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Sled Review: 2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited


(9/20/2018)

2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited sled review by ArcticInsider.com

A decade or so ago I read a motorcycle magazine shootout of liter-class sportbikes, in which an editor made a comment about Honda’s entry that I will likely never forget.

When comparing it to the race-like Ducati, the rocket-ship Suzuki and whatever other bikes were part of the shootout, the editors essentially said that Honda had a fantastically smooth engine that, while not the fastest, was close to it; a suspension package that was so refined that it worked flawlessly in all conditions; very comfortable ergonomics; and performed flawlessly the way that Hondas have long had reputation for.

But here’s the kicker: while the editors found no significant fault with the Honda like it had with the other brand bikes, it did not win the shootout. In explaining their decision, the editors essentially said that the Honda was bland because it actually did everything so well, that it didn’t exude any sort of personality.

Huh, I thought when reading it? Sounded to me like it was the perfect bike.

I’ll come back to why this is meaningful about the current crop of Arctic Cat trail machines

Last winter I rode a 2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited, the latter portion of the name designating a package containing premium FOX ZERO QS3 shocks on the skis and rear track, LED headlights, standard electric start, the handy dash-mounted goggle holder, tunnel flares, and wind-blasting 11-inch mid-height window.

2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited sled review by ArcticInsider.com

The paltry 600 miles I logged on this particular machine was only 30% of what I normally log on any single sled during most riding seasons, a reflection of a crappy first half of winter where I live and a way-too-busy work schedule the second half.

While it wasn’t a normal season’s worth of observation, I already had a strong basis for the various features that defined the sled. The previous season I’d spent a month with the then-all-new Arctic Cat 8000 Series C-TEC2 engine, the auto-adjusting TEAM Rapid Response II and Rapid Reaction clutching combo, and the Next-Gen bodywork on the Early Release 2018 model. That same 2017 winter also included 1,500 miles using the FOX QS3 shocks aboard the XF 6000 Cross Country that was my primary machine. And I’ve ridden a new ProCross-chassis Cat every season since its debut in 2012.

At this point in the game, the ProCross Cats are HIGHLY evolved. For sure last year’s ZR 8000 Limited displayed the smoothness, reliability and overall refinement that I expect and love about snowmobiles that are well into their product lifespan. The gremlins that affected first-year platforms are long since ironed out. The calibrations are dialed-in. The whole package works flawlessly.

The particular parts of the ZR 8 Limited that I liked most include the engine/clutch combo, the QS3 shocks and LED headlight.

Regarding the engine/drive performance, it’s everything I expect from this category of engine. Was it significantly faster than the old Suzuki 8000 engine? Nope, but it’s crispier on the bottom. It averaged 13.6 mpg over the three times I could adequately measure fuel mileage. Most importantly, the auto-adjusting clutch system is absolutely the coolest drivetrain innovation in maybe decades. Because the driven clutch constantly (and automatically) adjusts for belt wear, calibration stays consistent for LOTS of miles (I haven’t utilized this system for enough miles to know when a belt needs changing).

2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited sled review by ArcticInsider.com

The QS3 shocks are also phenomenal, and speak directly to my reality of riding some days with my wife (setting 1), most days at my favored pace/conditions (setting 2) and the occasional ditch-pounding with friends (setting 3). I am a huge fan of these shocks. And yes, I’m a bigger fan of coil-over shocks than FLOATs because they feel smoother and more comfortable on light chop.

Ditto about being a huge fan of the LED headlight. No thanks to middle-aged-man eyes, I want as much headlight performance as I can get for night riding. The LED system is a nice upgrade over the traditional halogens. Do I still want more? Yes.

The QS3 shocks and LED headlights alone are enough reason for me to prefer a Limited over the base model ZR 8000. I also consider the taller window and goggle holder as must-haves, but those are easy upgrades for riders who opt for the base model. The tunnel flares...meh.

If I could change one thing about the sled, I’d ask that it go on a diet. No matter what kind of vehicle (snowmobile, motorcycle, bicycle, side-by-side, etc...), lighter is better. I want lighter for riding (especially when its go-time) as well as for levering the skis and lifting the back to place wheel dollies underneath them for moving the sled around the garage. I want the ZR to feel that extra bit lightness and flickability like the newest M series machines.

If I had to distill my thoughts about the 2018 ZR 8000 Limited into single words, I’d go with refined. Smooth. Dialed-in (sorry, that’s two words).

It isn’t the fastest sled across the lake (the 9000 turbo is).

It wouldn’t be my first choice as a hardcore ditch sled (I’d get a ZR 6000R XC race sled).

And it wouldn’t be my first choice for a do-everything sled (I’m particularly fond of the Cross Country models, especially in off-trail conditions like power lines and swamps).

But for mostly trail, ditch and lakes, the ZR 8000 Limited is simply excellent. Much like all of the current crop of Arctic Cat ZRs.

Like the Honda superbike, it does everything seamlessly well. But unlike those moto editors who found fault with the Honda’s great-at-everything-but-master-of-none, I’d say those traits are EXACTLY why the ZR 8000 Limited is a true winner.

Thanks for reading.

2018 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Limited sled review by ArcticInsider.com



Comments (14):

JimR says:
9/20/2018 12:49:00 PM

So John:

Did Cat figure out why some of the 800's were spitting fire out of the exhaust after long runs to the point of some burning the plastic near the exhaust outlet? I have a 600 2018, an ES. Added the LED light. Best sled I have ever had btw.
Richard Buresh says:
9/20/2018 6:15:00 PM

Hi John, I drove a 2018 800 ctec and like a lot about sled, but have two items that surprise me about the sled . First I came off a 2012 800 ProCross. I with this Ctec 800 I gave up 2 to 3 mpg , yes I will get 12 mpg but my Suzuki would get 15 in the conditions, Second this has to be the hardest sled I have ever had to keep cool on the trails , I am constantly turning off the trail to cool this sled. Have you noticed this on your sled and if there maybe some changes coming for 2019? Not to complain I like the sled except for these two items. Love this site,keep the articles coming. Thanks
Ken says:
9/21/2018 8:00:00 AM

John:

Thanks for the great review. My new 2019 ZR 8000 Limited 137 iACT is sitting in my trailer waiting to be ridden. My previous sled is the 2014 XF 8000 137. I always have a huge smile on when riding that sled. Can't imagine what kind of smile I will have riding the new sled. I'm excited about the new Cat 800 engine, new clutching, lights, body panels and the other upgrades including the push button start. But I am mostly excited about trying out the new iACT system. Bring on the snow!!
Rick Schafer says:
9/21/2018 9:53:00 AM

I put 2700 miles on the same sled (129") last winter and John is right on with his observations! Between my wife and I we have owned 7 Procross sleds and this is the best so far! The new 800 engine was a much needed improvement over the Suzuki 800. Better low end, smoother, and improved gas/oil mileage! Consistently got between 12.5 to 13.8 mpg. Never have a sled again without the LED lights!
Brian H. says:
9/22/2018 7:00:00 AM

I know this may be a silly thing to comment on, but don't dismiss the tunnel flares. I have found that they keep a lot of loose off your backside when riding. The 4 wheel kits help with that as well. I think they both may even help keep snow in the tunnel on the hyfax and heat exchangers.
Jim W. says:
9/22/2018 8:57:00 AM

Jim R. Cat will have a fix for you soon on your problem. Check with your dealer soon, they should be getting an update notice and you can get that issue taken care of. My buddy had the same problem. Richard, The heat exchanger on your 12 was different. It was angled at the rear of the tunnel, so it picked up a lot more snow for better cooling.Your new sled has its heat sink grid underneath the tunnel. And if there is not enough loose powder on the trails, it will start running high temps. I had the same problem. The best way to solve that problem is to pick up a set of Duraflex ice scratchers and install them on your rails. When not needed, they just hang up on the rail edge, and you can back up with them down. They work great, if your light starts flashing, pull over, drop the scratchers down, and the light will stop flashing in about a half a mile down the trail.
Tom Rowland says:
9/22/2018 10:30:00 PM

I agree with Brian H above, I believe the tunnel flares help these run slightly cooler in certain snow conditions vs a similar model without the tunnel flares. I don't think it is my imagination that this current chassis design we have that I am so fond of is way more likely to overheat in a marginal snow condition than say, a 98 ZR 600 or similar. I hope future designs return to better cooling capabilities.
Vince says:
9/23/2018 6:15:00 AM

My 2018 8000 Tiger has the personality of fire breathing dragon.....come to think of it I should have packed marshmallows in my saddlebags LOL
7up says:
9/23/2018 11:49:00 PM

Great review!

I picked up a 2018 8000 El Tigre' on March 20th this year largely because A) after riding 30-odd years of my life; I had never owned a brand-new sled, and B) when cat unveiled the 2019's, I was disappointed to learn that they dropped the El Tigre' trim from the lineup and I felt this could be the only chance I would have to own my own "new" El Tigre'.

Since it was so late in the season, I thought it would likely just sit in my Garage until the 2019's snows came... But thankfully, Mother Nature blessed us with two heavy snowfall's in April which allowed me to spool on 178 miles on the new sled.

Essentially, the Tiger and the Limited are the same sled. The new plastics are my favorite feature over my old 2012 F800 Sno Pro. They are WAY better to use. I took the hood off just to compare and the process was far easier. And while I could not see "how difficult" using the old plastics were when I had them; having spent time with the new plastics; I will attest that they are super slick and a huge improvement in real world use.

The QS3 shocks are a big step forward as well. I hated the lack of adjustment with the old Floats, and while you do not have the same level of adjustment as say an RR; they are super easy to use and offer few of the headache inducing fits you can get while finding your setting with an RR. Another reason I decided to go with the 2018 model as well vs pre-ordering a 2019 with iACT was because I am someone who likes to mess around a little with set ups... Specifically, I like my Front shocks to be on a 3 (Stiff) while my rear as at a 2 (Firm). Not to say that iACT is not a totally awesome concept! I look forward to hearing more about the long team use of it from owners after this year.

It is a way smoother sled that my 12 was... And it is also smoother than the other ProCross sleds I have ridden over the years that my buddies have ridden which has included 2014, 2015, and 2017 model limited and El Tigre's. One thing that my dealer pointed out when I was praising how much I loved my old 2012; as I traded it in, was that the chain case in the new sleds no longer has self tapping screws holding it together. I loved my 2012, but it's those little refinements that make the newer sled better and better.

I agree that the C-tek2 8000 is a smoother engine than the old 8000 and has more pull in low end and mid-range. Top end seems to be there too... But I admit sometimes I miss the surprise you would get with the old engine when transitioning from an OK mid range to to a good top end range... This new engine does great in low end, mid range, and Top end... So it's like it performs TOO well!

So far my only complaints:

1) It had somewhat limited "smooth" places on the upper front half of the sled to put my Minnesota registration numbers... Unfortunately, I was forced to put mine over one of the cooler looking black and green "race stripe" decals because the numbers would not stick or fit anywhere else.

2) I opted for a higher windshield and the kit Arctic gives was not user friendly. I had to drill holes in the sled just to put it on... And IF someone is not careful, they can drill into a part of the headlight assembly itself. Thankfully, I was mindful of this; but there is limited clearance for the push tabs to get it to fit right... Also, I would advice NOT to use a paint marker to mark the drill points too. I had to order new side decals cause I marked my up so bad.

The 2019's do have the new hand controls and the new master cylinder-lever, which I do feel is an improvement over my 2018... But all in all, I love my sled so far. I look forward to putting a lot more miles on it once the snow comes.

7up
7up says:
9/23/2018 11:49:00 PM

Great review!

I picked up a 2018 8000 El Tigre' on March 20th this year largely because A) after riding 30-odd years of my life; I had never owned a brand-new sled, and B) when cat unveiled the 2019's, I was disappointed to learn that they dropped the El Tigre' trim from the lineup and I felt this could be the only chance I would have to own my own "new" El Tigre'.

Since it was so late in the season, I thought it would likely just sit in my Garage until the 2019's snows came... But thankfully, Mother Nature blessed us with two heavy snowfall's in April which allowed me to spool on 178 miles on the new sled.

Essentially, the Tiger and the Limited are the same sled. The new plastics are my favorite feature over my old 2012 F800 Sno Pro. They are WAY better to use. I took the hood off just to compare and the process was far easier. And while I could not see "how difficult" using the old plastics were when I had them; having spent time with the new plastics; I will attest that they are super slick and a huge improvement in real world use.

The QS3 shocks are a big step forward as well. I hated the lack of adjustment with the old Floats, and while you do not have the same level of adjustment as say an RR; they are super easy to use and offer few of the headache inducing fits you can get while finding your setting with an RR. Another reason I decided to go with the 2018 model as well vs pre-ordering a 2019 with iACT was because I am someone who likes to mess around a little with set ups... Specifically, I like my Front shocks to be on a 3 (Stiff) while my rear as at a 2 (Firm). Not to say that iACT is not a totally awesome concept! I look forward to hearing more about the long team use of it from owners after this year.

It is a way smoother sled that my 12 was... And it is also smoother than the other ProCross sleds I have ridden over the years that my buddies have ridden which has included 2014, 2015, and 2017 model limited and El Tigre's. One thing that my dealer pointed out when I was praising how much I loved my old 2012; as I traded it in, was that the chain case in the new sleds no longer has self tapping screws holding it together. I loved my 2012, but it's those little refinements that make the newer sled better and better.

I agree that the C-tek2 8000 is a smoother engine than the old 8000 and has more pull in low end and mid-range. Top end seems to be there too... But I admit sometimes I miss the surprise you would get with the old engine when transitioning from an OK mid range to to a good top end range... This new engine does great in low end, mid range, and Top end... So it's like it performs TOO well!

So far my only complaints:

1) It had somewhat limited "smooth" places on the upper front half of the sled to put my Minnesota registration numbers... Unfortunately, I was forced to put mine over one of the cooler looking black and green "race stripe" decals because the numbers would not stick or fit anywhere else.

2) I opted for a higher windshield and the kit Arctic gives was not user friendly. I had to drill holes in the sled just to put it on... And IF someone is not careful, they can drill into a part of the headlight assembly itself. Thankfully, I was mindful of this; but there is limited clearance for the push tabs to get it to fit right... Also, I would advice NOT to use a paint marker to mark the drill points too. I had to order new side decals cause I marked my up so bad.

The 2019's do have the new hand controls and the new master cylinder-lever, which I do feel is an improvement over my 2018... But all in all, I love my sled so far. I look forward to putting a lot more miles on it once the snow comes.

7up
Ken says:
9/24/2018 7:11:00 AM

John, you stated that you logged 600 miles on that sled. Is the engine broken in at that point? I've read that this engine does not show its full potential until after 1000 miles. Can anyone confirm?
Rick Schafer says:
9/24/2018 9:27:00 AM

Tom - I believe the Procross is more susceptible to overheating in marginal conditions. On a saddlebag trip in the UP last season we had a 45 degree day followed up with a 20 degree morning - everything was ice. The Cats in the group (all Procross) struggled with overheating. The Polaris riders did not have any issues! I had ice scratchers for my wife's sled which immediately took care of the problem while I struggled until we ran into some freshly groomed trails which broke up the ices layer. My 2018 seemed to be worse that my buddy's 2013.


Ken - Mine seemed to really come around about in the 600 to 750 mile range. Also - I did not have any issues with the fire coming out of the exhaust.
JimR says:
9/24/2018 12:17:00 PM

My 15 6000 gets hotter than my 18. I have scratchers on both sleds and the 15 needs them to be used about twice as much. My 18 has not had to many issues with running warm except for freshly packed groomed trails and low snow forest roads.
John Sandberg says:
9/24/2018 1:01:00 PM

Thanks for the awesome feedback everyone!

JimR: Regarding the exhaust issue, did not experience anything like this last year or with the early-release a year prior.

I’ve heard the interwebz rumblings and have asked around about it. From what I’ve gathered, it was a super small number of occurrences last season and apparently requires a really specific and unusual set of conditions and riding behaviors. Arctic Cat changed the ECM calibration of the 8000 series engines for 2019, which has improved all aspects of its operation.

I remember when there were a couple calibration glitches in the old Suzuki 800 in the Twin Spar chassis years, and Cat coming out an improved calibration followed by a service update on previous year models. Not sure if that will be the case this go-around, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Regarding engine cooling: as others have noted, there have been some changes over the years in cooling systems as others have noted. I started adding ice scratchers to my sled a couple years ago, ironically haven't needed them since. But I know cooling can be tricky when trails are icy or super hardpack, and riding is steady-state and/or slow. Scratchers fix it.

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