Next-Generation Snowmobiles

Environmental regulations that dictate engine emissions are getting tighter, so manufacturers are making snowmobile engines that run cleaner and are more powerful than they were a few years ago. But if you haven’t looked in a while, you’ll find that today’s snowmobiles will cost you more cold cash.

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Bombardier Recreational Products

Powerful and clean: Those adjectives might describe the wintry vistas that snowmobile enthusiasts love. But it’s not too often that you’ll find those two words together when the subject is snowmobile engines.

That’s changing. When last we reported on this topic 5 years ago, Environmental Protection Agency’s three-phase plan to reduce engine emissions had just begun. The third phase, which takes effect in 2012, cuts engine emissions to 30 percent of 2002 levels.

But the price picture’s not as pretty as a pristine landscape: If you haven’t shopped for a snowmobile in the past 5 years, you should prepare for the cold reality of sticker shock. Economy snowmobiles that used to cost less than $5,000 now will set you back at least $6,200. Price jumps of $2,500 on the same or comparable models from 5 years ago are common, and that gap widens as features are added and engine sizes increase. In fact, about two-thirds of snowmobiles that are on the market cost at least $10,000. Five years ago, fewer than a third cost that much.

Manufacturers have phased in higher prices along with new technology over several years. With the final phase of EPA requirements accounted for in current pricing and the economy lagging, it makes sense that prices should stabilize, but there’s no guarantee, and manufacturers are keeping mum. But based on customer-satisfaction surveys that were conducted by industry magazines in the past 2 years and falling sales, it’s likely that snowmobile-makers will be forced to cut prices.  

But if you’re looking for a large selection of hugely discounted noncurrent models at your local dealer, forget about it. Older-model inventory mostly has been cleared out because of big incentives and dealer discounts. If you find a noncurrent model, you likely will be able to pick it up for at least $1,500 off the original MSRP, according to dealer prices that we checked.

FOUR PLAY. As a result of EPA rules, all snowmobile manufacturers brought four-stroke engine technology to their product lines. Four-stroke engines run cleaner, because they typically burn fuel more completely and prevent less unspent gas and oil from escaping through the exhaust than do two-stroke models.

The problem with four-stroke engines is that they tend to be at least 30 pounds heavier than two-stroke engines. To lighten the load, manufacturers now use lightweight magnesium and other alloys in many engine parts to decrease engine weight. They tell us that the parts have been tested extensively and assure us that durability has not been sacrificed.

But the models that have two-stroke engines (the traditional engine for snowmobiles) also are cleaner than those of 5 years ago because of the addition of electronic fuel injection (EFI). EFI always was considered a luxury; now it’s a necessity. Since the new EPA standards were invoked, EFI is used more commonly as a way for manufacturers to increase mileage, so the manufacturers achieve EPA’s targeted fleet-emission averages.

The newest two-stroke engine technology for snowmobiles is direct injection, in which the fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber of each cylinder. Ski-Doo introduced in 2008 direct-injection models (known as E-TEC) and has made the technology available on 600cc and 800cc engines, Ski-Doo’s largest two-stroke engines. (Ski-Doo also has carbureted engines in those sizes). Independent tests show a bump in gas mileage of at least 6 mpg and increased oil efficiency in snowmobiles that have direct injection. You’ll pay at least $1,000 more for Ski-Doo models that have direct injection. Other manufacturers are tight-lipped about whether they plan to offer direct-injection models, but we suspect that it’s coming because of the mileage and performance edge that it offers.

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