The 600 class of mountain pounders has delivered for decades, filling the complete spectrum of needs from demanding-and not-so-demanding-jockeys.
Beginning in the early 1980s, and for about a decade after, the 6s staked claim as the big dogs all serious motorheads just had to have if power was the desire. Then along came the 700s, 750s, 800s, 900s, and eventually, the 1000s. The adrenaline-driven need for speed relegated the 6s to a not-so-relevant "fill-in class" for a period of time.
There was still a contingent of riders, though, who happened to still like these machines for their particular size and power and who helped these machines stay in various manufacturers' lineups. The 600s have staying power, unlike the 700s, 750s and 900s, which have fallen by the wayside.
Still standing today are the 2011 Arctic Cat M6 (one model), Polaris RMK (two track options) and Ski-Doo Summit (three models), which have persevered and once again are a main component in the ladder of options for mountain riders.
With the demise of the 700s, 750s, 900s and most recently, the entry level 500s, the 2-stroke 600s have become a pillar of confidence and ability, boasting of plentiful, yet manageable horsepower at around 120, sufficient traction/flotation and a well-balanced chassis. And it doesn't matter whether you plan on riding your 6 until you wear it out or eventually move up the ladder to an 800 or the Arctic Cat 1000 or a 4-stroke from Yamaha, we think the 600s have a role to fill in the snowmobile industry, including in the West.
Converse with a current day motorhead about confidence and he will tell you it is all about gobs of horsepower and unending traction/flotation. This is where the contrary attributes begin with the 6s, as they otherwise mirror their larger siblings, sans a few creature comforts, suspension offerings and drive track options. The one exception to the chip off of the `ol block is the Polaris RMK, as its 6 is still built on the IQ platform whereas the 8 is based on the new and improved Pro chassis.
As previously mentioned, the 600 class average horsepower is in the 120 neighborhood, putting it about 35-40 down from the 800s. Don't be disillusioned by the numbers though, thinking that these ponies are under-powered. Actually, the M6, RMK and Summit have sufficient and manageable power for many riders, beginning or not.
Our experience has been that the 600 powerplant is less taxing on itself and the pricey drive train components such as clutches, weights, pins, rollers and springs, along with $150 drive belts. Now factor in the difference between fueling and oiling an 800cc or 1000cc motor managed by a heavy thumb versus that of the 600 and you can be very confident your operating costs will be lower and ultimately more affordable and fun even though your initial investment can be as much as that for an 800. Yes, we said as much as an 800. The Summit X 600 H.O. E-Tec (spring only order) retails for a mere $10,699. That model is the exception, however.
The 600 segment's relatively modest horsepower and slightly less traction and flotation compared to the 800s is a letdown for some sledders. But not for others. We think the power/traction/flotation combo of the 600s helps make these sleds more controllable and rewarding in some snow conditions with the ability to maneuver through the backcountry snow, ever-changing terrain and natural obstacles an easy task.
The traction offered on the available tracks for the Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo 6s is only slightly less and/or the same as what is standard on the big bores, all ranging from 2 inches up to 2.4 inches in lug height. When it comes to tracks, the major difference between the two classes comes in track length and width combinations. The largest footprint in the 2011 600 class is the 16x146-inch Powder Max on the Summit while its big brother can wear up to a size 16x163 shoe. Others, regardless of the brand, are similar in length and width.
So if you tend to ride in areas where the snow conditions consistently feature dry and deep powder, you're going to want to look at longer tracks, which, yes, are available in the 600 class. The Cat 6 comes with a 153-inch track, the Polaris 6 with a 144- or 155-inch and Ski-Doo a 146 or 154. You can find longer tracks on bigger sleds but the upside to "short" tracks is that rider ability and confidence can be strengthened with a more nimble and controllable package, a package more conducive for mastering donut cutting and carving up snow off-trail.
Even though the SnoWest test staff is well seasoned (read: old duffs except for Ryan Harris) and craves its time on the bad boy big bores testing and playing, we equally enjoy our time on the 600s. Our time on the 600s usually turns into an old-fashioned "beat-your-buddy" match of seeing who can go the farthest and climb the highest, ending in some smack talk of who's losing his finesse or needs to go on a diet.
Who said you couldn't have fun on the 600s?
Confident With The Conclusion
The 2011 model year for these 600s is pretty close to being a rubber stamp from a year ago. There's not a lot of new to brag about other than a narrower ski stance (from 38.4-40.1 adjustable inches last year to 35.7-37.4 adjustable this year) on the Summit. And because the SnoWest SnowTest staff like to argue, the jury is still in deliberation on whether that's too narrow. Other changes for 2011 include: a shock absorber update on the M6 with the Fox Zero Pro IPF replacing the Fox Zero Pro gas on the front end and Fox Zero Pro coil-over (last year these were Fox Floats) shocks in the rear; and a Team LWT secondary clutch for the RMK replacing the P2 clutch of last year. Other than that, about the only things that have changed are prices and some colors and graphics.
After a day of riding the 600s-M6, 600 RMK and Summit Everest 600 E-Tec-almost to the man, the SnowTest crew would name the Summit Everest the class champ for 2011. And that's despite the Summit Everest requiring the most rider input for more extreme maneuvering. This Summit, however, sports a plethora of mountain riding amenities designed to enhance the experience along with state-of-the-art industry-leading motor technology that is already 2012 EPA emissions compliant. One of the most impressive aspects of the Summit Everest 600 E-Tec is the silky smooth engine.
We actually prefer the X model with its lighter weight racing components and premium suspension package, but realize that with it being an early order model hung with a hefty price tag (compared to other 600s), it isn't even an option for most, even the Doo diehard, that is, if you're buying right now.
We applaud the Polaris RMK as a value-minded and affordable package (from $8,999) that is a well-prepped machine for all disciplines of western riding-other that its antiquated running boards-delivering the best bang for your buck in this class.
When it comes to Cat's M6, its class-leading strengths and prowess shine brightest in the more extreme backcountry conditions (read: powder riding). The M6 is without a doubt the most responsive and easiest sled to style-ride out of any of the 600s. If it came with the telescoping handlebars, it would really enhance the chassis' characteristics.
As you would expect, each of the 2011 600s has its strengths and weaknesses. Each, however, would be a strong choice for western riding.