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Comparison Test: 2016 800cc Trail Sleds

More tail on the trail: Is 137 the best size for a 800cc trail sled?
2016 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 LTD 137
Tweaking their 137-inch sleds for the trails is a bold move by Arctic Cat. We feel the 137 Limited models are some of their best offerings so far! Arctic Cat may have finally found the trail consumer’s sweet spot with simple FOX QS3 shock adjustments, improved clutching with TEAM drive & driven, plus slick storage!
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Just as the 800cc engine has become the go-to power plant for many trail riders, the 137-inch skid length has gained popularity in the trails as well. Not that long ago, a 137 was considered a long track mountain machine. Today, it’s a staple on trails from Minnesota to Maine. There’s added comfort and performance benefits that come with the longer tracks on the trail.

Skeptics of the longer track despise a perceived trade-off in corner handling. Many people believe they just won’t get the same turning on the trail with a 137 as they will a 121-inch track. Truthfully, that trade-off is smaller than most think. Many riders often don’t even notice when we put them on a 137 versus a 129 or even a 121. Personally, the three “long track” sleds we compare here all rank high on my own favorite trail sled list.

Finding their happy place
New to the 137-inch trail gang is the longer version of Arctic Cat’s ZR sleds. The length is not new for Cat, but the marketing of the length is. The 137-inch skid used to be part of their XF crossover lineup. Somewhere along the line, a higher-up at Cat suggested that the majority of their 137-inch sleds should be marketed as trail sleds. We think this is their happy place and that it was the right call. Given how much the snowmobile media, consumers, and dealers have praised the 137-inch length for its compliance in the trail, it makes sense to market it that way.

Little about the Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited 137 is really “new,” other than its segment marketing, name, and a head-turning green colorway (spring buy only). The Suzuki-built high output twin fuel-injected 2-stroke is still rumbling in the ProCross chassis. The engine may have some who pledge allegiance to Team Green rolling their eyes, thinking a new Cat-built 800 is long overdue. I agree, but the winner in the engine supply partnership games has been Arctic Cat over the past 40 years. Cat has had some pretty powerful sleds over the years and is taking a “stick with what got you here” attitude.

I really liked the throttle pull on this engine, best out of any in this comparison. The ease of squeeze is so effortless and with good response. Acceleration was noticeably smoother than years past.

Clutches are one major new addition for this and all other Arctic Cat sleds. The OEM has moved from its own 6-post primary, roller cam secondary clutches to TEAM Industries’ Rapid Response primary, Rapid Reaction BOSS secondary setup. The consumer should benefit in a few ways here. Things should remain cooler under the side panel, leading to increased performance and durability. Changing a belt should be a little easier as well.

The ProCross chassis works as well and it’s hard to argue with something that’s been successful for not just one, but two OEMs (see Yamaha SR Viper). The ARS front suspension is cushioned by the new FOX 1.5 ZERO QS3 shocks. The three compression adjustment settings are much less daunting to the average consumer, and they provide a good range for varying conditions or riding desires. Cat keeps their own gas IFP center track shock, but it switches to the FOX 2.0 ZERO QS3 rear track shock, which offers the same adjustment system as the front shocks.

This sled was easily dialed in for our early testing. The ride in the back end was great, and the handling up front felt much tighter than the XF 8000 Limited last year (remember that’s almost the same sled). Extras like storage, a ProCross bumper and goggle holder add to Arctic Cat’s Limited label.
2016 Ski-Doo Renegade Enduro 800R E-TEC
Ski-Doo’s Renegade Enduro brings push-button operation to adjusting 16 inches of Air RIDE rear suspension travel. You can also choose between 20 different carbide (blade) height settings on the skis with the turn of a knob on the Pilot TS ski.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
The new kid in town
We know Ski-Doo markets its Renegade Enduro as a crossover, but one look at the 15x137x1.25 Ice Ripper XT pre-studded track will tell you all you need to know. This is a trail sled at its core.    

Unlike the Arctic Cat, the Renegade Enduro is a completely new offering. This sled reflects the amount of effort Ski-Doo puts into refining its sleds. The engineers took most all the things Ski-Doo we’ve loved over the past few years (rMotion, RAS 2, etc.) and one-upped themselves.

The rMotion rear suspension is the ultimate in trail comfort. Ski-Doo has added the ability of rMotion adjustability from your seat with the Air RIDE rear shock. Five pre-loaded settings for the rear air shock can be selected via a rocker switch on the handle bars (GSX fans know this system well). The switch runs an onboard air compressor to add or remove air from the shock as desired. It’s not a new concept, but a different way to package it. With only five settings to choose from, this system also removes some of the intimidation factor from setting up your suspension.

The front end gets an upgrade to the RAS 2 suspension as well. In the second year of the geometry improvement from Ski-Doo, they’ve added the new Pilot TS adjustable skis. Riders can employ one of 20 settings to adjust the amount of carbide blade that protrudes for just the right ski bite for conditions. It’s a dial clicker system that gives you a half-inch range of adjustment total (so .025 inches of carbide height change per click).

We were skeptical at first; especially considering these new adjustable skis added 8 lbs. (4 lbs. each) to the overall sled. After spending some time on it, though, I’m happy to report that I was pleased. I can’t say it was a drastic improvement that will change snowmobiling forever, but I found myself using the feature more and more throughout the time I rode the sled. It does what the Ski-Doo folks said it would. If you want to swap paint in tight corners with guys on Saturday, crank those carbides all the way down and you’ll slice around those corners. Just want a Sunday afternoon saunter down the trail? Simply bring the carbides back up for an easier steering feel.

Everything else about the sled is solid quality. A strong chassis in the REV-XS, as well as the fantastic performance and efficiency we’ve come to expect from the 800R E-TEC, is there. The ergonomics are tight, and the handlebars are a little narrower, which suits my personal preference. The 15-inch flared windshield offers the best wind protection in this comparison. Make no mistake, this sled is built to be ridden for days at a time, not just hours.
2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S
Polaris’ 800 Switchback might be the best match for the 137-inch track length. The low-end pop and strong mid-range of this engine get the most out of every 1.25-inch track lug off the line or from corner to corner on the trail.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Switchback reactions unchanged
Polaris’ 800 Switchback Pro-S is almost the exact same sled as it was in MY2015. And why wouldn’t it be? The company saw what would be considered the equivalent of a platinum record in the music industry with this sled last season!

Almost everyone was impressed with the debut of Polaris’ AXYS sleds last season. That did not change much for year two. We like the minimal amount of rider input that’s needed to control the sled, we like how light this sled handles and we really like the power delivery of the 800 H.O. Liberty engine.

For our comparison purposes we tested Polaris’ base model, as that was what was available during this specific test time period, but we’ve ridden several versions. The base model pictured above features a 15x137x1.25-inch RipSaw II track, standard digital display (no GPS), and no additional storage options. Even in this very standard offering from Polaris, however, there was little to gripe about when it came to ride quality and performance.

Walker Evans compression adjustable piggyback needle shocks sit over the skis and in the rear of the skid, and they feel like they offer a bit more anti-bottoming characteristics than last season, thanks to their calibration. We are not sure if there is enough to justify a $300 price hike over last season’s model though.

Polaris’ 800 H.O. engine stands alone at the top of this comparison in several ways. First, there’s the pure power it produces. You might notice this sled pulled the least of ponies of the three here. True, it may not always pull the highest HP numbers on the dyno runs, but most people don’t ride their sleds in the dyno room. The combination of instant power delivery, wide power band and lightning-quick acceleration will have you wearing smiles for miles.

The second factor bringing this engine to the top of this comparison is efficiency. We know how light this engine is on gas, and it’s almost mind boggling for a high-performance engine to use so little oil.  And this one is super lightweight. It’s no wonder I feel like this sled, more than any other, led me to believe the 137 sleds are my personal favorite length on the trail.

The ride is exceptional with those Walker Evans shocks providing great adjustability, both in the skis and the skid. The longer version of the PRO-XC rear suspension and AXYS front end is the best pairing of this group, in my opinion.

You may not like the look of the Polaris’s external rear suspension, but accessing adjustability for the rear shock is easy... even if the cam can be sticky. It’s second only to Ski-Doo’s handlebar adjustment system, as far as accessibility.

The seat height is slightly taller here than the Ski-Doo or Cat, and the handlebar height is somewhere between. I find the combination lends itself a little better to transitioning from sitting to standing. It’s not quite as warm of a ride as the Ski-Doo, but far from brisk.

It may not be new for 2016, and it may not have the tech gadgets of Ski-Doo’s Enduro or the fancy limited features of the Cat, but engine performance, nimble handling and a great ride carry a lot of weight. That’s why I’d be saving my pennies for the Switchback.
The 800cc trail segment is a hotly contested snowmobile segment. Riders in this category get each OEMs’ best shot. The bad things are few and far between, but we know our readers want to know our dislikes as much as our likes.

Arctic Cat ZR 8000 LTD 137 - I dislike the location of the electric start on this sled. Tucked in a dark corner between the dash and windshield, it’s nearly impossible to operate with gloves on. The Suzuki 800 2-stroke will always be a favorite engine of mine, but the numbers from our shootouts show top speed might be best with the 129-inch track.

Ski-Doo Renegade Enduro 800R E-TEC - I’m not a big fan of the “Humvee” color scheme, nor am I a big fan of applying sled wraps, so it looks like black is my only color option. Clutching is very smooth, but it could use a little more pop out of the hole to really take advantage of the longer track on the trail.

Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S -
I’m not quite sure what the reason is, but the skis make a lot more noise than any other OEM skis. The right foot well is too snug for large boots, which can be unpleasant if you’re an active rider. Studding the track of this sled is a pain with the rear bumper so close to the ground.
800cc trail sleds comparison chart
Click the image above to enlarge.
2016 Yamaha SR Viper L-TX SE
Yamaha’s 2016 SR Viper L-TX SE is an exceptional 4-stroke option in the 137 trail category. Improvements in handling and potential to add the MPI Turbo Kit make the L-TX SE a big-time player in the high-hp competition.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
2016 Yamaha SR Viper L-TX SE
Little more than the engine separates the Yamaha Viper from its 2-stroke brethren (which is why we throw it in a comparison now and then). The Genesis 3-cylinder 4-stroke only lacks ponies on the top end to be considered among the high-horsepower trail tamers. Still, this 135-hp ride is virtually bulletproof under the hood. That probably has something to do with why it’s the only remaining part of the old Nytro series that’s still employed.

The 137-inch SR Viper sleds are my favorite iteration of this sled to date. The longer track, coupled with the powerful 1049cc engine, gives you a hookup that grabs your attention and never lets go through the power band. The addition of the HPG shocks works well with the skid length to help the back end soak up the trail chatter.

The new Tuner 3 skis are lighter and pretty much eliminated the darting issues consumers saw in years past. With the FOX Float 3 shocks over the skis, the sled better resists rolling and broadens the comfortable handling in a wide range of terrain.

I do feel there is more to be had still on the top end of this sled. We’ve said that for a while, hoping Yamaha could stretch the Genesis out a little more.

Still, the SR Viper L-TX SE is a top performer in the long-track trail segment for 2016. And adding the factory-backed MPI Turbo Kit makes it so much sweeter!
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