Wasn’t the year 2000 supposed to bring flying cars and trips in orbit around the earth or even to the moon? In my far gone high-school years, everyone seemed to think so! Ok, so we might not be eating steaks in pill form for dinner or teleporting to work every morning yet, but the flying car thing, might very well finally be a reality. Maybe not in the expected form, like your daily commuter with propulsion lifting or some new anti-gravity technology, but rather in the shape of an off-road vehicle, such as this wild object or machine Arctic Cat has created, equipped with advanced suspension units, and an engine powerful enough to launch the lightweight contraption off the ground, for at least a short, but super fun, period of time.
We have to hand it to them, at the very least, even before getting a chance to experience what it feels like to fly at the wheel of a Side by Side, it is, by far, the best looking off-road vehicle they have ever created. My expectations were actually heightened by this mere fact. Looking at the first still photos released, I could see myself bolting on two big laser guns on its ROPS approved roll-cage and shooting at aliens trying to invade our planet. Oh well, I guess those Martians were just….. I snapped out of it and realized there were no aliens attacking earth, but I couldn’t help but think that if it would happen, I would hope to have a Wildcat 1000i at my disposal. At least to try and get away from them, blasting away from populated areas to hide in a forest, or maybe just keep on rolling as fast and for as long as possible in the desert. The latter is a more appropriate venue for the Wildcat to move about, and a closer look at the construction of this superb-looking vehicle, with its 5-link rear suspension system offering a whopping 18″ of wheel travel, reveals its creators source for inspiration: the high-performance race buggies in endurance races such as the Baja 1000.
Minnesota based Arctic Cat, known for its passion in providing us with superb high performance vehicles, for a better life through fun-inducing off-road experiences, tagged this vehicle as a Recreational Off-Road Vehicle (ROV), a totally new vehicle format for them. Reason being that just like its closest competition, the Ranger RZR XP 900 from Polaris, also based in this same Midwestern state with 10,000 lakes, it has nothing utility about it. The Wildcat 1000i does have a decent amount of storage space though, so you can easily pack a big cooler and a picnic basket. It isn’t as wide as the XP but it’s much deeper. Yes, this classification does impose comparisons with the now one-year-old XP 900 from Polaris, which has totally rocked my world, and that of all who have been lucky enough to climb into one of them. So, even if this isn’t a real shootout, which I very much hope, we get a chance to see happen in a near future, we might be going back and forth in between these two new-era rides, as we discuss the numerous aspects of this obviously wild ride they have created for us.
BORN TO BE WILD
The 2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i H.O. is first and foremost a high-performance side-by-side, with a big engine and the most generous in travel suspension system ever seen in a side-by-side vehicle. The invitation to the launch, meaning launch in every sense of the word, of this spacecraft shaped off-road vehicle, got everybody excited, like kids in a candy store. Remembering right, our first reaction to seeing that blurry image that was leaked by an attendee at Arctic Cat’s snowmobile reveal to its dealers for 2012 models was just a simple “Wo”, closely followed by a louder exclamatory “Wow!!!”
Here we are a month and a half later, right spank in the middle of the desert, in Barstow California, known in the off-road community, to be one of the most demanding places to conquer terrain. Knowing that our chance to try out this awesome-looking new Arctic Cat vehicle was only a little over an hour away, made having to sit down to watch a video presentation, close to unbearable. We just wanted to get out there and comb the desert, for some cool-to-do off-road challenges, with this James Bond movie-style vehicle. It was a sign of great confidence in this new Arctic Cat product, to have invited us here of all places. At least we knew that the terrain would be tough enough to find out if all these high-performance claims were true. Our test site was just up the road, a few minutes away from our hotel and while driving towards it, We saw the coolest thing in the world, or at least our world: a shiny red Trophy truck, flying through the desert at an incredibly fast rate of speed. This is where many off-road racing teams come to test.
Claims made by its maker were directly backed up with very telling action footage flashing before us, and causing reactions in the small group of privileged media folks I was luckily a part of. Taking an obvious leading role in this short but telling video was the Wildcat’s very impressive and obviously high-performing suspension system.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
At the front of the vehicle, you will find an unusually narrow body, with big bright LED headlights, that sit even closer together than on their ATV models. This leaves lots of room to see the beautifully-painted and very long A-arms in metallic green on the black version of this awesome ride. Personally, I prefer the other choice with metallic green panels, which looks really cool with all the black tubing of the frame, showing in-between or over the plastics. The idea that the functionality of parts and their shape, can also be visually-appealing and play an active role in the whole look of the vehicle isn’t new. A lot of motorcycles are designed with this main idea nowadays, but it is new to this young segment of the motorsport industry. The double-wishbone front suspension design uses the Walker Evans Racing shocks with 17 inches of travel, while the 5-link rear system gives 18″ of up and down motion, and with their huge shiny white springs, they also become a part of the visual appeal. This stunningly generous suspension and chassis design, combined with the newly designed 26-inch Duro Kaden tires, which we didn’t have on our pre-production units, but you will have on your Cat, give the 2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i H.O. 13 inches of ground clearance. This exoskeleton design, inspired by sand rail cars, is built from high-strength low-alloy steel. Arctic Cat says that the Wildcat frame sets a new standard in strength and rigidity.
What is to be liked most about it is that the doors, which are a great idea in a security sense, also tie-in perfectly well with this ultra-modern edgy look. Hinged at the back part, they clamp-on securely with seat belt-style latches up front, so they stay completely out of the way when occupants climb in and out. My only beef with that – and I wouldn’t base a buying decision on this – is that they added little curved pieces of tubing on the inside of them to serve as handles to help close them. Sadly, for any tall size person, this tube is punching painfully into the side of the knee. The rest for the left foot a bit high for the same people and imposes the knee to be directly in line with it. I later figured out that I could leave my foot resting on its side and closer to the seat, which solved the problem. Cutting these out would be the first modification to be done by tall owners to this vehicle. The tilt-steering was perfect and really goes far up and out of the way, for easy entering or exiting the car.
Seating is very comfortable and the shifter is perfectly positioned for a tall person. It is very smooth in operation, which is great, because it never stays stuck in any given position needing a yank to get it going as is sometimes the case in the XP. Even so, we have to give the better score to the Polaris on that one, merely from the fact that the high gear is more quickly selected, because it is at the full pull on the stick position. Looking at the digital gear select indicator is a necessity in the 2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i H.O., since the H choice is in-between the Low and Neutral positions. The pushing forward instead of pulling back to get going is of no importance for many, as long as the High is obtained with just one swift gesture.
The lockable glove box is super cool to have, when you are parking in proximity to many strangers. A big 33.3 liters gas tank offers great range and sits completely at the rear, to aid in putting more weight to the rear, a known-to-be very effective way to improve stability in off-road racing. You also get great-looking 14″ aluminum rims that not only look great, but keep the all-important unsprung weight to a minimum, another crucial part in achieving better vehicle behaviour in the rough stuff. A big twin fan is placed completely out of arms-way, enclosed in the plastic behind the occupants, again aiding in keeping the front-end of the vehicle lighter.
This new pure-sport Side by Side, the first such vehicle for Arctic Cat, is certainly a capable- looking machine. It turned out to be as fun to drive as it is beautiful to look at. Able to smooth out terrain in a way never experienced before. Most bumps do not require any slowing down and for the first few kilometers driven, despite the clear views up ahead that this beautiful location offers, I was hesitant to keep the pedal to the metal. Progressively, as time flew by, because I was having so much fun, my confidence level grew, to the point where most of that rough stuff did not require any slowing down at all. In some cases, staying on the gas pedal even makes everything feel smoother and certainly feels very natural to the vehicle. The weight bias is absolutely great! More to the rear is what you want to feel and front-end dipping is very minimal compared to any other Side by Side. Absolutely spot-on!
The American built 951cc Hemi engine, using Electronic Fuel Injection for optimal performance in all conditions, offers really good power, but the suspension is so up-there in terms of both quality and amount of travel, and of course, a cool amount of adjustability, that the vehicle could stay under control with a lot more of it. Nobody knows exactly how much horsepower it can deliver. The Cat team is just not saying, for now anyway. It could use a bit more torque and that becomes quite obvious when climbing uphill. Acceleration is then tough to acquire, meaning that the vehicle will only keep the speed it was at, when the climb stars out at the bottom of the hill. The Ranger RZR XP 900 remains more capable in that sense, and offers a more aggressive feeling power output off the line. The push back in the seat is also pleasantly present with the Wildcat, but just not as much, since the transfer to the ground feels a lot smoother, in part due to the spike load dampener, which is much like a tiny clutch added to the driveline to protect it. At the mid-range is where the power is most fun to play with and experimenting with it, on an improvised small racetrack near the end of the loop is the most fun. You can tell from the photos, which were almost all taken during that awesome part of the day. I wished the power was felt a bit more quickly, upon a press of the pedal, and a bit sharper turning wheels, to enable more counter-steering ability while exiting turns in a drift. Yet it is important to mention that these aspects might be more suitable as such, for different types of drivers with more or less experience with such manoeuvres. In other words, these traits did a nice job of minimizing the risk of the rear-end unhooking completely. This makes it feel very safe to use, for all levels of driver experience. In addition, this potent but smooth power delivery makes it much easier to stay smooth, while doing some rock crawling. The big Hemi does have a much better and throatier sound than the XP 900. The low-seating position, a few inches lower than in the Polaris, the long wheelbase (13.4” longer than the RZR-XP), the 2.0 Walker Evans shocks with dual rate springs, compression adjusters and crossovers, work in harmony to render this vehicle extremely stable.
Agility, speed, and a comfort level never before enjoyed through tough rocky desert trails can be expected, when first trying out your new 2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i H.O.. On the suspension side of things, the Wildcat simply tops them all, taking Side by Side design and performance to a whole new level. It took me quite a long time to figure out the vehicle’s limits. My brain was naturally over-reacting to the presence of certain obstacles. The capacity of the vehicle was staying way-beyond my expectations, meaning I was many times, realizing after the fact that I had let off the throttle or braked, for absolutely no reason. I would gather confidence at every challenge. The harsh conditions of the ground before me were unable to steal any control from me, as the EPS worked in an incredibly seamless fashion. Perfection! Giggling was frequent, caused by the fact that a certain bump or another or even a series of them, were seen but not really even felt as I rolled, or maybe flew, over them. The feeling of floating over terrain as such, like in a Trophy truck, was something I never thought I would have a chance to experience. Now here I was, catching a very quick peak at its all-American mph only speedometer clearly pointing at the number 75 and I punched right through a series of huge whoops! This time fully knowledgeable of what this vehicle was truly capable of. Oh my God!
Catching some air or lifting a wheel off the ground, pushing the rear into a slide outwards, in a superbly predictable and controllable way, were all just natural occurrences during the safe use of this absolutely delicious vehicle. Thank you! With never before experienced conquering abilities and a power level that should and can be treated with respect by all users, the Wildcat is one very desirable big boy toy.
The designers, engineers, and the rest of that devoted gang of high performance-loving people working at Arctic Cat, definitely did a great job at drawing attention to themselves, when they came out with the big and powerful MudPro quads, another high-performance and extreme type of vehicle, which has turned many grown men into kids again. I think they have responded well to a growing demand for a more extreme side-by-side machine. So you might not be able to hover over traffic jams or water, yet you can, with this off-road car, actually fly.
Buckle-up! Tighten that helmet strap, and get ready to be blown away by the fun inducing character of this powerful new Arctic Cat off-roading gem!
For more information on the above mentioned models, please visit the Arctic Cat Website