'98 Arctic Cat Powder Special EFI - Season Evaluation

Nov. 01, 2005 By Doug Chamberlain

Now that I have a season of use with this machine I'll relate some of my experiences with this sled. There's been many grins and a few groans with this Arctic Cat. As a whole I was left with a pretty positive feeling about the Powder Special. It seems easier to pick out the negatives and idiosyncrasies than it does heaping on the high praise because after all, positive attributes were mostly expected. Any unpleasant negatives encountered most certainly were not.

Early season rides revealed a few notable characteristics right off the bat. The sled exhibited very excessive inside ski lift and some over revving in the clutching at times. I piddled around with the limiter straps as well as the spring and shock tension preloads in front and back for a long time. But, near the end of the season, I did what I should of done to begin with -- move the rear scissors back one hole in the slide rail mount. Simple, effective and I could then restore a softer suspension ride to the benefit of my back. I'd avoided taking this route because from past experience I expected this to cause a harsh ride. I was wrong in this case. I also dropped down the rear suspension in the tunnel one hole in front and two in back. One hole lower in back and in the front upset the pivot balance and didn't provide enough ski pressure, and thus aggravated the inside ski lift problem. On a related note, by removing the front torsion bar that came with the limited edition model the soft snow handling was improved quite a bit. Trail riding manners were improved for this setup by tightening the front spring preload a little bit; this helped alleviate the increased body roll. On the clutching thing, I discovered it was really dependent on snow conditions such as firmness and depth. I would move the spring to a different hole in the secondary to compensate depending upon conditions. I know it's the lazy man's way to clutch tuning, but it worked out pretty well for the most part. The primary spring broke around midseason and was replaced under warranty.

It didn't take long for me to realize that I was burning a lot of fuel and oil. Gas mileage could surprisingly vary from below 6 MPG to near 11 depending mostly on whether it was trail or deep snow riding. There is no such thing as a hard number for the average gas mileage with this motor. I had two different dealers adjust oil mixture settings on three different occasions. I began the season at around 25:1 gas/oil ratio and now run somewhere near a 35:1 ratio. Still not Great, but, with the 600 twin Suzuki motor problems reported last season, I figured it might be best to leave it be. I did switch from the expensive Arctic synthetic injector oil to Phillips Injex at eight bucks a gallon to help ease the wallet drain.

I've had some items that need or needed attention such as the following: missing bellypan fasteners, Fox shocks which need normal servicing, exhaust manifold leaked due to loose bolts, hyfax slides replacement(after running on a road with marginal snow and a 2" paddle track), some idler wheels have broken bearing covers and a hood pivot bolt that loosened and was lost. These are pretty minor or expected maintenance kind of things in my opinion.

In the big time problems category would be the broken rear scissors. The axle shaft point that attaches the TSL (torque sensing link) to the scissors snapped off leaving only one side attached to the tunnel and me up the creek.Doug's Powder Special Near Cooke City At the dealer in Cooke City, MT, I was able to use a complete rear scissors set-up from the owner's own project sled and resume riding that day. So luckily I didn't have to wait for ordered parts and have a trip ruined. Also, on two separate trips to Cooke City, the aftermarket silencer split apart at the bottom canister welds. Motors don't make much power without proper exhaust back pressure, and I had to wire it up, limp back to town and have it rewelded. That I can't say was a Cat problem, but rather a Precision Performance Products shortcoming with their product.

My own personal beef with this sled is the company, Arctic Cat, itself. When I decided to spring order the PS it was listed by THEM as weighing 486 pounds dry. That made it the lightest stock 600 class mountain machine available. But the '99 model is then listed by them as 509 pounds dry weight. So, how does a virtually unchanged machine suddenly increase 23 POUNDS?! Of course it actually didn't. I'm led to believe that they had very likely misled buyers to increase sales. This weight discrepancy showed up in magazine figures this last season, and I think that the 'cat was out of the bag by then'. The 600 Powder Special is now officially the heaviest sled in class and heavier than some of the 700 mountain machines. A Cat rep at the West Yellowstone Expo in March explained this to me as "they're being more accurate with their weights now". Ummm... then can I assume that the company can now somehow afford some decent scales rather than just 'guesstimating' weights? I wonder. Their magazine ads still tout Cats as having 'best power to weight ratios', but my own skepticism level is pretty high now. The sled handles and feels really light, but, when stuck in deep snow it really does feel pretty heavy especially in the rear. That I had always noted even before I became aware of the weight issue thing.

Regardless, I still really like the sled, but the company's credibility is greatly diminished in my view. Certainly, nobody likes to think they were lied to or purposely misled -- especially for financial gain. The weight comparison thing wasn't why I decided to buy this particular machine, but it most certainly was a factor I had considered at the time. One final thing that should be mentioned is the motor failures encountered by some 600 twin owners this past season in the PS,ZR and ZL models. Dealers I talked to reported failure rates of anywhere from one to everyone they sold this past season. Since mine ran great all season, all I'm concerned about is having the motor top-end replacement done before next season. Supposedly, all affected motors will be updated and warranties extended. Kudos to Arctic Cat for taking care of things properly. Whether or not this fixes the problem remains to be seen.

My performance mods this last season were limited to a silencer swap. In the accessories department, I added some Ripco handlebar end grips and a grabhandle, Cat orange hood decals, SkiDoo running board edge grippers, dash bags, a GPS mount between the dash gauges, shovel and probe under the hood and an avalanche transceiver on me. Depending where the riding is done, it's just plain smart to have one. Most of us would buy new tires rather than run bald ones on the highway, right? Same thing with the beacons. So, I never got around here to reporting on the good stuff about the Powder Special. Hey, that's what the snowmobile [print] magazines are really adept at! Suffice to say that I would buy an Arctic Cat machine again and highly recommend this sled. And I'll also be riding it again in the 98-99 season with high hopes that good fortune smiles on my sled.

Not being a brand loyal fanatic, I'll always buy sleds based on specific model merits instead of who happens to own the factory it came from. But I do anticipate that the next machine is going to have a little more grunt and go. Maybe some sort of power mods might be in order for this coming winter. The steeper the slope and the deeper the snow the more those ponies under the hood count. But then again, we all know that most any sled is sure fun to ride! In my view this sled is certainly one of them.

UPDATE: I recently received notice about the top-end rebuild Cat will do on this sled. Guess we'll see if this really fixes their problems.

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