2006 Arctic Cat Prowler, First Ride

We ride Arctic Cat's new Prowler

Sep. 01, 2005 By Mark A Rolland

We've lost count of how many versions of side-by-side ATVs are now on the market, but we may have just found one that will set a few standards for those still to come. You may have seen in a previous issue of Off-Road.com that Arctic Cat has recently released their UTV, the Prowler.

[Editor's Note - And we know you all saw it, judging by the barrage of email we got suggesting our comparison to the Polaris Ranger wasn't fair, and the comparison to the John Deere Gator wasn't quite right either... So we were glad to have a chance to see in person, what the Prowler really is!]

Arctic Cat invited all of us Press-types to visit their neck of the woods outside of Bemidji, Minnesota to ride the new Prowler and other 2006 ATV models. Those of you not up to speed with Bemidji history; it's the first city to see the running water of the Mississippi River and home to Paul Bunyon. We, of course, had to visit and photograph the famed statue of Mr. Bunyon to prove we were there. (We opted not to take home the souvenir T-shirt.)

We met up with Kale Wainer of Arctic Cat and had a wonderful dinner with a handful of the design team managers of the units we'd be riding. They answered a few initial questions we had and explained how the riding would go the next day. We woke to rainy and cool conditions on the day of the test riding. By the time we had been given the details of all the units, it was time for lunch and luckily the sun came out to present a beautiful afternoon for riding and photos.

The test course was a five mile loop through a heavily-wooded area that took us over a few different types of terrain. In the first ¾ of the first mile, we had a chance to get on the gas and get an over-all feel for the units. At the end of the first mile, we had areas perfect for braking and suspension tests. There were several short quick turns and areas with natural whoops and tree stumps of all sizes to maneuver around. The second mile of the course was where all the water had gathered from the morning rains. It was at this point I realized I shouldn't have brought my newest riding gear. This was a good area to see how the units handled slippery conditions. At the half-way point, we encountered the only hill climb to speak of, with a 30 foot climb up about a 20-25 degree incline on a cleared grass trail. This was one spot I tried the 4x4 low gear modes to see how much torque the units had. The final stages of the loop consisted of a few rock and red clay fire roads with winding turns and more of the same conditions within the woods.

The Prowler is the result of three years of design and testing, and it shows. Arctic Cat chose this unit and the 650H1 ATV as units to debut their new motor (641cc) built by themselves. The motor sits between the driver and passenger under a “doghouse” canopy, which believe it or not, doesn't make much noise. It has plenty of low-end torque to pull loads up to 1,500 pounds or climb hills up to 20 degrees. (We guess it would climb steeper hills in perfect conditions, but they don't recommend it.)

They told us the top end speed is near 50 mph. Although a speedometer was one of the many (14) read-outs on the display panel, I never looked down to see what top speeds I made. I was a little too busy at the time looking for obstacles along the trails. The motor is also rubber-mounted to the frame to cut down on noise and vibration. It fact, the only time I felt any vibration is when I leaned backed and put my helmet against the head rest, then when I talked if sounded like I was talking into the front of a fan.

The engineers at Arctic Cat, continuing their reputation for high-ground clearance, made sure this was Best in Class for the Prowler. It rides with 12.5 inches of clearance and 10 inches of travel in front and rear, with adjustable shocks and double A-arms all the way around. They did decide to put a sway bar on the rear of the Prowler, to limit the amount of lean, which makes a great fit with the rack and pinion steering.

The other thing they decided to do was to use 14 inch wheels to increase handling and reduce sidewall stress. They said it also gave them an extra inch of ground clearance.

For all you fans of the mud, you might like to know they put in a 4x4 front locking system to insure maximum grip and minimum slip on the front wheels. If you plan on using a Prowler for work and play, you might like to know it has a standard two inch receiver hitch in the back and front of the unit.

If you're more impressed by comfort features, you'll be happy to know that the engineers took into consideration that the Prowler may from time to time have a female passenger. It comes standard with a glove box and a closing lid, large enough for a medium size purse and even a pair of sandals. (It could also hold several boxes of ammo or a small weather radio). You can even bring along a couple of toys that require 12 volt current. The Prowler has two plugs to power whatever you can think to bring. If you thought they'd leave out the cup holders, think again. There is one for the driver and passenger.

If you're planning an all day trip or if this vehicle will be used as the cargo vehicle…these brilliant engineers also thought to put a storage box under the hood of the Prowler. It will hold up to 25 pounds of material, which could in fact be a bag of ice and a 12 pack of grape Shasta. (Don't worry; it also has a drain at the bottom. Flipping the unit upside down won't be an excuse to drain the cooler.)

Overall , this unit was as a blast to drive. It had plenty of torque to climb and didn't really seem any slower with a passenger. The seat was plenty comfortable for a person of my size, 6'2” at 220 lbs. The controls were all easy to see and use. It did take a little getting used to after riding quads all day, but many people will appreciate the value of sitting in a seat similar to a car as opposed to straddling a seat. I will say it would be nice to have a tilt steering column to use for getting in and out of, so that it could have a slightly bigger steering wheel overall, but hey…nothing is perfect.

Available in green, red or lime, MSRP $9,499.

And another thing… although we primarily went to this product debut to drive the Prowler, Arctic Cat did make available all of their ATV's for us to ride as well. As a journalist and fellow ATV enthusiast, I'd be doing you all an injustice if I didn't share my thoughts on another ATV I rode while I was there.

Arctic Cat and Bombardier are arguably the only manufacturers that make true 2-up ATVs - models that are specifically designed to safely carry a passenger as well as a driver. I salute them both for doing this, and would love to compare them in a side-by-side test. But, at this time I've only been able to ride the 500 TRV from Arctic Cat. And let me say I was very impressed.

I took one lap (five miles) on this course without a passenger, and a second with a passenger. I didn't put a stop watch to it, but I'd be willing to bet my time was within 10 seconds of each other. It's been redesigned for 2006 and makes a great ride. The eight extra inches on the wheel base makes a huge different with how the machine handles tough bumps. This unit also has a rubber-mounted engine to reduce vibration and comes with 10 inches of clearance with eight inches of travel. Just to let you know, while riding with a passenger I didn't bottom out. As a passenger however, we did once. It may have been because with the driver's weight and mine, we were pushing 460 pounds.

For the passenger, there is plenty of leg room and handles to hold onto. The only thing I might change is offer a taller version for the passenger seat and maybe padded hand grips as well.

If offering a smooth ride with plenty of motor wasn't enough, Arctic Cat is also offering a rear Speedrack™ for this ATV as well as a cargo box for hauling gear. As a bonus, they put two inch receiver hitches in front and back (just like the Prowler) in case you wanted to do a little work before hitting the trail.

Available in green, red or lime, MSRP $7,499.

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