2010 Arctic Cat 550 S 4x4 Review

A 'small upgrade' leads to big change

Story by Jerrod Kelley, Photography by Enrico Pavia & Arctic Cat, Mar. 24, 2010

Power Steering is one of the greatest innovations in the ATV industry. Donít describe it as trivial, because itís significant. You want proof? Since this engineering concept entered the market on the Yamaha Grizzly 700, every major ATV manufacturer (sans Kymco and Kawasaki) has since incorporated this trendy and sensible technology. Arctic Cat is the latest maker to add the equipment to its four-wheelers. Six of its 2010 4x4 models now benefit from the upgrade.

Arctic Cat knows the addition of its Variable Assisted Power Steering system not only improves the handling but that it is also the most complete in the industry. While we wonít call it industry leading just yet, we must say itís definitely an improvement. Power steering may benefit the Arctic Cat platform more than any other brand. We say that because weíve never ridden such a comfortable or capable Arctic Cat.

We know what the skeptics have said, ďI donít need power steering on an ATV.Ē Before we tried it, we felt the same way. However, after you ride a wheeler with Electronic Power Steering, you instantly get it. Some people may still say itís a gimmick or an unnecessary expense, but we strongly disagree. All the EPS models offer more control, improved handling and reduce rider fatigue. In our book, thatís no gimmick.

Dressed in red, the new 550 S is the most comfortable and capable Cat we've ever ridden.

We tested all the Arctic Catís EPS family in the Manti-La Sal National Forest outside of Moab, Utah. In terms of overall comfort and performance, we rate the 700 S and 550 S as the top two Arctic Cat models to date. Weíve discussed the 700 S already, but figured the smaller displacement, and more affordable, 550 deserved its own rating.

550 S Family Details

2010 Arctic Cat 550 S
2010 Arctic Cat 550 S LTD
2010 Arctic Cat TRV 550 S GT

Dressed in red, the base 2010 Arctic Cat 550 S (EFI 4x4) retails for $8,349 (tentative) and features standard wheels and not the impressive aluminum units found on the S LTD and TRV S GT models. The 550 family also has a slightly different appearance than the 700 S line, but you have to look closely to notice it. The headlights have an additional sharp edge for a modern daring look and twin vented holes, which could be described as aesthetic more than functional. The front bumper and plastic compliment each other with cleaner transitions than on the 700, or at least thatís our take. And we canít forget the matching red plastic CV boot guards.

All three 550 models share parts and the same EPS (by Globe Motors) upgrade, however the 550 S LTD also has a value-added accessories package and a special Tungsten Metallic painted finish. The LTD machine includes a winch, front and rear bumpers and 12-inch machined aluminum wheels a deluxe gauge. However, its price jumps to $9,249 (plus $900).

From its rear passenger seat and handrails to its remarkable Viper Blue painted plastic, the TRV 550 S GT ($9,349) stands out from its 550 brethren. The same aluminum wheels with black inlays and analog/digital hybrid speedometer/odometer add a little show to match the go.

Other Updates

The power steering models also have a few other updates that deserve mention. The first is the new ó re-redesigned ó front differential switch. The original assembly worked, but we (and other members of the press) never liked the location. Cat listened and relocated the switch to the right side of the handlebar above the thumb throttle on all its 2010 units.

In our earlier test report of the 2010 Thundercat, we said we enjoyed the new location but were displeased with its operation or lack thereof. Engineering Product Manager Mark Esala said Arctic Catís engineering team realized the new switch was not up to par and they again fixed the problem. This time the assembly, which was a running change and debuted on the power steering ATVs, features a smoother functioning switch thanks to a rubber-type sleeve. We could easily operate the switch without having to use two hands or remove our right hand off the grip ó great change!

The second is the ever so slight change to their toe (stationary alignment). The units have been toed out 1/8-inch per side (1/4 in. total). Arctic Cat said its engineering team concluded the new alignment produced better handling when mated with the EPS.

550 S vs. 700 S

If we didnít learn the difference in machine color or read the displacement numbers on the outside of the center section, we would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 550s and 700s simply by the seat of our pants. Sure, the 700 has a bit more muscle and pulls harder, but the 545cc single-cylinder four-stroke impressed us on more than one occasion as we played in the deep mountain snow and climbed the slippery snow-covered roads. We purposely pinned the throttle on the 550 S while riding with a 700 S rider and were excited to learn it could hold its own. In the seemingly bottomless snow section, the 550 had more difficulty than the larger model, but conquered everything we threw at it.

The Arctic Cat Duramatic transmission may not be the smoothest operating CVT in the industry, but its engine braking is top notch. It slowed down rapidly when we let off the throttle, but was not over zealous either. We enjoyed the engine brakingís effectiveness for the many steep and slow-speed downhill crawls in Utah.

As we stated before, the new EPS-equipped Arctic Cats now have reduced rider fatigue and improved comfort to match their impressive suspension travel (10 inches), large-and-comfortable platforms and true off-road skills (nice IRS and 11-inch ground clearance). Sure, the machines remain heavy, but they have a lighter steering effort that lets you save energy and focus more on the trails and its obstacles.

Plusses:    Minuses:
  • + Improved front end tracking, steering
  • + Big, comfortable
  • + More affordable than 700S
  • + Great ground clearance and suspension travel
  • + Engine braking
  • - Single-lever braking
  • - Overall weight (692 lbs. dry!)

Editorís note ó to read more about Arctic Catís power steering, see our 700 S review.

Comparable Vehicles: Yamaha Grizzly 550 FI 4x4 Auto EPS, Polaris Sportsman 550 EPS, Can-Am Outlander 500 EFI XT, Honda FourTrax Foreman Rubicon GPScape with Power Steering, Suzuki KingQuad 500 AXI 4x4 Power Steering

2010 Arctic Cat 550 S (LTD/TRV GT) Specs
Engine
Engine Type: SOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke
Displacement: 545cc
Bore x Stroke: 92mm x 82mm
Cooling: Liquid w/fan
Powertrain
Transmission: Automatic CVT w/EBS, Hi/Lo range & Reverse
Drive System: 2WD/4WD/4WD Lock
Brakes (front/rear): Hydraulic disc
Suspension
Front Suspension: Double A-arm (10 in. travel)
Rear Suspension: Double A-arm (10 in. travel)
Front Tires: 25 x 8-12 Duro Red Eagle
Rear Tires: 25 x 10-12 Duro Red Eagle
Dimensions
Length / Width / Height: 84.8 (TRV 98.6)/ 47.5 / 48.0 (TRV 50.3) in.
Wheelbase: 50 in. (TRV 58 in.)
Ground Clearance: 11 in.
Dry Weight: 692 lbs (TRV: 719 lbs)
Capacities
Front Rack: 100 lbs
Rear Rack: 200 lbs (TRV 50 lbs)
Towing: 1,050 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 5.7 gal. (TRV 5.3 gal.)
Alternator: 25 amps
Other
Speedometer/Odometer: Digital
Color: Red (LTD: Tungsten Metallic; TRV: Viper Blue)
MSRP (Tentative): $8,349 (LTD: $9,249; TRV: $9,349)

Related Reading
2010 Arctic Cat 700 S 4x4 Review
2010 Arctic Cat Thundercat 1000 H2 Review
2010 Arctic Cat Lineup Unveiled
2010 Arctic Cat Early Release Models
All Things Arctic Cat on ATV.com

 
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