Written By Mark Boncher
Perform throttle therapy with precision! That’s what the newest group of stock, lake-racer sleds can do for you. There is a bone in almost every sledder’s body that just begs to feel that adrenaline when you punch the gas. Letting any of these big horsepower ponies eat the snow is just so downright exhilarating, it should be illegal.
The new Ski-Doo Mach Z, the new Arctic Cat Thundercat, and Yamaha’s SRX will not only make the hair on your head stand up, they will blow the hairs right off the top of your head! I tell my kids that’s the reason why I don’t have any hair left on top… and also that being bald is more aerodynamic. In any case, we’ve spent a lot of time on all three of these straightline speed machines, and this is our take on the 2022 Kings of the Lake.
Thundercat is tough to beat
With over 200 horses under the hood, the turbo 4-stroke fuel injected Thundercat was formidable the last couple years, but this year it is even better. For 2022, this beast gets the new version of the adjust-on-the-fly suspension system that is now called ATAC. This is similar to last year’s version and has 3 settings that range from soft, to medium, to firm. With just the tap of the toggle, the Fox Zero iQS shocks allow the rider to enjoy an entirely different feel. All this can be done right from the handlebars, and shows up on the gauge so you know where you are at. This kind of system is extremely welcomed in a heavy 4-stroke machine, and I liken it to the type of ride you get in an extremely fun, sport/luxury vehicle like a Cadillac or Mercedes. The lowered ride height of Thundercat keeps you locked into the trail.
Working in tandem to give riders an extremely spoiled experience is the new EPS (electronic power steering) system. This isn’t the first time, or probably the last time we will see power steering in a more performance-oriented machine. Yamaha has had power steering in their lineup here and there since the days of the Apex/Vector, and still has it in their cruiser/luxury/trail and utility line.
What is really nice about EPS in a performance sled like the Thundercat is that it makes it a very enjoyable ride, at blistering speeds, all day long. It truly does take more effort to ride a heavier sled more aggressively for long periods of time, even with the best suspension set-up. So, being able to dial in the suspension from your seat, AND use minimal effort in the corners and over bumpy, tight, twisty trails is something that is extremely valuable to the targeted Thundercat rider. The fun factor was certainly upped with adding EPS, and the sled itself was already pretty heavy, and it’s not made to be a snocross or off-trail sled, so the added pounds are negligible in my eyes.
Gone are the TEAM clutches on this machine as well, and the new ADAPT CVT is in. If you’ve ever ridden a big 4-stroke, then you know it has a much different feel to the throttle. Being a turbo, the power delivery is also different. This new clutch engages smoothly, is slightly lighter, and is said to extend belt life too, with automatic belt tensioning.
The Thundercat still comes in only a 137-inch skid, which is Cat’s slide-action rear suspension. The front arm of the suspension can slide, which allows for positive transfer, albeit less on a heavy-front-end sled like a big 4-stroke. But the benefit of coupling and controlled suspension movement, with less total collapsing in G-out situations, is where this suspension still shines. The hub in the rear is also gone and replaced by 3-idler wheels, which we like better. A 1.25-inch Ripsaw II track rolls around the skid. This is slightly more lug than what is on the very similar SRX from Yamaha. There are pros and cons to each, but with the EPS, we think the hookup of the larger 1.25-inch lug is appropriate.
Of course you get push-button electric starting and push-button reverse, and all kinds of other amenities like a goggle bag in front of the steering post, LED headlight, 60th anniversary badge and more. Like most all Cat sleds, you get an adjustable ski stance too from 42-43 inches. Most Thundercat riders won’t ever use this feature, but it’s still nice to have. Plus, there’s a storage bag behind the seat which will fit a spare belt, tool kit, and a few other small items. It is important to note that the in-season version of the Thundercat does not have EPS or ATAC, but for this comparison, we were focusing on the top-of-the-line sleds.
One final thing; with Cat’s spring-buy Snowmageddon deals, you could get a 2-year warranty, additional accessories from the factory with the ‘ship with’ kits, plus more money back on this sled than just about any in Cat’s lineup. We know several buyers who walked out the door paying less than they ever expected, considering the hefty initial price tag.
Ski-Doo Mach Z – A Mad Loaded Machine!
We are not going to sugar-coat this one, because it was pretty obvious that Ski-Doo shot a Mach Z missile straight at the big triple 4-stroke motor made by Yamaha, that powers both the SRX and Cat’s Thundercat. Ski-Doo already knew they had a 150hp turbo motor that could be hopped up to become the 180hp triple cylinder, turbo 4-stroke… and that it was lighter than the competition, but something was still missing. That something was the old-school, put your money where your mouth is, lake racing swagger. A couple of changes later, and the intro of the new Mach Z is what Ski-Doo is banking on to bring that confidence back to Ski-Doo die-hards.
To be brutally honest, Ski-Doo had a hard hill to climb to compete with the 4-stroke turbo produced by Yamaha. Putting out 200 ponies is jaw dropping, so Ski-Doo went a different route and announced ‘launch control’ this year. All the power, all at once, and right off the line. If you are talking old school lake racing, this is what you want. Honestly, it is damn fun! Hold the button, hold the brake, get ready, and let her fly! This is not really ‘new’ technology either, as variants could be seen at any big drag-race for years before on monster 4-strokes. But to have it in an OEM trail-legal sled was a first. The pDrive primary and QRS secondary clutches harness the power of the Canadian built Z-Machine.
One thing Ski-Doo does do almost every year is publish dry weights of their sleds. At 548 lbs., the Mach is no featherweight, but certainly still lighter dry than the competition, even in the wide-body Gen4 platform. The reason I mention this is power-to-weight ratio. Knowing what we know, the power to weight ratio of the Mach will be very similar to the Thundercat and SRX. That makes a difference, even to flatlanders who strictly want to race on a lake or find wide, long trails like the those found in New Brunswick, around the Christmas Mountains.
However, the Mach is not just for long straight trails… it can take the bumpy, curvy path too! Again, with another pointed shot at others in the industry, Ski-Doo announced their Smart Shox this year… and they are available on the Mach. There are three modes for the adjust-on-the-fly suspension including comfort, sport, and sport+. Don’t ask us why it couldn’t be soft, medium and firm, or maybe luxury, cruise and sport, but there are marketing minds working at night, coming up with this stuff just to be different, I’m sure. Anyway, the KYB Pro Smart Shox are up front and in the rear, while the center shock is a KYB Pro 40. We are still confused as to why there is not an option to adjust the center shock on any of these systems, but I am sure there is an engineer and a liability lawyer, discussing those things at length like we can only imagine. What I do know is that the Smart Shox system works fantastically well! Combined with the lowered 1.5-inch ride height of this sled (hmmm… another similarity to others that Yamaha originated in this group?), but the Smart Shox allows for a fun ride in most any conditions on the trail. There’s also an adjustable ski-stance, which like others in the industry, is nice to have but not really necessary on this sled. Riders can go from 42.1 to 43.9-inches up front here.
Now, the best thing Ski-Doo did in their product line this year IMO, was to have an activated throttle cable on this iTC sled. No more zero resistance throttle flipper like on all the previous sleds with an ACE 4-stroke motor. We understand the benefits that come with a lack of resistance to your thumb, but personally, the benefits do not outweigh the negatives, and I want to feel everything the sled is doing… and part of that is through my hand. On the other side, the brake is very important for slowing this speed demon down, and a Brembo racing brake does the work.
This is a 137-inch sled as well, and we’ll just stop pointing out any similarities to the two other hypersleds on the market now. The 2-ply Ripsaw track is pre-marked for studding as well. We have always appreciated that Ski-Doo has done this for a while now on many models to make studding easier. Or you can get the same track in the Ice Ripper version. A quick note with this turbo is that the track spins around the rMotion X rear suspension with ease, maybe too much. The suspension upfront is the RAS X, which any rider would expect as the Mach Z comes with the best of the best.
On the dash, you can see almost anything going on with the sled on the big 7.8-inch premium color gauge. Behind that you get the quickly-adjustable riser/bar block that has been on several spring-buy options for a few years. There’s a ton more we can talk about, like push-button start/reverse, LinQ accessory adaptivity, Pilot X Skis, etc., etc., but what people really want to know is if it’s really THAT fast? Off the line in launch mode – yes, and top end is good too, but I’m kind of waiting to see how the aftermarket responds, or if Ski-Doo does subsequent new maps to bump this power up even more! Either way, Ski-Doo has steamrolled straight into the middle of the 4-stroke turbo war!
Yamaha SRX takes best in show
Ok, so we are not the type of folks who ride prize winning show horses or anything, but if you lined up and showed the new 2022 Yamaha SRX against any sled, from any OEM this year, to literally most anyone in the snowmobile world, or not… well, they would say the SRX wins on looks alone! The new take on the throwback/retro 1977 SRX 440 scheme is perfect. Let’s just say that whoever is doing the graphics at Yamaha, deserves a raise, or at least free Red Bull for a year, to keep him or her going! Looks aside, the SRX still has the credibility to back up its bold entrance on any impromptu race date.
Let’s back up a minute though, as I want to point out a couple of semi-opinionated truths before we discuss the 2022 SRX… 1.) The SRX is not as ‘all-new’ as some other sleds on the market. 2.) People will be able to sell their older SRX sleds for basically what they paid for them (or at least not lose much money at all) for the foreseeable future. 3.) Yamaha backs their products better than anyone else (and as some elders like to call it) in the “sno-mo-biz”. So, now that those points are out in the open, we can discuss the SRX in more detail.
It’s no illusion that many Yamaha flag waving folks, and the Sidewinder customers by and large, are a big-horsepower loving group. Even if they do not have a Sidewinder, which BTW makes up most of their lineup now, many of them want a Sidewinder of some type. So let’s not pull punches, and think that because a friend tells you they would rather ride their Viper, that they are not seriously jealous of you and your SRX! I digress, but at the heart of the current Yamaha push is the big 200hp, king of the lake racer, fastest sled in the group, most reliable and top dog trail sled. That is the SRX!
Everyone already knows about the crazy powerful Genesis 998cc 4-stroke turbo triple cylinder, fuel injected motor in this super sled, but this sled is also easy on the lower back! With the Fox Intelligent Quick Shift shocks (similar to the ATAC in the Thundercat), you get on-the-fly shock adjustments, with compression damping from soft, to medium, to firm. See above comments about basically the same system for three different OEMs now.
A little more on this system… oil flow is controlled through the Fox Zero iQS 1.5 dual rate springs up front, and the same 2.0 – inch diameter shock in the rear, basically instantaneously, so the rider can dial in their ride when they come into a 3 mile stretch of whoops, after a 10 mile stretch of flat lake running. These are dual rate spring shocks and the rear shock has lower torsion spring pre-load, so you get the lower ride height for quick cornering and optimal top end. Spring rates are more progressive throughout the smaller travel.
Also on the intelligent shock system, you can preset modes for two separate riders, for their favorite setting as well. Another thing Yamaha points out in media and web initiatives is that rebound is pre-set to coincide with the change in compression damping with each of the three settings. That’s an important point that is sometimes missed in all the jargon, because rebound (that wild stallion/bumper wants to pass you up/you get thrown into the woods feeling), is controlled to a maximum without having to change spring tension. So, if we are taking note on the SRX that means the sled looks good, is fast, and is comfortable… check, check, check.
Now, to address head-on the detractors asking why the SRX does not have power-steering like the Thundercat… well, Yamaha felt that with the combination of new clutching, their Stryke ski, and the smaller 1-inch lug track, EPS was not what their target market wanted, or was warranted for the SRX. From a rider standpoint, the smaller 1-inch lug Ripsaw 1 track absolutely makes the ride different. Drifting through corners, better top speed, and a better launch when studded, on icier lake-race days, are all positives. Plus, you shave off some weight by not having EPS. Double plus, the Stryke ski was developed to be used on the Sidewinder, and provides the predictability up front, that is needed with a heavier front end, that is basically non-negotiable on 4-stroke machines. A staggered carbide design and proprietary keel reduces steering effort and increases predictable control. Important to note here too that you can also get EPS on the GT Sidewinders.
There’s plenty of additional features to brag about with the SRX too! You will get a rad new custom stitch seat that is heated, an RCA heated shield outlet, 20-inch tunnel bag, goggle bag, and more. I may have dated myself with the ‘rad’ comment, but since Yamaha riders tend to skew into my age demographic (and probably been to a couple Motley Crue concerts), they hopefully will understand.
Just tell me what to buy!
Well, if you aren’t prepared to spend $17-$20K US, or an astronomical amount in Canada, you probably will not own any of these three sleds. Seriously though, the Thundercat is probably the best buy for the money (at least it was last spring), the Mach Z has all the newest tech and gadgets, and the Yamaha looks the best, and will probably last you the longest with their great support. Take your pick, but if you have the means, you can’t go wrong with any of them, and everyone will be jealous, no matter what, and I’ll see you at the Cru