Taming the BEAST we test the new 2012 Arctic Cat Wild Cat

When off road racing wants to test its suspension system, it travels to the edge of California’s civilization, a place called Barstow. Arctic Cat followed the lead of industry leaders reinventing everything it has known in regards to building a Side X Side. The terrain eats tires, punishes shocks, and challenges every aspect of a vehicle. It was forged from a legacy of the SCORE Fireworks 250 off-road race, and the tracks of the icons of the sport remain etched in the desert landscape. If you want to win, it’s no secret; you need to test your vehicles merit in Barstow.

For three years, Arctic Cat has forged a bond with Barstow, and the Wildcat is a testament to the company’s commitment.  The 2012 Wildcat is as at home in the brutal Barstow whoops, sand washes, and it scales the rocky hill climbs true to its name.  OffRoadPress.com was given the opportunity to test this new machine and we called on our race experience in Barstow to put the new Arctic Cat through the paces of some of the worst we could find.

The first impression of the Wildcat speaks volumes of Arctic Cat when it comes to sport minded recreation utility vehicles. This is not your typical farm implement. With a 951cc H2 liquid-cooled V-twin, the High Performance 1000i Wildcat growls to life. The heart of this beast is hidden behind an exoskeleton frame that seems more like a racecar then a UTV in the historic sense. It does not take long to realize Arctic Cat means business. Arctic Cat has relied heavily on its ability to offer a new to the industry suspension system, and judging by our test location, they were willing to gamble they had gotten it right.

By now you have read the specs, seen the viral ad campaign, and maybe even speculated on what the Wildcat is like. Forget everything you think you may know about the UTV market, because the bar has been raised again. Far and wide the best choice Arctic Cat made was offering Walker Evans Racing shocks as standard equipment. Our pre-production unit came with 400 over 400 dual rate coil-overs with a remote piggyback reservoir and compression adjustments. Rebound adjustments where not included in the design, but they are not missed. If owners want to go farther than the adjustable primary and secondary spring rates and the compression, the shocks feature the rebuildable and customized valve selection as the top of the line Walker Evans product line up. A simple phone call to Walker Evans will offer additional tuning options.

Our test model seemed a little loose in our first test runs, but a few adjustments of the compression increased our control over the 18 inches of rear wheel travel in the hard hitting whoops of Barstow. This feature is truly tunable for whatever your riding habits are and a great feature. The electronic power steering compliments the 17 inches of front wheel travel nicely with no noticeable bump steer. Steering remains smooth and effortless throughout the power band. The rear-end sports a completely new 5 link design that minimizes camber and axle plunge. The lower trailing arm attaches to the axle via a ball joint design, and the use of spherical rod design bushings make up the rest of the pivot point connections. Being a tried and true barnyard fabricator, I have to admit the single shear lower shock mount warranted a hesitation in my initial opinion of the design, and the multiple pivot mounts do yield a small concern over the longevity of the design, but one trip around the Barstow test track quickly changed my perception of the design.  The 1305-pound Wildcat, with its 90-inch wheelbase, defies logic. The harder you push through the whoops the better it handles them, and if you want a slower softer ride, just turn down the compression adjustment and maybe your wife won’t spill her drink.  Vehicles in this price range that can drive this fast through whoops and make the driver feel like one of the legends of off-road racing are far and few between, but the Wildcat seems to hit the mark.

The Wildcat is nearly race ready by the new International Side X Side Association rulebook. The race inspired seats easily allow the addition of harness style seat belts and, with a small investment, additional race safety standards should not be too difficult to add, making this a great option for customers who would like to jump into off-road racing.

Down sides? Our test did not allow for rock crawling or technical trail riding, so we cannot truly rate this vehicle for all-around performance. The turning radius seemed a little large, causing concern for trips into wooded areas or boulder-filled trails, but the chassis design does allow for a durable rocker panel that will afford a pivot point on the chassis if you do get hung up on a rock or tree but the plastic panel would suffer. The passenger seat would benefit greatly from an additional handle, and the glove box hinges seemed cheap and prone to failure. The automotive seatbelt style door latching mechanism closes very easy, but dirt in the latch makes the push button a little sticky to operate.  Vision is exceptionally good, but the addition of a rear view mirror would be beneficial for keeping track of everyone you leave in the dust. The superior chassis design did leave us wishing we had a little more mid-level power, and a higher top speed. Our tests proved a top speed of just less than 70 mph on graded dirt roads, where the handling could have allowed us an additional 15 MPH before we scared ourselves.

Curiosity may have killed the Cat, but not this Wildcat, and a quick call to our friends at D and P Performance in Cedar City, Utah was in order to find out exactly what kind of distribution we would see for the Wildcat in real world numbers. With an MSRP of $16,599, D and P Performance is an Arctic Cat dealer and we wanted to know what kind of pricing and availability was realistic. Knowing a new model generally finds a bit of a dealer markup we expected to hear a premium would be placed on those wanting to get their hands on this new beast.  D and P do have a number of the units already on hold with deposits, but the small dealer mark up was way less then we anticipated at only $500.00 over MSRP. D and P expected to start seeing units in the show room late this year or by early January.

The Side X Side market continues to outpace the rest of the off-road industry and with increased performance offers like the Wildcat, we expect this trend to continue. With a smaller environmental footprint and better fuel efficiency than the larger off-road vehicle offerings, Side X Sides will continue to become a great vehicle to introduce people to the sport, and with the better chassis design and increased wheel travel numbers, larger and more expensive vehicle owners are downsizing into a platform that offers an expansive dealer network, and a large selection of bolt-on aftermarket options. No doubt 2012 is going to be a great year for fans as we see increased performance offerings from multiple manufactures. The commitment of Arctic Cat to produce a vehicle like the Wildcat should send the message that this sport is here to stay.

About the Author

Mike Lasher is a true Off Road enthusiast down to the core, Growing up in the back seat of a jeep exploring the deserts of Arizona and Nevada, as a kid, as so many of us did. Today Mike spends his free time on the trails with his family and friends in his Kawasaki Teryx or Jeep Wrangler. He also regularly competes in the Best in the Desert series and was second in points in 2009. For more information on mike you can visit www.lashermotorsports.com.

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