'98 Arctic Cat Powder Special EFI - First Impressions

Nov. 01, 2005 By Doug Chamberlain

We all choose a new machine for some of the same reasons and some simply because of our personal preferences that we feel are important. A fellow who does some writing for one of the magazines happened to email me and asked what factors I felt were most important to me in choosing a new sled. Then a harder question was, in what order of importance would you place them? Not that I'm an expert in any manner of the word but I gave it some serious thought and a little headscratching came up with what I'd always felt were pertinent factors and then prioritized them into a list. These were things that had been mulled over earlier in reaching my own choice of buying a new sled this coming season. Obviously it's slanted to my own prejudice and type of riding terrain I mainly encounter.

The first one that came to mind was floatation and traction. For a western machine,I think a large footprint from a 136" track is adequate although there are those that will run 141" extended tracks and feel that the trade-off in turning arc is still worth it. The Cat Powder Special comes with a stock 2"x136" Camoplast track using 9 tooth drivers which I felt would offer a slight advantage in deep snow. Out here I seldom encounter hard packed trails, except in late spring, so I reasoned that hifax wear with this tall lugged paddle track would be acceptable. I can always add a pair of the low friction slides and/or some ice scratchers to the skis if that's necessary.

Next on my list was weight transfer and a shallow track approach angle. This goes hand in hand with the first two items and allows the track to spin up on plane helping alleviate the 'digging the trench syndrome'. The Powder Special comes with 6.8 inch wide, good handling plastic skis that are going to assist in keeping the front up in the fluff. Even the fairly wide bellypan and front nose shape would help in this department. All the aforementioned things contribute to making speed in the snow as well as the next thing on my list.

Power. This is simple yet not so simple. Power spins the track and makes the speed possible but what kind of power does one prefer? I'm partial to twins for their available low and midrange torque and quick throttle response. I felt that the new 600 twin Suzuki offered pretty good delivery here although a 700 twin like Polaris or the Ski Doo 670 motor, especially in the new Summit X offering, would have been more of a good thing in that department. Here was a trade-off but I'm not a highmarking kinda guy, although all mountain machines need copious amounts of power at times. I have liked my previous efi equipped machine and value the hassle free, near spot-on jetting it offers for varying altitudes and temperatures. Engine mods are limited in availability by the programmed chip, but I'm not the "tweak and squeeze the motor for every possible ounce of output available" type either. Good, dependable and fairly decent power in the 100 HP+ range does me just fine... for the time being anyway.

Now that the track is hooking up and the sled is being propelled at a decent clip it's time to think about turning the darn thing. This was an area where I had to give the Cat with the new AWS 5 the nod. Switching brands, I looked forward to flat and responsive steering that doesn't take a lot of effort and does this with minimal ski lift. I also opted for the limited edition version with Fox shocks and 41" ski stance. About a third to half the time I ride on trails and felt that the maintenance required with these shocks would be worth it. I'll also admit that being a poor sidehiller, I could benefit from a wider front stance for stability than the standard 37" offering. I may loose the front torsion bar that the limited version came with but first want to try it out and then compare handling without it. Pulling it off would drop 3-4 pounds and help with sidehilling if I can ever become capable at that technique.

Time for the weight issue now. In the mountains and digging out a stuck sled this is a pretty big deal at times. Being only a 150 pounds, I was enticed by the Cat being a little lighter than similar offerings from the other manufacturers. With the torque rod, beefier slide rails and more metal in the wider front arms I know it's running more than the normal 486 dry weight as listed for the regular Powder Special. This was an acceptable trade off to me for improved handling ability when tooling along on twisty trails.

Speaking of trails some more, it's nice to be able to make suspension changes to dial in the handling to match weight and preferences. The limited version has slide rails like the ZR models only longer of coarse. This allows moving arm attachment points and for alot more suspension adjustments than the normal rear suspension has. The front springs are a dual rate type that I'll have to see if they seem better than the singles I've used before. It would of been nice to have received suspension change info with the machine. The manual is really skimpy on that area so I may need the '98 Cat performance manual to help out here. Plenty of adjustments there if I just knew which and how exactly these effect handling characteristics!

Lumped together would be ergonomics, appearance, fit and finish, servicing access and storage. All of these items were well addressed in this model. It also came unexpectedly with a rear rack that's handy for extra gas or storage. One small beef so far, although rather minor, is the poor job of cutting out the hood vent openings and around the headlight. It appears some unskilled labor was used for that task. The seat length to handlebar reach is long for my 5'10" size so I'm adding a Cat 3" race seat back to get a proper fit. I've been on a really short seat before so I like the proper size I'll wind up with now. And lastly in the beef department is the footwells that are WAY too tall. Someone told me about how to make adjuster blocks that I've added to the top of the openings so my feet can lock-in now. Oh yea, the one BIG item missing for this new machine as of yet... SNOW to ride on! Some seat time will allow getting it dialed in on clutching if needed and getting used to the critter. I can't wait!

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