Trail Test: 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT

The 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT is a good runner that's mostly destined for the trail.June 30, 2010

Just like the throngs of SUV buyers in the suddenly-distant American heydays of the 1990s, 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT customers want the ability to go off-trail/road, but only about 10 percent of its customers will actually do so. Instead, they’ll mostly opt to blast across frozen lakes and high-mile trails. Why? Because that’s what Cat’s newest crossover does best.

The new-for-2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT is indeed capable of light off-trail riding with its 144-inch Cobra track, but it’s destined to spend most of its miles cruising groomed trails. Based on the popular Arctic Cat F8, the lengthened EXT model is a capable, comfortable snowmobile that’s in lockstep with the rest of the company’s lineup, but marred by sub-par levels of refinement.

Settling Into The 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT

Settle into the seat, grab the aggressive bars and riders will be treated to pleasing ergonomics. Thanks to the Infinite Rider Positioning system (adjustable seat and handlebars), everyone can find a comfortable ride, with plenty of knee room on the spacious Twin Spar cockpit. The smooth console sides encourage active riding when the heat is on, without beating up the rider’s legs. The seat is very comfortable and the driver positioning encourages relaxed, high-speed cruising. When leaning or hanging out aggressively, the seat feels wide in a way that some riders will like, others not.

With a jarring, abrupt starter that sounds like a 1970s Chrysler outboard, the EXT doesn’t make a very classy first impression when it fires. Sure, it’s weird to single-out a sled’s starter, but it’s truly remarkable for its lack of attention to noise, vibration and harshness. While Arctic Cat isn’t known for refinement like Yamaha or Ski-Doo, as evidenced by cheaper plastics and less high-tech controls and dials, this starter is mighty coarse for an $11,600 sled.

Ease into the throttle, however, and the vibration quickly fades with RPM and speed. Suddenly, that first judgment seems irrelevant, as the 794cc Suzuki two-stroke engine settles down, puts out solid, progressive power (to the tune of 160+ happy horses) and feels and sounds much more polished. It gets up to speed with enthusiasm, and is never at a loss for vigor throughout the powerband. As one Snow Goer test rider’s notebook read, “[The EXT] seems to be a gentlemen’s sled, but with the ornery, raw attitude.”

Handling The 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT

Handling is very pleasant, and utterly familiar for anyone with seat time on the standard Arctic Cat F8. The Fox Zero Pro shocks dampen all bumps, big and small, with abundant suspension travel numbers, and the Slide Action rear suspension geometry truly eliminates ski lift for relentless, predictable cornering. The all-star combination of supple bump bridging and stable cornering is the 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT’s best feature — and it makes for a thrilling sled that can definitely hang in twisties, with minimal push at times, but is at its best erasing bumps on high-speed trail runs.

Riders who eat, sleep and pee green will definitely like the black-on-lime graphics treatment that’s reasonably restrained for Arctic Cat, while others may see a dated, polarizing design that’s not as modern as the latest from the competition. It’s still handsome, and the new 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT will definitely bring a twinkle to the eye of Cat diehards for its looks, ergonomically correct cockpit, flat cornering and excellent suspension.

— Tom Kaiser

The long tunnel on the back of the 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT offers a lot of space for cargo.
2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT Hits

  • Bump-erasing suspension
  • Flat cornering
  • Aggressive engine

2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT Misses

  • Noise, vibration at startup/idle
  • Needs refinement
  • 2011 Arctic Cat F8 EXT Specifications

    • $11,599
    • Engine Make: Suzuki
    • Layout: 794cc, liquid-cooled, two-stroke twin
    • Bore/Stroke:85mm x 70mm
    • Front Suspension: AWS VII, 9.5 inches of travel, Fox Zero Pro shocks
    • Rear Suspension: Slide Action, 13.5 inches of travel, Fox Zero Pro
    • Track: Camoplast Cobra; 15x144x1.25 inches

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