|Arctic Cat Wildcat Rock Crawling Review
I recently took our 2012Arctic Cat Wildcat and got it setup to take on some rocks at Prairie City SVRA near Sacramento. Now the stock unit would have done fine in the rocks, but I like to push the limits a bit and see if the Wildcat could handle the addition of huge 31″ tires. While I was at it, I added a few other items that helped protect the vehicle from the abuse that tends to be dished out when rock crawling.
For anyone that hasnt been rock crawling before, one huge asset when navigating through a rock garden sprinkled with boulders is ground clearance. If your belly is on a rock, chances are at least one of your tires isnt, and that means loss of traction. the easiest way to gain some altitude is larger tires. Now the 31-11.50-R15 Pit Bull Growler LT tires I chose are a bit on the extreme side, but I have used them on a few other UTVs with great success. The tough part about stuffing a tire this large under a vehicle is clearance. While I am not so worried about a full compression wheel travel scenario while moving slow in the rocks, this could be more of a concern at higher speeds. But in all reality, a tire this large is not suited to going fast. The huge rotating mass and large diameter would take its toll on the running gear. I was more concerned with the tires rubbing, especially the front tires when turning.
The cool thing about the tire and wheel combo I have is I can swap the center out to a different manufacturers lug pattern. The wheels are billet center beadlocks made by OMF Performance and for a guy like me with many UTVs in the stable, it makes it nice to have a set of tires for rock crawling that I can swap to another vehicle without the cost of a new set of wheels.
So after swapping centers, I tried to mount them up on the Wildcat. I was thrilled to find that they cleared the frame and body without any issues. While I have been successful installing these big 31″ tires on a vehicle with aftermarket long travel suspension, this is the first time I have been able to fit them on a stock unit.
With the tires mounted up on the Wildcat, I had just gained several inches of much needed ground clearance. I could gain a little more by increasing the pre-load on the coil springs, but I decided to leave them the way it was setup at the factory. A lift kit is another way to raise the vehicles body, and if I was using this Wildcat in the mud or in the rocks full-time, I would surely look into one.
With the additional ground clearance taken care of, I turned my attention to protecting the body and under carriage. First up was doing something for the rocker area. This is the area of the body right under the door. When rock crawling, you try and put the tires on top of the rocks so the skid is up and away from them. Well the next thing that happens is when your front wheel is coming down off a rock, that rock can hit the rocker and cause damage. With the Wildcat, there is a nice tube that runs along the bottom of the skid on the edge. The problem is the plastic takes off from that point and is wider that anything else. This is a recipe for damage when trying to navigate around a corner with a rock on the edge. Jeeps for years have been dealing with this issue by adding a rock slider that takes the hit instead of the body. For some UTVs, there really isnt a way to add a rock slider without adding a customized tube that is welded in place. Thankfully, Arctic Cat has an accessory (P/N 1436-727, $229.95 U.S.) that bolts up so I did not have to custom make something.
With the rock sliders taken care of, I moved my attention to the skid plate. Stock skid plates on most every UTV are not designed with the abusive that rocks can dish out. Not only are you constantly sliding across the belly, but you also can take some hard hits that could do damage to the oil pan or other parts of the engine, transmission and differential. The old school way to solve this is with aluminum plate. The biggest problem with aluminum is it dents when hit. The best solution for skid plates on a UTV is a material called UHMW, and the place that has it figured out is Factory UTV. I added one-half inch for the skid and also decided on their front a-arm guards. Where aluminum skids tend to stick to granite rock, UHMW will slide. And when UHMW takes a hit, the plate will return to original form instead of denting like aluminum.
With tires, rock sliders and skid plates in place, we were ready to go play in the rocks. Prairie City SVRA has a nice 4×4 area that has many different types of rock obstacles. It is a great place to test out vehicle like the Wildcat in a variety of scenarios. Here is what we found.
The 17 inches of front wheel travel is off-the-hook! it is amazing to watch the front end articulate to keep the tires on the ground even under extraordinary flex. We kept the rear anti-sway bar in place so the rear did not move like the front, but it should not be too hard to remove a link and take the bar out of the equation if you are looking to get every bit of articulation possible. With what I saw, I dont think it is necessary for most scenarios.
The Wildcat has a 90-inch wheelbase and that length makes it good in some scenarios and worse in others. In Moab for example, I prefer a longer wheelbase because there arent so many boulders and many more stair-step type obstacles. The long wheelbase plus long travel with a wide track-width will add extra stability and climb like a billy goat. But on the Rubicon, that long wheelbase and huge skid plate creates a small break-over angle that makes it more likely that your skid will contact a rock more often. So it really depends on what type of terrain you will be in to know what is best. One thing is for sure though. The long wheelbase does increase turning radius which is a negative in all situations.
The Wildcat, like most other sport UTVs has an always locked rear differential. Great when you need both wheels turning, but in tight situations, a locked rear-end will make the car push (go straight), even when the wheel is turned. A selectable rear locker would greatly decrease turning radius and make the Wildcat more nimble.
Approach and departure angles measure from the bottom of the tire to the underside of the vehicle. The greater the angle the steeper the ledge you can go up to without the bumper or body hitting the ledge before the tires. If the front bumper sticks out too far it will hit the rocks before the tires have a chance to crawl up. And going down steep ledges the nose will bury in the ground before the wheels reach level ground. With its long wheelbase and the 31″ tires, I cannot imagine a better approach or departure angle setup for a UTV. This is a nice plus for extreme rock crawling.
If you havent noticed yet, the Wildcat has super long trailing arms. They are great for bombing through the the desert at high speeds, but in the rocks, they can get hung up. While the larger diameter tires helps, we did encounter situations where an arm hit a rock before the tire made contact. This makes it real tough to climb an obstacle. It is kind of like the approach angle on the rear tire. You want everything up and out of the way so the tires are the only thing making contact.
The Arctic Cat rock sliders did a good job at protecting the plastic on the side of the car, but the way they attach in the front sticks below the skid plate and can get hung up on a rock pretty easily. It would be better to have them attach in a way that does not go below the skid plate.
We experienced no interference with the big 31-inch tires on the Wildcat. Even on the front-end when compressed or at full-droop the tires never made contact with the body. This is great news for those that want to run big tires. But like I said before, these tires are too big for anything but rock crawling. And on the Wildcat, the clutch felt like it handled the big rubber without issue. We did feel a little bit of a clunk in the steering box at random times, but did not experience any other issues. With tires this big, you need to drive smooth. The huge weight and circumference could wreak havoc on the transmission, differentials, steering, axles and CVs. As with most everything in life, gain in one area does come with cost. If I was going to rock crawl with the Wildcat on a regular basis, I would probably stick with a 28-inch tire and add a lift kit.
Overall, we had a great time in the rocks with our Wildcat. For a vehicle that is geared more towards rough terrain at high speeds in the dunes and desert, I felt the Wildcat did well. Not my favorite UTV for rock crawling, but it was near the top!
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