Come Back Trail: 600cc Sleds Give New Faces to Old Names

Comparing the Polaris 600 Indy SP Terrain Dominator, the Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 600 E-TEC and the Arctic Cat ZR 6000 El Tigre
2016 Arctic Cat 6000 El Tigre
2016 Arctic Cat 6000 El Tigre
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
There’s a photo of my earliest snowmobile memory sitting in my office. I’m all of four years old, sitting aboard a 1981 Polaris TXL 340 with a duct taped hood. The engine is off, it’s going nowhere, but I’m having the time of my life imagining I’m riding with the “big guys,” tearing across the lake for another winter adventure.
I’m sure you have those photos too. And just as you once aspired to ride sleds with the “big guys,” there’s another generation behind you doing the same thing, and a new generation of sleds is gripping their interest tightly. What sled will those photos be taken on? You might find the names are very similar to those of the “someday-machines” in your old photos. Do the words Indy, Blizzard or El Tigre jog any flashbacks through the cobwebs?

The next generation of trail machines is here and reputation is on the line! Let’s take a closer look at Polaris’ 600 Indy SP Terrain Dominator LE, Ski-Doo’s MXZ Blizzard 600 E-TEC and Arctic Cat’s ZR 6000 El Tigre.

Still holding
The Indy brand is one ingrained in thousands of trail riders. The Indy 500 was what I aspired to eventually ride with the guys in my family. Just as the 500cc engines helped drive some smaller displacement sleds to extinction in the late 1980s and 1990s, so have the 600s nearly done the same to the 500s. The 500s aren’t extinct yet, but you could certainly consider them an endangered species at this point!
2016 Polaris 600 Indy SP Terrain Dominator
2016 Polaris 600 Indy SP Terrain Dominator – We really wanted a bigger lug on previous Indys we tested, and this one finally delivered!
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
If your trail-riding family happens to be anything like mine was, your youngsters have probably sat aboard sleds like the new Polaris 600 Indy SP Terrain Dominator LE, dreaming of their time to romp through the trails. The 2016 Indy might even give you a few flashbacks thanks to that retro-cool red, white and blue color scheme.

Unfortunately, our family’s old TXL was not exactly maintained to OEM specifications. So in my younger years, my riding memories consisted of shoulder pain from ripping the pull cord hundreds of times, and then nearly blowing off my eyebrows from spraying ether in the cylinders to get the sled to start. They continue with a rough-and-tumble ride down the trail, and before the end of the day, spark plugs and a belt would most likely need replacing. The “perfect day” was rounded out often by a tow home (thanks to a cracked fuel line or something similar). Then my dad would have a few cold ones back at camp to dull the pain of his own aches from a long day. Hard to believe those were the days I hoped I would someday recreate on my own!

Luckily for the kids growing up today, they will have a whole different set of expectations than what I expected out of that old TXL. A strong, reliable 599cc Liberty Cleanfire fuel-injected engine with electric start should delay that shoulder replacement for a few years, and the longevity of the engine should have you set up for a good while too. Based on our experience, you’ll appreciate the oil efficiencies of this engine (sensors adjust the engine’s oil consumption based on altitude and air temperature), but MPG numbers might leave you wanting a little more. Our last full-season test in 2013 showed just 11.7 MPG. There is no question about its throaty performance, though. We saw this engine pull 121.8 horses on the dyno last season.
2016 Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 600 E-TEC
2016 Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 600 E-TEC – New tech includes Pilot TS adjustable skis for adapting to changing conditions, and 129-inch rMotion rear end.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
The engine revs quickly and shoots out of the corners nicely. We’ve mentioned several times that we’d like to see all the Indy trail sleds with a 1.25-inch lugged track. Polaris accommodated us here with a 15x121x1.25-inch RipSaw II. It works well with the engine, and it brakes and accelerates better than the 1-inch Hacksaw track found on other Indy models.

While we seriously doubt you’ll want to be launching over any doubles or triples with this suspension, the FOX IFP shocks carried in the front and rear of the sled provide cushion for the average rider.

The Pro-Ride chassis is still plenty capable, and the light steering feel still has the Indy 600 SP Terrain Dominator LE holding firm as a dynamic groomed trail ride at a reasonable price.

There’s a storm brewin’

Haven’t we seen this before? Ski-Doo reintroduced the popular Blizzard name from the 1970s with its MXZ Blizzard back in 2007. Nearly a decade later, the Blizzard is revived one more time with the 2016 MXZ Blizzard.

Back in the ’70s, Blizzards were known for having top-of-the-line technology and performance as race sleds. The re-released Blizzards of ’07 set that same tone (the 800cc version earned AmSnow’s prestigious “Best Sled” award that year). This newest iteration of a classic continues to have Ski-Doo’s latest and greatest from its engineering department.

Buyers of the 2016 Blizzard get both the new 129-inch rMotion rear suspension and the Pilot TS adjustable carbide ski on the RAS 2 front end standard. It is often tough to get that amount of new stuff on an in-season sled, as the top upgrades are usually only available on spring-buy models (like the Ice Ripper XT track and Quick Adjust System for the 2016 Blizzard).
2016 Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 600 E-TEC
2016 Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 600 E-TEC
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Our test riding crew was very impressed with the 129-inch rMotion. Sure, the ride is improved, but what hasn’t been talked about nearly enough is the improved performance and control that the longer length skid offers. The longer skid means more track meets the snow, which means better hookup off the line for you. It also means more braking ability, so you can charge hard into those tight trail corners.

Admittedly, the adjustable carbide Pilot TS skis look a bit on the gimmicky side. However, as we’ve noted in other comparos this season, that sentiment quickly fades away after a few miles. We monkeyed with this newest feature a lot on our rides. Our crew came away pleasantly surprised with the effectiveness of the adjustable carbide. We know it works, but questions still remain about how well it works in some specific difficult or quickly changing snow conditions (slush, low snow trails, deeper fresh snow on the trail, frozen ruts, etc.). A full season of testing should give us a much clearer opinion on this one.

We’ve got zero complaints so far on the handling of this machine, as long as those adjustable skis are set properly. It can be easy to have one carbide out or in more than the other. The HPG Plus shocks, like the Polaris, are not giant mogul mashers, but the Blizzard is slightly more capable in the rough stuff than the Indy. These are more for following the groomer. The RAS 2 puts the Blizzard ahead of the Indy in the corners as well. Even with the added track length, the Blizzard rips through most trail twists.

The taller, flared windshield of the Blizzard may not look as sporty as the Indy or the El Tigre, but it provides excellent protection from the wind at trail speeds, which our test riders really enjoyed. And with the higher ratings from our test crew, you’re probably expecting a higher price. You’d be correct. The Blizzard checks in at $1,850 more than the Indy.

One classy Cat

Since its resurgence in 2014 with the C-TEC2 600cc Cat-built 2-stroke, Arctic Cat’s El Tigre has earned high grades from the AmSnow test riders. The lightweight ProCross chassis’ performance and durability are well documented. The C-TEC2 engine is now used across nearly the entire Team Green lineup. And the El Tigre continues to have razor-blade precise handling on the trail.
2016 Arctic Cat 6000 El Tigre
2016 Arctic Cat 6000 El Tigre – “Simple” and “easy” come to mind when talking about amenities such as the FOX QS3 shocks and goggle storage on the Cat.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
The quick get-up-and-go ability of the El Tigre is a terrific trait for any trail sled. The nearly instant power delivery, combined with the light weight and easy handling, means that it’s easy for riders to set up their turns and speed out of corners with plenty of pace. It’s also proven to be very efficient, sipping oil at a barely noticeable pace. At the mileage rate of 14.8 MPG in our last C-TEC 2 fuel economy test, you can go a lot of miles between stops if you so choose. Buyers of the new 2016 versions may see a boost in MPG and MPH, as Cat engineers have come up with a revised slotted piston design and a new engine map since that test that should increase both power and mileage.

Cat updated the shocks on the El Tigre for 2016 too by bringing in the new FOX 1.5 Zero QS3 front shocks. There’s also a 2.0 Zero QS3 for the rear track shock, and an Arctic Cat gas IFP center track shock. The new quick-adjusting shocks from FOX are easy to operate, and most importantly, easy to understand for the rider. They’re capable, even in the softest setting, and we were very impressed with the range of adjustment offered by just three settings. Although the settings are basic to understand, there’s nothing basic about the shock performance. They’re downright awesome in almost any trail terrain.

It’s a good move by three of the OEMs to add these shocks in the trail market, simply because it takes the intimidation factor out of adjusting your shocks. There are three very clearly marked settings to choose from. Riders only have to choose what they like the best. This should lead to happier riders, and happy riders are good for the whole industry!

The El Tigre also offers the best combination of goodies in this group. The 12V accessory outlet is appreciated, and the 11-inch windscreen is sufficient enough.

El Tigre’s storage is my favorite here by far! The low-profile rear tunnel pack is an excellent size for your needs, and the goggle holder is warmed by the engine. It’s the perfect spot for quickly defrosting anything that gets iced over. But those perks come at an even higher price than the Ski-Doo or the Polaris. The Cat costs $2,600 more than the Indy and $750 more than the Blizzard.

Photo finish

All three of these machines bring back legendary names that earned their reputation by dominating the trails. The sleds have never been better, and the competition never stronger. So which should be parked in front of your shack ready for your toddler’s next selfie? It all depends on what type of buyer you are.

The dollar-conscious shopper might sway toward Polaris’ Indy 600 SP Terrain Dominator LE based on price. Although this is very much a “get-what-you-pay-for” comparison, there are very few pure trail riders who wouldn’t be satisfied with this sled. It handles well, the engine is strong, and the price is right for a really nice trail ride. It’s a lot of bang for the least amount of bucks here.

Those wanting a little more efficiency and comfort from their ride to go along with the latest in techy gadgets will probably favor Ski-Doo’s MXZ Blizzard. There are great performance characteristics and the next generation of the rMotion to go with those adjustable skis. It hangs on to its legendary race roots from years ago, but it now has a sporty, yet efficient E-TEC engine. This is an excellent all-around trail machine.

Those who want the most capable sled (in my eyes) are going to have to be willing to pay the most. The El Tigre was my favorite sled out of the three. I felt the engine was strongest and the suspension very well equipped for trail terrain. The comfort and fun factors were just a little higher for me on this sled. But, like I said up front, you get what you pay for.
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