A one-word description of our feelings about the 50-inch Arctic Cat Wildcat 700 Trail would be “unexpected.” In certain areas of the country, it is almost vital that you have a UTV that is under 50 inches wide and weighs less than 1000 pounds (dry). Vehicles larger than that are barred from many dedicated trail systems, so we understood it was a matter of time before there was a trail-width Wildcat. Apparently, we underestimated the work involved in developing a fun, good-handling UTV that is 50 inches wide. Either that or we had a great deal of faith in Arctic Cat. We expected a narrowed Wildcat 1000. Fortunately, the crew at AC is realistic, and they weren’t too far into the project before the powers involved realized that the power of its existing 1000cc V-twin not only wasn’t needed, but the engine physically wouldn’t fit, so the search for a powerplant was on. And with its own factories at capacity fulfilling existing lines, the quest ended with an off-shore, 700cc, parallel twin with EFI and 63 horsepower. The engine is mated to a Team transaxle and transfer case.
Arctic Cat equipped the Wildcat Trail with ample power and minimum weight, so the power-to-weight ratio provides for thrilling moments. The machine is extremely nimble and perfect for the intended purpose of utilizing trails limited to machines 50 inches wide and under 1000 pounds.
Remember, the final goal was not only a 50-inch-wide machine, but one under 1000 pounds. In addition to the engine and transaxle, the Wildcat Trail required an entirely new chassis and bodywork. Where the Wildcat 1000 has 18 inches of travel, the narrow machine must top out at 10.5 inches of rear-wheel travel. In addition to the reduced travel, the suspension took on a different design with A-arms and gas-charged Fox shocks. Compared to the Wildcat 1000 models, the passenger compartment had to be much less roomy from side to side and fore and aft. Naturally, that means less legroom. A 6-foot-2 driver fit well enough, but twice turned the key off mid turn by bumping it with a knee. The seat has no adjustment; one size fits all.
As the design proceeded, some Wildcat 1000 lessons learned applied. For one, keeping the passengers low in the chassis was termed vital for good handling and an appropriate center of gravity. Facing facts, you can’t fool physics, so no 50-inch-wide car is going to be a wild and carefree slider. It just makes sense to use every opportunity to keep weight low, so it can slide or handle cambers as well as possible. But in the end, this is a trail machine after all, and one designed for tight and narrow trails, so flat-track sliding isn’t a key design goal.
We rarely felt the need for diff-lock. In normal 4×4, the Trail climbs like a goat! Even with mud and snow on the rocks, the 25-inch Carlisle tires kept the machine moving smartly. We did test the skid plates, but there is good clearance.
We found the look of the narrow Cat to be aggressive and rugged, with a subtle green color for the conservative and hunting-oriented, and a flashy bright red or green for the sport-minded. An XT edition adds aluminum wheels, two-tone seats, body-color suspension arms and a choice of metallic lime green or a flat black version with ghost gloss black graphics. Half-doors like those first seen on the Wildcat 1000 close with an automotive-style latch, and they make the vehicle feel very secure. The three-point seat belts help as well, and both the belts and doors allow easy entrance and exit of the car. We found that the bars in the doors bruised our knees, but production versions are supposed to have a pad over the bars to prevent that discomfort.
While the trail wanted to get light on the inside wheels during aggressive cornering, it stays remarkably planted and calm on cambers. With the modest wheelbase we were able to go wherever we wanted in the rocks.
Even though the Wildcat Trail is a sport machine, it does carry 300 pounds in the bed and tows 1500 pounds. Those numbers should make it perfect for camping or even work, despite the fact that the bed isn’t overly roomy. Inside the car there is a small glovebox covered with an elastic net. When you fire the engine, it settles right into a nice idle. We tested the Wildcat in a wide range of temperatures and from 5000 to 9000 feet in elevation, and it ran perfectly at all times with no hint of fuel-injection issues.
The Wildcat Trail interior is a marvel of packaging. The seats are closer together than the Wildcat 1000, and there is less legroom, but our crew found the accommodations more than ready for all-day rides.
The controls are pretty basic, as you would expect in a car fighting for every pound. There is a digital gauge with the odo-/speedometer, but it also displays fuel level, coolant temperature and a variety of other functions. There is a center console, and despite pretty heavy jarring through the rocks, our bottled water stayed put in the cup holder. The shift pattern is opposite from the Wildcat 1000, but the options are the same: park, reverse, neutral, high and low. Switches on the dash select 2WD, 4WD and diff-lock. There is also a tilt-wheel function for the steering wheel that greatly aided different-sized drivers.
Conditions during our test didn’t make it easy to see a real top-speed number, but we’d have to say near 60 mph. And again, this car is not designed for high-speed work. It is supposed to be quick and nimble on trails with light steering. Power steering is not an option at the moment, and we honestly never missed it. Even in diff-lock, the steering effort isn’t at all unpleasant. In all other situations, the steering is so light you would think it does have EPS. We did have fast and twisty dirt roads at the beginning and end of our loops out of the Gateway Canyon’s Resort in Gateway, Colorado. The Wildcat 700 Trail was quite at home on the fast roads. As the roads climbed, they got more and more rocky, and we were getting bounced around quite a bit. We were wishing for the 18 inches of rear-wheel travel like on the Wildcat 1000, and they had brought one along, and a ride in that revealed that no four-wheeler could handle these rocks without the passengers taking some abuse. That elevated our opinion of the suspension. Once we got into higher meadows, the trails alternated between short sessions of slick rock and regular rock divided up by long areas of perfect dirt. All that was required was dodging ruts.
The rear suspension is quite different from the big Wildcats. The colored suspension arms are part of the Trail XT package. The shocks are gas-charged but have no reservoirs. The air filter is very easy to access from the rear of the machine.
When you see how light and open everything looks in the front of the car, it is easy to see why only 40 percent of the weight is carried up front. The suspension works well, and the steering is very light.
Throughout our testing the handling remained quick, nimble and responsive. The car feels so compact (only about 1.5 inches wider than a 4×4 quad) that we thought it would make an easy U-turn on the trail, but it was usually at least a three-point turn. Aggressive cornering in the sticky dirt could easily lead to lifting the inside wheels. Usually, just the front wheel would lift, but push it hard enough and the rear would climb as well. While traversing cambers, the 700 felt planted and surprisingly calm. While four-wheeling in the rocks, we worried that the undercarriage would get pounded. We eventually did hear the skid plates drag at regular intervals, but never hard or at any level that would cause problems. With low range, diff-lock and ample power, the 700 was a star at rock crawling. While this car would be handicapped in the whoops, the suspension handled small trail chop well. And when we did slam a few G-outs, the suspension handled the impacts fine.
Even the standard-model Wildcat Trail is a striking-looking machine. The doors seem pretty luxurious when you consider the price and the fact that the company was fighting to stay under 1000 pounds. We like them. The soft top is an option, but we were happy to have it.
It was smart of Arctic Cat to have the 1000 along. Looking at the machines together shows exactly why the Trail model had to be an all-new machine. We never found anything too narrow for it, and the engine and chassis performance are all that you could want. Though it has plenty of boost for the dunes and desert, using it for that would be a waste. If you ride where your trails have width and weight restrictions, the Wildcat Trail is just what you have been waiting for. ο
This all-new, Arctic Cat-designed, parallel-twin, 700cc engine is a big part why the Wildcat Trail works. The engine allowed designers to meet performance and weight goals.
2014 ARCTIC CAT WILDCAT 700 TRAIL
Engine type 700cc, parallel-twin, EFI
4 valves per cylinder liquid-cooled
Bore x stroke 76.9mm x 75.3mm
Fuel system Electronic fuel injection
Fuel capacity 7.4 gal.
Starting system Electric
Final drive Shaft
Front Double A-Arm w/ anti-sway
Rear Double A-arm w/ anti-sway
Front Dual hydraulic disc
Rear Dual hydraulic disc
Ground clearance 10″
Turning radius N/A
Rear storage box capacity 300 lb.
Towing capacity 1500 lb.
Curb weight Not announced, but
under 1000 (dry) lb.
Colors Green, lime, red,
Team Arctic Green Metallic (XT),
matte black (XT)
Price $10,999; XT, $11,999