2008 Arctic Cat ThunderCat 950 Review

2008 Arctic Cat ThunderCat 950


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A 950 quad? Are they crazy?” My first reaction was to laugh, then ask to repeat the number to make sure I had heard right. I had heard right the first time! Arctic Cat had amazed the competition before, when they entered the quad scene with the biggest machine ever. In 1995, Arctic Cat came out with the remarkable “Bearcat 454.” We thought it was an enormous engine back then and now they are offering twice that amount.

The Thundercat wears its name well, just like its cousin, the snowmobile. It’s a thunderous machine when we’re talking power. Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes, but a two-headed engine makes this beast exclusive to users with experience. Arctic Cat boasts that this ATV is the fastest accelerating unit on the market, sports quads included. I believe it, because I rode this monster like it was a racing 450. I was in heaven when the wheels slid and wanted to fly when exiting curves! I thought it would feel like a big tractor. I do know I wouldn’t want people I love riding the trails on this fast and huge machine. I get to choose where I test it to the max; a nice red dust covered straight stretch, in the iron rich region
of Minnesota.

The engine
Arctic Cat has finished waiting for other manufacturers from which to buy their engines. Today, they are proud to have finally gained control of the parts for their quads. The H2, 950cc V-twin cylinder, 4-valves per cylinder, electronically injected, hemispheric head offers too much power at the touch of a thumb. Manufactured in their high tech, brand new plant in St-Cloud Minnesota, this new 950cc is equipped with an intelligent electronic injection system. The system is self-serving, permitting to ride in any condition. There’s nothing to adjust if there is a change in altitude, nothing to do if in extreme cold conditions or heat waves. This is the ideal machine for those who are less mechanically inclined. The acceleration/pull power is incredible. This quad can go up against most pick up trucks on the market. Normally a 4WD quad with such power won’t slide easily, but this one acts like it’s small and light. The response is quick at the touch of the thumb and is nerve wracking and sometimes aggressive in narrow trails. It would surely be pleasant and quick to plough snow with this quad, probably quicker and more effective that with a snow blower. I can just imagine what the owners will do with the added features. Wow, adding a track kit to this quad would make it invincible!

The transmission
Everything works well all the time as if this monster had only one gear. It changes from 2WD to 4WD smoothly with a simple click of a button at any given moment. The CVT with engine brake and 2-speed reverse is surprisingly effective. In reverse, the “Reverse Override” button gives it more power. It’s a great gadget but it can be treacherous. Use with caution! The quad can be started in any gear by simply pressing the brake lever; this is really practical. No more putting it in neutral; just squeeze, start and go. Rapid take off, like an arrow if we want to! Fantastic!

The durable and sleek frame has been lengthened to a wheelbase of 52.5 inches, while keeping the total length as close to the 500s  and bigger models, with 84.8 inches. The calculation on this parameter seems to be precise and efficient. They worked with a few different dimensions before adopting this one. The position and shape of the seat has also been well designed.

The whole unit was lowered in order to drastically improve the stability in curves. I shook this huge beast like it was a 450 racing quad. Most manufacturers don’t take into account the quad pro that instinctively drops his butt on one side of the seat, stretching his knee in front. Most of the models have a nice 90° angle ply, as rigid as metal to accommodate the gearbox where the knee hits it. On the Thundercat, the flat front plastic is wide enough and flexible enough to accommodate the protruding knee, without hurting it. Was this enormous advantage planned or was it just a hazardous find? It might seem insignificant to most riders but is quite important to pros who push this bomb to its full potential.

The controls are easy to reach and operate. The handlebar fits to perfection the lower position of the seat, another key element for ground adherence on roads … oops … trails. Even though the test on this power packed prodigy totally enchanted me, I had a few disquieting moments while racing and having fun like a kid on the monster. The imposing weight of the Thundercat can easily destabilize the rider at higher speeds. At 70 km/h, on a straight narrow trail, I actually scared myself. This quad is too easy to ride and it can cloud your judgment when it comes time to stop this heavy 716 lb machine.

The engine roared with a bizarre metallic grind when I braked aggressively. The first time, I thought I had broken something. I asked questions and they told me it was normal, because of the engine’s “momentum” that hits a certain clearance in the clutch. This clearance was apparently calculated to avoid any breakage. We’ll have to wait and see. I asked around and got the same answer from those testing other units; the noise was audible on all Thundercat 1000s (oops 950s!) In a normal world, a 4WD is slower than a lighter and faster race machine. Now, the question is: what will this do to the competition? “Watch out! Might just have a 1000 new quad coming out! Wow!”

For more information on the above mentioned models, please visit the Arctic Cat Website

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