During the long 12 hour drive up to Cat’s headquarters in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, we asked ourselves over and over again, “is it really going to be that good?”
When you are on your way to ride the first truly new Arctic Cat chassis in basically a decade, there is plenty of excitement to get you past any sort of hangover type cold you may be dealing with and keep the conversation flowing nicely in the truck.
We had the chance to fully dissect and more importantly RIDE the new Cat’s earlier this winter and the boys and girls from Textron and AC did not disappoint
New Legend and Living Legend
If you have even an inkling of knowledge regarding Arctic Cat’s storied history, you have heard of Roger Skime. Racer, engineering wizard, and the humble creative genius behind so many innovations at Arctic over the years would be Mr. Skime. So, it was fitting that we rode the brand-new Catalyst sleds from the Cat factory to his ranch in northern Minnesota. There we enjoyed lunch and discussed the culmination of many years of hard work. To be completely honest, Cat out-did themselves with the handling and feel of this new sled. It will be a legendary machine and watching Roger (who is older than my own father, but I won’t give ages) rally this new sled like a 20-year old around his property, was incredibly fun for everyone involved.
The sled itself stays super flat in the corners, allows great rider movement around the cockpit, feels stronger than a 600cc sled, flies straight, transitions extremely well, and has a suspension that simply works. It reminded me of a cross between the new Matryx from Polaris, and the new Gen 5 from Ski-Doo. Less overbearing ski pressure than some Ski-Doo trail sleds have, but less ski lift in transitions than the Matryx. Now we probably need to cool our jets a little, but after our ride we believed it to feel like the best of both of the other OEMs newest trail chassis machines.
We rode the 129, 137, and 146 inch long versions of the Catalyst in the ZR, Race, and Riot configurations. If picking a trail sled I would still choose the 137 all day long with the ATAC adjust-on-the-fly suspension. It’s just a great all-around sled and in the Catalyst chassis, with uncoupled rear suspension even in the shorter 129-inch machines, it is playful, bridges bumps well, hooks up like a scared kitty climbing the curtains, doesn’t push in the corners, and again it stays flat in the turns. Even the longer 146-inch Riot with a 1.6-inch lug and narrower 39-inch ski stance still handled the corners very acceptably.
We were able to find a little bit of powder in the fields as well and first impressions is that the 146 Riot is MUCH more predictable off-trail than previous models. We loved our long-term demo Riot the last couple years and put LOTS of miles on it so we know this sled pretty darn well. The new one with a 39-inch stance is simply better in both initiating powder carves and finding a sweet spot to stay off-camber on one ski. We had just a few minutes to also ride a 146 with the Alpha suspension in it as well, and although it wasn’t a ‘stock production unit’ the predictability was there… which is an issue for some mountain riders on the old chassis.
Engineering points at a glance
A major update for the Catalyst is the belt drive system. It is lightweight, durable, and helps allow the motor to sit really low in the engine bay. We were assured that the longevity of the belt is basically the lifespan of the snowmobile, therefor folks won’t be blowing these belts left and right. The drive location is optimized differently both for the trail versions and mountain versions… in order to allow best trail performance and allow for the mountain versions to climb up on the snow better. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next magazine issue of OSM, so don’t forget to subscribe!
We also very much appreciated the integrated accessory mounts on the top of the tunnel. Similar to other OEM systems on the market, Cat’s new ATACH system allows bags, fuel, tools, or whatever to quickly be added. Like everything else on this centralized and ergonomically focused sled the accessories are easy-on/off and well thought out.
We’ve also talked about the composite running boards previously, but after a few hundred fairly spirited miles, not a single rider in the group had an issue off trail, or on trail. They were comfortable too, seaming to ‘mold’ to your foot positioning more nicely than a lot of the super-serrated super-reinforced racing boards we often ride. Speaking of racing, we straddled up on the Catalyst 600 R XC which is the cross-country race sled for 2024, but now this race machine will be available to the general public. There isn’t any motor difference, but Fox QS3R racing shocks, and a 15x137x1.325 Cobra track. Having ridden the last four chassis of Cat race sleds quite a bit, I think this is their best one to date. Too bad Tucker already retired because he would have crushed it on this sled!
The ease of getting to everything really stood out to me, especially being able to have the side-panels, hood, and seat all off with no tools in like 30-seconds. All this and keeping with the Cat-unique center pull cord, LED lights, heated shield port standard, and more.
So what didn’t we like?
I will say the gauge leaves something to be desired and that technology compared with the other OEMs is obviously lacking… but most likely coming! The seats all still had the super stiff mountain-foam in them when we were testing which was a little annoying, but again, something that will be different when we ride them next time, and for production. Finally, we weren’t thrilled that it is only coming in a 600 for this year, but that’s a pot-shot from Captain Obvious.
By Mark Boncher and Jason Kawczynski