Five Under Appreciated Snowmobiles
These sleds are misunderstood and underappreciated by hardcore riders
Story by Jerry Bassett, Photography by Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat, Yamaha, Polaris, Dec 04, 2012
When it comes to snowmobiling, we have a male-dominant sport. Sorry girls, but the vast majority of guy riders are not the “get in touch with feelings” types. Ahh, they may pretend, but face it, snowmobiling lets guys get in touch with their bad-ass side: the side that says it’s good to open up the throttle wide; the side that says challenge is good; the side that doesn’t recognize bromance, manscaping or metrosexuality.
Snowmobiling is for the men who are from Mars and content to let their ladies live peacefully on Venus. Snowmobiling is that cave of consciousness where guys can be guys in all their belching, gaseous, bravado strewn manliness that is misunderstood by many, but seen in the likes of John Wayne, Dirty Harry and, even, 007. For these snowmobilers, riding and living snowmobiles is about the sled being an extension of their being. This is what makes the Arctic Cat Race Replica, Ski-Doo “X” series and lightweight mountain-taming Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 such in-demand models.
Snowmobile magazine writers feed this ego with tales of how perfect these sleds are for the serious rider, being serious riders themselves who sometimes measure every sled they ride against the highest performance ideals they hold as opposed to the market niche for which they may be intended. We know how this works because we have fallen into that trap of snowmobile macho and downgraded some perfectly fine models because they didn’t perform like the top of the line models in the brand lineup. But we’ve learned to think a bit differently as we aged even though we still ask ourselves, “What would John Wayne do?”
Consider that John Wayne would never deliberately pick out the runt of the remuda. His would be strong, physically and visually. So, too, real guy snowmobilers don’t pick out the runt of the snowmobile litter. They leave those to the women folk and young’uns. And that’s what we have here in our look at underappreciated sleds that offer far greater value than you might think and may be exceptional rides for the open-minded snowmobiler be they male, female or young’un.
A top hit with serious performance riders, the 2013 Arctic Cat F1100 or XF1100 Turbo Sno Pro version has to be a first choice. It’s the sled that would be chosen first if you were choosing up sides for a “guy” ride. The LXR version, despite having the same 177-hp, 121 ft/lbs of torque, would have to wait as the Race Replica and other more serious performers got chosen.
How can a sled with such real performance be under appreciated? Perception. What descriptor says more to a real serious rider, Sno Pro or LXR? Sno Pro implies racer action and breeding. LXR hints of soft ride, groomed trails, long cruiser ride. And, to some degree, that impression is all true as Arctic Cat fits the LXR with coil over gas-charged shocks and not the latest lighter weight “air” shock design nor the larger displacement rear shock in the track suspension. Sno Pro styling in orange or green says racy while the LXR carries a more muted, tamer appearance. The Sno Pro suggests an adrenaline-pumping ride, where the LXR with its heated seat, standard rear storage bag and mid-height windshield hints at a high-mile outing. Despite the fact that both sleds can tear the trail equally at the lunge of a throttle thumb, the expectation is that the rider aboard the Sno Pro is both the better more aggressive rider and guy to run with the serious technical riding pack.
A similar fate falls to the Yamaha Apex. Although described as the company’s top performance model, the real hot rod in the line seems to be the Nytro. Both have one-liter four-stroke engines, but the Apex uses a four-cylinder motor derived directly from championship road racing motorcycles where the Nytro engine derives its displacement from three cylinders. The Apex snowmobile comes in three flavors, plain, longish tracked XTX and decked out SE.
Interestingly, the base model tends to be somewhat forgotten, but then the entire Yamaha Apex series seems to be overlooked by all but the dedicated Yamaha fan. Of those they would most likely opt for the XTX for its ability to add bridging length from a 144-inch track or the SE’s added technical sophistication of “Air” shock package in front and rear suspensions. The XTX price bump for greater on- and off-trail versatility is about US$400, while the Air shocks on the SE make it about a grand more than the base model.
We suspect that Yamaha’s Apex doesn’t draw the high performance crowds in the same way that Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo or Polaris sleds do. Indeed, we rarely see packs of serious performance riders with many – if any – Apex riders in their midst. There may be Nytro riders, but Apex models haven’t hit the in-demand sequence for the real serious snowmobiling trail packs yet.
Again, how does this happen with a sled that carries such a turbine-like power muscle under its hood? And, again, perception. Despite the incredibly phenomenal Yamaha quad’s performance, the Apex suffers from a perception of “heaviness” that dates back to the original RX-1, regrettably nicknamed the “RX one-ton.” In point of fact, the modern Apex is far removed from that first four-stroker in virtually every conceivable manner. The base model stands to be one of the instant classics of snowmobile technology. Consider that it comes with a unique 20-valve, four-cylinder engine that manages to provide incredible torque and power from idle to wide open thanks to its computer-activated EXUP exhaust technology. Consider the first ever electric power steering system uniquely tuned to making the sled effortless to steer in low speed conditions. And study the suspension systems designed around the power steering and ride control of the bump action for handling. With its rider-integrated handlebar curvature, enhanced hand warmers and efficient drive system, the Yamaha Apex seems to be one seriously overlooked snowmobile. This sled runs with the turbo Cat. On any given day, you’ll see serious performance, a fact lost on most guy riders, who tend to look at Yamaha’s Apex, if not Yamaha in general, as the ride for the metro-sledder. Hmm, we could see John Wayne spiking some spurs into the base Apex’ runningboards.
Now, with hot rod sleds aside, there are some other under appreciated sleds that manly riders deem for the women folk and Young’uns. Primarily we mean the likes of the 2013 Polaris Shift. These are price point sleds that we figure even the Polaris folks look at as minor players and probably won’t transition to Model Year 2014. In Polaris snowmobile years these sleds are old, based more on IQ technology than the newer Pro-Ride design. Plus, or better said as minus, the two Shift models carry over the “dirty” two-stroke 544cc fan-cooled engine. We’ve been predicting the demise of our beloved fan-cooled two-strokes for years now, but the end can’t be far away.
The Shift 136 is a longer tracked version of the base Shift with 121-inch Shockwave rubber track. Serious snowmobilers see these sleds as starter rides for their young’uns and we’d agree. No hairy-chested man racer would have one of these as his primary ride. There is great value in the Shift as it can be bought at a fair (better than fair?) price and parts availability should be good. The shock package works well enough for the sled’s performance level. Plus, the sled can be great fun for a teenager to learn how to handle a sled and enjoy on- and off-trail riding after school or on family outings or “guy” rides with similarly equipped pals. But, truth is, by the time your snowmobiling teen can ride in a pack of his peers to experience his first brush with serious guy riding, he’ll have opted for an older, used version of what Dad has. Still, the Shift may be under appreciated, but it remains a strong value buy. And maybe a future “classic?”
Yamaha used to be a sought after name in powder sleds, but not for quite a long time now. Nonetheless, one of our perceived under appreciated sleds has to be the Yamaha Phazer MTX. First of all, start looking at the Phazer MTX differently and you may come to appreciate it for what it really is, a great crossover on-off trail sled with incredible versatility. Point of fact, the Phazer MTX is hardly a mountain sled, barely even a high plains drift breaker. Its 500cc high-revving, four-stroke twin only spins out about 80 horses, which goes down dramatically as you gain altitude. What you should consider is looking at the Phazer MTX as an extended track Phazer RTX. Instead of the RTX 121-inch track, the MTX plants an aggressive 2.0-inch lug, 141-inch track print and with its ample bottom end gearing can cha-chug, cha-chug adroitly off trail. Since the Phazer models are not speedsters, you lose little on groomed trails but gain big time with the Phazer in exploring fire roads and forest trails.
The MTX gains more footprint than the RTX Phazer version, but it does lose out on shock packages as the MTX comes with non-spectacular gas cell front shocks but adequate high pressure gas shocks in the Pro Mountain rear suspension.
We suppose that Yamaha offers the Phazer MTX as a supposed rival to Polaris’ 600 RMK 144, but get real, that’s not fooling anyone as Polaris is the current king of the hills. But as a flatlander’s fun on-off trail sport ride, the Phazer MTX looks like a potential real deal. Now if Yamaha crossed the MTX with the RTX, the Phazer could go from under appreciated to serious consideration by even a few manly riders.
Not seriously destined to make that jump, at least this season, will be the Ski-Doo MXZ Sport 600 ACE. Again for those serious riders who favor the MXZ, the Sport series is rightfully received as the beginner Rev. And equipped with the four-stroke ACE 600 it’s viewed more as a SPORE-ride, SPORE being condescending code for “stupid people on rental equipment.” Due to its relative low cost, four-stroke emission cleanliness and acceptability in environmentally sensitive areas such as Yellowstone Park, the ACE 600 powers rental fleets that operate in such areas. You’ll see the MXZ Sport ACE 600 and its two-up cousin, Grand Touring Sport ACE 600, in such areas as well as near some ski areas where weeklong down hillers take a break by riding the trails. What makes the ACE 600 popular is its fuel efficiency and four-stroke environmental acceptance. But, with only slightly more power than a 550cc fan-cooled two-stroke, the Sport ACE 600 requires work to coax “keep-up” performance out of it if you are running with a pack of hard chargers. In the tight sections you’ll have scads of fun, until the Motion Control shocks start to fade as your buddies on MXZ X 600 E-Tecs with gas shocks distance themselves from you. What makes the Sport ACE 600 models great for rental operators and the moderate riding style of renters will not endear the sled to the guy pack. Appreciated by fleet buyers, this sled is under appreciated by hardcore trail bangers, and that’s fine as it is not designated as a hardcore riders’ sled at all. But, for groomed trail enjoyment where scenic views matter more than flashing high speed glimpses, the Ski-Doo MXZ Sport ACE 600 may be a seriously appreciated value due to its four-stroke technology and smooth every day operation.
As for our manly riders, they can understand the value of these five under appreciated sleds, but don’t count on being asked to accompany their pack when they retreat to their man caves for a cold brew and to engage in those shenanigans that not even they know why they do, but know that the cave cocoon protects them and allows them to revel unimpeded in their inner John Wayne, Dirty Harry or 007. Men are from Mars after all!