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.
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).
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.