive ditch riding. The Adrenaline would be good because he’s not quite a GSX guy yet. He wishes his current sled had RER so that would be a bonus.

The Choices: Polaris FS Classic or FST Classic

To turbo or not to turbo?

The name “Classic” simply does not fit the Four-Stroke (FS) and Four-Stroke Turbo (FST) solo-touring models. These machines, new from the ground up, are no longer “classics.” They’re “moderns.” Polaris maintains a large commitment to the Classic solo-touring category with seven models for 2006. The largest commitment, though, comes with the new four-stroke line, which offers two distinct four-stroke engines for two types of rider: the lower-powered FS and the turbo-charged FST.

Do not fear, this is not an upgraded or tweaked Frontier engine. That engine is now an artifact. The new four-strokes are better poised for longevity and have significantly higher market appeal.

The Choices: Arctic Cat F5 Firecat or Sabercat 500 EFI LX

A Tale Of Two Cats

Of all the machines in this comparison, the most disparate-appearing are the F5 Firecat and the Sabercat 500 EFI LX.

The easy divider between these two sleds is to tell the scenery-loving toury-types to claim the Sabercat and hard-charger-juniors to hop on the F5.

That’s just the first part of the story, though. These sleds offer benefits for many styles of driver.

Leaders of the pack may lean toward the Sabercat’s mirrors. The same leaders may also like the sporty ease of the F5. Sportsters drawn to the F5 for its maneuverability through the bumps may like the Sabercat’s huge trunk in lieu of carrying a backpack.

So that means you’re at the dealership looking at a bright green F5 and a sleek red Sabercat. Which one will you to take home?

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