ATV Test: 1998 Arctic Cat 300 2x4 and 4x4

Cats in the Mud and Loving It


In the summer of 1996 Arctic Cat, fine purveyors of snowmobiles and watercraft, began producing ATVs.

After intense market research, the company found that the big-bore segment of today's ATV market was the fastest growing, so they decided to initially start at the top, introducing their 454cc model. This year, after their success with the large-displacement machine, they went for gold with an entry in the huge mid-size ATV market.

For their new 1998 model 300 quad, Arctic Cat again went to long-standing engine supplier Suzuki (who supplies all of their watercraft and snowmobile engines) to source the 280cc Suzuki King Quad motor. Beginning with this base, they developed the new 300 model around it. Aiming squarely at the utility market segment, Arctic Cat settled with a design long on durability and value, and also (hopefully) not too bad in the fun department. Their dealers, anxiously awaiting a cheaper Arctic Cat ATV, have already almost sold out the new model before a single unit has been produced.

The Loyal Opposition

We had an opportunity recently to test a couple of Arctic Cat's model 300 prototypes near their factory in Northern Minnesota. Minnesota, like much of North America's central region, is flat. When the snow melts it has nowhere to go but straight down into the ground, turning everything in sight to mud. Born and bred in this environment, the 'Cat 300 performs better than any of the competition in this wet, soggy springtime setting. To prove it, Arctic Cat brought along all the competitors' 300-class quads for comparison.

An important difference between the new 'Cat models is their 300 4x4 has mud guards ... ... while the 300 2x4 does not.

There are a number of important differences between the two new models. The 4x4 has extended fenders to keep mud at bay (they're worth it), a speedometer (with tripmeter), and an additional gear range (super low). Another cool feature of the 300 4x4 is the on-demand four wheel drive, a feature we would like to see carried up to Arctic Cat's 454 4x4. The two new 300cc models share eight inches of ground clearance, and sport front and rear racks that hold 75 and 150 pounds respectively, as standard equipment. Both also feature standard hitches for towing.

Arctic Cat's 300 sports impressive, albeit heavy, independent rear suspension. Suzuki-powered heart of the beast.

Both of Arctic Cat's new models outdid the competition in getting out of any sticky situation. However, there is a price. With an engine tuned for low-down stump pulling power, the 'Cat 300 (both models) give up big on top end. Of course not to say the 300s aren't fun -- it's just a different kind of fun than we're used to on the west coast. Back home fun is a peaky motor that rips the back end loose at high revs.

'We found the 'Cat 300 favors mud or slush, its fat torque curve pulling the 280cc single-cylinder machines through doggedly. The only major drawback in its native environment is found on long, straight flat dirt roads, where you can just pin the 300's throttle and fall asleep. You can't get into much trouble at under 40 mph'

At a claimed 550 pounds for the 2x4 and 585 pounds for the 4x4, coupled with their lack of mid- to top-end power, it's really no surprise that either quad has trouble getting out of its own way at speed. Luckily (or maybe by design) their weight does not show in handling. Unlike the Honda Foreman 400, that gets all out of shape on anything bumpier than a fire road, the 'Cat 300s are impervious to terrain. Sure, when the front wheels are engaged on the 4x4 model its steering is a bit heavy, you can turn off this feature when the terrain allows.

You don't feel the little stuff, and big bumps are dismissed with a minimum of effort. With independent double-A arms front and rear, along with some very killer shocks, these things will not bottom. We never once had to change any settings -- they were perfect right out of the box. Go ahead, throw some whoops at it, or a big rut in the road. You'll fool yourself into thinking the terrain isn't all that bad -- until you try it on another manufacturer's utility quad and just about kill yourself.

Arctic Cat's Cruiseresque heel-toe shifter takes a little getting used to.

The Wilwood-equipped brakes are decent, but not what you would expect from this stock car racing giant. Either the linked braking isn't well sorted or the ATV's weight overwhelms them. It doesn't much matter though, as the machines' positive handling and killer shocks will take you out and over any danger.

It's best to remember that the Arctic Cat 300 is, after all, a utility quad. Although its suspension will have you looking for every possible berm to jump, make no mistake -- this is first and foremost a work vehicle. As such, build quality is impressive. Stout welds and thick beams hold everything together tightly. It truly lives up to the name All Terrain Vehicle. Both machines ground through the worst Minnesota could throw at us with never a hiccup. And any of our nit-picking based on our ride with these prototypes may be entirely invalid by the time the 'Cat 300s hit the stores in October. These new Arctic Cats might just put a smile on your face if slogging out a long day in the saddle is on your agenda.

'Cat's 300 4x4 uses its greater front-end weight to its advantage during water crossings, keeping its wheels on the ground for increased traction.
The 2x4 on the other hand will float its front end on occasion, but is still very good at plowing though the rough stuff.

Specifications

Manufacturer: Arctic Cat
Model: 1998 300 2x4
Price: $4399
Engine: Air/oil-cooled, sohc four-stroke
Bore and Stroke: 83 by 64.5mm
Displacement: 280cc
Carburetion: CV BST31
Transmission: Dual range five speed, auto clutch
Wheelbase: 50 in.
Seat Height: 32 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.25 gal
Claimed Dry Weight: 550 lbs.
Rack Load Rating: 75 lbs. front, 150 lbs. rear

Manufacturer: Arctic Cat
Model: 1998 300 4x4
Price: $5199
Engine: Air/oil-cooled, sohc four-stroke
Bore and Stroke: 83 by 64.5mm
Displacement: 280cc
Carburetion: CV BST31
Transmission: Triple range five speed, auto clutch
Wheelbase: 50 in.
Seat Height: 32 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.25 gal
Claimed Dry Weight: 585 lbs.
Rack Load Rating: 75 lbs. front, 150 lbs. rear

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