I wanted an ATV that could be used for trail work on a trail system we are building locally. The ATV had to be capable of extreme mountain terrain, with adequate power, traction, and stability. I purchased a new Arctic Cat Thundercat 1000 for this purpose. Here are my impressions after numerous rides.
Arctic Cat has come along way with the appearance of their ATVs, What used to be the plainest looking ATVs on the market are now some of the best looking ATVs you can buy. The vertical slotted grill is Jeep like in appearance, and looks great, but with a more modern appearance thanks to the contoured headlights. I like the minimal front bumper and no rear bumper on this model of the Tcat, which gives it a “nothing but motor” strictly business appearance.
Everything fits in place where it is supposed to on the Arctic Cat. This ATV has the best OEM handlebar position I have experienced, and is at least equal to any aftermarket set-up I have used. The handlebars are positioned perfectly, and are comfortable, with excellent quality grips that let you ride all day long without gloves, and no blisters. The levers and all controls are in the right places, comfortable, and easy to use. The only thing that could be improved would be changing to 1 1/8” fat bars instead of the thin 7/8” stock bars. The shift mechanism is the easiest to use and smoothest shifting of any utility ATV I’ve owned. The shift lever glides smoothly from gear to gear with none of the stiff notchy feel found on other ATVs. . The airbox cover (that resides where gas tanks used to be) is smooth, narrow, and comfortable. The seat / airbox junction is well shaped and easy to move around on. You can easily transfer your weight from front to back and side to side on this ATV to more easily control the ATV on extreme terrain. This is one very comfortable ATV, even the seat firmness is “just right” for me. Arctic Cat has done a good job with making an ATV that feels right.
Fit and finish / build quality:
Arctic Cat builds a good ATV. The frame is strong and well designed, with quality welds. The a-arms, axles, driveshafts, and shocks are all quality items that appear very stout. Skidplates and CV guards are also very good for a stock ATV. All of the plastic body panels fit well, and are solidly attached, … better than with most ATVs. The hardware that holds the ATV together is top notch quality stuff, and the ATV feels solid when you ride it. The floorboards are solid, and hold up to being drug across rocks and trees. The painted plastic looks great, although it can be scratched easily. The paint on my Thundercat stayed perfect for less than a day. One of the front tires flipped a log up against the side of the rear fender, and that was all it took, the ATV had a big permanent scratch in the paint that shows up much more than a similar scratch would show up in colored plastic.
It has a 951cc v-twin, which should pretty much sum it up. This engine has phenomenal grunt right on the bottom, and pulls smooth and strong the whole way through the powerband. There are no surprises, just way more power than you’ve experienced before. This ATV puts a smile on your face every time you apply the throttle. There is never ever a lack of power, and the Tcat always seems to feel like it is doing what you ask it to do without even needing to work at it. The Tcat accelerates to 70 mph in what seems like nothing at all, then tops out more gradually with a top speed on slightly downhill pavement of 85 mph on the speedometer.
The Thundercat has 10” of suspension travel with preload adjustment capability front and rear. Just one position of adjustment in preload makes a big difference in ride height, suspension firmness, and body roll in turns. This ATV will take the big hits well, and sucks up pretty much anything in its path. The suspension gets the job done well, but is not supple like high end aftermarket suspension. The best ride quality can be achieved when the suspension is set fully soft. You have plenty of suspension travel to soak up the terrain, and with the suspension set fully soft the Thundercat can eat up nasty terrain in a straight line in a hurry. However, the suspension will provide better handling, specifically cornering, if the suspension is set firmer. So this is a compromise on the Thundercat. I settled on the second to softest preload setting, which gives acceptable suspension performance, while still providing at least fair handling. The Tcat has no swaybars, which helps with suspension articulation at slow speeds. The Thundercat does an excellent job of keeping all four tires on the ground on technically difficult terrain, like when rock crawling, crossing downed logs, etc.
This is where the Thundercat is somewhat limited. The lack of swaybars causes excess body roll in turns, You can compensate by shifting your body weight, but you have to shift your body weight more with the Tcat than with other utility ATVs I have ridden. The Thundercat is also heavy, and has a long wheelbase. It doesn’t change directions in a hurry, and the front end can tend to push a bit in very sharp turns. There is also some bump steer with the long travel suspension, which at times can be enough to actually change the direction of the ATV. Overall handling is rated as “fair”. This is not a bad handling ATV, it just isn’t the best handling ATV out there.
Arctic Cat extended the wheelbase of the Thundercat by moving the rear axle back 2” relative to their other ATVs. The Thundercat’s wheelbase is almost 3” longer than other ATVs, like the Yamaha Grizzly 700. That extra wheelbase combined with excellent engine placement makes for an ATV that feels like it will climb a wall. I’ve owned most of the big bore sport utes out there, and the Thundercat will out climb each and every one of them. Hills that are so steep and difficult that other ATVs cannot keep their front tires on the ground, can be climbed easily on the Thundercat. At one point on a very steep uphill trail I had to cross a fallen tree that was a foot off the ground. With the front tires of the Thundercat on the tree the ATV was so straight up and down that I almost couldn’t stay on the seat, yet the Thundercat still did not feel like it was going to go over backwards, and with diff lock engaged and generous use of the throttle, the Thundercat made it over that fallen tree. I haven’t owned another ATV that I feel could have made it over that tree without winch assist. On long and steep, but less technical, dirt hillclimbs the Thundercat is also in a league of its own. No other ATV I have ridden has the low end power that the Thundercat has. Long steep climbs are much easier on an ATV with so much smooth strong power. The Thundercat definitely inspires confidence when it is able to more or less cruise up any hill at ¼ throttle, with lots of reserve left over if things start to get worse.
Items that could be improved:
This ATV does not overheat, even when climbing technically demanding trails in low range and four wheel drive for hours on end. The engine fan comes on occasionally, but no more than expected, and in that regard the Tcat is as good as any ATV. The Tcat makes a lot of heat from the exhaust system right underneath the left rear fender though. This ATV is easy to move around on, and easy to shift your weight to the high side on extreme sidehills, but if the high side is on the left I guarantee you wont be parking your backside over that left rear fender for more than a second. The fender gets VERY hot at slow trail speeds. You also wont be carrying a passenger at slow speeds. My wife went for a simple brief ride with me on the Tcat, and after a mile on a slow trail she asked me to stop so she could get off because she couldn’t tolerate the heat on her leg. This ATV would not work for all day rides with a passenger, unless you never once slowed your pace.
The Thundercat is a tall ATV. The height helps with extreme terrain on flat ground because ground clearance is superb, but the height hinders the ATV on severe sidehills. This is a compromise that can be managed for the most part by dialing in the suspension, with lower being better for my particular use. I would also prefer to have the seat height lowered, so you sit more “in” the ATV instead of “on” the ATV. Arctic Cat says that they lowered the seat height on the Tcat, but they could stand to lower it a few more inches.
I don’t like single lever braking. Single lever braking is for rank novices, and for first time newbies that don’t even know which lever to pull. ATV manufacturers should not build their top performance model with a set up that is for rank novices and first time newbies. My gripe with single lever braking comes up whenever the ATV is used in more difficult terrain, specifically very very steep downhills. These big bore ATVs have enough engine braking to skid the rear tires when decending very steep loose hills in two wheel drive. With single lever braking you only have one lever to pull, and it is going to apply brakes to both the front and rear axle equally. So you still have much more braking going to the rear axle, because you have the engine braking plus the hydraulic brakes, while you only have the hydraulic brakes going to the front axle. No matter what you do you will have more braking going to the axle that has essentially no weight on it, and less braking going to the axle with all the traction. It is a stupid and dangerous situation. Yes you can put the ATV in four wheel drive for downhills that are that steep, but that increases steering effort significantly, especially on steep downhill switchbacks. Separate front and rear braking is so much more safe than single lever braking that there is no comparison.
I’m happy with the Thundercat. Arctic Cat builds a quality ATV that does what I need it to do with ease. The combination of power and capability is hard to beat, and the style and appearance are as good as they get.