The Arctic Cat Blast test lends insight into a number of innovations by Arctic Cat since the Textron merger. The marketing gurus at Cat/Textron have produced a smaller, lighter, mid-size sled we know as the Arctic Cat Blast. Yes, they raised the bar of our beloved snowmobile universe yet again.
Learning to Snowmobile
It’s always been a conundrum for parents who want to teach their kids to ride. What sled would be best for them to learn on? In my day you started out on the venerable Kitty Kat, while in the 5 to 8-year-old range.
Then you moved on to the Yamaha Enticer series in the teen years, for its lightweight single cylinder and aluminum chassis. Both sleds could be had for short money. Even when dinged, there were plenty of parts available to repair them back to functional use again.
With those sleds, kids could learn how to steer, brake, and handle a snowmobile before making the step up to the big guns that command lots of dough. Cool beans.
Arctic Cat Blast A Segment Buster
Enter Arctic Cat. In the modern era they invented the 120 series to replace the Kitty Kat and then on to the slightly larger 200 series. The brain trust at Cat, and the general public for that matter, still saw a gap from the 200 series to the full-size sleds. Enter the Blast series. But is the Arctic Cat Blast just a kid’s sled?
Competition from BRP and Polaris
To fulfill the youth segment, the folks at BRP chose the fly-by-wire pre-programmed throttle modes on their full-size chassis to lower speeds and buffer the throttle. Polaris has their EVO series of sleds selling for a tad under $6,000. The EVO is a fan cooled twin that’s lower to the ground and narrower, with a pre-programmed speed limit of 50 mph.
Still, no one had developed a 3/4 sized sled to bridge that gap between medium and full-size snowmobiles.
What if engineers collaborated with marketers to come up with a 3/4 platform-sized sled for all ability levels and not just kids? What if it could cater to youth, beginners, casual riders or anyone not willing to invest 15-large? For that matter, what about seasoned, experienced riders? If asked that question I would immediately say impossible! Can’t be done, something must give!
Arctic Cat Blast Test
When I first took this assignment, I must admit I wasn’t too excited about the sled. Because of its smaller size, my first impression was this sled was narrowly targeting kids. Hey, I’m not a kid anymore, I want the best of breed, big boy toys to test.
Turns out I was dead wrong. Let me explain why the Blast is a home run for Cat and a huge leap forward in sled design.
The particular Arctic Cat Blast test for your consideration is the Blast M Special Edition. Let’s be clear, straight away. This was a prototype developed last year at Cat for MY 2021.
If you look on the website you can see the sleds features, specs, and color scheme almost exactly like the one I tested.
I’m sure since this one was produced they have been tweaking the design to make it that much better for the snowmobiling public but they seemed to have left the graphics alone. That said, let’s look at the sled specs.
Arctic Cat Blast Engine
Starting at the heart, the engine is a 400cc, liquid cooled, single cylinder, fuel injected, three stage power valve unit with exhaust temp sensor, making 65 horsepower.
Did you get that? A single cylinder! How in creation is that going to appeal to the masses I asked?
As explained to me, it is 1/2 of the 8000 series (800) motor with all the goodies the 800 has, plus the addition of a counterbalance shaft to smooth out vibration. Not only that but it was designed and engineered right here in the good old USA with zero help from Suzuki! Bonus.
I was told the one I tested had 70 HP. Stay tuned to find out why I think that was a correct statement.
Blast M Special Edition Suspension
This model used Cat’s terrific 146 inch-long 2.0-inch lug Powerclaw track, hence the “M” for mountain series designation. The rear suspension is Cat’s Alpha One series single beam suspension with two coil-over shocks.
The front suspension is their mountain style A-arm with every piece just a little smaller in size and diameter than their full-size sled lineup. Even the skis seemed smaller in size but styled the same as their larger brethren.
Rounding out the Special Edition package was electric start, push button reverse, and nicely heated handlebars and thumb warmer. And if that wasn’t enough they are now using Trailbloc clutch. All this put together amounts to an incredible claimed dry weight of 400 lbs! The hits just keep on coming.
Upon first glance you get the impression of a true ¾ sized sled. The graphics are nice, pleasing to the eye, without being in your face like some other sleds out there. The SE hood tag and decals look nice as well, stating “Hey, I’ve got it, the whole enchilada!”
Yup, for $8,995 I could picture this in my garage. Just like the round versus rectangular headlight debate for cars and trucks, we are in the blackout and gray color era. All the new trucks, snowmobiles, and motorcycles have either black wheels or primer gray color schemes with chrome and bright colors seemingly on their way out. It’s the sinister functional look and shouts don’t mess with me! This Blast follows that trend.
Arctic Blast Controls
Sitting on the sled, the controls for reverse, high beam, along with hand and thumb warmers, are on the dash, not on the handlebars. The electric reverse rocker switch is not placed in the best spot and is somewhat inconvenient to access. Not a deal breaker but could be improved.
Electric start was by key-switch, not push-button. Again, not deal breakers, just old school. The dash switches keep cost down yet still offer A+ reliability.
Like most sleds today the windshield is almost non-existent. Being a Mountain Edition I can understand why, as snow would just pile up on the hood when you are in deep stuff.
The seat is way too small for my adult size buns and could use more padding. Not objectionable but somewhat noticeable. The side panels have a cupped design which cradled your knees as you ride down the trail. I found this especially nice. The manufacturers have finally listened to the consumer. How long have I waited for that feature?
Impressive Arctic Cat Blast Review
On paper this sled seems to have all the goodies to make for an incredible value laden ride. But we all know we don’t ride on paper, so how did it stack up on the trail?
Okay, so everyone wants to know about the engine, the heart of it all. Let’s get right to it. I found the engine to have surprisingly enjoyable power on tap. It’s not a peaky engine by any means. It delivers steady, impressive power. Surprisingly, Cat coaxed a generous amount of torque out of a single cylinder, especially down low and in the mid-range.
No doubt the old school Trailbloc clutch and triple stage exhaust valve help as well. The power just seemed to be right there and always on the powerband waiting for an invitation to mash the throttle down. Cat says 65 HP, but it felt like more towards 70, as I stated earlier. There seemed to be too much acceleration for just 65HP. Maybe because it was a prototype. I’m not sure but it was right there.
Arctic Cat Blast M Top Speed
Upon cold startup there was a fair amount of smoke, but once warmed up and on the trail, I never smelled any smoke at all. Nice. Power and speed keep climbing, tapering off around 50 to 55 mph. On a long pull out on the lake I saw 62 mph on the Dream-O-Meter.
Gas mileage was the second biggest surprise of the day. Starting with a full tank, I traveled 82 miles by the end the day with a tad over half a tank left. That’s incredible fuel mileage. The math comes out to around 15 plus mpg using the half tank equation. Very respectable indeed.
This sled had only 300 miles on the odo, so that mileage will increase slightly as the engine breaks in. Maybe in the 18 to 20 mpg range.
Cat’s website recommends using 91 octane gas. That tells you something about the performance of the motor, as well. Interesting to note that there is no break-in mode on that motor. Maybe Cat left something on the table here, as it could easily engineer a break-in mode in the electronics, which in my mind makes resale value on any sled that much higher.
Granted, this sled is not for long railbeds runs in Canada but that’s not what it’s intended use is anyways. Engine-wise riders would not have any trouble keeping up with any of the big guns on typical trails.
Running With The Big Dogs
To prove this point, I was on my way back to the dealership after about 40 or so miles under the belt and came up behind a group of riders just beginning to lay it down, if you know what I mean. There were three of them including a 500 Sno Pro, Firecat, and an older ZR. All of those sleds had way more power than my 3/4 sized sled.
You could tell they were having fun railing around the corners and wanted to drop me like a hot potato. I nodded my head and said really? Nope, not today. That “little” mountain sled just kept right up with them, even after they were really roosting the corners.
Truth be told all of us were still respecting the speed limit of 45 mph and staying right, but those tight twisty trails were just a hoot to ride on. Eventually they pulled over and waved as I rode by, as if to thank me for the good bout of rider versus rider.
Alpha One Rear Suspension
Let’s discuss the Alpha One rear suspension. Cat had this single beam system for a few years on its mountain sleds. It’s light and has virtually zero snow sticking to it, which keeps it light. That’s a fact most people seem to ignore but it’s really important for many reasons.
It’s not tippy at all and is the perfect match for this smaller chassis. Damping of the non-adjustable shocks was good and combined with a 146 length, 2-inch lug track, it bridged and handled the bumps quite well.
The extra lug height does mitigate the deeper troughs and square edge bumps because of the flexible nature of the lug, which added to the suspension compliance. At times though, the rider still needed to post over bombed out trails.
The one and only negative trait the sled exhibited was inside ski lift. No doubt due to the two wheels in the back suspension. But one could add another two outer wheels for a more trail friendly sled. Again, this is a mountain machine which is made to put the sled on its side in deep snow maneuvers.
The inside lift was not severe and due to the sleds light weight, it was easy to lay off the throttle and gently push the handlebar in the opposite direction to plant the ski right back on the trail.
For reference purposes, if my Cat Turbo came into a corner too hot and began to lift the inside ski, you had best pay attention, as the weight penalty will swiftly begin to pull you right over. Just know that this particular Blast is not a fast-cornering sled but a smooth all-day rider.
The skis were another pleasant surprise as well. There was absolutely zero darting under acceleration or the dreaded deceleration darting. Let’s add this up. You’ve got a lighter, smaller sled with zero darting, plenty of power and good ride. Sounds like a home run to me.
All Day Rideability
Speaking of all-day rides, one fact stood head and shoulders above all the specs, charts, and graphs on Cat’s website. After riding over 80 miles I got off the sled and noticed I wasn’t tired or sore like on my everyday ride. Even though my personal sled rides and handles terrific it still is way heavier than the Blast.
Mine is not a handful in corners by any means, as I have it dialed in just right for my style of riding, but you can’t argue that the extra weight has a cumulative effect over the course of a day on the trail.
The ultra-lightweight and easy steering of the Blast 3/4 style sled made the day. Honestly, I felt refreshed after only a short 80 and could have easily gone many more miles. Light is right as they say and it sure does apply here as I didn’t have to fight any extra, not needed weight.
Arctic Cat Blast Test Conclusion
In conclusion, Cat’s new Blast platform is the “new technology” award winner of the year. There is nothing groundbreaking, no whizz-bang tech, no individual part of that sled that wows. It’s simply the thoughtful combination of all the parts, that together just plain make it work so well.
It’s the lightweight, simple, perky mill, no darting design, with all the added goodies that makes a top-notch ride that I simply can’t resist. Hats off to Cat for breaking ground on this new segment in the market.
Yup, I could really picture this sled in my garage and you guessed, it was really a Blast to ride!
Arctic Cat Blast Test Hits
- Best bang for the buck
- Zero darting skis
- Excellent low-end torque
- 146-track is a must have
- Lightweight makes it easy to ride all day
- Cupped knee panels are an awesome upgrade
- Aftermarket will scramble to make adjustable rear shocks
- Bridges gap between 200 series and 600cc sleds
- Suitable for all levels of riding ability
- Can almost purchase two Blasts for the price of a big sled
- You can actually change a spark plug on the trail
- Clutches are totally dialed in
- Butter smooth steering
- Gas mileage is a plus
- Hard to believe it’s a single cylinder!
- Reverse rocker switch on dash hard to reach
- Gauge difficult to read
- Could use rear adjustable shocks
- 91-octane required
- Inside ski lift is annoying
- Seat could be wider with more padding
- Drivetrain clunk between reverse and forward