Today’s ever-growing class of trail-oriented crossover buyers are a persnickety set looking for it all: power, speed, technology, traction, flotation to occasionally tackle powder and, most importantly, all-day comfort on bumpy trails. For these riders, an ideal snowmobile trip requires a machine with a longer track that stays atop bumps, rather than blasting its operator in the butt with a stiff rear suspension.

Like Frank Costanza memorably discovered, taking a deep breath and screaming “Serenity NOW!” isn’t enough to bring tranquility. The manufacturers know comfort is more than a state of mind, too, and have dedicated resources to this category by catering to riders willing to give up a smidgen of handling in the corners for a more velvety ride — no screaming required.

We brought together two popular crossovers built for trail comfort, Arctic Cat’s F8 EXT and the Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 800R PowerTEK, at the 2011 Rode Reports to try and find calm on a sunny winter’s day.

Trails could’ve been rougher around West Yellowstone, Montana. Even though it was late in the season and temperatures were spring-like, the area’s sensational trails offered varied conditions. Our riding was nearly all on the trails, but we wandered off the beaten path here and there for the full experience. We also did our best to track down the roughest segments out there to see if these sleds really do bridge the bumps, as the manufacturers claim.

Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 800R PowerTEK

2011 Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenaline 800R

Looking like a Stretch Armstrong-ed MX Z or GSX, the Renegade 800R Adrenaline wore bright red plastics and edgy bodywork that doesn’t suggest owners are compromising anything by going with a crossover.

The Renegade can be had with the 600 or 800 E-TEC, 4-TEC 1200 four-stroke or the carbureted, twin-cylinder 800R PowerTEK two-stroke, which was our test subject. With a 16-inch-wide, 137-inch Rip Saw track and electric start, it rang up an as-tested price of $11,099. The 799.5cc engine is a $500 upgrade over the base 600, and electric starting added $350 to the base price of $10,249.

Other key features include a Brembo hydraulic disc brake, high-end gauges, electronic reverse, aluminum handlebars with J-hook ends and Pilot 5.7 skis. Premium 91-octane fuel is required.

One of four choices, our Renegade was powered by the 800R PowerTEK two-stroke.
On the trail, the carbureted powerplant resulted in a heavy throttle. Steering was also a bit stiff, which one scientific tester said was the result of a wider track that “empirically resists an arc/curve more than a 15-inch would.” Well put, and that extra width also makes the Renegade 800R Adrenaline very stable at speed. It was still easy to maneuver through tight corners, which were abundant on the Two Top loop west of town.

With 9 inches of suspension travel up front and 16 in the rear, its HPG shocks delivered good handling that expertly blended a soothing ride, quick response and ideal shock valving. True to its mission, this sled easily erased 1- to 2-foot stutter bumps we encountered.

“The Renegade has a good blend of supple and quick response — valving is good,” said rider Tim Erickson, who also enjoyed the power. “It’s fun chasing the big-power F8, and there’s no way that sled would get away from this machine with an identical driver.”

Your six-foot-four author found the Renegade Adrenaline to be light, fast, smooth, agile and athletic — very favorable overall.

“The seat is much too grippy, but this sled is very stable at high speeds, where it really calms down,” my notes said. “It does, however, have a tendency to grab ruts.”

A modest rear trunk meant both riders could carry a snack and a hat for trail breaks, which is a nice feature on any snowmobile.

2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT

2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT

Cat’s version of a bump-bridging crossover, the F8 EXT shares its bulbous, large, aggressive looks and Twin Spar chassis with the power-champ Z1 Turbo, with a longer track of course.

Its fuel-injected, 794cc, twin-cylinder two-stroke fires up with far too much vibration at idle, but throws down solid power and really calms down at higher speeds, where that pesky vibration disappears. Arctic Cat claims 160-plus horsepower has been recorded by a third party lab test, compared to the Doo’s estimated 151 horses — quite similar in real-world performance, though give the nod to the kitty in a drag race.

The F8 EXT has a Cobra track that’s 15 inches wide by 144 inches long and comes standard with reverse, a hydraulic disc brake, digital/analog gauge, electric starting, a mid-level windshield and the Infinite Rider Positioning system featuring infinitely adjustable handlebars plus an adjustable seat that allowed our differently-sized riders to sit down and get comfortable. With no options, our black, green and white tester rang up a tab of $11,599.

Lightweight, dual A-arms up front allow 9.5 inches of travel, while the slide-action Twin Spar rear end provides 13.5 inches — Fox’s entry-level Zero Pro shocks are at both ends.

First and foremost, the Arctic Cat F8 EXT does not feel as polished as the Ski-Doo, as its materials quality, fit and finish and overall design trail the Renegade. However, generous and adjustable ergonomics make the F8 an easy, natural fit for both of our testers.

Understandably, Erickson compared the F8 EXT to its Z1 platform-mate.

Harsh at idle, the Cat's big two-stroke calms down at speed.
“Rides like the Z1 EXT … but with a smoke-belching two-stroke — Good power, no, make that great power,” he said. “Seems to be a gentleman’s sled, but with the ornery, raw attitude, more intake snarl and it’s a bit loud.”

My own notes singled out high comfort levels, excellent suspension in sharp, successive bumps and skis that, thankfully, stay planted in corners, yet should provide a touch more bite in sharp turns.

“This is a very comfortable sled that really rips and is very composed at high speed,” read the notes. “I have a feeling this sled’s intended owner will not mind the dated styling, colors and graphics — but it’s really not my cup of tea for such a large purchase.”

A wide turning radius, a starter that “sounds like a ’70s Chrysler outboard,” very slight pushing in corners and generally lower levels of refinement were also mentioned. Overall, we both agreed the F8 EXT is extremely comfortable, very powerful and encourages an active rider position, even if its design isn’t for everyone.

Making the Call

With two sleds on such similar missions, comparable prices, nearly equal power and no glaring faults, making the call will undoubtedly be a personal choice depending on taste. Each of these competitors offers all-day ergos, bump-erasing suspension, adequate wind protection and slightly longer tracks, should you decide to explore a little powder during the ride.

For our money, the scales are tipped in favor of the Renegade 800R Adrenaline. Its appearance, character, fit and finish seem well in line with its low-$11K price. The engine quietly fires up with the push of a button, the PowerTEK is responsive at any speed, it’s fast, the design is handsome from any angle and it’s a fine choice for high-mile, comfort-minded riders not looking to compromise anything. A less tacky seat covering and lighter throttle would move the needle that last five percent.

Arctic Cat has also built a fine cruiser that offers a remarkably plush ride, very strong power, crisp steering, fuel injection and ergonomics that encourage active riding to maximize handling. That shaky first impression provided by an absurdly rough sounding starter — think turning the key on a car that’s already running — is partially representative of the F8 EXT’s personality. Like some of Cat’s other sleds, more refinement is needed to justify its higher price, but this machine will find hoards of happy buyers intoxicated with excellent performance and a really comfortable ride.

We found nothing to scream about with either cruising crossover, and explored some excellent, twisting mountains trails on high-powered sleds, with nothing to do but sit down, pay attention and enjoy the ride. Serenity now, indeed.

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