A 'small upgrade' leads to big change
Power Steering is one of the greatest innovations in the ATV industry. Don’t describe it as trivial, because it’s 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 4×4 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 won’t call it industry leading just yet, we must say it’s definitely an improvement. Power steering may benefit the Arctic Cat platform more than any other brand. We say that because we’ve never ridden such a comfortable or capable Arctic Cat.
We know what the skeptics have said, “I don’t need power steering on an ATV.” 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 it’s 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, that’s no gimmick.
We tested all the Arctic Cat’s 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. We’ve discussed the 700 S already, but figured the smaller displacement, and more affordable, 550 deserved its own rating.
550 S Family Details
Dressed in red, the base 2010 Arctic Cat 550 S (EFI 4×4) 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 that’s our take. And we can’t 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.
The power steering models also have a few other updates that deserve mention. The first is the new — re-redesigned — 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 Cat’s 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 — 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 didn’t 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 braking’s 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.
Editor’s note — to read more about Arctic Cat’s power steering, see our 700 S review.
Comparable Vehicles: Yamaha Grizzly 550 FI 4×4 Auto EPS, Polaris Sportsman 550 EPS, Can-Am Outlander 500 EFI XT, Honda FourTrax Foreman Rubicon GPScape with Power Steering, Suzuki KingQuad 500 AXI 4×4 Power Steering
|2010 Arctic Cat 550 S (LTD/TRV GT) Specs|
|Engine Type:||SOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke|
|Bore x Stroke:||92mm x 82mm|
|Transmission:||Automatic CVT w/EBS, Hi/Lo range & Reverse|
|Drive System:||2WD/4WD/4WD Lock|
|Brakes (front/rear):||Hydraulic disc|
|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|
|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)|
|Front Rack:||100 lbs|
|Rear Rack:||200 lbs (TRV 50 lbs)|
|Fuel Capacity:||5.7 gal. (TRV 5.3 gal.)|
|Color:||Red (LTD: Tungsten Metallic; TRV: Viper Blue)|
|MSRP (Tentative):||$8,349 (LTD: $9,249; TRV: $9,349)|