Fan-Cooled Snowmobile Shootout

March 20, 2008
Filed under Snowmobiling Features

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Fan-cooled snowmobiles are sometimes overlooked as second-class snowmobiles, though that’s hardly fair. Fan-cooled sleds have some definite advantages over their liquid-cooled counterparts, namely with low-maintenance, reliable engines and a lower price. All but Yamaha is in the fan-cooled market, and each company offers something a bit different. Which one is yours?

WHAT

Arctic Cat F570

Talk about an overhaul. The happy-go-lucky Z 570 did a complete turn-around in one year’s time. With the new attitude — and new chassis — comes a new name: the F570. It’s now situated in the Twin Spar chassis, which gives it a whole new character as a sportster. The changes will cost you, though. This machine costs $1,100 more than the Z model. At $6,499, it’s the most expensive machine in this comparison.

Ski-Doo MX Z 550 X

This is the REV chassis for the smaller budget, and is definitely the little dude in the MX Z lineup. Still, there’s a lot of value in this machine, with a responsive engine and the benefits of the trend-setting, rider-forward REV chassis. If this machine is too much at $6,399, consider the standard package version ($5,799).

Polaris SuperSport

The SuperSport has been a Polaris fan-cooled mainstay since 1994 and it’s been many-a-kid’s entrance into the big-sled world. In 2007, it underwent some radical styling changes, which really put the word “sport” into SuperSport with a race-style seat and ghoulish graphics. This year, the machine is unchanged with one exception: the graphics are now pink.

The Basics

Arctic Cat

Price: $6,499

Engine: 565cc fan

Front Suspension: AWS VII, hydraulic twin-tube shocks, 9.5 inches of travel

Rear Suspension: Slide Action, hydraulic twin-tube shocks, 13.5 inches of travel

Listed Weight: N/A

Color Options: Green, orange, black

Bonus Features: Electric start, mechanical reverse, large storage area. Optional mirrors, high windshield, tether switch, spark plug holders, hitch

Polaris

Price: $6,399

Engine: 553cc fan

Front Suspension: RAS, HPG Clicker Take-Apart shocks, 9 inches of travel

Rear Suspension: SC-4, HPG Take-Apart shocks, 15 inches of travel

Listed Weight: 435 pounds

Color: Yellow/black

Bonus Features: Pilot 5.7 dual-runner skis, speedometer, tach, Rip Saw track, steel-braided brake line, RER electronic reverse, race-style seat

Ski-Doo

Price: $5,399

Engine: 544cc, twin-cylinder fan

Front Suspension: EDGE, Nitrex shocks,10 inches of travel

Rear Suspension: EDGE, Nitrex shocks, 13.9 inches of travel

Listed Weight: 470 pounds

Color: Black/pink

Bonus Features: Electronic reverse, hand guards, hand and thumb warmers

Who’s Got The Look?

Arctic Cat

With the change to the Twin Spar chassis, the look of this sled had gone from dated to “date me.” This has the same lines, the same style and the identical graphics package to the liquid-cooled F machines. It comes in three color combos, with the primary influences as black, green or orange. This F look, with the flowing lines and rounded nose, has received much love it/hate it critique since introduced for 2007. Despite the angular graphics, the look of the sled is more “wind tunnel approved” rather than “attack.”

Polaris

Last year, we called this machine a botched plastic surgery, with its assortment of miscellaneous parts. It still has that look, from the Pro X2 seat to the short windshield to the trailing arms. We didn’t expect it to get worse — but it did. We understand the concept of marketing to the female market, and one peek at women’s gear confirms that pink is all the rage. However, this attempt at creating female appeal looks like an afterthought — four pink IQ flame decals slapped onto a dull black chassis. If Polaris really wants to turn a woman’s head, it needs to try harder. (Think Scorpion Stingerette, metal flake and all).

Ski-Doo

Ever since it became a part of the MX Z REV-chassis fold, the fan-cooled machines have looked just like their larger-displacement counterparts. No “junior” look for this sled. The same holds true for this season. If you want to blend into the MX Z crowd, but do it with a significantly lower price tag, this machine will not out you until a long, straight stretch (or close examination of the decals). The machine comes in a yellow/black scheme, which is only one shade away from the yellow/slate graphics on the liquid-cooled models. This sled is definitely for the image-conscious.

Engine

Arctic Cat

The body may be new, but the heart is not. This 570 Gen II fan engine is the same upgraded version found in last year’s Z570. It’s rated at 60 hp, a figure that was lowered with the 2007 addition of some cleaner-burning technology. Compared to the other two machines, overall power seems behind the other two — as if it was down a bit on zip. As a side note, all plastic panels are removable, which provides good access to the engine area.

Polaris

The Super Sport’s engine is a 544cc domestic-built fan that’s unchanged since 2006, the year it got the NiCaSil-lined cylinders for durability. It cranks out 60 hp. This is also a case of longevity-equals-reliability, and this engine has been in the Polaris lineup since the 1999 model year. Performance-wise, it’s on par with the MX Z in terms of power. It’s not the engine on this machine that will disappoint, as it’s the machine’s best feature.

Ski-Doo

There’s nothing too exciting about Ski-Doo’s 553cc fan-cooled engine. It’s not new, nor did it get any upgrades for 2007. It’s a twin-cylinder powerplant with cylinder reed induction. The engine reaches the top of its rpm range at 7000 and the horsepower rating is 55. The good news is that it works, it’s dependable and it’s not a dog. It gives enough power to make one forget it’s a fan, and even gives a little punch when held wide open.

Front Suspension

Arctic Cat

The F570 uses the AWS VII double wishbone A-arms — the same suspension used on all F machines. The difference is in the shocks: the F570 gets basic hydraulic twin tube shocks (the liquid-cooled F5 has them, too.) While it’s the cheaper shock, it still provides a quality ride. The plastic skis track straight, and the cornering is smooth and predictable. We did notice some dartyness on straight stretches, though.

Polaris

There are few machines in Polaris’ lineup that still use trailing arms, and it’s a testament to how quickly things change — and become dated. However, the Super Sport did corner flat. The suspension uses Nitrex shocks, and gives 10 inches of travel. The skis are the cheapest of the bunch: a blow-molded black plastic. They’re loud, too, making a high-pitched scratching sound as they glide over the snow.

Ski-Doo

This sled has a RAS front suspension with a sway bar and HPG Clicker Take-Apart shocks. One premium feature are the top-of-the-line Pilot 5.7 skis. This is a front end that stays planted in corners and does an admirable job at absorbing bumps — it’s not a surprise, and it feels inherent to the chassis design. It took the straightline bumps the best.

Rear Suspension

Arctic Cat

This is Arctic Cat’s standard rear suspension with the hydraulic twin-tube shocks. It’s not the fanciest suspension in the Cat lineup, but it’s the same as the F5 liquids. It provides a comfortable ride at this price point. It has the least amount of suspension travel of the three at 13.5 inches. Remember, the track around this suspension is longer than the others: 15 by 128 by 1 inch.

Polaris

The sled gets the EDGE rear suspension with a Nitrex front shock and MPV Select rear track shock. The track is 15 by 121 by .88 inches. The rear suspension rode the roughest of these three. Thank goodness the seat had some spring to it, because it didn’t feel like the rear suspension did. The spring in the seat also aided in the transition to a standing position, as it’s just not a natural movement with this old-school chassis.

Ski-Doo

This uses the SC-4 rear suspension with HPG Take-Apart shocks. This was the premium Ski-Doo suspension until the introduction of its SC-5 this year in the REV-XP chassis. The SC-4 suspension, with its aggressive shock calibrations, performed the best under the most rough circumstances and it was tough to bottom out. The rear suspension and chassis absorb a lot of bump energy, especially on straight-line moguls. It’s a bit more work to power this machine through the rough corners. The track’s dimensions are 15 by 121 by 1.25 inches.

Ergonomics

Arctic Cat

This machine is definitely best-of-class in the handlebar department. No matter the tester, they just feel right. The hooked ends are a big bonus in this class. In the world of rider-forward, this is in the middle of this pack in terms of feel. The REV still has the most dramatic rider-forward feel of these three. Still, the best way to describe the sit-down feel of this sled is “comfortable.” It’s an easy-sitting and easy-standing sled, and it’s the machine that was the most comfortable to just sit on and ride.

Polaris

This machine looks like cobbled parts and it feels like it, too. It’s hard to get comfortable on this sled. The EDGE chassis lends itself to a low-down riding style but the tall Pro X2 seat props the driver up too high to really make the machine work properly. It feels weird to sit on it, in part because the seat is quite short. The handlebars are straight and on a riser, so they’re in appropriate relation to the seat, but are still too low for standing. The footwells allow a rider to really hook in.

Ski-Doo

This sled is the most forward rider-forward of these three. The transition between seated/standing is definitely the easiest on this machine. As such, rough trails can quickly turn into thigh-burners because it’s so easy to stand. Expect to sit with legs at least at a 90 degree bend; there’s no stretching out on this one. It has an especially short brake lever and the handlebars are straight as a stick.

Ease Of Operation

Arctic Cat

There’s a reason that this machine is more expensive than the others, and electric start tops the list. The mechanical reverse is not ideal, but its adequate for this class. The minus is the oil refill location — a plastic flap under the left side of the windshield. The access hole is small — especially for a for gloved hand — and the sharp plastic edges look like a recipe for cuts. (We’re hoping for better finish on production models.) This is definitely a machine that would put a beginner at ease, but also satisfy someone with more experience.

Polaris

In some ways, the SuperSport is an uncomplicated machine. Comfort features are few. It has PERC pushbutton reverse, which is a nice addition on an otherwise basic setup. Electric start is an accessory item, but not necessary as the recoil is easy enough to yank. Getting the machine up and running won’t be the hard part on this sled; it’s the handling that will offer the greater challenge.

Ski-Doo

Experienced Ski-Doo riders already know these tips, but three simple tricks will get a new rider up to speed by the first mile.

1. Make sure the tether cord is plugged in. It doesn’t have the DESS security, but it still needs the tether to start.

2. Lean with your shoulders, knee and butt.

3. Two fingers on the brake, not three.

Also, electric start is an option on the machine. It’s easy enough to pull-start, though, so save the money and build a bicep. RER electronic reverse comes standard.

Instrumentation

Arctic Cat

Of these three, this has the best instrument panel. It has Arctic Cat’s new standard gauge, which displays a digital/analog speedometer and tach, two trip meters, a clock, a fuel gauge and warning lights. The display is large and easy to read.

Polaris

This machine uses simplicity as its guide for the gauge pod. It offers a speedometer, but no tach. There’s a low oil light. It uses a mechanical fuel gauge. The hand and thumb warmers are adjustable.

Ski-Doo

Ski-Doo was among the first to bring digital instruments to the market. However, it’s never managed to make one that reads easily when riding. At about 50 mph, the analog speedo switches to a digital readout — in microtype.

Wind Protection

Arctic Cat

The F570 had the best wind protection of the lot — which is funny, considering that the windshield doesn’t look like much. Arctic Cat explains that the seating arrangement and pitch of the Twin Spar chassis allows it to get more protection with a smaller shield.

Polaris

While this windshield is probably the most stylish, it was the least protective of the three. The handguards help, but, as with the Ski-Doo, the plastic mounts are a prime snapping point. But did we mention that the shield and guards look good?

Ski-Doo

We ranked the protection as No. 2, even though the windshield is deemed a “low” size. The fact that this machine has hand guards is not merely a cosmetic consideration. One note about the handguards: the mounts are plastic. We’ve seen through experience that even an innocent rollover can bust them off.

Handling

Arctic Cat

This machine comes in a close second behind the MX Z. The ride quality surprised us in a good way, and it’s a definite improvement over the Z machine, which often had a floating feeling. The best part is that it’s predictable (with the exception of some front-end darting), it feels firmly planted and corners well, which will give a lot of confidence to first-time or less-experienced riders.

Polaris

Old-school. While the other two are made for an easy sitting-standing transition, this one fakes it. The tall seat give the impression that it’s a stand-up, but the center of gravity says otherwise. This makes for a confusing ride, mostly because the seat makes a driver want to stand (and will even bounce a person into a vertical position), but the chassis makes stand-up driving uncomfortable and hunched over the bars. The front of the machine stayed firmly planted in the corners, but the back end wanted to be the first to exit the turn.

Ski-Doo

The harder one rides this machine the better it performs. If the Arctic Cat is about smooth, this is about aggression. Of these three, this is the one you’ll want to push the hardest — and the one that will give the most confidence to wick it up. The chassis absorbs a fair amount of energy in rough terrain, and will keep the machine pointed straight at nearly all times.

Our Take

Arctic Cat

This sled works well on a variety of levels. It’s a stable entry-level machine for someone new to snowmobiling or stepping up from a smaller sled. It probably won’t satisfy the boy-racer teen, as it’s lacking edge. Rather, its air of sophistication and ease of operation will be welcomed by a more mature crowd.

Polaris

Frankly, we’re surprised that it’s back another year. There’s a definite need for entry-level sleds, but this just isn’t it. It’s hard to get comfortable on this sled, in part because it just looks silly. The only person who could buy this, and be reasonably pleased with it, is someone who simply doesn’t know any better. It’s the cheapest machine, in all senses of the word.

Ski-Doo

It’s hard to say anything bad about the REV chassis. We know what it offers, and this machine was everything we expected. This sled will probably appeal most to someone who is image-conscious, as it fits in with an aggressive theme. With the introduction of the lightweight REV-XP chassis this season, this sled could quickly become a collector’s item.

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