2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i Review [Video]

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
A thrilling ride in the wildest Cat

When we think of a cat, several distinct things come to mind. A cat always lands on its feet running and a cat has an innate ability to nimbly and strategically move across obstacles in its path with precision and grace. A wildcat is a form of the same feline family yet this beast has a streak of insanity and an untamed demeanor that makes it stand out from its domesticated siblings. That could be the reason Arctic Cat named its newest offering the Wildcat 1000i – a machine that may be wildest in the entire UTV industry.

In the Stoddard Wells ORV riding area, tucked quietly close to Barstow, Calif., we finally met the Wildcat face to face. With the thoughts of its massive suspension and powerful engine swirling in our heads we were beyond excited to see if Arctic Cat could live up to its boastful projections once and for all. Afterall, the Wildcat 1000i has been the talk of the off-road industry for months.

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Arctic Cat’s project engineers researched the dynamics of suspension during many hours of testing in places like Barstow. This is a Mecca for testing and endurance challenges that bring proof to many engineers that they have succeeded or failed. While building the Wildcat, one question must have stood out on the drawing board: How can we make a suspension built for a trophy truck and put it into our Wildcat chassis? Whatever the plan was, it’s pretty clear to us that Arctic Cat has succeeded.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

Arctic Cat intends its new Wildcat 1000i to take UTVs where they’ve never gone before. (Photo Courtesy Vincent Knakal of Mad Media)

Starting with the chassis, we can see a slim, lightweight round tube base on the Wildcat. This chassis not only took styling cues from the Class 1 buggy line, but it has a rock-crawler look that stands out as well. The weight in the chassis is rear biased 60/40 as the engine is mounted behind the cockpit. The engine is not the only thing behind the seats, as the radiator and most of the transmission components are as well. The only things we were able to see forward of the driver and passenger are a massive set of shocks, the front drive differential and a small oil cooler. This is Arctic Cat’s plan to make the Wildcat stand up in the front and to create balance when crossing the roughest terrain with your foot on the gas!

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

A full 17 inches of travel is available from the front suspension.

Directing the Wildcat is an electronic power steering system. This is designed to make turning the feline a cinch and when the hungry rocks come calling it can soak up the abuse while keeping the driver in control.

The suspension is where the Wildcat 1000i excels. Starting with the rear of this machine we find an incredible 18 inches of travel! Up front this cat stretches its arms out 17 inches. No other side-by-side comes close to these kind of numbers. Polaris’ Ranger RZR XP 900 is next in line when it comes to suspension travel, but it has four inches less in the rear and 3.5 less in the front.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

The five-point rear suspension offers an incredible 18 inches of travel and unrivaled adjustability.

The five-point suspension in the rear and dual A-arms up front are held in place by Walker Evans shocks. Walker Evans is a prominent name in the world of off-road racing and if anyone knows about cushioning the blows in the roughest terrain it has to be the Evans crew. These dual-rate shocks have several features that really make the suspension not only work well, but also lends to adjustment for the discriminating driver. The first of these adjustments and possibly the first type of adjustment of its kind in the side-by-side world has to be the crossover controls. The crossover spacer on typical dual-rate shock setups for ATVs or UTVs has to be physically removed and replaced with a different size spacer. The Walker Evans shocks have threaded adjustments, so its owner manipulates the tuning of the crossover rate. This is another first for a production machine and a bonus for side-by-side enthusiasts. These shocks also have multiple “clicks” of adjustment for the compression side of the shock.

The cockpit of the Wildcat 1000i is built to enclose the driver and the seated position is lower than its competition by five inches. Arctic Cat says this gets the driver and passenger down into the machine, which helps lower the center of gravity overall and delivers an “in” the machine feel. Seating in the Wildcat is very different than typical side-by-side seats. The seats are much wider and surround the driver and passenger to give a comfortable and tucked-in feel. Arctic Cat also included a three-point harness seat belt for both driver and passenger (or screamer, as the case may be).

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

You sit very low in the Wildcat 1000i cockpit.

Though the suspension is the star of the Wildcat show, power is nothing to scoff at either. Arctic Cat has transplanted its 951cc, fuel-injected, fire-breathing V-Twin from the Prowler XTZ 1000. This mill gives the Wildcat plenty of overall thrust to keep the machine moving. With a CVT Transmission delivering power into the gear box you have high, low, reverse, neutral and park as your choices.

So enough of the standards, lets look at how this Cat prowls! In the wilds of Barstow, Calif. lies an ORV riding spot that gets many fast and well-suspended vehicles each year. This was a great place for testing the Wildcat and also one to showcase its drool-inducing suspension. Upon approaching the Wildcats under the Arctic Cat hauler we started to notice the exoskeleton-type framing on the beast. It reminds us of a desert race buggy and a rock crawler combined. That super long-travel suspension was the biggest eye catcher, though. After changing into our Fly protective gear and slipping into the cab, we started the newest Cat and headed out for a day of craziness.

Ride Impressions

The very first thing we noticed was the power in Wildcat. It wasn’t as explosive as we had envisioned. Some may say “well do you really need that?” To those people we say “heck, yeah!” Torquey, responsive power can get you out of and keep you from getting into trouble and with a suspension like this you can use everything you have and more. This could be just a clutching adjustment, but we are guessing that maybe fuel maps and some fine tuning would help as well.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

Though it’s plenty fast, we felt like the Wildcat could use a little more bottom end oomph.

When we look at the Wildcat we think of an unbridled thrill-slinger from the word go, and yet it isn’t that complete of a package. Don’t get us wrong, as this machine has loads of power, but we think it just needs a bit more right off the bottom to make the driver feel like he has a 1000i in his control.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

We’ve never been in a UTV that ran through deep whoops with the ease of the Wildcat 1000i.

Engine quibbles aside; this is still the most thrilling ride we have ever experienced in a side-by-side. The suspension on this machine soaks up almost everything on the trail. There were times when we just knew we had bitten the last piece off, yet the Wildcat cradled our will and handed us the rite of passage over the toughest terrain we’ve seen since our last race in Baja, Calif.

At one point we found at least 50 yards of two- and three-foot deep whoops along one trail that at speed felt like small speed bumps while the Wildcat crested the tops like, well, a Wildcat! We drove through the dust-blocked trail several times only to find ourselves with a decision to make, but once we had committed it was on! We’re not sure co-pilot (and videographer) Adam Wood has recovered yet.

The cockpit of the Wildcat kept us snug in its grip and with the reverse-opening doors, when it was time to get out and check our pants it was no trouble at all. You definitely sit down into the machine as we found ourselves bending over to slip in, almost like getting into a late-model dirt car.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

We appreciate how the seats in the Wildcat keep you in their grip when you’re tearing around the corners. (Photo Courtesy Vincent Knakal of Mad Media)

The dash is basic but the digital gauge has all the important info right in clear view just in case you need it. The monster seemed to get reasonably good gas mileage too, as we were not driving in ECO mode at all!

Steering the Wild Cat was smooth and very comfortable with the help of Arctic Cat’s power steering. The wheel is closer than most we’ve driven, but as our guide Rick Wallace told us, this keeps driver fatigue down and we noticed that while on the ride.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

The Wildcat 1000i performs like no other side-by-side we’ve tested. (Photo Courtesy Vincent Knakal of Mad Media)

Overall the Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i is an awesome machine. We felt great when the day was over and we think we could have kept riding for days. It’s a thrill ride and if you get a chance to catch the Arctic Cat Wildcat Demo Tour you should try this one on for size. We suggest you bring a friend, though, because you’ll need someone to validate what you tell your buddies!

As for pricing, Arctic Cat has set an MSRP of $16,599 on the Wildcat 1000i. That’s $600 more than the base Polaris Ranger RZR XP 900, but the same price as both the Black/Orange Madness or White Lightning LE models.

2012 Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i

Do yourself a favor…get out and test out a Wildcat 1000i on the demo tour.

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Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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