Arctic Cat ThunderCat 950 4x4
We ride the biggest ATV ever and live to tell about it
September 07, 2007
Arctic Cat calls this mechanism a Spike Load Dampener. It is designed to allow a fraction of a second of slippage in the drive line during times when the drive train is going through an abnormal amount of load such as a landing from a jump. This allows Arctic Cat to keep the ThunderCat’s drive train both light and durable. What will those cool cats think of next?Historically, Arctic Cat has built their ATVs to ride high in the suspension travel and they admit it. Arctic Cat feels that their buyers like that jacked up truck look -- so they stuck with it, Unfortunately, this hasn’t sat well with many magazine guys who didn’t care for the top heavy feeling the "riding high" setup produced.
For the ThunderCat, Arctic Cat’s engineers knew that they needed to build a chassis that would deal with the spirited power output of the motor. The ThunderCat’s basic chassis was borrowed from their 700 with a few important changes. First off, the rear end of the chassis was extended two and a half inches. This helps the ThunderCat to launch forward out of the hole without the rider dealing with an unexpected wheelie. It also weights the front tires more, helping to eliminate some of the unwanted pushing in the turns that some of their smaller models are known for.
Instead of having the ThunderCat ride high with its suspension topped out, they designed it with more sag allowing it to sit several inches down in the travel lowering the machine’s center of gravity. Additionally, the machine's seat was lowered a bit to get the rider sitting farther down, rather than having him tittering back and forth high on the machine.
Maxxis developed the ThunderCat's tires in conjunction with Arctic Cat specifically for the ThunderCat 950. They surely added to the big cat’s greater level of sure-footed-ness and sporty demeanor. Another thing that makes the ThunderCat’s independent rear suspension unique is its lack of a sway bar. All the other manufacturers use a sway bar to help fight the body roll associated with IRS. The disadvantage of a sway bar is that it limits an IRS's ability to reach full articulation where one rear shock is fully compressed while the other is fully extended. Arctic Cat feels that it is their lack of a sway bar that gave 2006 Champion, Daryl Rath an advantage in the extreme rock areas found on the QuadTerrain Challenge courses at any of the WPSA Championships in 2006. With suspension that sits lower in the travel and a lower center of gravity, Arctic Cat felt that they had taken the steps necessary to reduce body roll while retaining their machine's ability to take full advantage of its IRS in the most challenging conditions.
We had the chance to ride the ThunderCat back to back with several other machines in their utility lineup at Arctic Cat's recent media intro and the differences were immediately apparent. While the 650 felt as though it was riding high, especially in the front, the Thunder Cat felt lower and more stable at both ends. This resulted in more precise handling and a greater feeling of confidence at all speeds, although most of us in attendance felt it worked better the more aggressive you rode.
Preload adjustable suspension front and rear allow you to tune the Thunder Cat for more plush-ness or a firmer sportier ride. This also comes in handy when hauling heavy cargo on the machine's front and rear racks. While the big Cat still had a slight tendency to push, it was far less pronounced than on Arctic Cat’s smaller models. Cruising down the trails at a moderate pace, the ThunderCat did a decent job of going where it was pointed. At a faster pace, the ute's lower center of gravity and sporty Maxxis tires made the machine a thrill to rocket out of corners. The machine’s lower CG also helped it on off camber trails where the machine felt less tippy than its smaller siblings.
The ThunderCat’s suspension provided a good blend of sporty performance at high speeds and low speed "plush-ness". Although there wasn’t any real technical rock sections to put the independent suspension to the test, its performance in wide open spaces felt stable and sure footed even without an accessory sway bar.
The Thunder Cat has dual hydraulic disk brakes up front and a hydraulic disk brake in the rear. The Thunder Cats foot brake does solely operate the machine's rear disk brake but the handlebar mounted lever operates both the front and rear brakes. The brakes do a good job of hauling the monster machine down from speed; however we are disappointed at the machine’s lack of separate front and rear brakes. For some reason, all of the non Japanese manufacturers think there is some sort of advantage to having single lever braking. We think this is wrong, most other publications think this is wrong, still no one listens. If you aren’t skilled enough to take advantage of the extra control provided by separate front and rear brakes, you have no business riding a machine with this much power.
The ThunderCat includes Arctic Cat's nifty Speed Rack System, which allows you to attach different accessories such as trunks and other products to the front or rear of the machine. The machine also has a two inch receiver allowing you to take the hitch off your pickup truck and attach it to your new monster quad. This comes in handy when moving things such as trailers. To tie in the spirit of the new ThunderCat with what the company is doing in the WPSA ATV Tour, the ThunderCat comes in the same silver body with green graphics as their factory race machines. It looks quite good if you ask us.
|At low speeds the ThunderCat has a mild tendency to push from time to time although its low speed cornering manners are far superior to that of its smaller Arctic Cat cousins. The Thunder Cat seems happier when being ridden with some aggression. Body roll is surprisingly mild thanks to more suspension sag and a lower seat height.|
Lean forward and drill the gas and the ThunderCat launches straight forward out of the hole like a YFZ450. With the help from a small bump or some body English it’s possible to lift the front wheels for anything you can’t just plow over. The Bottom Line
Before we tell you our final impression of the machine, be warned, just because you have the money to afford this machine, it may not be for you. If you are not a highly experienced rider, you can get in trouble very quickly on a machine with this much horsepower, no matter how smooth or manageable the engine's power delivery is. While we hope the displacement war stops here below 1000cc, we doubt that it will.
With that said, the Thunder Cat is a machine that Arctic Cat should be proud of. It is the best all around performing machine that they have produced to date. It handles better than anything in their stable, has all of the features needed to be a dedicated workhorse and Arctic Cat did a phenomenal job of making the biggest motor on the block exceptionally smooth.. If you've got enough experience to master its power, in the case of the Thunder Cat 950, -- bigger is indeed better.