It’s been a long time, but some of the most noteworthy and pure fun sleds ever built were offered in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
I’m talking about the 700 class and how good those sleds were. The top performers in that era were: Yamaha’s 700cc triple piped triple SRX, Arctic Cat’s Firecat 700 twin, Ski-Doo’s MX-Z 700 twin and Polaris Liberty 700 twin.
Yamaha 700 SRX
This sled was a rocket and still holds an aura of awe whenever it’s mentioned.
This SRX 2-stroke triple was mostly built for flat-out speed and groomed trail riding. Its suspension was okay but not great and it’s equal length trailing arm front end handled decently but not good enough to inspire sonnets.
However, tap the loud handle out on a lake and this sled just evaporated! That triple piped 3-cylinder could scream and many of us still wake up in the middle of the night hearing that wail in our memory banks.
Painted a candy apple blue metallic and with unmistakable styling, this sled had Yamaha quality written all over it – and delivered the kind of thrills it advertised.
It was nicknamed “devil in a blue dress” and still generates goose bumps just remembering it!
Arctic Cat Firecat 700
The Firecat was a mysterious enigma. No one ever figured out why this twin was so fast – it just was! Rather unconventionally, it had the intake and exhaust on the same side of the engine. Its “laydown” configuration wasn’t supposed to work, but did it ever!
We recall talking to Greg Spalding, one of Cat’s powerplant engineers at the time, and he told us the engine started out as kind of an experiment – and that experiment surprised everyone how well it worked.
Arctic Cat legend and early Cat engineer, Roger Skime told us, “Sometimes an engine is just perfect for its displacement. Add another 50ccs and it isn’t as good, take away 100ccs and make it into a 600 and it doesn’t deliver what you want in that category.”
Obviously, the Firecat 700 found a sweet spot and consistently ran with sleds in the 800 class.
Oh, and by the way, the Firecat 600 laydown twin variation was stupid fast, too.
Ski-Doo MXZ 700
This 700 reed-valved twin with RAVE, vacuum-actuated exhaust valves was one of the most pleasant engines on Ski-Doo’s menu in the late 1990s.
The ZX sit-down chassis was ideal for this engine and the combo of a big-displacement (for that era), single piped twin and the easy pull-over when starting a 700 was an incredibly good combo.
Although this engine did not perform quite as strongly as the other two noted here, it was still formidable and delivered the kind of everyday strong performance trail riders loved.
As we think back, we actually liked this engine in the ZX platform much more than the 800 twin offered in that period and some of the big-inch triples Ski-Doo made in the scary CK chassis.
This 700 felt light and nimble and its throttle response was velvet smooth – somewhat due to its TRA clutches – and made it a pleasant – and very competitive big-inch trail sled at the time.
Polaris 700 Liberty Twin
This was another of those “just right” displacement-slash-bore and stroke wonders that was more than the sum of its parts.
This engine debuted in the first EDGE chassis trail sleds and was a cannon on the lakes and a formidable ride on any trail. Power was smooth, economy (for the day) was tolerable and its low-end squeeze was imposing.
To say it non-scientifically, the 700 Liberty simply ran really nice. Strangely, when Polaris brought out the Edge with the new (at that time) Liberty 800 it just wasn’t as good.
It looks like 700 cubes was a magic number – so maybe the OEMs should try another slate of 700s?