A die-hard snowmobiler once told me in the dead of winter, “I’d rather be in a small plane heading north than a large plane heading south.”

Anyone interested enough to pick up this magazine will certainly join the chorus of amens.

Just because a tropical vacation sounds worse than three weeks of daily trips to the dentist, that doesn’t mean that snow-mobilers need to abandon the concept of cruising.

Indeed, we can make an over-snow voyage with good food, fun company and multiple ports of call all while piloting a personal ship. And we tested four possible cruise boat alternatives. We tried the Yamaha Vector GT, the Polaris FST IQ LX and the Ski-Doo Legend on a side-by-side, thorough test run. We tried the Arctic Cat Jaguar Z1 at a different time and location.

We found four machines, each with different ways of reaching the same goal: a comfortable, practical, fun, long-distance hauler.


POLARIS FST IQ LX

Price: $9,599

From a nautical standpoint, a Polaris could be a guiding star.

From a snowmobile standpoint, the Polaris FST IQ LX is a luxury liner. In fact, the company uses the word “luxury” to define its segment of this class. And the LX. Yes, that stands for luxury, too.

So how does the word luxury meet a snowmobile? For Polaris, and other machines in this class, it has to do with special features that generally have to do with rider comfort.

This model is greatly improved over the 2006, which we found generally anemic. We could already tell that the 2006 FST engine was going to cause trouble, and stability was definitely lacking. In other words, think carefully before picking up a 2006 version of this sled, unless it has the recommended updates.

The 2007 version is what the 2006 should have been. It seems that the performance kinks have been worked out of the engine, and the front suspension has been tweaked. All in all, the machine was much better received by our testers.

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Engine:

Four-Stroke Turbo (FST), liquid-cooled, 750cc

The FST engine got a bad reputation in 2006, and for good reason: it

wasn’t ready for prime time and had multiple performance problems throughout the season. Our preliminary tests, and Polaris’ extra year of work on the engine, indicate it’s going to have a better year. On Polaris’ end, engineers reworked the EFI system to give it 140 hp at peak rpm; worked to reduce plug-fouling; and addressed an oil level and heat shield problem. With those changes, we expect a more reliable product. In terms of overall performance in our test, the engine was a strong runner with a nearly inperceivable turbo lag — though one could feel when it kicked in. One of our testers reached 102 mph on an isolated straightaway before backing off, and it still had more power on tap. As with all four-strokes, the excess heat needs to release somewhere, and for this machine it exits at the feet. It’s probably nice on cold days, but got mighty hot on our 30 degree F test rides.

Front Suspension:

IQ IFS with Ryde FX shocks and 10 inches of travel.

Stability was a real issue on the 2006 version, which created an unpredictable and tippy ride. For 2007, the ski mount location moved forward and the ski got some adaptations with the goal of reduced steering effort and quicker turning. The result was silky smooth and a sled that handled the corners much better.

Rear Suspension:

FAST M-10 Rear Suspension, Ryde FX front shock, Fox HPG IFP rear shock; and 13 inches of travel.

The FAST suspension setup deserves the hype it gets. It’s smooth, predictable and offers excellent control over a variety of terrain. The Camoplast Hacksaw track is longer than standard — 128 inches — to bridge the bumps a bit better. Lugs are 1 inch tall.

Wind Protection:

Could be better. The wind flow hits square in the shoulders, which will be a big minus on a cold day.

Fuel Economy:

N/A. The machine has a 10.2-gallon fuel capacity.

Ergos:

The machine has a tall, narrow IQ LX seat that alters a driver’s center of gravity enough that there may be a day-trip learning curve on how to lean, corner and react to large bumps. A five-position Rider Select steering post allows for handlebar height adjustment. Mirrors are an accessory add-on.

Extras:

PERC-4 push–button reverse, digital instrument pod with speedo, tach, fuel gauge and warning lights. Small storage compartment in the rear, and another above the right foot.

Styling:

Officially called “Stylish Pearl White with Blue Tribal Graphics,” which means silver-gray with blue zig-zags in plain English. It looks quite sharp.

Exclusive Features:

FAST rear suspension, adjustable handlebars, turbo-powered four-stroke engine.


SKI-DOO LEGEND TRAIL>/B>

Price: $7,699

If the Legend Trail was a cruise package, it would be the one somebody wins from the local radio station. It would be exciting to win, but you’d have to pay your own way to Florida only to have a two-night trip to the Bahamas on a half-rate ship. In the end, the winnings don’t seem like much of a prize.

That’s the same with the Legend Trail. From pure function, it will work at getting a person from point A to point B. After that, though, the buyer will probably think, “I paid $7,699 for this?”

Part of the issue with the Legend Trail is that it’s a sled that doesn’t really know its buyer.

The RF-chassis, Freestyle–ish body seems to go for a youthful crowd, but the engine power will satisfy only a Sunday driver. The price isn’t cheap at $7,699, but the machine feels rattly and cobbled together. We’ll be curious to see who buys this sled, because we have a hard time picturing that person.

In all, the machine feels like a half-hearted attempt to re-enter the four-stroke market. With the well-built Ski-Doo GSX series in the lineup, we’d point a cruising buyer in that direction.

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Engine:

Rotax 4-TEC V-800 four-stroke

This is the same engine as BRP’s powerhouse Outlander 800 ATV, and it sounds just like it, too. It’s louder than one would expect from a four-stroke with a bit of a growl. The throaty sound is there by design.

The engine produces 65 hp at 7000 rpm, and Ski-Doo said the top speed is about 81 mph. We got it up to an indicated 89 mph. Overall, though, getting there was not impressive and the machine felt jittery at high speeds.

Compared to Ski-Doo’s other four-stroke, the V-1000, this engine is 37 pounds less. The V-800 engine weighs 91 pounds, which makes the sled 490 pounds.

The engine should meet the “Best Available Technology” requirements to enter Yellowstone National Park.

As with the FST, the engine heat blows out onto the driver’s feet.

Front Suspension:

RF with Motion Control shocks and 6.3 inches of travel.

This is a fairly basic front suspension setup. It has a ski stance of 39 inches and includes a new link-type sway bar. We found a lot of play in the steering. Travel is the least of the machines tested.

Rear Suspension:

SC-4 with Motion Control shocks and 15 inches of travel.

This has a standard track length of 121 inches, with a 15-inch width and .88-inch lugs. The SC-4 suspension also comes on the higher-

displacement sleds, but the Legend uses the more basic shocks. The suspension was built to have the rider seated over the front arm and to allow more transfer on the takeoff, less on post-corner acceleration and greater ski pressure.

Wind Protection:

It comes with a medium-height windshield, which provides adequate upper body protection.

Fuel Economy:

A claimed 25 mpg. The tank holds 9 gallons of fuel. Recommended minimum octane is 87.

Ergos:

It’s more of a rider-forward position, but not as aggressive as other Ski-Doo models or as the Polaris FST IQ LX. The seat was the hardest and least comfortable of those tested.

Extras:

Electronic gauges with speedometer and tach. Rear rack. Electric start standard, as are mirrors. Unfortunately, the mirror placement isn’t the best and often get in the driver’s face when cornering. Reverse is mechanical.

Styling:

The RF chassis gives it a youthful, Freestyle look. Colors need no interpretation: it’s a simple gray, yellow and white.

Exclusive Features:

Comes with a tether cord (but not the DESS security feature). This is the only machine tested that has mirrors standard.


YAMAHA RS VECTOR GT

Price: $8,999

The Yamaha RS Vector GT makes the Legend Trail look and feel like a ferry boat.

This is a well-designed, well-though-out machine with immaculate fit and finish. This is the sled to bring to the black-tie ball.

As for all of its machines, Yamaha has a specific buyer in mind for the Vector GT: someone between the age of 40 and 50 who rides 1,601 miles per year.

The sled is positioned in the “groomed trail” category, which means it’s for trail riders who don’t seek out the rough stuff.

This is pretty much the same machine that Yamaha offered last year, save different graphics and slightly taller windshield. Overall it’s a predictable performer.

This machine is $200 more than the comparable Vector ER, but that extra two bills buys high-performance front shocks, an accessory outlet and the choice between black or red graphics. We think the extra cost is worth it for the shocks alone.

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Engine:

Genesis 120 four-stroke

This is the third year for the Genesis 120, and it has no significant changes from last season. It’s a long-stroke, three-cylinder, four-valve design that produces 120 hp at 8500 rpm. Power runs smoothly up the band but the engine braking brought the speed down making the hand brake unnecessary. This engine is the most proven reliability of all the machines in this test. Yamaha definitely knows its four-stroke engines.

Front Suspension:

Independent Double Wishbone with GYT-R HPG Aluminum shocks and 9 inches of travel.

The front shocks use shock-mounted dials for easy rebound (20 clicks) and compression (12 clicks) adjustments. Steering on this sled felt particularly heavy, and more than once it was a fight to turn. Then, the skis would come up unexpectedly in the corners and make for an unstable ride. The ski stance is 42.7 inches.

Rear Suspension:

Mono Shock RA with KYB Aluminum shocks and 11.5 inches of travel.

The rear suspension takes the idea of personalized adjustment to heart with a dial on the tunnel by the left foot. Changing the dial position makes a noticeable difference in suspension firmness. The machines use a 15- by 121- by 1.25-inch Camoplast Rip Saw track. The rear performed well on relatively smooth trails. We didn’t hit any super rough patches on this ride, but past experience with this suspension shows that it doesn’t handle extreme pounding well.

Wind Protection:

Yamaha put a taller windshield on this sled than last year. The wind was tossed nicely over our shoulders.

Fuel Economy:

It has a capacity of 10 gallons, and Yamaha rates it at 20 mpg.

Ergos:

This has the most traditional seating style compared to the FST and Legend. It comes in the Deltabox chassis. It was a good machine for low leaning in the curves — our feet hooked securely in the wells, our bodies scooted to the side and railed around the corners.

Extras:

Electric start, mechanical reverse. Mirrors are optional. Storage on this sled is poor: there’s a sandwich-size holder under the hood and a small pouch in the handlebars.

Styling:

It comes in Midnight Metal over Yamaha Black, or Crimson Slash over Candy Red. In other words, black with silver accents or red and black with maroon accents. The graphics extend onto the windshield for an integrated look.

Exclusive Features:

Aggressive foot traction on the running boards, accessory outlet, Camoplast Rip Saw track, clicker shocks.


ARCTIC CAT JAGUAR Z1

Price: $10,499

The newest four-stroke from Arctic Cat is a cruise ship in speed boat clothing.

The high-performance engine, at 125 hp, make for a fast, powerful ride. Its less-obvious features, however, make it a personalized sled for long days on the trail.

Arctic Cat doesn’t position this sled as a high-mile cruiser, but it could and should. The machine, with its quieter four-stroke and comfort features make it highly suited for this market. It also has its wild side.

This sled is a combination of what’s good from the F-Series, and an improvement on the F-Series shortcomings. It’s the closest that Arctic Cat has come to perfection on just about any sled it has produced.

At 575 pounds, it has all the weight of a four-stroke, but designers have done a good job of spreading it around. It weighs like a beast but rides surprisingly light. It kept up in terms of handling and finesse with the Arctic Cat F6 — including the jumps.

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Engine:

Z1 four-stroke

This engine was custom-built by Suzuki to meet Arctic Cat specs. It’s a 125 hp, 1056cc liquid twin mill. It’s a laydown configuration. It makes the lowest emissions of any Arctic Cat, and that includes the T660. We liked its linear powerband. It has a four-stroke grunt with a two-stroke powercurve. The sound is somewhat odd, like a turbo VW in sand dunes. The Anti-Engine Brake Control works, allowing the driver to use the brake when letting off the gas. It’s controlled through the ECU. This is especially nice when using the brakes for cornering control.

Front Suspension:

AWS VII double wishbone with Arctic Cat IFP gas shocks and 9.5 inches of travel.

For those not good with Roman numerals, this is the seventh generation of the AWS front end. This front suspenion has always been a good setup, but with a degree of twitch. The upshot is that the Jag has the positive qualties, minus the twitch. Steering is light. Ski stance is 43 inches.

Rear Suspension:

Slide-Action with Arctic Cat IFP gas shocks and 13.5 inches of travel.

The Arctic Cat performance rear suspensions are known for being stiff, and this setup is the perfect combination of firm and forgiving. This is the same setup found in the F-Series sleds. The track is 15 inches wide, 128 inches long with

1-inch lugs.

Wind Protection:

A dial on either side of the windshield allows the driver to adjust the height.

Fuel Economy:

N/A. The engine has an oxygen feedback system to increase fuel economy. The tank holds 9.4 gallons.

Ergos:

This sled takes personalized riding to a new level. It features multiple adjustments for a tailored feel, starting with the handlebars. A bicycle-tire-style lever releases the lock on the handlebar post, which allows the rider to reposition the bars on a horizontal (3.32 inches) and vertical (2.11 inches) plane. A latch in the back of the seat allows it to move forward and up to account for various riding positions. Each of the seven adjustment positions moves the seat forward a half–inch and up a third–inch for a total range of 3.66 inches horizontal movement and 2.41 inches vertical. Finally, a small dial on the windshield changes the profile (1.1 inches vertical and 3.55 inches horizontal) and the footwells adjust in three positions. None of the adjustments are high-tech, but lend to a more personal feel.

Extras:

Electric start and reverse, accessory outlet. Mirrors, a tether, a hitch.

Styling:

Color options are green, red or black. Styling cues are the same as the F-Series sleds. Cats are known for imperfect fit and finish, but the company nailed it on this machine. Do we dare say that it looks Yamaha-perfect?

Exclusive Features:

Adjustable windshield and seat, adjustable footwells, LED gauges read in digital or analog formats.

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