In Part I of our 2016 Mountain Snowmobile Shootout we gave offered some statistical information on our three competitors – the Polaris AXYS Pro-RMK 163, Ski-Doo XM Summit SP 163 and Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162. Now it’s time to report our rider impressions based on a scorecard where points are awarded (1 through 5) to various categories.

Our guest-test riders were encouraged to give their free-wheeling opinions. At the end of the scoresheet, the riders documented which of the three 800-class 160-something length deep-powder snowmobiles they would purchase, today, regardless of score outcome.

Years ago, in the early days of Ski-Doo Summits, Arctic Cat Powder Specials, Polaris RMKs and Yamaha Mountain Maxes, the Yamaha Mountain Max 700 scored – overall average – higher than the other three OEMs’ mountain snowmobile, but, it was not the guest-test riders’ purchase-choice. Like then, here and now, we wanted to know what these testers would buy, regardless of score and why.

Let’s get started!

Troy Johnson Yamaha Viper

Our guide for the day was Troy Johnson from Alpine’s Lincoln County Customs, who used our 600 class Yamaha Mountain Viper to find plenty of untracked snow for our evaluation.

Roger Raymond Scorecard

Polaris 800 AXYS Pro-RMK 163 REV XM Summit SP T3 800 163 Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162
1-5 1-5 1-5
Weight (less) 5 4.5 3.5
Horsepower 4 5 5
Front Suspension 4.5 5 4.5
Rear Suspension 4 5 5
Track 4 5 5
Deep Snow Maneuverability 5 5 4
Sidehilling capabilities 5 5 5
Handlebars 4.5 4 4.5
Skis 4.5 5 3.5
Style and looks 5 5 4
Fit and Finish 5 4.5 4.5
Clutching 4 5 5
Fun factor 5 5 5
Total 59.5 63 58.5

Of the three 800 deep-powder mountain snowmobiles, which would you purchase?

Raymond – The gap between the high performance mountain sleds gets narrower each year. Not too many years ago the second place sled may not have motored where the number one machine did. Now it seems to be more a function of riding style. Although I feel I could make all of the sleds do what I wanted and go where needed, I had the highest confidence on the Summit. Most notably were the almost effortless downhill escalator and fishhook maneuvers. The 16-inch wide track seemed to have a considerable advantage. Although each mountain monster was easy to hold on edge for a sidehill or turn, I feel the T3 came up with the least countersteer; it had the biggest balance sweet spot. It is not necessary to hang off this sled with wrong foot forward to make it obey; this maneuver is reserved for those situations when I found myself halfway consumed in a giant magnetic tree blowhole. Even when I was semi-committed in a wrong direction, I was able to pull it over without much forward movement or countersteer. It was the most forgiving when I hit something hard (like an old track) under the powder. I love the smooth powerband which allowed me to apply exactly how much track spin I wanted with a nice surprise in the last quarter of top-end throttle that felt like a NOs bottle was attached.

2016 Ski-Doo XM Summit SP Speed Run

For our uphill speed run we set up timing lights for precise times. The up hill portion was conducted at 8,500 feet, testing the high altitude output of these snowmobiles.

Polaris AXYS Pro-RMK 163 Thoughts

The tried and proven Pro-RMK, now in the AXYS chassis, is one of the most dominant mountain machines you can throw a leg over. It’s light and it does indeed get on top of the snow. The rear suspension (spring preload) on our test sled was set a bit stiff for my size and style, which made it hard for me to transfer weight and made me feel crammed forward; this is something I’ve never experienced on a Pro, and I’m highly confident it could be adjusted in a few minutes. The track worked well and its stiff edge allowed me to sidehill the Pro and not washout. Although the AXYS Pro-RMK may not sport quite as many ponies as the others, it makes up for it in power-to-weight. I like the location of the controls and the rope pull. For my height, I prefer taller handlebars, but it didn’t prove to be a problem. The LED headlight is cool.

REV XM Summit SP T3 163 Thoughts

After years of testing the XP, I can’t believe the XM T3 is from the same family; I love everything about the T3. For me its balance is forgiving and I find myself performing deep-powder acts with little effort – its power-delivery is perfect. Its 16-inch wide track wrapped around the T-Motion rear suspension is controversial, but in my opinion the T-Motion package does exactly what it is supposed to do. I will admit, on an extremely steep sidehill cut, it is prone to washout; if powder lies atop a hard base. The Summit seems to be the smoothest in the whoops. If I could improve one aspect, it would be the handlebars. They are still not as vertical as the others, and the riser block is kind of weak and can twist in the clamp when in a hard pull.

Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162 Thoughts

This mountain monster is the most improved player. The three-inch PowerClaw is the traction king and M8000’s motor is the horsepower king. I appreciate how Cat smoothed-out its power delivery. Some may think the M8000 feels soft compared to the trigger-like explosion of previous years, but its punch remains, albeit in a more manageable form. I have mixed feelings about the new spindles and skis; they were radically modified to make it easier to pull on edge. I feel the M8000 requires more countersteer than the others when initiating a sidehill run, as soon as I had it up on one ski, I would pull it all the way over. I spent extra time learning its balance point and by day’s end, I had mastered it. The foot boards are comfortable. I like how the Cat chassis doesn’t hold snow as much as the others.

Brent Burton Scorecard

Polaris 800 Axys Pro-RMK 163 REV XM Summit SP T3 800 163 Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162
1-5 1-5 1-5
Weight (less) 5 4 4
Horsepower 5 5 5
Front Suspension 5 5 5
Rear Suspension 4 5 5
Track 4 4 5
Deep Snow Maneuverability 5 5 5
Sidehilling capabilities 5 4 5
Handlebars 4 4 5
Skis 5 4 4
Style and looks 5 5 4
Fit and Finish 5 5 4
Clutching 5 5 4
Fun factor 5 5 5
Total 62 60 60

Of the three 800 deep-powder mountain snowmobiles, which would you purchase?

Burton – I trust the Suzuki powerplant and the changes to the front suspension in 2016 dramatically improved the sled. In my opinion, the M8000 is the easiest mountain sled to ride in the widest variety of terrain and snow conditions. It tips on edge easier in off-camber downhill situations than the other sleds and holds a very stable, predictable line even on very steep slopes. The AXYS RMK is very similar, but I don’t think it is as easy to ride as the M8000 in low-snow situations such as in the Spring or on less-than optimal snow years when the storms dump eight inches instead of two feet.

2016 Arctic Cat M8000 Rocketed

The Arctic Cat M8000 rocketed for the fastest time on our uphill run with Mark Radford aboard.

Pro-RMK 163 Thoughts

The AXYS RMK is dramatically changed and improved for 2016. The higher center of gravity makes rolling the sled on edge extremely easy and the sled has a wide sweet-spot when sidehilling, making it stable and predictable. The engine upgrade is a big deal. The bottom- and mid-range pull feels perhaps stronger than the competitors’ 800s, with a little bit of a flatter response on top end. The sled just flat out works in any condition and typical of Polaris, the clutching is spot-on and the gripper skis work great in all conditions. The prior Pro Ride Pro-RMK was a great sled, but the AXYS engineers hit a home-run with the 2016 changes.

REV XM Summit SP T3 163 Thoughts

The Summit is an extremely easy sled to ride. The rider-forward design makes the initial impression the sled different from the Polaris and Cat. It does take some time to adjust to the design and handling of the sled, and to develop confidence in technical situations. The mid- and top-end power feels the strongest of all of the ’16 sleds – from a seat-of-the-pants horsepower perspective. The Summit’s steering is well designed and makes the sled easy to maneuver through the trees. Extreme sidehilling in unpredictable snow conditions takes some getting used to due to negative feedback through the bars, which is something that would no doubt improve with more time on the sled.

Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162 Thoughts

The newly designed front suspension on the Cat is a significant improvement over the prior model years. The sled we rode was in the mid-ski position, which made it incredibly easy to roll on edge – perhaps a bit too easy as it was easy to over-ride. The wider ski stance may appeal to many riders. The sled holds a predictable and stable line when side-hilling without washing out. The Suzuki engine puts out responsive power and the new Team Industries’ clutches provide smooth up-shift and back-shift, although they do make some unnecessary and distracting noise (at low RPM) that needs remedy.

Mark Radford Scorecard

Polaris 800 Axys Pro-RMK 163 REV XM Summit SP T3 800 163 Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162
1-5 1-5 1-5
Weight (less) 5 3.5 4
Horsepower 2 4 5
Front Suspension 3 5 3
Rear Suspension 3 5 3
Track 4 4 5
Deep Snow Maneuverability 4 3 5
Sidehilling capabilities 5 2 5
Handlebars 3 1 4
Skis 5 4 1
Style and looks 3 3 3
Fit and Finish 5 5 3
Clutching 5 3.5 2.5
Fun factor 4 3.5 5
Total 51 46.5 48.5

Of the three 800 deep-powder mountain snowmobiles, which would you purchase?

Radford – Of the three stock 800-class snowmobiles in 160-plus length, the M8000 Limited is the one I liked the best. It felt to me the most nimble and felt as though it had the most horsepower. I was able to drive it the fastest in the timed runs. I like the handlebar position, and I love the motor and track combination. The only thing I did not like was the fact I would override it; it would easily tip over. The M8000 feels light in the handlebars. One reason for it feeling light is that it would not hold ice and snow under the tunnel. Its in-use weight felt as light as the light Pro-RMK.

2016 Arctic Cat M8000 Front

The biggest surprise of the day was how well the Arctic Cat M8000 worked despite its weight disadvantage. Its three-inch Power Claw track really shined on this particular day.

Pro-RMK 163 Thoughts

Handlebars for this Pro-RMK were too tall for me. Though it has a new motor, it still feels down on power. I feel its suspensions need some refinement; yet, the Pro-RMK remains predictable – I know, I own one. The Pro-RMK sidehills like a dream, but its big track needs a stiffer paddle.

REV XM Summit SP T3 163 Thoughts

The Summit’s steering post needs to be pushed forward two to three inches. I’m not a fan of t-Motion. However, on the trails and on the junk, its suspension is in control. The Summit’s motor is a beastly powerplant. Of the three 800s, its track and rear suspension would trench out. I found the Summit T3 to be less predictable when sidehilling.

Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162 Thoughts

The Limited needs better shocks; air is not stable. It needs a smaller and shorter seat. The motor delivers great power. As far as handlebar height, I would want a lower post. For the motivation though, the M8000’s PowerClaw track is the best. The M8000 Limited is a fun sled to ride, no doubt, but one that can be easily overridden. It would be better if its ski stance was set in its widest position.

Kevin Allred Scorecard

Polaris 800 AXYS Pro-RMK 163 REV XM Summit SP T3 800 163 Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162
1-5 1-5 1-5
Weight (less) 5 4 3
Horsepower 4 4 4
Front Suspension 4 4 4
Rear Suspension 4 4 4
Track 4 4 4
Deep Snow Maneuverability 5 4 4
Sidehilling capabilities 5 4 4
Handlebars 4 4 4
Skis 5 4 4
Style and looks 5 3 5
Fit and Finish 4 4 4
Clutching 4 4 4
Fun factor 5 4 4.5
Total 58 51 52.50

Of the three 800 deep-powder mountain snowmobiles, which would you purchase?

Allred – For me, I’ll place my money on the 2016 AXYS Pro-RMK 163.

2016 Polaris Pro-RMK Engine

The 800 Cleanfire HO engine is a noticed improvement over the non-HO engine. In the backcountry every single horsepower in important.

AXYS Pro-RMK 163 Thoughts

No doubt the new AXYS chassis from Polaris is a leap forward from its popular predecessor, the Pro Ride Pro-RMK. I find the AXYS chassis handles with ease in all conditions. I take note of this especially when sidehilling and coming across a previously trenched-out track that appears nearly impossible to navigate. The raised RMK chassis goes through the deep snow with ease. I am impressed with the effort Polaris put into the geometry and design – it works. The 800 clean fire H.O. performs well, and is a noticeable improvement from the earlier 800cc engines. The overall quality – fit and finish and styling – is eye catching. The Series-7 three-inch paddle track is impressive; but then so is the Series 7 2.6 – the jury is still out. For me, this snowmobile just works…mmm …I said the same thing about its predecessor.

REV XM Summit SP T3 163 Thoughts

The Summit SP was a great performer during this evaluation. I’m always amazed at the power produced by the E-Tec 800. In fact, the overall engine and clutching calibration, is spot on impressive (thanks to Bott Yamaha/Ski-Doo). I love the ride quality of this snowmobile. The three-inch PowderMax II track is among the best. The over transfer I felt from the 2015 X 163 seemed to be gone. This SP was more manageable, perhaps due to snow conditions or the difference between the X over the SP models. Overall the Summit SP is one deep-snow goer.

Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162 Thoughts

At the start of the season, I found myself struggling with the changes made to the M8000’s front suspension. Was it better? At first, I did not believe so. Now, and without question, I’m confident in the M8000’s improved backcountry handling. The M8000 was a shining star during our evaluations as it pulled the fastest speed runs. The M8000 is predictable – it holds a steady sidehill without trying to climb up the hill. The three-inch PowerClaw track coupled with the 800 H.O. engine is a match made in heaven. The Team Industries clutches performed excellent. The clutches too add a durability value, but are noisy at low RPM. Bottom line, the M8000 Limited 162 is totally competitive with its rivals and shouldn’t be over looked.

Overall Average Scorecard

Rider Polaris 800 Axys Pro-RMK 163 REV XM Summit SP T3 800 163 Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 162
Roger Raymond 59.5 63.0 58.50
Brent Burton 62.0 60.0 60.0
Mark Radford 51.0 46.5 48.50
Kevin Allred 58.0 51.0 52.50
Average Score 57.625 55.125 54.875

Summation

These four riders are no more alike than an apple, a banana, a dog bone and a lime, but there are some consistencies among them. First, the Ski-Doo Summit with T3 remains a controversial snowmobile; there are lovers, scoffers and tweeners. Second, the AXYS Pro-RMK, though the lightest and with a new motor, pulled out from the riders that it felt low in power compared to the M8000 and Summit; interesting considering its stellar power-to-weight ratio. Third, the M8000 Limited with its new front end went from “can’t pull it over,” (from previous years’ models) to “it’s too easy to pull over.” Also, the M8000’s PowerClaw track, its motor, its ability to remain free from ice- and snow-buildup were the attributes the riders favored, generally, and its weight – being the heaviest – did not bother the test riders when set to play. But, at low RPM, its clutches were clunky noisy, which is annoying.

2016 Polaris Pro-RMK Action

The RMK impressed our test riders, because of the predictability of the chassis. The RMK is probably the most consistent sled on the market.

Two of the three riders, Burton and Radford, chose the M8000 Limited as the mountain snowmobile they would purchase today, though they scored the Pro-RMK higher. Allred chose the Pro-RMK and Raymond hung his daily pleasure on the Summit; Allred and Raymond did score the Pro and Summit highest of the three 800s respectively.

Though this author did not score the three 800s, I would hedge my bet (just a few one-hundredths of a point) on the M8000 Limited 162 for all the reasons mentioned above, but on any given weekend, I could easily change my mind.

With the Ready-to-Ride weights, fuel economy and speed runs (written in Part I) and rider scores (Part II), these three mountain snowmobiles are all first-place macines. This is not a politically correct, but a reality in the mountain snowmobile world at Snowmobile.com. We wish we could change this and carve out a true winner – not so.

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