It was a long time coming, but we’ve finally received abundant snowfall around our home base. This means it’s time for opinions from our hardcore platoon of test pilots, starting with Arctic Cat’s 2024 ZR 600 CATALYST 129.
First and foremost, remember there are no actual 858 powered Cats in the hands of media or dealers right now. We have a limited build CATALYST with the only mill available this season – the 600cc Dual Stage Injection 2-stroke, built late last winter. The engine has proven itself reliable. In fact, the first year AC introduced this engine as a limited build in 2014, I personally put the lion’s share of 10,000 km on it without incident.
Having said that, though, I don’t expect you’ll see this engine in the CATALYST for very long. The 600 was never designed to be shoehorned into the new platform so we suspect an all-new 600 is likely in development.
The CATALYST is light – real light, and you can feel it. The sled feels feathery when flicked in the twisties and steering inputs are responded to smoothly and predictably. There’s a measure of understeer in play before dragging the brake when entering a tight turn. This is not unnerving as a quick tap on the drive axle mounted brake brings the front end back into an oversteer posture that holds bite through the apex and out the exit. It is a familiar ritual and one that’s easy to learn.
The front end – very similar to Cat’s ProCross wide spaced A-arm setup – is exceptionally stable on-center, at any speed. Handlebar effort is remarkably light and responsive; a trait directly tied to the sled’s lightness.
Ergonomics are now among the best in the biz and pretty much everyone who rides this sled comments on how comfortable it is. The CATALYST rider’s perch is super narrow like a MATRYX Indy and the seat foam is perfectly supportive from the gas tank to the tail. The handlebars fall readily at hand and hip, knee and foot position are very nearly perfect for stand-up/sit down transitions.
The CATALYST suspension package is familiar. The venerable “Slide Action” open yoke front torque arm mounting allows for a wider margin of uncoupled movement in light chop and rollers. While not harsh through the whoops, neither is this suspension notably plush.
Our ZR features ATAC adjustable on-the-fly shock damping, which is a highly effective feature that increases all day ride comfort and adds a measure of plushness. Up front, the wide A-arm IFS flattens sucker bumps and allows virtually no harsh feedback when diving into junk terrain.
Notable in the sled’s acceleration profile is Arctic’s “ADAPT” automatic belt tensioner, which makes RPM transitions from full whack to dropped throttle, super consistent. Never does the CVT get mixed up and pull a less-than-awesome back shift.
The new chainless, final drive, cogged belt system works flawlessly, which is something Luke pointed out at this time last year after his first ever ride on the CATALYST in Thief River Falls. This means the cacophony we’re exposed to with every other chain drive sled is measurably reduced with the new belt drive. There’s no steel-on-steel chain and gear noise or the whizzing of a chain tensioner. While this isn’t necessarily the belt drive’s main objective, there is a measurable reduction in NVH.
The power laid down by the DSI 600 is formidable. Acceleration is strong and crisp and top end is solid. That being said, you’re not likely to walk an Indy 650 down an open stretch of lake. Again, we’re looking at Cat to introduce a 600-650 built off the 858 block sometime in the future.
The 2024 ZR 600 CATALYST 129 with ATAC is more than the sum of its parts mainly because of its lightness. Light has always been and will continue to be right. Now, imagine how this sled will feel with an 858 under the hood knowing the 600 is only one pound lighter!