Review: 2009 600-Class Trail Snowmobiles
In general the 600s offer great value with an excellent balance of performance and handling.
We ran our FIRST LOOK at the 2009 Trail class right after we climbed off the sleds at SnowShoot in Grand Lake CO. Now, the snow is starting to fall again and you are in shopping mode. So we'll bring 'em back, update what we've learned since, and kick off the 2008 sledding season! We already have white stuff on the ground in NE Oregon, so fingers crossed, it's looking to be a great season - long and cold.
And be sure to come back in March 2009, for your first look at 2010 models (whew!).
The 600-class machines are the most popular machines in snowmobiling and after riding a few machines from this class we are not surprised. In general, the 600s offer great value with an excellent balance of performance and handling. On tighter trails we found that we could actually ride faster on the 600 machines than we could on the 800 or 1000 machines, as the power from the 600s is much more manageable and less intimidating than the larger machines. For 2009, the 600 class is as hot as ever, with two new engines from Ski-Doo, chassis updates from Arctic Cat on their F-series, a new Dragon SP from Polaris, and suspension upgrades on the Nytro from Yamaha.
There are three 600 trail performance models from Polaris; a 600 IQ Shift, 600 IQ, and 600 Dragon SP. This gives buyers a range of spec levels and even better, a range of price all the way from $6,999 for the Shift up to $9,699 for the Dragon SP.
Twenty-seven hundred dollars may seem like a big price difference between machines that appear very similar but upon closer inspection the difference is clear. In short, seven grand buys a 600 carbureted engine in an IQ chassis and ten grand buys a 600cc fuel injected engine with Walker Evans suspension and all the bells and whistles. For 2009, Polaris will not be producing the consumer version of the IQ 600RR snocross sled. We were pretty disappointed about that, but a Polaris marketing rep raised a very good point; with snocross changing to 600s the market will be flooded with used race sleds at very reasonable prices and the trail fuel tank for the 600RR will still be available in the Polaris accessory catalog, so we can live with that.
New seat and fuel tank on IQ models
These three 600 performance machines have a lot in common; they all feature the lightweight IQ RAW chassis with a redesigned fuel tank and freestyle seat, they also all have the new Polaris Performance P2 secondary clutch that has increased overwind and backshift for improved top speed. The Shift also has a slightly different Cleanfire 600 engine than the IQ and Dragon machines, the engine in the shift is a carbureted 600 with 120 hp whereas the IQ and Dragon are equipped with a fuel injected Cleanfire 600 that produces 125hp. Tracks are all different also, the Shift gets a 15’x121”x0.91” Shockwave, the IQ a 15”x121”x1” Hacksaw, and the Dragon a 15”x121”x1.25” Hacksaw.
Polaris went all out on the Dragon SP models this year, and equipped them with a load of exclusive features. The Dragon SP models have a new lightweight rear suspension, Walker Evans piggyback adjustable shocks, lightweight magnesium chain case cover, new lower control arm on the front suspension, lightweight wave brake rotor, and the new RAW lightweight front bumper. The new bumper not only saves weight but also makes the front of the machine look much cleaner and more sleek. According to Polaris, the 600 Dragon SP weighs 466lb making it 17lbs lighter than the 600 IQ. The Dragon SP models get a really cool matte white hood with Dragon graphics, handgaurds, aluminum handlebars, a 5.25” riser (IQ & Shift 2.4”), and a smaller black windshield. Polaris made a point of telling us that these machines are limited-build special edition models, so if a Dragon SP is on your shopping list, you'd better order one soon through the Spring Surge event.
Yamaha’s Nytro and Vector both have more than 600ccs but fall into the 600 class because they are four-strokes. The Nytro is a snocross machine that has been made "user-friendlier" - but at heart, this snowmobile is a racer. The Vector is a more trail-friendly machine.
For 2009 Yamaha has redesigned the front suspension all the Nytro’s with the exception of the MTX (mountain), the new suspension has new a-arms, spindles, sway bar, steering tie-rods, upper ball joints, ski-rubbers, and carbides. These changes reduce bump-steer, improve the handling, ride comfort, and stability in the bumps. The '08 Nytro would tend to lift the inside ski when cornering hard, but this and other handling characteristics have been improved on the '09 models.
Right: Fox Float X shocks on the RTX SE
The Nytro comes in three variations in the rough trail category; base FX Nytro, FX Nytro RTX, and FX Nytro RTX SE. The FX Nytro and FX Nytro RTX differ with different shocks, skis, windshield, and color scheme. The RTX SE is a spring-only order model that is essentially a replica of the machines raced in WPSA snocross. It features a different tunnel with steeper running boards, narrower running boards with slash punches for improved traction and snow evacuation. The suspension on this machine is intended for very aggressive riding with Fox Float X front shocks, 46mm clicker rear shock, and an upgraded Dual Shock Pro rear suspension with reinforced arms and rails. It also looks just like the race sleds with white handgaurds, blue windshield, painted a-arms, and factory racing graphics. The RTX SE is a pretty good buy at $11,299 considering all the custom parts it has over the RTX at $10,899.
The Vector features a carbureted 120hp three cylinder in a less aggressive chassis that is very similar to the Apex. The Vector is available in two groomed trail models the RS Vector ER and RS Vector GT. And two trail versatility models the RS Vector LTX GT and RS Vector LTX. The Vectors have very plush suspension, are comfortable and offer decent power. Our only complaint is that they are not fuel injected. Riding the carbed Vector back to back with the fuel injected Nytro showed us how much better the fuel injection is: the throttle response is better and the machine start easier.
The Canadian brand brings a lot of new technology to the 600 class for 2009 with two new engines. Although the new Rotax 1200 4-Tec won’t qualify for 600 Snocross racing because of the 1050cc limit, its 130 hp output puts it in the 600 class. The second new engine is a direct injected 600 cc two-stroke twin. These engines are available in the rough trail MXZ and the luxury sport GSX models.
With ATV and motorcycle manufacturers moving away from two-stroke engines, we figure it’s only a matter of time before the snowmobile manufacturers stop using two-stroke engines because of their impact on the environment. But Ski-Doo’s new E-Tec engine should bring hope to all the two-stoke fans out there because this engine uses 15% less fuel and half as much oil as the 600 SDI engine it replaces. The E-Tec is able to get significantly better economy by using a voice-coil injector to control the amount of fuel and oil the engine uses at specific rpms. For example, at idle the engine runs rough because it is using just enough fuel to run. The technology used in this engine comes from the outboard engines produced by BRP’s Evinrude. If this engine proves to be a success it could really change the snowmobiles of the future.
The second new engine the Rotax 1200 4-Tec is equally as exciting, this engine has been built specifically for snowmobiles and features electronic fuel injection and dual overhead cams. We really wish Ski-Doo had built this engine to be race legal so we could see it in competition against the Yamaha Nytro, but unfortunately that doesn’t look like that will happen. As with the E-Tec, the 4-Tec gets excellent fuel economy - according to Ski-Doo it will get 18.3 mpg. The machines using the 4-Tec also feature the new REV-XR chassis with different styled body panels.
Ski-Doo continues to lead the industry in terms of weight. The MXZ TNT 600 E-Tec weighs only 415 lbs, and on the trails we found the weight advantage made the sled very easy to corner and maneuver. All our test riders loved the suspension and handling of the Ski-Doo machines.
Arctic Cat’s offers a couple of engine choices for the 600 or 120-130hp class, a 120hp two-stroke 600cc twin F6 and a 125hp four-stroke 1056cc twin Z1. The Z1 is available in standard and LXR models and the F6 is available only in a SnoPro model.
Both the two and four-stroke engines come in the twin-spar chassis. This chassis is extremely rigid because of its triangulated aluminum construction and use of self-piercing rivets. According to Arctic Cat, it is torsionally 46% stiffer than the previous Firecat chassis. For 2009, the Twin Spar chassis receives quite a few updates. The running board angle has been decreased 2.5 degrees making the running boards flatter. This lowers the riding position for improved ergonomics when standing further back. Also new is a serviceable rear heat-exchanger - the previous chassis had the heat exchanger built into the tunnel which made it very labor-intensive to replace.
The suspension on the twin spar chassis gets a through re-vamp for 2009. On the rear suspension the front shock has been lengthened for increased travel and the rear arm has also been moved back 63 mm for improved ride control and track tension. The rails also feature a new profile for a better interface as the track transitions off the drive sprockets and the idler wheels have been removed.
The two-stroke F6 SnoPro model is the most sporty of the 600 class machines from Cat, it differs from the other models with a taller 15”x128”x1.25” Cobra track, Fox Float front shocks, 2” body rear arm shock, 5” handlebar riser, IRP adjustable riser, low windshield and a premium gauge. The Z1 and Z1 LXR machines both feature a 15”x128”x1” Hacksaw track, but the LXR package has a heated seat, different shocks, IRP adjustable riser, and a premium gauge.