By Mark Boncher
Just Send It!!!
Maybe not like Larry Enticer, although the entertainment level is usually high whenever you hear your friends telling each other to ‘send it’. The sleds we dissect in this piece are the sleds that allow you to float like a butterfly over the road approaches and whooped out trails, but also carve up the trails like a surgeon… or launch off of something wickedly fun! We are talking about the Polaris XCR-850, Cat ZR 80000RR, Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS 850, and the Lynx Rave 850.
These are what is often referred to in marketing lingo as ‘hero sleds’. No matter who rides them, from those who maybe don’t need this much machine, to those who use every ounce of the performance, they all get that feeling of invincibility. They also are the sleds that are out front to lead the line-ups in all the fancy videos, polished photos, and with the biggest marketing ‘influencers’ standing next to them. We aren’t downplaying them at all because they are super awesome to ride! Here’s our take.
Real American Hero!
Right down to the red, white and blue color palette, the new XCR comes out of the Polaris factory in Minnesota. My personal take is that this is the most exciting sled to ride from Polaris in 20 years! It’s light, maneuverable, fast, easy to drive, and can go just about anywhere. Whether you are sawing through several feet of snow, sidehilling straight up a drifted wind lip, or dropping off a downward jump into a gnarly bunch of moguls, or just trail riding, it does everything extremely well. Plus, it is an 850 so it has all the power you could ever want.
For our purposes, we tested the 136-inch XCR, and this has a slightly different track pitch than the 137 sleds, hence the 136-inch length. Many contest that this is a trail-only sled, but we beg to differ as the 160+ horses from the twin cylinder 850 Patriot Cleanfire motor creates plenty of snow slinging power to take you exploring. Plus, on the model we tested, the 1.352-inch lugged Cobra track did its job in deeper snow. There was also a 1.25-inch lug Ice Ripper XT, or a 1.6-inch cobra track option for this sled.
The slightly taller 3.35-inch riser and stand-up friendly pilot location also helps you when carving up powder. Sculpted panels and the 4.8-inch narrower console, with 3-inches narrowed up at the knees, are the things that a rider quickly notices when you sit on a Matryx.
To be honest, this sled’s roots are in snocross, and that is evident by the massive 2.0-inch Walker Evans Velocity shocks up front over the skis and in the rear of the skid. All the coil-over WER shocks on the XCR have hi-lo compression damping adjustment as well. Add to that 9.3-inches of travel up front and 16.2-inches of travel in the back, and you’ve got yourself a shock set-up worthy of most any big triple jump on a snocross track. Now these aren’t calibrated like a buckboard though, so as you dial in your ride, from a softer setting to a harder setting, you quickly realize the amount of range and comfort that these shocks afford the rider.
The Matryx platform is what brings everything together, from the coupled Pro CC rear skid, to the Matryx specific front suspension. We’ve said it before, but the space the rider has to move around, and the ‘flick-ability’ or the response from the sled to rider input is phenomenal. One mash of the throttle and a rearward foot placement off trail, and you can do a controlled wheelie, or in the trail corners you can get low, and calmly hold the hooked handlebars softly to easily keep that inside ski lift predictable. At only 474 pounds dry weight, the sled is nimble and balanced, so that even in the air, you feel in control.
As for the transmission, the P-85 primary and TEAM lightweight secondary do the work and are smooth on and off the throttle. Massive stopping power comes from a PRT racing radial brake with new rotor, Type 81 racing pads, and there’s a ‘race brake scoop’ that directs cool air to the area to keep the heat down. Turning is refined with a Pro Steer ski with 8-inch carbide. The XCR was a Starfire sled for 2022 as well, which meant that it was a spring purchase only machine. I’m sure there will be a few around here and there though, if you didn’t get on the spring order… but with the insane increase in snowmobile sales over the last season, which did not slow down in spring, they will be harder to come by than in prior seasons.
Additional options like the 7S display with Ride Command and its glove-friendly interface make this sled not only a great ride, but technologically advanced. Diagnostics, wi-fi connectivity for trail maps, group-ride technology, and much more are available with this system. Oh, and you get the new SmartWarmer hand grips and a magnetic tether too… this sled has everything!
Ski-Doo aXentuates the X-RS
It is difficult to keep making the X-RS even better, but Ski-Doo did it again this year. Our test pony came with the new, exclusive Smart-Shox technology. This is based on KYB PRO twin tube shocks up front and in the rear shock. It is a semi-active system that utilizes five position sensors based up front in a module that determines various inputs from the terrain, steering, chassis, roll, yaw, etc.. It is easily manipulated from a toggle on the console, with three separate riding shock compression damping modes, from a more luxurious comfort mode, to sport, to an aggressive sport+ mode. This adjust on the fly system is really nice for a large group of riders, and we appreciate it as well, but many in the ultimate-aggressive bump riding crowd will gravitate towards the traditionally adjustable high-end shock packages.
The X-RS is always a spring buy only sled, and this year was no different. With that spring buy you had the option of a Ripsaw 129x15x1.25 inch track, the Ice Ripper XT track in the same configuration, or a 1.5-inch lug track option. The longer 1.5-inch lug tracks are one of my favorites for both the MXZ trail and Renegade crossover sleds. There is enough lug to go most places off-trail at low elevation, and you can still stud them without much issue. Plus, they REALLY hook up so if you like that ski-raising power to the snow right out of the gate, then it is your best choice.
Our test model had the 165 hp 850 direct-injected, naturally-aspirated E-TEC motor, and having ridden and owned dozens of these 850s, it is just an awesome powerplant. After more than half of a decade enjoying this motor, it is still one of the smoothest and easiest to drive big twins to ever be produced. It has been the performance benchmark in the snowmobile industry for a while now, and combined with the RAS X front and rMotionX rear suspensions, plus the new Smart Shox, the X-RS is top of the Ski-Doo trail lineup again.
As a spring model, you also get the big 7.8-inch LCP display with BRP Connect available for all those high-tech gadget lovers. You get Bluetooth, helmet to helmet communication, split screen, GPS and more capabilities with this gauge. Plus, you’ll enjoy the quickly adjustable pin system on the handlebar riser, standard push button electric start and reverse, backlit controls, two LinQ base attachments standard, and much more.
More options on the X-RS include either the Pilot X skis, or the Pilot TX adjustable skis. Also, if you did not want the Smart Shox, you could order the X-RS with the Quick-Adjust shock and spring set-up that has been available for several years. My advice is that for the majority of people, they will enjoy the Smart Shox, with the standard Pilot X skis. Combined with the race-derived rack steering system, you get totally predictable cornering. Every rider will also enjoy the wider, reinforced, and flatter RS running boards. Made for more stand-up or aggressive riding, many riders feel more comfortable on these, transitioning through different conditions and being able to take harder landings with ease.
All the Rave’
No matter how you pronounce the Lynx Rave RE 3500 850 E-TEC, there is no denying that it is a hot seller this year. After many years, BRP (owns Lynx) finally gave the green light for this breed to be sold outside of Europe. The Finns and Nordic folks simply have different ‘trails’, and ride differently than the average trail rider in North America. That’s not a bad thing, and there is certainly a portion of our audience that gravitates towards active, aggressive, snocross type riding. That is the crowd that will get the most out of this machine. It’s hard not to channel your inner Toni “the flying Finn” Haikonen mantra when you climb aboard a Rave!
I was lucky enough in my travels to ride a 137-inch Lynx several years ago in Iceland with my friend Gylfi. At that time, I was convinced then and there that there was a market for this different type of snowmobile in Canada and the US. Like Finland and other European countries, Iceland does not have ‘trails’ per se. There is a lot of cross-country, glacier, and varying terrain that you find. That’s where having a beefy chassis, more motocross focused suspension, more off-trail focused ski, and other components of the Lynx come in handy. Of course, having the E-TEC 850 direct injected big twin under the hood helps too.
On that ride I was able to first experience the PPS rear suspension that was really born on the snocross racetrack. The newest PPS3 has massive KYB 46 HLCR Kashima coated coil-over shocks in both the front and rear arms of this suspension. It is a rising rate suspension that’s independent with long-travel as well, which gives the rider a playful feel, and you can stand up the front-end at will. The aggressive bump riders will enjoy being able to ride the tail of the sled over several bumps in a row. Dialing in correct rebound, and setting these shocks up for your particular preference is going to be more important than an average trail rider is used to. Again, this is not a sled for that average trail guy or gal though. There is also a proclaimed 70% less friction compared to the Lynx’s previous PPS2.
Two things we mentioned in previous articles that are worth repeating is that we very much enjoyed the Blade XC+ skis and the Ice Ripper XT track with 1.5-inch lugs. The 170mm wide skis have a deep keel that make them ideal for all kinds of conditions. These may be our favorite new OEM skis, and for my personal style of riding, I would take them over the Pilot X skis. Having a deeper lug track with the added grip of the small studs on the ends of the lugs also adds to the fun factor of being able to play in deeper snow off-trail, and the stiff lugs provide excellent traction when burping the throttle over hard moguls. Lynx set this up exactly how many ex-snocross riders that we ride with set up their personal sleds, with an aggressive all-conditions ski and track.
A wide 42.2-inch ski stance adds to the flat cornering, and 10.4 -inches of front suspension travel in the LFS+ system means a long stroke on the shocks, to help smooth out big bumps. As far as riding position and ergonomics is concerned, you won’t notice a ton of difference from other BRP sleds, but it is slightly wider in the knees and around the console than say a Polaris Matryx.
The Cat that can fly
If there is one thing I can say about Arctic Cat rough trail, snocross inspired sleds, it is that they have always flown true. It may sound like a small thing, but even going back to the Firecat chassis, Cat has always made their aggressive ‘ditch banging’ sleds to be well balanced and easily tossed around and maneuvered both on the snow, and in the air. The snocross bred ZR RR 8000 is no different. There’s an easy throttle pull and playful feel to the sled that is made even more predictable with the ADAPT CVT transmission which makes approaches, landings, corners, and take-offs easy and more importantly, fun!
The powerplant is the veteran 8000 C-TEC2 twin cylinder 2-stroke, batteryless EFI, with 794cc. In recent years, this engine has gotten new cylinders, pistons, combustion chamber, flywheel and fuel rail. It has power valves, electronic oil pump, exhaust temp sensor (EPTS), knock sensor, and more. Even though it is not an 850, it still plays up there in the 165 hp range, and it is exceedingly smooth. Many times we’ve been on a ZR RR, thinking we were going 60 mph and looked down quickly to see 80+ mph on the speedo. This motor is clean, has a great tone to it, and punches higher than many people give it credit for.
As with most of the sleds in this group, what sets the RR apart are the shocks and reinforced running boards. You get the best of the best Fox Zero QS3R Kashima coated coil-over absorbers with 1.5-inch diameter up front and a 2-inch diameter shock in the back of the 137-inch slide-action rear suspension. All the shocks on the RR have the 3-position clicker compression damping dial on the top to change from soft, to medium, to firm settings quickly and easily. Also, in the back you get a full wheel and axle system (some may remember the tri-hub system on some of the Cat’s from years past) but not on the new ZR RR. A 3-position rear-coupling block is also on the skid, and you have spring preload adjustability too.
Throwing the snow is a Ripsaw II 137x15x1.25 inch track with a 2.86 pitch. Plus, like most all Cat sleds, you get an adjustable ski stance up front, to go from a wider 43-inches to narrower 42-inches. We’ve ridden with a lot of folks who love to ride aggressively, and often times for smaller riders the wider stance is preferred, but many taller riders approve of the more playful narrower stance, even in the trails. It all comes down to keeping that inside ski lift manageable in the corners, and obviously, taller riders will have an advantage with additional body lean while taking tight corners at pace.
Additional features to note on the ZR RR are push button electric start and push-button reverse. Plus you get a good size tunnel bag, the higher 5.5-inch riser, LED headlight with accent lighting, and the all-important 60thanniversary edition badge on it. For some of us it feels like just yesterday we were celebrating Cat’s 50th anniversary up at the home of Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls, Minnesota… just like Arctic’s snocrosser sleds, time flies!
Too many choices
There are just sooo many incredible choices out there right now for all riders, but aggressive riders too. If I had all the money in the world, and wanted the sled that would get the most attention on the trail, well, I would probably be trying a new Lynx Rave for this next season. However, the best sled in this group for the money has to go to the Polaris Matryx XCR 850. It is not often that we are this adamant about a sled that so many of our riders liked so much, but Polaris did it right with this machine.
You can’t go wrong with any of these sleds for the rough, and hopefully not ‘tumbling’ rider. The XRS and RR are certainly top of the line go-fast and not worry about the bumps at all type machines as well, and there was certainly plenty of discussion about which we would want in our respective trailers. I’ve always had a soft spot for the XRS personally, but also been outed as ‘only loving my RR’ sleds too. Point is, this group represents the most fun you can have legally on the trail or track.