On a recent snowmobile trip to the Granite State I was the lucky recipient of an extended demo ride on a 2019 Ski Doo X RS Renegade 900 Ace Turbo for review. Life is good!
I’ve admired the Ace motor tucked into the previous XS chassis when it came out in 2014 but like others I thought that it wasn’t quite the complete machine that riders were looking for. Sure, the handling, ride, looks, and gas mileage were there but the machine was way under powered in my view. Valcourt engineers marketed the machine for specific target groups, those that prioritized relaxed big-mile trail rides, along with new and younger riders. They got what they set out to doo.
Ski-Doo X RS Renegade 900 Ace Turbo Review
Thumbs up to the marketing folks in Valcourt for achieving their sales goal. As the evolution of the breed progressed, performance riders, like myself, wanted more. Enter the Rotax 900 Ace Turbo. I reached out to Bobby Lemieux at Lemieux’s Garage in Colebrook NH for the chance to ride the one and only demo machine. He was happy to oblige. Like a kid in a candy store I was excited to see what all the stir in the sledding world was about on that cold February morning. As Bobby explained the features I knew this day would be special and not soon forgotten.
Most folks that read my column know I’m going to share insight that you won’t find anywhere else, be it sled magazines, the Ski-Doo home page or discussions on the internet. Sharing my unique experiences gained from 50+ years of riding hopefully helps you better define what choices in machinery, and all things snowmobiling, are for you. That said, it’s important to know what my reference point for this article is. I currently ride a 2014 Arctic Cat Turbo, and comparisons, although not directly related, are there in my mind. As I write this in February a lot of BRP fans are considering spring order packages and that’s why my editor wanted this one printed ASAP. Value added as I would call it!
Renegade 900 Ace Turbo Must Have Options
For starters, Ski-Doo hit all the major marks with this model, in my humble opinion. Long 137-inch track: check. Motor with lots of power: check. Quality build: check. Premium shocks: check. Lots of storage options: check. X-RS package: check. Four-year warranty: bonus!
If I was to order a Renegade 900 Ace Turbo, my list of must-have options and accessories would include: 1) High windshield. 2) Ice Ripper XT track. 3) Heated seat. The base price is $15,649, my build price is $16,308. Having a four-year warranty makes me feel more at ease and more likely to actually pull the trigger on purchasing such a unit. Yup, it’s a lot of money but you always get what you pay for and snowmobiling ain’t cheap!
Okay, so let’s take a deep dive into the sled and see what makes this baby tick. My first impression is the color scheme, which is pleasing to the eye. Not too loud, not too subtle, but still makes a performance statement. A close second is the performance sound emanating from the exhaust. It has a sports car sound which is very pleasing to the ear and makes me feel as though I’m going fast without even moving. The closest in sound quality is the old Yamaha Apex. I wonder how many machines will sell on just the sound alone? However, while riding I did notice more engine noise than my Cat. Not loud or objectionable but still there. There were no unusual noises. Engaging reverse was solid with no clunking or banging.
I love the quality gauge pod and the way the needles rotate clockwise then counter clockwise on start-up. Ski-Doo’s had these for years and they work. The gauges are well lit and easy to read, placed so that you have a perfect view of all essentials. When riding at night, deep in the woods, it’s reassuring to see the gauge and all functions. I’ve sat on far too many sleds where I had to move my body just to see the gauges. Thumbs-up to Ski-Doo for engineering this correctly. News flash: The 2020 version will feature a new digital gauge assembly. On a side note, I’d like to see all manufacturers install an ambient temperature gauge.
The hand and thumb warmers have segmented curved readouts on each side of the digital multifunction display and a memory feature so you don’t have to re-select upon startup. I found that the hand warmers toasty warm and had to turn them down multiple times even though we were in the single digits that day. That’s a most welcome friend on those thirty-something below zero rides. The thumb warmer was good but not as dialed-in as the handlebar warmers.
Comparing the rMotion Suspension
The ride, with the rMotion rear suspension, was simply terrific. I’m not quite sure if it’s more the rMotion or the longer track length (137 versus 129) that make it better, could be the combination. Compared to my reference ride it keeps you on the seat in those high-speed rollers and when the bumps get even bigger. I think the Cat had more compliance on the jigglers and low speed bumps but maybe an adjustment on the Renegade would have gotten it more dialed in. Not sure, I’d need more time in the saddle. Also taken into consideration is that the X package rides firmer than a standard Renegade or the other calibrations offered.
The seat is comfortable and well-shaped, as I detected no pressure points and good absorption during my journey. One thing missing from my must-have list was a heated seat. It’s offered as an option and well worth the $500 price tag, so no need to worry there.
The handle bar grips have a nice tacky rubber compound, which combined with the thinner diameter handlebar had just the right fit. The adjustment feature on the handlebar riser has been tried in the past. Once set it’s not needed, so Ski-Doo would be well off to delete this feature. I can’t imagine multiple people riding “my” machine and readjusting the handlebars. Heck no, I would want to keep it all to myself!
Pilot Skis Performance
I found the dual runner Pilot skis to dart somewhat, pulling me in different directions, so there are some needed adjustments to be had. Again, more seat time would have allowed some tweaking. Initial turn-in of the skis was precise with little push and handlebar effort was just right. The darting was the most annoying aspect on an otherwise well thought-out and built package. With modern snowmobiles you either get darting and inside ski lift or no darting and pushing in the corners. There’s a delicate balance the manufacturers have yet to sort out and a lot of variables that directly impact that balance.
Gen 4 Open Toes Holds
The jury is still out on the toe-holds, at least for this juror. Ski-Doo went to open toe-holds with the Gen 4 chassis, allowing for more applied rider English. I didn’t take advantage of them and actually found my feet to be colder from those open areas in the tunnel. They sell close-offs to convert them back to a traditional stirrup. To be fair, I rode the sled for one hour and needed more seat time to see if the openness of the toe-holds would be something I preferred or not. Kudos though to Ski-Doo for thinking outside the box here and trying to improve handling.
The pDrive clutching seemed spot-on for the power delivery of the sled, the unit engaged smoothly at 3200 RPM. Backshifting was also spot-on and the power seemed to be right where it should be after throttle back-off. No complaints or improvement suggestions. Reverse is via a mechanical lever by the right knee, similar to older Yamahas. Lift the lever and reverse is engaged. The placement was odd and I wonder why they didn’t incorporate a handlebar button to electrically engage the chaincase, as do other makes? Funny too was the fact that the start button still has RER right on it!
Brake feel and performance was excellent with the drilled rotor Brembo system. I noticed no fade even on a long downhill with brakes applied.
900 Ace Turbo Performance
And now for engine performance – drum roll please! First off, there are three modes of operation you can select, Eco, Standard and Sport. In Eco it’s really a sedate ACE but perfect for new or younger riders just starting out. Special thanks to the engineers for thinking ahead about introducing new riders to the sport without overwhelming them with high horsepower twitchiness. Why else might you use this conservative mode? When the next gas stop is miles away and you are not sure if you can make it, just pop it in Eco and breathe a sigh of relief! Many riders also use Eco when loading the sled on a trailer, it simplifies the process.
Sport Mode really brings out the ponies secretly nestled under the hood. When engaging Sport, the idle increases by 300 RPM and lets you know the machine is ready for business. Rail grades, wide forest roads and informal races are what this selection is for. On tight twisty trails it was almost impossible to keep it under control in Sport, it was what I consider jumpy. I’ve not been a fan of Ski-Doo’s fly-by-wire throttle system but applaud them for being the first to implement it. Previous sleds I’ve tried had an uneasy disconnected feel, as if it was controlling me somewhat, not the other way around. Most cars and trucks now have fly-by-wire throttles, so expect to see more on snowmobiles. Refinement is needed for sure.
Eco and Standard Mode
That brings me to turbo lag. In Eco and Standard modes there was some delay in throttle response. I’m not sure if it was turbo lag or the fly-by-wire settings but it was noticeable. Not annoying, and definitely not in Sport Mode, but slightly detectable. The mode switch is on the lower dash near the knee and can be changed on the fly. Perhaps Ski-Doo should consider moving the switch to the handlebar area so the rider doesn’t have to take their hands of the bars while riding.
Things really get busy when the engine hits 6400 RPM in Sport. At this point you had better have good sightlines down the trail because the trees and bushes start going by fast. I would rate the pull as extremely respectable, and the smile factor was there for sure.
Responsive and Powerful
Ski-Doos’ intention with this machine was to be the most well-rounded sled they offer. At 150 HP it’s within the top selling segment in the industry and a sweet spot for the majority of trail riders. It’s not meant to be a lake racer by any means but you won’t be embarrassed by it either. I like the fact that its lighter than my Cat turbo and for that reason may be a more balanced machine overall. Light is right – always has been, always will be. That’s my motto. The Standard Mode is where I spent most of the time with the sled and found it responsive and powerful when needed.
Ski-Doo hit a real home run with the Rotax 900 Ace Turbo, filling a gap in their lineup for reliable long-mile touring and performance riders. Special thanks to Bobby Lemieux for the demo ride.
- Good looking sled
- Turbo wakes an otherwise sleepy motor
- Pull is great, 8.5 out of a possible 10
- Three mode operation is genius
- Standard Mode best for all-around conditions
- Lighter four-stroke platform
- 137-inch track bridges bumps and holds a line through corners
- Rear rMotion suspension handles bumps superbly
- Good overall ergonomics
- Forward seating position aids visibility
- Controls easy to navigate and work well
- Gauge is one of the best in industry
- Good wind protection with hand guards
- Super handwarmers
- Excellent grips and right-sized handlebars
- Dash glovebox storage is awesome
- Although not tested, heated seat option is key
- No need to carry oil
- Brake lever is short
- Cold feet with open toe-holds
- Needs higher windshield
- Sport Mode too jumpy
- Needs Ice Ripper track for added traction and safety
- Mechanical reverse lever is a nuisance, it should be electric
- Fly-by-wire system needs further refinements