Last week I spent a day railing, thrashing, crawling and otherwise trying to beat the pulp out of the just-announced 50-in. wide 2014 Arctic Cat Wildcat Trail.
The result: I surrender... the Wildcat Trail won my heart and mind.
The new 50-in. wide models are called the Wildcat Trail and Wildcat Trail XT (a dolled-up version with color-matched 2-tone seats and suspension arms, cast-aluminum wheels plus automotive style painted bodywork).
The naming makes it clear that these new machines are legal in the many states with UTV/ATV laws imposing a maximum width of 50 inches.
It’s no secret that Arctic Cat enters the 50-wide side-by-side market following the path first taken by Polaris. And like it did when it designed the first, full-size Wildcat, Arctic Cat undoubtedly considered all that it knew about the Polaris 50-in. models when it commenced with the Wildcat Trail.
That consideration meant that Arctic Cat addressed the RZR’s tippy feeling by stretching the Wildcat’s wheelbase to 84.6-in. (6 in. longer), which allowed Cat to mount the twin bucket seats 3 in. lower in the chassis. The result is that the Wildcat Trail drives WAY more stable at high speeds or while crawling.
Our group of journalists and Arctic Cat personnel spent a good portion of a day rallying twisty BLM dirt roads at speeds that I would not have believed had I not experienced myself (and that would have put competitive models on their sides and canopies).
Conversely, the new Cats feel planted and very stable. There are four key points I want you to remember from this review. The Wildcat Trail’s excellent stability is one of them.
Horsepower/engine performance was another bit of “market knowledge” that informed the Wildcat Trail’s design, and the second key point I hope to convey. As such, Arctic Cat designed the all-new liquid-cooled, 700cc parallel twin engine to produce more than 60 horsepower, a nice and notable bump compared to the RZR’s 53 hp.
With quick-shifting TEAM Rapid Response clutches transferring those ponies to the nifty TEAM bolt-on transaxle, the Wildcat Trail pretty much hauls the mail compared to the competition. I routinely hit 63 mph on flat, open sections, however it was the powertrain’s spirited mid-range that most impressed me.
In fact, it was the Trail’s acceleration that surprised me the most. All day long I and the other journalists flogged the heck out of the fleet of Wildcat Trails. And every time I did, it felt to me on par with the original, full-sized Wildcat. To confirm my suspicions, I threw down a drag race between the new Trail and the new 90-plus hp Wildcat X.
The result: about a half-car lead for the X during the initial jump, followed by a slow creep ahead up to the top speed ceiling.
Explaining the surprising (to me) acceleration parity between the two machines, Arctic Cat engineers Mark Esala and Jared Spindler said it’s all power-to-weight. Coming in just under 1000 lbs., the new Trail is lighter than its big brother.
Stomp on the gas from a stop and the new Trail has enough power to break loose the rear on loose dirt and gravel. Do another foot-stomp while cruising at 30 mph, and it shifts weight nicely to deliver solid, impressive acceleration. In short, it’s fun to drive.
One note on the compact, bolt-on TEAM transaxle unit: It reduces the powertrain’s length by a full 13 in., which enabled Cat to tuck it in nicely behind the seats to achieve the desired 60/40-percent rear/front weight bias of the Trail, which gives the new Trail its light steering (without the need for electronic power steering) and excellent traction/weight transfer during acceleration.
Suspension performance is the third key point I’ll highlight about the new Trails. Here again, Arctic Cat took the same tack it used with the original Wildcat by giving the newest models more travel than the competitors. A full 10 in. of front and 10.5 in. of rear travel are dampened by preload adjustable (and rebuildable) FOX Shox, a significant premium over the competition. Ground clearance is also 10 in.
The double A-arm front and rear suspensions are both equipped with swaybars, which undoubtedly aids the Trail’s stability.
For Midwestern trail riding, the Trail’s suspension performance is comfortable and predictable, though not nearly as plush as the full sized Cats. That’s expected, however, due to eight fewer inches of travel and less pricey shocks.
Price is fourth and final key point I’ll make about the new machines. With an MSRP of $10,999 U.S./$12,399 Canada, the Wildcat Trail is $500 LESS than the comparable RZR (despite the Wildcat having a more premium component spec).
In comparison to a regular full-size Wildcat, the new Trail is more useable to me as resident of Minnesota (where UTVs that exceed 1000 lbs. are restricted from certain trails). Likewise, if I were looking at UTVs for my family of four, there’s no question I’d opt for two Wildcat Trails (total MSRP of $22K) rather than Wildcat 4 four-seater at $19.6K. Way more fun and versatile to have two 2-seaters in this part of the country. I would have a different opinion if I lived in the Southwest (Arizona and California).
Side-by-sides... the Wildcat Trail and full-sized Wildcat
I’m 5-foot 9-inches when I wear two pairs of socks, so the cockpit of the new Cats felt plenty comfortable during a six hour riding session punctuated by a few photo-op stops. During one of these stops, I recruited my 6-ft. 2-in. cohort Pat Bourgeois to ride with me for 20 minutes, both of us swapping driver/passenger positions to get a feel for two-up riding.
Not once did we bump shoulders, touch helmets, hold hands or otherwise get close enough to elicit uncomfortable jokes. Verdict: It’s a comfortable machine for two adults.
Other notable features of the new machines:
*Rear-pivoting half-doors with an easy access single latch
*300-lb. bed capacity
*1,500-lb. towing capacity
*Selectable electric 2/4-WD plus 4WD differential lock
*Passenger grab bars
*Tilt steering wheel
The new Wildcat Trail models will hit Arctic Cat dealerships beginning in January, along with an initial offering of 85 accessories. There’s no doubt in my mind they’ll sell a pile of them to customers who will be exceedingly pleased with their purchase.
If you have specific questions about the machine and its ride quality, post them here and I’ll answer.
Thanks for reading.
Big Mac says:
11/26/2013 9:40:00 AM
May not have been any hand holding during the ride, but afterwards.....??? Looks like a sweet buggy with a lot of nice features..I am assuming these live action shots were true "professionals" at the wheel.
I bleed green! says:
11/26/2013 10:02:00 AM
700cc parallel twin, 60 hp, do I see a replacement for the 570 fan in the snowmobiles? Perhaps a turbo to boost it up to 90 hp in a sled? Heck yeah.
11/26/2013 11:07:00 AM
Great write up for a long awaited vehicle from Cat!! Been killin me that they teased everyone so long ago at their dealer show with no response since, but this has been worth the wait! Do you know if there will be demo rides anywhere? Particularly out East? Keep the info coming!
11/26/2013 11:18:00 AM
John, thanks for the article, as you know I've been waiting to learn more. Do you notice the lack of power steering when you hit certain obstructions on the trail? Great article, and I hope to have one of these in my garage sometime next season.
John Zanon says:
11/26/2013 12:43:00 PM
I have Arctic Cat snowmobiles & ATV's but have a Yamaha Rhino, simply because the Rhino was narrower than the Polaris Rangers and other side x sides.
I have a bunch of guys wanting to buy my Rhino, it has everything available and is mint.
This new Cat is going to have me scratching my head!
For you guys that think 50" is going to be tippy...watch me drive my Rhino...I don't know how people can roll them over! Mine's been thru the test, and even trying to, it's hard to believe they are tippy, just takes a little common sense to operate safely!
John Sandberg says:
11/27/2013 8:02:00 AM
Big Mac: What happens in Colorado, stays in Las Vegas.
Dulpher: I've heard of intentions for Demo rides, but no info yet. I'll post it the moment it's official.
Josh: Regarding power steering... no I didn't miss it. I would characterize the steering effort as light, even in 4wd. Nor did I notice the yank-the-wheel affect when hitting rocks and such.
A difference between this and the full sized Wildcat, however, is that you can't go 50 mph through gnarly terrain on the Trail. That's the difference between 10 in. of suspension travel and 18 in. And it's those situations when I most appreciated the EPS on the full size Wildcat.
One caveat on EPS: I never knew how much I loved EPS until actually trying it for the first time. It's an excellent feature, and I wouldn't buy an ATV without it. I could imagine trying it in a Wildcat Trail and thinking, "Hmmm, this is pretty sweet."
11/28/2013 10:18:00 AM
So John, is this engine being built in St. Cloud?
11/28/2013 11:27:00 AM
Anyone want to buy a 2013 RZR? I'm liking what I see so far, more power, lower CG, quality shocks and a real 4x4 system. OK, a 4x4 that might better suit my needs would be more accurate. Anyone know if they have real, 4x4 engine braking on this?
Super 8 says:
11/28/2013 6:08:00 PM
The engine is a Kymco 700, not a St. Cloud built block.
11/28/2013 8:12:00 PM
Will wait for John to state as he is the only one I would trust here.
AC Green says:
11/28/2013 9:22:00 PM
The 700 engine was designed completely by Arctic Cat but was built by Kymco.
John Sandberg says:
11/29/2013 8:31:00 AM
AC Green is correct: Engine was designed by Arctic Cat, will be manufactured by Kymco. Look for a more complete story on this engine next week.
11/29/2013 4:17:00 PM
Well its about time. I will wait however for the second production year model.
As we all know how the first year of anything goes. full of problems and recalls.
I also see they corrected the common problem of bent tie rods on the larger by actually putting them behind the a-arms where they should be.
As for engines, its the early seventies all over again with so many makes, Cat built, Kymco, Yamaha, yikes.
12/9/2013 11:41:00 PM
I'm 6'5" and am wondering if the trails ****pit is the same size as the std wildcat?
12/9/2013 11:43:00 PM
Ok I'll rephrase I didn't realize it would block that out. Does the interior on the trail have the same legroom as the std wildcat?
12/10/2013 12:10:00 PM
@ Ray. The politically correct statement is... Does the Wildcat trail offer as much parallel driver and passenger cabin room, for vertically gifted individuals of no particular width, race, creed or color?
Ray Johnson says:
12/10/2013 7:49:00 PM
Ok I will take that in consideration for next time I ask. So does it offer enough parallel driver and passenger cabin room for a vertically gifted person like myself?
12/20/2013 5:27:00 PM
has anyone looked at the trail to see how close it will be to fit a set of 31" outlaws, as i do alot of mud riding and need the extra ground clearence and prefer to keep axles at as close to stock angles as possible.
12/26/2013 3:46:00 PM
I see Poo is getting nervous about this machine and is suing Cat over making a much better version (pun intended) of the RZR. Don't think you can single out cat on this eather as there are other brands that beat the crap out of Polaris. Dig Dig Dig!
B.P. Dumas says:
2/12/2014 5:14:00 PM
I guess I wasn't the only one who noticed that the engines internal
dimensions (bore/stroke) correspond exactly to the Kymco 700i scooter
my guess , AC used the kymco block/bottom end and designed thier own
unique cylinder head and EFI system.
This is also interesting in another way, because when kymco added a
700cc engine for the UTV and Qaud range, they designed a new single
cylinder 700cc engine and didn't utilize thier 700i scooter engine, which
would have seemingly been the logical move, specially for the UTV .
Perhaps theres a connection here.
4/5/2014 5:11:00 AM
I am glad to see another 50" enter the ring, I was afraid that I would never purchase a side X side, I have Honda ATV's and have out grown them. But I wanted a 50" to still keep riding on the trails in the Rockies’. The wife and I like to ride together, this Wildcat 50" fits the bill. Can't wait to check them out.
4/6/2014 5:58:00 AM
After posting the other day, went out and test drove the Arctic Cat Trail. Loved how it handled, the power and the ease of shifting. After the test drive I purchased the Black on Black XT. Will be taking it to Moab, Utah this April, on the Jeep Safari weekend, can't wait to see what it can do.
4/13/2014 5:32:00 PM
Does anyone know if there is a problem with this machine overheating.Liquid cooled and no fan. I see a problem here that has bothered the sabercat 600 and 700 for some time.