Now that the Mountain Sport 600 class has become the entry level snowmobile for those looking for a little more snort than what the fans can deliver, the manufacturers (3 of the Big 4 make a 600) have refined and tweaked the sleds in what we think is the most competitive class in the West.
Arctic Cat used to own this class but Polaris and Ski-Doo have made some significant strides in the past two years, closing the gap and opening wide the fun factor. The three sleds getting the spotlight this month are the Arctic Cat Mountain Cat 600, Polaris 600 RMK and Ski-Doo Summit Adrenaline 600. Now that the 500 liquid-cooled class has disappeared like a snowbank in the springtime, the 600 class is where new sledders to our sport must look. The 600 also is a great choice for younger riders or even for riders who don't want all the horsepower of the bigger machines. Believe it or not, not everyone wants an 800.
Even if the sleds are as close as we here at SnoWest claim, doesn't one sled have an advantage over the other? If so, who has the advantage? Since most snowmobile consumers don't have the opportunity to ride a new sled before they buy it, the decision boils down to one of those "what looks good on paper" things. "You know Chip, on paper, it looks like the No. 3 ranked Michigan Wolverines have a definite advantage over the Oregon Ducks." Rewind back to Sept. 20 and you'll see the Ducks celebrating a 31-27 upset of the Wolverines. So much for the paper thing.
What does that have to do with the 600s? Which will be the best 600 on the snow this winter? If you look carefully at the SnoWest SnowTest staffer comments from our ride in McCall last spring, it looks like a toss up. We didn't get the chance to ride the Summit 600, which is a shame because now that it's in the Rev chassis, it is a different sled than in years past. We are really impressed with the new Rev chassis.
We've put some sled numbers down on paper, so you can make a head-to-head comparison. You'll notice that we've opted out of putting down what the front or rear suspension is, but went with the inches of travel. To new sled buyers, a Dual Purpose Rail vs. a SC-10 144-inch vs. a FasTrack Long Travel System probably doesn't mean much, but 9 inches of travel vs. 7 inches does. When it comes to suspension packages, rider ergos and the like, sledders and sledders-to-be need to do a little homework and then go to their local dealerships and compare models.
Apples to Apples
Below are the numbers that are apples to apples.
There might be some debate on the EFI vs. carburetor models. Our thinking in picking the Cat 600 in that category is that the EFI is easier to start (guaranteed on the second pull says Cat), has an easier throttle pull and offers excellent performance regardless of elevation or temperature. Carbs are definitely easier to work on, but we don't think you'll find many first-time sledders wanting to fiddle with their engines.
What's left off of the "on the paper" comparison is the one big intangible-the seat-of-the-pants results.
The bottom line here is that we have always enjoyed the 600 class and continue to do so. There's a real temptation (we've heard it over and over again) to compare the 600s to the 800s (for some reason most folks bypass the 700s), which, of course, isn't a fair comparison. We'd rather focus on what the 600s can do instead of what they can't do.
We contend that although the sleds are not designed for a different kind of riding, they are definitely aimed at a different kind of rider. By that we mean sledders who buy a 600 will still want to go off-trail, do some moderate hillclimbing, boondock through the trees and scamper down the trails. They may just not be able to do it as fast or as aggressively as they can on an 800.
With that in mind, here are the strengths-and weaknesses-of each Mountain Sport 600.
"This is simply a good little sled," one SnowTester said. All the features that lead us to pick the MC 600 as the best in its class in years past continue to keep this machine as one of the best for 2004. First, the 600, just like the 800, lost more weight-8.5 lbs. to be exact-for 2004. Less weight is always a good thing. And when you combine that with Cat's strong powerplant, this sled is surprisingly strong off the trail in power sucking powder. A seemingly small thing that makes a big difference in helping get the power to the snow is found in the rear suspension where Cat went from a 7 1/8-inch rear wheel to an 8-inch one. Less rolling resistance means more horsepower.
Cat brags about its MC 900 having an impressive power-to-weight ratio of .30 hp/lb. (150 hp/495 lbs.), but do the math on the MC 600 (110 hp/474 lbs.) and you'll see the MC 600 also has an impressive power-to-weight ratio of .23 hp/lb. Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo are within a hair of each other in power-to-weight to lead the 600 class. We've already talked a little about the EFI on the MC 600 and we'll just reiterate that this may be the single best engine feature for beginning snowmobilers. Easy to start and pretty much worry free.
Handling is another one of the MC 6's strengths. The chaincase has been dropped and rolled, which has improved the angle of attack, letting the sled get up on the snow more easily. What does that have to do with handling? Ride a sled that plows the snow instead of planes and then tell us you don't think that has anything to do with handling.
Arctic Cat has also worked on getting all its Mountain Cats so they'll tip better in the powder so you can really carve on those deep powder days-and so you're not fighting the sled on sidehills.
"Soaked up the bumps," pretty much sums up how the SnowTesters feel about the FasTrack Long Travel Rear Suspension, which gobbles up moguls like they were Honey Nut Cheerios. The suspension works and it works well.
With Polaris you get many of the same features on the 600 RMK as you do on the bigger 700 and 800. That includes Edge chassis with Dual Angle Tunnel, the liquid-cooled Liberty twin with the Variable Exhaust System (for better low-end and mid-range torque), electric reverse (PERC) and Team roller clutch. What you don't get is DET, a feature only on the 700 and 800 RMK and one we hope will find its way to the 600 next year because that is a cool, potentially engine-saving feature.
But, as mentioned, the 600 RMK does get VES, another nifty feature that should be appreciated by the newbie crowd. In addition to the benefit of added torque, VES provides better fuel economy with reduced emissions and noise. Other engine features include a Throttle Position Sensor and triple exhaust ports, which refine performance as much as anything offered on the U.S. made powerplant.
One of the more subtle changes to the RMK is the Pure Polaris Air intake socks, which prevent snow ingestion, a feature that tends to get overlooked, that is until you start to lose power and wish you had the socks.
The Dual Angle Tunnel might be the most underappreciated feature on the 600 RMK. Bigger sled riders know of the DAT's benefits, but let's face it, a 6 doesn't have as many horses as an 8 so when you're playing in the powder, you need every ounce of power you can get. What you don't need is the sled's tunnel getting mired in the powder. The DAT solves that by creating extra space between the tunnel and track to clear out the snow. The bonus of the DAT is the most rear travel-17 inches-in the 600 class.
Along with that goes the Dual Purpose Rail, which helps the sled act like a short track on the trail while still maintaining its ability to attack the powder while off trail. It's really the best of both worlds. The rear suspension is also uncoupled, reducing overall weight and improving weight transfer.
One feature on the RMKs that deserves attention is the Series 4 Track, which is extremely versatile, whether you're on the trail, busting powder or hillclimbing. The track is about 5 lbs. lighter than the 151-inch model, which means less rotating mass and that translates into better performance.
Finally, there is PERC, an especially handy tool for new riders who might get into situations where reverse is an extremely important feature, like loading and unloading and backing away from a too close tree, if you know what I mean. Newbies might not appreciate the fact that there is no weight penalty with PERC but those in the know do and we appreciate its benefits.
The Summit Adrenaline now comes in the Rev platform, which has a long resume of benefits and features for mountain riders. An ironic twist to the Summit being introduced in the Rev platform for 2004 is that if someone brand new to snowmobiling goes out and buys a Summit Adrenaline 600, he won't know how much better it is than the Summit of old. He'll just assume that snowmobiling was always this good.
As mentioned before, the SnoWest SnowTest staff didn't have the chance to ride the Adrenaline 600. We have, however, spent plenty of time on the Summit Rev 800 and we can only imagine that the 600 will be equally as good. We'll be the first ones to admit that you can't always compare models across the board, but we're willing to go out on a limb to say the Adrenaline 600 should be a dandy.
How can we be so confident? The fact that Ski-Doo has shed a hefty 35 lbs. from the platform would be a good place to start. Then there's the rider position, which centralizes the mass of the sled. The 600 has a Rotax H.O. powerplant-pumping out 10 percent more power than the old 600. The motor is also equipped with DPM, to account for changing temperatures and elevation, and RER (Rotax Electronic Reverse). We've extolled the virtues of PERC. RER is the same concept and works equally as well.
The new Mountain Seat is a nice feature. Once again, the seat is one of those parts of a sled that we take for granted until it doesn't work well or turns uncomfortable. One of the best advantages to the Mountain Seat is it's so easy to throw a leg over when you're going from side to side. And it's the coolest-looking mountain sled seat.
The new track might be the cat's meow on the Summit Adrenaline. Sure, it's the same length and has the same lug depth as the other two 600s, but when all the math is done, it covers more area, like that of a 15x151 inch track. That's a huge advantage in the powder and when sidehilling. That extra half-inch on each side of the track means you're hugging the mountainside just that much closer.