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And then, there was one.

For model year 2007, Arctic Cat had one too many engines in the 650 class, and one had to go. Three factors were playing against Cat keeping the twin-cylinder 633cc engine built by Kawasaki:

• Cat unveiled a fuel-injected 695cc twin late last fall, meaning buyers looking for the feel of a twin in this displacement had a newer, better option than the 650.

• The other 650 model featured a 641cc made by Arctic Cat itself. It would seem unlikely that Cat would make a big deal out of manufacturing its own engine and then eliminate the first model.

• The 650 twin was the only Kawi engine in the Cat fleet. By eliminating it, Cat was able to narrow its focus.

But this is more than merely a story of what was cut. The 650 model that Cat kept — the 650 H1 — was further refined. New handlebars, new side panels and new tires have an effect on the feel and the value of Cat’s 650 H1. Plus, buyers get a whole new list of color options with their H1 for 2007.

Back are the torquey feel of the H1 engine, the muscular-feeling chassis, the long-travel front and rear suspension and the industry-leading ground clearance. All of those features were on display at Arctic Cat’s 2007 intro in Grand Rapids, Minn., which offered rides through iron mines and twisting trails.

Evolution, Not Revolution

At first glance, the 650 H1 for 2007 doesn’t look a whole lot different than the 2006 model. When you get closer, give it a good once-over and then sit in the saddle, however, the changes become more apparent.

Most noticeable are the new side panels which hide the engine when looking at the machine’s profile. The hardened plastic panels close the gap between the seat and the floorboards. The panels create a well-finished look to the machine, but they are functional as well. Cat engineers say the panels help decrease noise level, plus they keep engine heat from crawling up your legs. Both claims proved true during our test ride.

When riding, though, the new handlebars prove to be the most notable change. The bars are a bit taller and have a slightly different bend for 2007.

Standing beside a 2006 and a 2007 model, it’s somewhat difficult to see the difference. From the saddle, however, the change is more obvious. The new handlebars create a more upright seating position, make it easier to stand while riding and allow the driver to use more leverage on the bars, which are all positives for most folks. Some, though, found the bars a bit too tall.

Broad Changes

Some changes on the 650 H1 models are found deep into the Cat lineup, among them the new handlebars and engine side panels

Meanwhile, Cat has switched to Goodyear as its tire provider throughout its lineup. Cat engineers described at length its tire testing procedures and said the new Goodyears fit the all-purpose nature they were looking for.

The new tires have the most potential for changing the ride of the machine, but frankly it was hard to feel the difference in the tires from the seat. The new Goodyears are a close match in terms of traction and feel to the ITP tires found on last year’s 650. The sizing is identical up front — both the 2006 and the 2007 use 25 x 8-12s — while in the rear the Goodyears measure 25 x 10-12 vs. last year’s 25 x 11-12. Cat engineers say the new skins are exactly what they were looking for in terms of being a good, all-purpose tire that provides enough traction for spirited trail rides but aren’t so aggressive they tear up the yard.

The Rest Of The Ride

So enough about the changes — what’s it like to ride the 650 H1?

From the saddle the Cat feels tall and tough, a personality that’s reinforced when you pull the brake lever and tap the starter button. The four-stroke, four-valve, single-overhead-cam engine rumbles to life with a low, grunting noise. The dual range CVT transmission allows the H1 to roll out with ease — the model we tested in May seemed a bit more lively than the 2006 650 H1 we ran last fall, though Cat engineers aren’t claiming any engine changes. Reverse comes standard.

The seating position on an Arctic Cat ATV is a bit higher than some competitive models. The ground clearance measures 12 inches at the center. That taller chassis allows the 650 H1 to offer more ground clearance and suspension travel than most models on the market. The dual A-arm front suspension features preload adjustable shocks offering 10 inches of plush travel, matching the 10 inches offered by the independent rear suspension which is also a dual A-arm design.

Scooting through the woods, the suspension travel and ground clearance were both much appreciated. The clearance, combined with the standard plastic skid plate, allowed us to clear some rocks and stumps that would have upset other models. The suspension travel kept us from getting too beat up on more spirited rides, but it does result in a bit of a tippy feel sometimes.

That suspension also helps when hauling, and this Cat’s got plenty of ability in that department. The front rack will carry 100 pounds while the rear will handle another 200 pounds. The towing capacity sits at 1,050 pounds.

The sturdy feel of the quad is reflected in its dry weight — 703 pounds for the standard H1 650, and 734 pounds for an LE version (which comes standard with a 2,500 pound winch, a rear bumper, a front brush guard and aluminum wheels). The weight makes the H1 feel tough on the trails, but it is most noticeable when attempting tricky maneuvers or quick stops.

Those quick stops and maneuvers are hindered, in our opinion, by a single-lever braking system, but like many things in life, this one comes down to personal preference. We personally like to control the amount of front vs. rear brake ourselves, but Arctic Cat wants consumers to enjoy the ease of a one-lever-does-all system.

Driver controls on the right side of the handlebars include an easy-to-find 2WD/4WD electronic toggle switch, offering the ability for a quick change when your conditions change. Flipping a larger lever in front of the bars locks the front differential for especially tricky times.

Standard features include a large gauge pod featuring speedo, tachometer, trip meter, hour meter, clock and fuel gauge. An automotive-style 2-inch receiver hitch makes towing a breeze.

New for 2007 are color choices. Last year’s 650 H1 came in any color you preferred, as long as you wanted black. Now 650 buyers can choose from black, dark green, lime green and an attractive Max 4 Camo.

Finally, one can’t write about Cat ATVs without mentioning their unique SpeedRack system. The system allows owners to add different attachments to the racks by using easy-to-pull pins.

Another Prowler

In other news from Thief River Falls, a second Prowler UTV model has been added, though by name it may be confused with the original.

The original Prowler is actually the Prowler XT, and it came standard with many bells and whistles including good-looking wheels and gauges, a front bumper and a differential lock.

Strip those features away, and you’ve got the 2007 Prowler. It’s a price-driven Prowler with a suggested retail of $9,299, vs. $9,999 for the 2007 Prowler XT. The other difference between the two models is that the XT comes with a sway bar. Both models are powered by Cat’s own 641cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder power plant. Also for 2007, both models get tailgate cables to keep the gate from dropping down too far.
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