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Not Just Hitches: 2016 Utility Snowmobiles

These draft horse sleds from Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo and Yamaha pull their own weight AND deliver fun
2016 Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme snowmobile
On the spectrum of work and play, Ski-Doo’s new Expedition Xtreme is just what the name states … on BOTH ends!
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Highway haulers of the snowmobile world can be found right here! Whether they’re hauling firewood, fence posts or passengers, these sleds do the dirty work with ease!

And after your chores are done, you might just want to run off and play in the powder, or head out on a sunset trail cruise. These fine fillies have that covered too!

The Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme, Yamaha VK Professional II, and Arctic Cat Bearcat 7000 XT all have the ability to both work and play. Saddle up as we compare these freaky-fun workhorses of the snowmobile industry!
2016 Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme snowmobile
The 2016 Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme boasts superb trail manners, plenty of zip with its 800cc E-TEC engine, a cargo rack and a tow hitch.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Work? Get serious!
Someone needs to test the Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme for PEDs! Or maybe this is just the offspring of an X-RS and a Tundra. It doesn’t really matter how Ski-Doo’s engineers came up with the idea for this new sled. This is way more fun than one is supposed to have on a utility sled!

If you’ve skipped ahead to the stat box, you’ve already seen things like an 800R E-TEC engine, RAS 2 suspension and horsepower numbers that you’re more used to seeing on a high performance trail sled than a utility sled. Let me assure you, though: there’s plenty of utility in this powerhouse as well.

The standard trailer hitch and cargo rack are just as welcome here as they are on the Yamaha. Ski-Doo specifies a load capacity of 55 pounds on its cargo rack, and that’s plenty for tools or ice fishing gear. The synchromesh transmission allows shifting between high and low on the fly. You can start off nice and easy when towing, and then pop it into high gear to cruise back to camp once you hit the homestretch trail.

Backing up to that tow sleigh is made easy, even in deeper snow, with the articulating SC-5U rear suspension and 20x154x1.75 track. You can even lock out the articulation feature while towing. The 1.75-inch lug is exceptional when towing, or when you just want to have some fun!

The Xtreme’s 800R E-TEC may not have as much torque as the 4-stroke Yamaha or the Arctic Cat, but its performance characteristics have high entertainment value. The massive track, like on the Yamaha, lends itself well to anything off trail. And with plenty of punch, you’re able to enjoy those “epic POW days” on the sled that just helped finish your chores.

What surprised us the most was the excellent trail handling of the Xtreme. With the big track and the utilitarian appearance, you’d probably expect this to be a little cumbersome heading down the trail. Not true!

The addition of the RAS 2 front end keeps this sled sizzling through the corners. This front end is similar to that of Ski-Doo’s MXZ X trail performance sled. The shock package is too! It speaks to the versatility of a sled when a manufacturer uses the same shock and engine package on a utility sled as it does on a trail performance sled. The expectation is that the Xtreme will be your sled of choice whether you’re hauling wood back to camp or hauling you-know-what down the trail with your riding crew!
2016 Yamaha VK Professional II snowmobile
Ever popular overseas, Yamaha’s VK Pro II makes its American debut in 2016. One of the better 2-up buys of the season, it has plenty of muscle for tough jobs too!
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Lots of pros for the Pro
Why do Europe and Canada get all the cool “utility” sleds first? Most likely because sleds like Yamaha’s VK Pro have tons of success on European soil. Now the VK Pro II makes its way to North America. Hey, we’ve got work to do over here too!

With a VK Pro II, you’ll get your work done with time to spare. This sled offers a wide range of characteristics, including a cargo rack and trailer hitch standard. I find having a separate space for tools and additional cargo is helpful. The cargo rack allows you to strap things down more easily than throwing them in the trailer, where items are likely to get jumbled around.

If you can’t fit everything on the cargo rack, there’s additional under-seat storage space that holds the tool kit, and it has more room for things like first aid kits, tools, and other items. It’s nice to know you don’t have to sacrifice your working cargo capacity in order to carry more along.

The VK Pro II is powered by the same 1049cc Genesis engine you’ll find in the RS Vector, but its power delivery is unique to the VK. The ignition mapping is specially designed for smooth operation from takeoff all the way through the top of the power band. You’ll notice that even mashing the throttle from a standstill produces a gradual acceleration that’s ideal for taking off with a passenger or cargo in tow. The engine mapping simply doesn’t allow that initial throttle jolt to happen. You get a nice smooth takeoff every time.
2016 Yamaha VK Professional II snowmobile
The 2016 Yamaha VK Professional II offers comfy, strong 2-up 4-stroke utility and shocks calibrated for heavy loads.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Don’t take that to mean there’s no performance in this engine. There’s plenty of that! Our independent dyno tests have shown this motor to crank out close to 130 hp (give or take, depending on model). It doesn’t feel like quite that much on the VK Pro II, but there’s still plenty of zip to be had for a 2-up cruise.

Those that have spent seat time on previous versions of the VK Pro will notice the 2016 has a higher ride height. Yamaha raised the seat and bars almost two inches. The change stemmed from a redesigned fuel tank that also increased fuel capacity. That redesign also narrowed the seat, creating a more comfortable seated position for many riders. So although this sled is a workhorse, you won’t have the “I’ve-been-riding-a-horse” walk when you dismount!

The passenger seat is comfortable as well (yes, we even test the 2-up seats on our demo rides!). A flip-lever torsion spring adjustment converts the sled for two in the seat. The slightly higher seating position than the driver gives a passenger a decent view of what’s ahead. You’ll notice there’s no wind deflection for the passenger hand bars. I thought that would be more of an issue, but the reshaped windshield and shape of the sled’s front end nicely deflect wind around both driver and passenger. Still, a little something wouldn’t hurt for debris and cold days. Some heat, perhaps?

If you’re still questioning whether the VK Pro II can get the job done, consider the fact that it was designed in Russia. If you’re not familiar with the Russian snowmobiling experience, think of extreme cold, lack of groomed trails, long distances between destinations and bottomless powder like you’ve never seen.

Maybe that helps you understand the massive footprint of the 20x154x1.5 track spun around the Pro Comfort Suspension. Other suspension features include a lever torsion spring adjustment and coil-over KYB gas cell shocks up front. Both are specifically engineered for adjusting to heavy loads or additional riders, and to take you and your cargo almost anywhere on the snow.
2016 Arctic Cat Bearcat 7000 XT snowmobile
Arctic Cat’s 2016 Bearcat 7000 XT keeps its workman’s attitude, but adds more trail-friendly features (like an easier articluating rear suspension) to bridge the hauler-to-cruiser gap.
Bearcat delivers
Arctic Cat’s Bearcat line is a constant in utility sled fleets around North America. They are commonly spotted on ski hills, resorts and as rentals. They’re versatile sleds with a work ethic reflecting the blue-collar roots of the company. In 2016, the line gets major updates!

We had a chance to cruise the trails aboard Cat’s Bearcat 7000 XT during our demo rides, and we can confirm a host of changes – from chassis to trunk space – that keep the Bearcat name near the top of the utility game.

The improved Bearcat sports a new ProUte WT chassis. It adds strength and a few different curvatures to improve rider comfort. The seat is narrower, and the body panels provide better wind protection. The new skeleton also houses a 14.7-gallon fuel tank, ideal for long treks.

That tank feeds the efficient 1049cc Genesis 4-stroke engine. It’s technically the same engine as the Yamaha VK Pro II, but you might not guess it by riding both sleds. The Bearcat 7000 has more punch off the line thanks to the gearing, but it also can be tamed for towing heavy loads with the new Wide Range 3 (WR3) transmission. It offers high, low and reverse like the other two sleds here, but it adds a “super low” gear for the real heavy hauls.

The super low gear is designed for heavy load towing or traveling in deep snow at under 20 mph. Think hauling building materials. The “low” gear is more of a mid-range option for lighter loads at 20-40 mph. Think ice fishing portable and gear. High gear is what you’d expect from traditional snowmobile gearing. It’s also quiet and efficient. Think trail cruising, which you can do 2-up or solo thanks to the detachable passenger seat.

The Bearcat isn’t capable of shifting on the fly like the Ski-Doo, but a rev limiter maxes out the rpm’s at 2500 while in neutral. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you won’t accidentally wreck the transmission with an itchy throttle thumb.

A new front-mounted auxiliary radiator works together with a tunnel-mounted heat exchanger to cool things under the hood. This allowed Cat to remove the rear heat exchanger that was prone to ice buildup. And should you ever need to access anything under the hood, you’ll be delighted to find it’s a flip-up design. Side panels are also removeable. It’s the coolest thing since OEMs quit making flip-up hoods!
2016 Arctic Cat Bearcat 7000 XT snowmobile
Cat’s back-up light, under-seat storage and flip-up hood are great!
A new articulating XTRA-ACTION rear suspension gets added as well. Geometry changes have increased the range of movement of the articulating portion of the rear skid. There is four times less force being required to initiate the articulation. What does that mean? It’s easier to back up in deep snow, and the 20x154x1.375-inch track has a shorter feel to it while driving forward. This update really makes the Bearcat less of a bear on the trail.

The front end uses the Arctic Race Suspension (ARS), but it gets new ProUte-10/8 skis. The skis are tapered from 10 inches at the front to 8 inches in the back. The ski tip also starts to curve up further back toward the ski spindle. Snow conditions were not great for testing the full capabilities of the new skis, but they should climb on top of the snow easier than the previous ski. They also offer a very wide range in adjustable ski stance (37.5-43.5 inches).

Other perks for the Bearcat 7000 XT include a reverse light for hitching up in dim light, a tall windshield, added storage under the seat, and a trailer hitch.

Working it out

So which of these workhorses should you hitch your wagon to? That depends on personal preference, and my preference is for the Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme. I wouldn’t hesitate to run this down the trail with the guys, and I can still use it to get a few projects done at the cabin. It’s a performance sled trapped in a utility sled’s body. Or is it the other way around?

If I wanted a purebred Clydesdale to haul almost anything anywhere, I’d lean toward the Bearcat 7000 XT. The WR3 transmission with “super low” gear and the engine cooling can really do some work. It’s not quite as smooth as the Xtreme on the trails, but the new articulating rear suspension is an awesome plus.

If I’m looking to check off the “honey-do” list and take “Honey” for a sunset cruise, the Yamaha VK Pro II is what I’m going with. The 2-up riding is the best of these three. It’s comfortable, it costs the least, and the new SingleShot rear suspension works great when riding double.
Utility snowmobile comparison spec chart
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