Last week, Arctic Cat Snowmobile Product Manager Troy Halvorson read THIS editorial by Jim Dimmerman about the new 2017 Arctic Cat 9000-Series Turbo engine powering the Thundercat and other 9000-Series models. As a dealer, tuner and drag racer who knew the original series of Thundercats from 1993-2002 as well as anyone on the planet, Dimmerman expressed his unique perspective on the old and new T-Cats.
What was missing from the story, thought Halvorson, was that Dimmerman hadn’t yet ridden the new 998 turbo.
A few phone calls later, Halvorson had arranged a pre-production 2017 ZR 9000 Limited 137-in. for Dimmerman to ride on the last bit of easily accessible ice on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. Better still, there would also be a 2016 ZR 9000 with the Suzuki 1100 turbo 4-stroke to compare against in a series of half-mile drag runs. And who better to be the other rider than his longtime friend and mentor, Arctic Cat racing and engineering legend Larry Coltom!?
The morning consisted of Dimmerman spending time on the Suzuki-powered 9000 Series turbo, running up and down a long drag strip on the ice as well as ripping around some pseudo-trails along the lakeshore. He followed that with an afternoon aboard the new 2017 9000 Series with the 998cc Yamaha turbo engine, running multiple passes that included accelerations from various speeds; on/off accelerations similar to trail riding; and several half-mile long top speed tests.
After all that, Dimmerman and Coltom began a series of side-by-side drag races, swapping sleds multiple times to get the fullest comparison possible.
Having methodically tested each sled/engine in multiple ways, Dimmerman spoke candidly about what it’s like to ride the new 180-hp triple turbo:
I came into this test expecting the new Thundercat to be as fast or faster than the old 1000cc 2-stroke Thundercat. That expectation was based on the 180-hp class of the new engine, knowing that the old 1000 triple 2-stroke was about 175hp.
I have all kinds of experience with 2-stroke, triple-cylinder Thundercats, but far less experience with turbo-charged sleds. I’ve driven turbo-charged cars and trucks for decades, but not sleds. In fact my only experience was with a Suzuki 9000 at the Ride with the Champs a few years back. Frankly speaking, I was not impressed. The throttle response on that twin cylinder turbo was very sluggish. The only fun in driving it was 40 feet off the corners when the turbo finally hit with power.
So my biggest expectation with the new triple turbo was that throttle response had to be much, much quicker than the old turbo. I want quick seat-of-the-pants push the moment I hit the throttle. My next expectation was sound. When your riding your sled the engine is talking to you. It’s connected to your thumb. You can make it sing to you. I loved the distinct sound of the 2-stroke triple. The twin Suzuki turbo sang a low flat note. I was not satisfied with the sound of that engine. I was hoping the new Yamaha 3-cylinder turbo would bring back that triple hum accompanied with the turbo push.
It was such a pleasure to get to know this engine. The first time I took it onto the lake, on the initial takeoff acceleration, the dreaded turbo lag was gone! The power came smoothly with the throttle, No waiting, very linear. Back off the throttle, then stab it: whoosh! It responds. That was a huge difference compared to the Suzuki.
So right away, before I’d even opened it up, I knew its response was way quicker. Then I started going wide-open throttle, and it gave me exactly what it had promised: quick response and linear power all the way through.
What Yamaha has done by controlling the intake airbox pressure, it has made a huge improvement in maintaining throttle response. It reacts the way I want an engine to react.
If you got on this not knowing it was a turbo, you probably wouldn’t suspect it was. That goes back to its nearly non-existent lag and its linear power delivery. You simply don’t feel the turbo.
Welcome to a unique NEW sound in snowmobiles! This new 3-cyclinder turbo is like a new wave of music. It’s all its own. It is very quiet.
Yes you get some 3-cylinder hum, and yes it makes a mechanical revving sound but its more like a whoosh. Three pulses pushing this turbocharger and three separate intake injectors added more musicians to the concert. Actually I wasn’t even aware of the sound. It was so subtle that it just blended in with the rush of acceleration. It doesn’t announce itself like the 2-strokes do. And it’s far more pleasant to my ears than the turbo twin.
Manners & Rideability
I’ve driven many near-200-hp engines in my life. Many of those have been race engines whose sole purpose is to go fast on a perfectly flat surface, and their power can be made to hit like a hammer.
This is NOT a race sled. This is NOT a big hit combo that’s only destined for running on drag strips. Arctic Cat built this Thundercat that not only flies across lakes, but will easily be driven on trails & ditches and off trail powder. This is exactly the power delivery to be smooth and steady. Its power is there all of the time, and lots of it for all kinds of snow conditions.
Arctic’s engineers have truly put together a package of finely tuned clutches, an impeccable Yamaha engine, and a proven performance chassis.
You can have your cake and eat it too…
It ran 122 mph in a half-mile all day long, literally back-to-back runs on ice that had a couple dozen windblown patches of snow on it. Certainly not ideal conditions. I could noticeably feel the affect on speed and acceleration. I saw 123 mph twice. And Sandberg got 124 mph twice, but he weighs less than I do. Believe me, there’s a lot left in this package!
Self-Adjusting TEAM Clutches
KUDOS to the drivetrain group at Arctic Cat…The new clutching system is a story that’s maybe gotten a little lost in all the hype of 180-hp. This system is going to revolutionize snowmobile drivetrain performance.
The drive belt is the heart of every snowmobile’s drivetrain and performance. Once a belt wears just the slightest bit, you have to adjust for belt deflection or your sled won’t perform correctly. And I’ve come to believe most people never adjust belt deflection, so they suffer a bottom end bog and loss of top speed.
With the roller-bearing drive system on the TEAM clutch that enables the self-adjusting TEAM driven clutch, this sled always starts in the lowest gear ratio, so takeoff is going to always be crisp. And it’s going to stay at right rpm to full shift. The belt always goes back to the top of the driven and to the bottom of the drive. It’s automatically adjusting for belt wear as it happens.
No other drive system in the industry is doing that automatically, no other brand has this system. For any other brand to maintain proper performance will require manual adjustments every 50-100 miles if they want to maintain top performance.
Larry told me that had two machines that went 6000 miles and still hadn’t reached the maximum capacity for belt wear.
This is a massively significant development. People might not understand it, it’s a bit complicated to explain – even though its very simple in design – but it’s a huge improvement in the consistency of performance, the maintenance of belt life, and the lower gear on takeoff.
People sometimes forget, but the three-cylinder Suzuki 2-stroke engine has some acceleration lag. That’s part of the signature feel and sound of that engine. It needs to get up in RPM before the hit is hard, and it takes a moment for that wind-up. The midrange pull of the new Thundercat is very similar to that of the old T-Cat.
On a long stretch of lake, most of the original stock 2-stroke Thundercats went about 110 mph. With a low windshield; a lowered front and rear suspension; aggressive clutching; and 200 ice picks, my race sleds could get another 10 to 15 mph in that 1/2 mile distance. But that would NOT be trail rideable, at all. We ran much heavier clutch weights and significantly steeper helixes in the driven clutch, so it shifted hard and quickly. It would take a race prepped old T-Cat to match what this new turbo Thundercat does completely stock!
The nature of that engine is to run low RPM, building torque down low. Its musical note is flat. The lag in turbo response is significant and noticeable, almost annoyingly so. Frankly, it’s not a powerplant that I’d be interested in riding because of the lag. Once the power comes on, it accelerates well. It feels like low 170-hp. It got me to the 115-117 mph range every time I ran it long, but it felt as if that’s all it had left in stock form. I know it’s a great responder to aftermarket boost increase, and it’s a really durable engine.
They did it! These guys have built the replacement for the original Thundercat AND the Suzuki 9000. This performance sled accelerates through the entire range, from clutch engagement to the all-smiles-triple-digits. It’s exactly what you would expect from a 180 hp.
As I said before: Yamaha builds really great performance engines; Arctic Cat builds really great performance chassis and the most significant clutch package in memory. It’s a spectacular marriage.
Quiet, smooth and complete delivery on the expectation I have for a sled to wear the legendary “Thundercat” name. At 120-plus mph out of the box, it’s the fastest production snowmobile in the world. Plus it’ll go through bumps, trails and rough stuff all day long, which is a hallmark of Arctic Cat sleds. I can’t wait to ride one on the trails next winter. These guys really gave us what we wanted!
IT’S BACK! Long live the Thundercat…
Dimmerman on the 2016 Arctic Cat ZR 9000 with the Suzuki turbo.
Dimmerman and Coltom! It was pretty damn cool to see these two run up and down the ice groove, tucked low to cheat the wind while ringing ever last mph out of their sleds, just like they’d done hundreds if not thousands of times during their former careers as Team Arctic Sno Pro racers.
This was the typical spread between the 2017 Arctic Cat 9000 998cc turbo (left) and the 2016 9000 1100cc turbo (right) after a half-mile race.