There has been a lot on the drawing board at Arctic Cat for the past six years, or so. That's when Cat's new F2 chassis was born. Since its inception, it seems, the project known as Skinny Minnie has had a significant impact on the decisions made in the project planning department. Ever wonder why Arctic Cat never got around to rolling out that 500 EFI motor when the new APV motors were released? How about why there hasn't been any serious work on a 700 class motor? Well, it's probably because the crew was busily testing the new chassis and knew it would demand new engines. Why bother building an engine you know is just going to be scrapped in a year or two?
Just last year, an Arctic Cat official grinned over a drink at a happy hour and said, "wait 'till 03. That'll be a year to remember for Arctic Cat." It appears to be as he foreshadowed. There is a whole new chassis, three new engines, a new direction in the mountains and a couple good gadgets, to boot.
New Chassis. New Engines.
The Firecat is here! The world first saw Arctic's new F2 chassis at the Sno Pro introduction. Since then, there has been broad speculation about the sled's future- would this be a race-only sled or would it go consumer? We guessed correctly, that with the huge level of engineering and production commitment Cat made to the sled, it would be available to consumers in 2003.
We could fill an entire book with all of the detail of the chassis and still leave some out, but we'll hit the high points here. A more in-depth tech feature will surely follow in the coming week or so. First, the Firecat tips the scales at a cool 430 factory pounds. That's about 50 pounds lighter than last year's ZR. The design team worked on centralizing the mass of the sled around the center point.
There are reported to be 26 percent fewer parts on the F2 chassis than the previous ZR. In order to do that, the engineering team was forced to make each piece serve as many roles as possible. For instance, the fuel tank serves as a structural member, the bearing flange for the drive axle also holds the speedometer pickup and the voltage regulator. Even the brake lever serves double duty as the stopper and the highbeam switch.
The rails are longer, but closer together, necessitating a 13.5 x 128" Camoplast track. We tested the Sno Pro for a day on a snocross track and found it very capable of turning a tight corner. But the proof is in the trail, and we'll have a better feel for where the Firecat will take us after our test session in March.
Look for the F5 carburetted engine to perform similarly to the current ZR 600. The F7's 700 EFI engine is reputed to be cranking out power to rival any in its class, and even make a few 800s blush.
Arctic Cat's Mountain consumers have a better friend in Mountain Cat project leader Jason Howell. The company officially opened its mountain R&D facility this season in the hills of Idaho. Howell's first major changes resulted in a 35-pound reduction and some very rider-friendly redesigns.
Among the highlights of the new Mountain Cat 1M are a dropped and rolled composite chaincase, adjustable ski stance and quick-removing seat and hood. The seat was lightened and has the underside resculpted to accommodate a rescue shovel and avalanche probe, in addition to the already large trunk space.
Consumers will be able to purchase the 570 Fan with a 136" track, a 600 EFI in either 136" or 144" and an 800 EFI or 900 carb Mountain Cat 1M with a 144" or 151" track. The liquid-cooled sleds come in either traditional Arctic green/ black color scheme or a new red/ black combo.
Arctic Cat introduced its 900 twin in early January under the hoods of a ZR and a Mountain Cat. Rated at 150 factory horsepower, this new engine will be the biggest and most powerful mill in the Cat stable for the coming year. That's right, the only triple cylindered engine left in the Cat corral is the 660cc four stroker. If you absolutely have to have a new Cat triple, we'd surmise you could scrounge up a handful at your local dealerships.
Closely following the ZR 900 will be the ZR 800 EFI. You'll find the 800 is only available in the injected form this season. "We outsell the carb version of an engine with the EFI version," explained Product Manager Joel Hallstrom.
The 800 and 900 will be available in the standard ZR chassis, with all of the aggressive ergos we've come to love.
The ZL sport cruisers found a handful of refinements this season. One of the first things you'll notice is the bent handlebar. While the bars aren't as aggressive as the ZRs and Firecats, They have just enough of a hook to offer a change of hand position on long trail rides.
The other big change in the Sport Cruisers is the implementation of remote start. Yup… hit the button from your hotel room and the sled will turn over and idle sweetly while you put your boots on. A pair of security systems will keep your machine safe from theft as long as your key is not in the sled.
Cat designers slimmed up the windshield a bit without dramatically affecting its functionality. "It was pretty big last year," noted the ZL project leader. "It's a little more sporty this year."
The ZL will be available in 550, 600 EFI or 800 EFI configurations. Spring order buyers will have the option to add electric start and reverse, the Smart Ride suspension and the remote start. Esr buyers will also have the option to go with silver or black. Consumers can buy the other ZL configurations in whichever color they choose, as long as it's black.
Cat's Touring segment will return in much the same form as it took in '02. The 570 fan motor will return in the Panther esr.
The Liquid-cooled Panteras will sport 600 EFI and 800 EFI twins under the hood. Both of those units will also sport Cat's new remote start.
Cat will also offer the Pantera 550 as its price leader in the segment.
The 660 triple four stroke engine has been massaged for the '03 season, churning out an additional 10 ponies, for a factory rating of 55hp. Cat will use it in the 4-Stroke Touring as well as the Bearcat this season. "The Bearcat is aimed right at the heart of our Scandinavian market, as well as the linesmen and sportsmen of the far north," said Hallstrom. "It has the 20-inch wide by 156-inch long track for excellent flotation in fresh snow. The motor is smooth, quiet and has proven itself to be the most fuel efficient on the market today and we put a 15-gallon tank on it for even more range. I think those are strong selling points in that market."
So there you are. Cat's much-anticipated 2003 lineup: new chassis, new engines, new direction and new gadgets. Now click here to check out the Spring Choice program!