Long-travel, fast feline By the staff of Dirt Wheels
Suspension has always been a huge bragging point for Arctic Cat’s Wildcat X models. When the X was first released, the 18 inches of rear-wheel travel and the 17 inches of front-wheel travel set the bar very high for the competition. In the intervening years, the big names in sport UTVs have equaled the big Wildcat’s rear-wheel travel, but the ’Cat still has an inch more travel in the front than its closest competitors. Add in a chassis with a wheelbase 5 inches longer than the Polaris and 7 inches longer than the Can-Am Maverick and you have a machine that excels in technical climbing and crawling. Our test unit is what Arctic Cat calls a Limited. As far as capacities, engine performance and the majority of features, the $17,499 Wildcat X is identical to the $19,999 Wildcat X Limited.
That isn’t to say there aren’t differences, just that in many important ways they are the same. For example, both feature automotive-style paint with the suspension arms color-matched to the body. The X is available in red, white or blue, and the Limited is available only in black with bright green accents. The X Special Edition comes in tan. All four Wildcat models in all trim levels offer the same amount of suspension travel, but the two- and four-seat X models have JRi ECX-1 compression-adjustable shocks. The X Limited and X Special Edition have Elka Stage 5 adjustable shocks. Other differences are half doors on the X and full doors on the X Limited. Bumpers and a roof are options on the X but standard on the Limited. All Wildcat 1000 models have cast-aluminum wheels, but for the X, the normal cast wheels are wrapped with Duro Power Grip 27x9R14 and 27x11R14 tires. The X Limited tires and wheels are the same size, but the tires are ITP Blackwater Evolutions and the cast wheels are color-matched beadlocks.
MORE GOOD THINGS
Full doors, front and rear bumpers and a molded roof are all optional on the X, but they are standard on the X Limited. The X has half doors in stock form. All Wildcat X variants offer standard electronic power steering (EPS) and 2WD, 4WD and electronic differential lock. The doors open suicide-style, so it is easy to enter and exit the machine, and there are comfortable bucket seats and retractable three-point seat belts.
As far as features and standard equipment goes, the Wildcat X Limited is a class leader for the price. In terms of sheer performance, it has room to grow. The 951cc, liquid-cooled V-twin is a single overhead cam with one throttle body feeding both cylinders. With 91 horsepower, it can hardly be called slow, but the 976cc Can-Am Maverick is rated at 101 horsepower, and the dual-overhead-cam, 999cc Polaris powerplant has a throttle body for each cylinder, and it is rated at 110 horsepower.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
For this test we conducted the testing at high altitude with plenty of steep rock climbs interspersed with deep, soft sand. We could feel that the ’Cat was less muscular than a Polaris XP 1000, but it had plenty of boost for our conditions. When we struggled with climbs, it was driver error and not a lack of horsepower. To begin, we had miles of fast pavement and quick dirt tracks to get to the serious trails. For those conditions the X Limited felt happy and relaxed.
Once we hit rocky Moab trails with plenty of sharp rock steps and lumpy climbs, we backed the high- and low-speed compression damping all the way out to let the suspension move easier on the rocks. We could feel an immediate improvement in comfort. We were able to drive smoothly through sections and concentrate on choosing lines.
Arctic Cat designed the Wildcat so the passenger compartment is lower than the major competitors. We suspect that is why the legroom is about the same as other sport UTVs despite the wheelbase being at least 5 inches longer. Measured ground clearance is 13 inches—a little less than Polaris at 13.5 inches—but in actual rock crawling, the skid plates didn’t get much of a workout, and we never got hung up when we weren’t expecting it.
For those steep, stair-step rock climbs that Moab is famous for, the long wheelbase was welcome, and the Wildcat felt calm and relaxed. It takes a lot to upset the Limited. As long as you stay steady on the throttle and don’t barge into anything that pops up the front wheels, the Wildcat stays planted and climbs very well. Part of its ability for rough climbs is the long-travel suspension. It has very good articulation, so you need to be in a sticky spot to loft a wheel. Even when you are floating one wheel the car still feels secure.
We wondered whether the softer suspension setting would have adverse effects off the rocks, but we had long, fast two-tracks with rollers and drops, and the action was still good without bottoming. We stopped and played in a small dune area, and we might have had improved feel with stiffer settings. Nevertheless, after a 50-foot dune jump, the driver reported it was a hard landing. No kidding. But, we were headed back out onto the rocks and chop of well-used roads and washes, so we stayed with the soft settings.
As well as the Wildcat climbs, the car is equally adept at descents. It is stunning what the stock machine is capable of in the hands of a talented driver. The braking is not grabby but is strong enough for any job. The longish wheelbase, low center of gravity and well-articulated suspension all help when you press the down button. We doubt that it is recommended, but we found that by using the throttle to take the load off the transmission, we could shift from low to high and back while rolling. The shift was super smooth with no grinding.
If all you care about is massive horsepower, then there are other brands with more power and even turbo models with much more boost than the Arctic Cat. If your driving area doesn’t require (or even allow) massive acceleration, then the Arctic Cat is well worth serious consideration. Aside from a little front-end push when rammed into turns aggressively, the handling is very good, and the suspension offers a great ride.
We found the suspension reacted well to adjustments. Despite the rock crawling and full-throttle sand-running, there was never a whiff of hot belt smell. On top of the performance and passenger comfort, the Wildcat X Limited offers a lot of great standard features for the price.
ARCTIC CAT WILDCAT X LIMITED
Engine OHC, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, V-twin
Transmission Fully automatic CVT
Final drive Shaft
Fuel system EFI
Fuel capacity 8.8 gal
Ground clearance .13.0”
Estimated dry weight 1380 lb.
Front Double A-arm /17”
Rear 5-link trailing arm /18”
Front 27×9-14 ITP Blackwater Evolution
Rear 27×11-14 ITP Blackwater Evolution
Front Dual hydraulic disc with dual-piston calipers
Rear Dual hydraulic discs
Bed capacity 300 lb.
Colors Black with green