Flashback to this same time last year, we suggested the Apex family of sleds — as we knew them — was about to expire. The success of the FX Nytro models had moved the top-of-the-line Apex models to miscellaneous inventory.
With the steady new-sales decline of snowmobiles, manufacturers often move into a mode of rapid innovation in a showroom battle for market share. While the Apex line kept its base chassis for 2011, it was the platform used to unveil the first from-the-factory power steering on a snowmobile as well as some new engine technology.
The 2011 Yamaha Apex XTX is a new model heading to Yamaha dealers touting more than just power steering as an update. Front suspension and ski upgrades, engine and exhaust updates, plus the 144-inch rear make this Apex a headline stealer.
2011 Yamaha Apex XTX EPS
We profile the new-for-2011 electronic power steering (EPS) on page 30 of this issue, but here’s a recap: It’s a mechanical steering assist using gears on the steering column and input data from an electronic torque sensor. It is variable with speed to reduce the assistance amount with higher speeds, much like a modern automotive application. Yamaha said its system can provide maximum assist until 35 mph and gradually tapers from there.
With the EPS, Yamaha made some changes to the Apex XTX models up front. The ski has a shortened but deeper keel, so there is greater weight per inch of length. There is also less keel in front of the spindle and more behind it to further assist keel down-pressure. Also, the new Gen III front geometry has 15mm of trail and a new steering gate to be compatible with the EPS hardware.
The result is more positive steering and a feel that there is more carbide-tipped keel carving through every corner. The bottom line is that the steering on the Apex XTX — as well as other 2011 Apex models — is more predictable and flatter than on previous models. This is a welcome replacement for front ends that could be unpredictable, gripping and biting in one corner and sliding or pushing through the next with some inside ski lift thrown in just to make the handling even more interesting.
The amount of assist reduces with speed, but to reach the point where there is zero assist drivers have to approach “ludicrous” speed, to use the word of one Yamaha official. We would prefer it to trail sooner so we had more feedback in the bars at speeds about 60 mph. At that speed, some drivers felt too isolated from the terrain but felt busy with near weightless effort to combat darting.
Unfortunately, it’s not a solution for darting in the ultra-firm snow conditions we encountered during our test. We’re guessing EPS mitigates darting to some degree, but that gain is covered by the added aggression of the skis so the net change was nil during our tests.
2011 Yamaha Apex XTX Power
One of the smoothest and most powerful engines was reworked for the 2011 to bolster output.
Engine upgrades include a new airbox, a new piston, a 5-degree timing advance and an engine braking reduction system. To handle added air volume from the 11mm longer intake tract, the exhaust pipe diameter increased from 35 to 38.1mm. Yamaha also introduced a valved exhaust system it calls Exhaust Ultimate Performance (EXUP) that allows the engine to easily build pressure at low engine speed but breathe easily on the top end. It works like the variable exhaust port systems on a two-stroke, but is done within the exhaust system on a four-stroke rather than the cylinder.
Yamaha said the net changes are a slight gain in peak power with a more noticeable improvement to the midrange. We confirmed exactly that during our rides aboard the XTX, and also care to point out that the powerful, renewed Genesis 150FI retains its tendency to elicit sensory thrills.
With the reduction in engine braking, we were better able to appreciate the clutch backshifting. It feels aggressive, the faster action welcome in many trail situations. It was easier to feel, therefore easier to time the engine braking for corners that eliminated the braking step.
The quicker backshift transferred weight off the rear quicker to unload it from its hardpack grip and increased the weight on the skis. On past model years, that would have created an unsteady and less predictable corner attack with heavy steering effort.
Much like its Nytro XTX with the same 144-inch track configuration, the tipped-rail 144 setup balances the new Apex XTX in front-to-rear-to-front transfer that yields improved stability. Both ends stay better planted — even though with the tipped rail design the wheelbase is the same on a hard-packed trail. Gains from overall manners due to the added weight on the tail justify a weight penalty. For this reason, the Apex XTX is our favorite version of Yamaha’s top performance series.
The tipped 144 design is no harder to steer and it also gives the machine more versatility for off-trail excursions, but it’s a lot of machine to muscle off-trail in terms of weight. The longer rails help bridge repetitive bumps for greater comfort, but this machine is happiest on wide, sweeping groomed trails (Hello, Ontario calling…).
2011 Yamaha Apex XTX: Final Thoughts
The Apex XTX is a handsome machine that offers great comfort and adequate suspension. Across the board, Apex models got a seat revision that added 2 inches of height and has new foam density to increase comfort, accompanied by a new windshield to increase wind protection, an area of little previous concern. The engine revisions are welcome (even though we were perfectly happy with the former) and the EPS has a future, though we’d love better management of darting and twitching.
The most versatile, best-handling Apex ever comes at a price, adding $1,700 to the MSRP of the most comparable 2010 model, the Apex LTX GT. The Apex XTX is a new model — with changes to the suspension, track and engine and the addition of the EPS — that make it less of an apples-to-apples comparison, but snowmobiles have been trending upward in price for years and $14,399 is an enormous wallet bite.
For that ransom, it’s fitting that the Apex XTX should have the best position in the store, because the sled requires a premium customer. Our guess is that Yamaha’s sales estimates weigh heavily on giving its existing Apex owners reason to upgrade.