Arctic Cat leaps forward into the Sport Side-by-Side Market
Sport UTVs have come a long way since the Rhino, and even the original 50-inch RZR for that matter. Long-travel cars are duning and roosting all across the world, and now there are even two OEM cars available with more than a foot of suspension travel.
Arctic Cat’s UTV game thus far has been more utility-oriented, with a range of machines, motor sizes, and configurations that aim to make jobs easier, but not necessarily more fun. Until now. Back in 2008, Arctic Cat began drafting up concepts that they deemed “Pure Sport”- the Wildcat’s building platform. Unconcerned with things like bed capacity, towing big trailers, or dumping the bed, the Arctic Cat engineers began building a platform that eventually, after four years, turned out to be what you see here- the Wildcat 1000 H.O. EFI 4×4.
Arctic Cat invested a lot of time in studying buggy and racecar chassis, deciding that a perimeter frame (or “exoskeleton” as they call it) was their best bet for their sporty UTV. Using HSLA steel, or High-Strength, Low-Alloy, they built a tube frame that is both strong and lightweight, while looking fantastic. A narrow front frame section allows the use of immensely long front A-arms, which minimize camber change through the Wildcat’s impressive 17 inches of front wheel travel.
In the back, a five-link trailing arm system was employed, consisting of a large-diameter lower trailing arm, a smaller upper arm, and three radius rod links to keep wheel track consistent through its even more-impressive 18 inches of rear wheel travel. Suspension movement is controlled by high-quality Walker Evans Racing piggyback shocks front and rear, which are preload and compression adjustable at all four corners. The links in the rear are all fitted with what Arctic Cat claims are zero-maintenance bushings, meaning no grease zerk fittings. This is nice, considering there are ten bushing points on each side of the vehicle in the rear!
SUSPENSION, SUSPENSION, SUSPENSION!
To no one’s surprise, this is what the Arctic Cat engineers kept touting at our Media introduction, and for good reason. Starting with the wheelbase, the Wildcat offers up a lengthy 90 inches of wheelbase — that’s a full 8.6 inches more than an RZR XP900, and it pays off in the rough stuff. Coupled with the huge travel numbers, the Wildcat is a terrain-devouring monster. Over big whoop sections, rough G-outs, and road crossings, the Wildcat stays flat and calm unless you’re really pushing it. At the limit, the soft suspension shows its character by bottoming stiffly in the rear and kicking up a bit on big hits. It still feels very controlled, but for race-pace, owners will want to contact Walker about a valving kit to stiffen it up a bit.
Our best settings came from stiffening up front preload a half inch, and the same in the back. We buried the compression clickers — there are a total of 16 — to hard at the rear and two down from hard at the front. With this setup, we could aggressively attack the whoops, keeping the bottoming issue to a minimum. Low-speed ride quality suffered a small amount, but nothing to complain about.
With such a long wheelbase and most of the weight over the rear end of the Wildcat, it does tend to push a bit on initial turn-in. This is partially due to the tires — while they are lightweight, they don’t offer a ton in the form of bite on loose hardpack and in sand. Your best bet is to drop a foot on the brake pedal to set the front in the corners, then let the power bring the car through the exit.
The Wildcat is the first pure-sport UTV to come standard with electronic power steering, and it shines when the going gets rough. Steering feel is spot on. Unlike the quick and light steering of the Prowler, it is responsive and exhibits almost zero bump steer. The quick-ratio rack keeps you on the right track when driving hard. Overall, it handles well, but the RZR XP will turn inside it on tight corners.
Body roll is prevalent thanks to the extended wheel travel, and that’s something the driver will have to get used to. However, it is very stable in high-speed corners, and using the berm on the outside of the corner helps negate any understeer you may encounter. The Wildcat can build up a lot of speed in rough terrain, and without beadlock wheels, it is possible to put a rim in the dirt. We saw it happen once on our test loop. The driver pulled off a great save, and the wheel was fine. If you’re going to race it, invest in a good set of beadlocks to save yourself the worry.
The Wildcat’s cabin is very spacious, especially in the footwell area. For both passenger and driver, the seats are comfortable, supportive, and look great. The biggest thing it lacks is passenger hold points — the only one is on the door, which is flimsy and not necessarily the best place to hang on in the first place. Passengers would be much more comfortable with an RZR-type grab handle, especially when traveling at warp speed through rough terrain.
From the driver’s viewpoint, pedal placement is good, and the shifter is well within reach, but lacks a positive engagement when shifting. It slides through the gears far too easily for our tastes, and we had it pop out of gear twice when going from reverse to high or vice versa. The tilt steering wheel is positioned close to the driver, which many griped about, but we loved it. Having the wheel close to your chest allows more leverage when sawing at the thick wheel in the rough stuff.
The doors are a nice visual cue, and the slam-it-closed function is great. However, the latch got rough and sticky from dirt buildup during our testing and was tough to get open on some occasions. The multi-function gauge is beautiful and well-positioned, but we wish someone else would take Can-Am’s cue and position it over the steering wheel.
The Wildcat has LED lighting front and rear, which adds a trick look and draws less power from the massive 36 amp stator. The high/low beam switch is to the left of the wheel, which we like, as it won’t get confused with the 4WD switch when you reach for it without looking down. Speaking of 4WD, the Wildcat has a selectable 2/4WD switch with diff lock, which we only used once during our testing on some rocks. No computer-controlled gimmicks, just a real differential lock that works.
The bed is a composite material that is strong and looks nice, and it can hold 300 pounds of cargo. For a sport UTV, it’s generously sized. Just above the bed sits three large vents for the dual spall fanned radiator, which is by far the largest one we’ve seen on a UTV. The main reason for this is its positioning — it sits behind the seats, so it doesn’t have that ram-air effect of a front mount. One big advantage is shielding, as in a race, it will receive neither dents nor clogging from mud.
Arctic Cat used its familiar 951cc V-twin SOHC engine for the Wildcat, employing a new induction system complete with a large 50mm throttle body and a new, larger-capacity intake. The large round-foam filter is easily accessible through the passenger’s side wheel well in the back. The big V-twin breathes through a new two-into-one ceramic-coated exhaust system, which exhibits a nice throaty tone under hard throttle. With four valves per cylinder and a pretty aggressive state of tune, the Wildcat will easily top 70 mph with two people in the car.
Clutching is on the mellow side, with a nice thump off the line followed by a rather mute midrange. A good clutch kit will really wake this motor up, and that’s the first thing we plan to install on our test unit. Regardless of the soft clutching, it has plenty of power- it just does not have the XP 900 snap. It’s just not XP900 fast.
The brakes were good, but not great. Feel at the pedal is a little soft, and they lack a hard initial bite. A different pad will surely help.
HITS AND MISSES
We love the Wildcat’s suspension- it’s plusher than an XP, delivers more travel, and with some shock tuning, will be able to take larger hits. At the time of our testing Arctic Cat is still working with Walker Evans Racing to develop a final shock package that works well in all terrain. We do have a couple complaints though, starting with the lack of passenger hold points. The lower trailing arm also seems a little odd, as the lower shock mount is easily accessible by rocks and large trail obstacles, although we didn’t have any problems in our testing. Racers will want to install a strong rear bumper, as the fuel tank resides at the very rear of the vehicle. For the average trail rider or duner this is not an issue and the tank well protected underneath. Also, we would have loved to see Arctic Cat fit the Wildcat with at least a 27 inch tire. The 26’s seem a little small for this large of a vehicle. It won’t fit in the back of any pickup short of a flatbed, so trailering is a must.
For a first attempt at a sport UTV, Arctic Cat pretty much nailed the Wildcat. Sure, there are little things for the aftermarket to fix, but isn’t that one of the best parts about this industry? It’s a blast to drive, offers a very comfortable ride, and won’t wear you out. Suspension is like no other, factory or aftermarket. We like the low seating position and taller drivers and passengers will appreciate the extra room as we did. The painted plastics are trick, too — you can wax and polish them just like a car, and the green color really pops in the sunlight. Arctic Cat has hit on a great platform with the Wildcat and we can’t wait to see what they come up with in the future. We hope a 4-seat version is on their horizon. Arctic Cat is hosting ride days all across the country, so get out and test one yourself!
2012 ARCTIC CAT TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
ENGINE DISPLACEMENT (CC) – 951
ENGINE TYPE – V-Twin, SOHC, 4-stroke, 4-valve
FUEL SYSTEM – Electronic Fuel Injection
COOLING SYSTEM – Liquid
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE – Duramatic CVT P/R/N/L/H; Shaft
DRIVE SYSTEM – Electric 2/4 WD w/ 4WD Lock
SUSPENSION TRAVEL FRONT (IN./CM) – 17/43.2
SUSPENSION TRAVEL REAR (IN./CM) – 18/45.7
GROUND CLEARANCE (IN./CM) – 13/33
SUSPENSION TYPE – FRONT – Double A-Arm (compression adjustment & reservoir)
SUSPENSION TYPE – REAR – 5-Link Trailing Arm, (compression adjustment & reservoir)
FRONT/REAR BRAKES – 4 Wheel Hydraulic Disc
PARKING BRAKE – Park in Transmission
TIRE FRONT – 26x9R-14
TIRE REAR –26x11R-14
WHEELS – Aluminum
FUEL CAPACITY (GAL./LITERS) – 8.8/33.3
BED BOX DIMENSIONS (IN./CM LxWxH) – 35.8 x 21 x 8.4 in. 90.9 x 53.3 x 21.3 cm
BOX CAPACITY (LBS./KG) – 300/136.1
PAYLOAD CAPACITY (LBS./KG) – 740/335.6
LIGHTING FRONT – White LED, High/Low
LIGHTING REAR – LED, Tail – Brake
ADJUSTABLE STEERING – Tilt Steering Wheel
ELECTRONIC POWER STEERING – Yes
INSTRUMENTATION – Digital Gauge, Analog Speedometer, Odometer, Tachometer, Trip meter, Gear Indicator, Fuel Gauge, AWD Indicator, Hi-Temp/Low-Batt Lights, DC Outlet
PHOTOS BY: Vincent Knakal of Mad Media and Troy Merrifield