Put yourself in our shoes… you have to spend several days in the mountains of Colorado riding the latest and greatest hardware from the four snowmobile OEMs, trying to get as much seat time as you can and trying to quantify what you see, hear and feel when riding them.
You then spend your evenings with the other test riders bantering back and forth about what you rode that day and reviewing ride notes and impressions.
And then your editor says, “Oh, and you need to pick a Mountain Sled of the Year”. Honestly, it’s tough, really it is, its hard work. No really, it is.
But to be perfectly honest, this year’s decision for Mountain Sled of the Year was pretty easy. There wasn’t really ever any doubt.
The 2010 Arctic Cat M8 was the clear front runner from day one, and stretched its lead every time we rode it or any of the other contenders.
For this head-to-head style shoot out, we use an evaluation system for every sled we ride. It’s a 1-5 point system, with 5 being perfect. We define categories for everything from handling and suspension to brakes, looks, weight, comfort, value, etc. We consider more than 15 categories and for each ride on every snowmobile, our test riders fill out these evaluation sheets. Those numbers are averaged and weighted to give an overall composite score for the sled being tested. A good score is 3.4 to 4.0, a really good score is above 4.0. I don’t know that we scored any 2010 sled over 4.5.
It’s not all about the numbers, but the numbers tend to reinforce what we feel in the seat of our pants. So when the numbers were crunched and the report came out, it didn’t surprise us that the Arctic Cat M8 was sitting at 4.44.
What’s more, the HCR version scored 4.27 and the CFR (Crossfire) came in at 4.17. To put that in perspective, the only other mountain sled to score over 4.0 was the Polaris Dragon 800RMK at 4.16.
And as we sat around the dinner table each night and breakfast table the next day, the conversation always brought us back to the M8 and what a great sled it was. So it became pretty clear that the 2010 Arctic Cat M8 would be our Mountain Sled of the Year.
Why? Hold a few moments for more pages to load...
The buzz being generated in the Arctic Cat camp around the all-new 800 motor is the first thing you're going to hear, so let’s cover it first.
The ’09 800 motor was rated at 143 horses. The 'Cat 800 has been a very reliable motor that both the stock and mod guys have had fun with. They seem to be at ease in just about any configuration. So when the Green Team told us they had a redesigned 800 coming that was 4.5 lbs lighter, we had to ask how that was going to be accomplished.
The weight savings in the new motor comes from “pork chopping” the crank shaft. The new crank’s lobes get chunks of metal taken out of them so that they look like a pork chop instead of a big round lobe.
But changes to the motor don’t stop there. The Cat engineers redesigned the cylinders and head with a change to porting as well. The result is a motor that does require good fuel, but makes 10% more hp than last year’s motor… easily touching the 160 hp mark.
All those numbers look great on paper, but what about on the snow? Well, let us be the first to tell you that the new Arctic Cat 800 motor is FOR REAL.
Taking that weight out of the crank shaft had the added benefit of making the motor a snappy, quick revving motor right out of the hole and the 10% hp on the top end lets it keep pulling hard all the way through. The ’09 Cat motor was no slouch, but it feels lazy compared to the 2010 motor. When compared to the other OEM’s 800, it’s not even close - the Cat has considerably more snap and pull.
One of the side effects of the new motor and also the EPA noise standards is that the exhaust system is new on the 2010 800 motor. The can is in fact common with the M1000, a nice suitcase sitting under the hood. If some of the aftermarket guys come up with suitable replacements we have to imagine considerable weight savings can be had by changing it out.
The new motor really does deliver on what Arctic Cat said it would. Our test riders scored all the motor categories like throttle response, power, acceleration at 5 out of 5, with comments like “Power House”, “That motor is the real deal”, “Great throttle response, revy and crisp”.
Possibly the most-telling result from the motor we came up with was our unofficial “hill dyno”. We found a nice long hill to line the mountain sleds up and run them up. As we mentioned earlier, the M8 handled the other OEM's 800 class sleds easily, but the surprise came when we lined the M8 up against the M1000 Cat, and watched the M8 pull the M1000 over the top by a sled length or two time and again. That much go and less vibration - that’s a good thing.
That's not all. Hold a few moments while more pages load.
Yes, you say, the motor matters, but what about the rest? Well we don’t want you to get the idea that we picked the Mountain Sled of the Year just based on power. There are obviously lots of other things that go in to the making of a top of the hill sled. Ride comfort ranks right up there for us these days.
Sled manufacturers have come to the realization that comfort on the sled translates to both a pleasant riding experience as well as better performance on the hill. Companies like Timbersled, Holz Racing Products, and FAST have proven time and again that a well-performing suspension can have a huge affect on how well the sled performs overall. For 2010 the M8 sits on a Fox Float rear skid with no torsion springs. Front rear shock is a Fox Zero Pro and the rear rear shock is a Fox Float.
On top of the tunnel is a new lightweight Cat-designed seat. We liked last year’s BOSS seat, but it isn’t an option this year. Instead you get a new seat that has possibly the largest storage compartment we can remember. We took the canvas cover that covers the M8 during its night time sleep and stuffed the whole thing in the storage compartment. Yes, it’s big enough to put small animals or every piece of survival gear you want to carry in it. It is not water proof, but it is designed to be water resistant and it provides great storage, something that mountain sleds have required accessory bags for in the past few years. And it’s 3.5 lbs lighter than the standard seat last year.
The new seat was a bit wider than we were used to. We found ourselves hooking a foot on it when transferring back and forth from side to side. But the combination of the new firm seat and the excellent rear suspension make for a terrific ride and the rear suspension helps the Power Claw track hook up and perform in deep fluff and firm base snow.
And 'Cat didn’t skimp up front either. To round out the suspension, the front is shod with Fox Floats and a new ski that we have to say is one of the best stock skis in the business. All of this front end is complimented by the silly-simple IRP bars that allow you to adjust bar height to your preference. As we mentioned in our Cat line-up article… we are all still kicking ourselves for not having thought of this design long ago.
All these ‘comfort’ options make the M8 a terrifically well-mannered sled. It does very well on the trail getting to the back country, but once off-trail the M8 is one of the easiest sleds to ride that we have been on. Even for test riders that haven’t spent a lot of time on M sleds in the past, it took just a matter of minutes for them to become comfortable on the M8. Climbing up through the trees in the powder where quick direction changes and tight turns are common, the M8 shines. Think about going that direction over there and the M8 goes there. Carve it over on its side past that tree-well over there and it responds instantly. It’s a very well-mannered, responsive sled both on and off the hill.
Page 4 - The Little Things and Final Thoughts
The Little Things
The more time you spend on the M8 the more you find little things that make it a great sled. Arctic Cat changed the tunnel edge rolls for example opening the gripper teeth on them up more. Not a big deal on the surface, but in those snow conditions where the fluff is deep and ice tends to build on the running boards, the M8’s roll grippers stay clear and offer great traction to keep your feet where they belong - on the boards.
Windshield coverage is admittedly not as good as we would like. As with a lot (read most) of the mountain sleds, you are going to want to look at adding a set of hand guards to keep the snow and wind off your hands. The bar heaters work well, but constant exposure to wind and snow makes your hands uncomfortable no matter how hot the heaters are.
Arctic Cat is wrapping the Power Claw track around the M8 suspension this year. The Power Claw has 2.25” paddles and is a terrific track in the steep and deep which being respectable on the trail ride in and out of the back country. And again this year the 'Cats have push button reverse and as has been the case since Ski-doo introduced it, we keep asking ourselves, “How did we ever live without it”?
The black on black graphics of the spring check sled are a little too much black for our liking… the graphics are nearly impossible to read. But looks, especially colors, are a personal preference and don't figure highly in our choice.
The M8 is the top of the hill when it comes to mountain sleds.
The 'Cat guys have done a great job from suspension to motor to looks. For all-out performance the M8 is going to be tough to beat. And although we picked the M sled as our Mountain Sled of the Year, if you are looking at the more aggressive HCR or the Crossfire crossover you are going to see similar performance.
Ultimately, if you are looking for a mountain sled, we have to say the Arctic Cat 800 is where you should start your search, and if you are like us, you’ll be coming back to the M8 every time you look somewhere else.
M8 H.O. 153" ....................$10,699
M8 H.O. SnoPro 153"..... $11,299
M8 H.O. HCR 153" ..........$11,999
M8 H.O.162" ....................$10,999
M8 H.O. SnoPro 162" .....$11,599