Published on November 17th, 2022 | by Joe
2023 Arctic Cat Alterra 600 Test Review
2023 Arctic Cat Alterra 600 Ratings
Summary: We guess the takeaway is this, Arctic Cat has targeted the most popular segment in ATVing with a number of uniquely specked models offering something for every type of 4x4 rider and overall performance that should be taken seriously.
1 Day Test
With manufacturing based in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, Arctic Cat is an American powersports manufacturer who got started building snowmobiles in 1962. They released their first ATV, the Bearcat, in 1995 going on to produce a full line of side-by-sides and ATVs like the 2023 Arctic Cat Alterra 600 line that we had the good fortune to test out.
A company the media once heard a lot from, Arctic Cat got pretty quiet for a few years. In that time, they went through a name change twice and worked to expand their brand building relationships with retailers outside of typical powersports dealerships. Meanwhile, they continued to produce some new and interesting machines.
For 2023, Arctic Cat is offering a leaner, meaner lineup than we’ve seen from the years past with three different displacement levels in their adult size ATV lineup: the affordable, compact, and simple two-wheel-drive Alterra 300; mid-size chassis, four-wheel-drive Alterra 450; and the new Alterra 600. Released in 2022, it offers a unique trim package for nearly every type of rider.
The single-seat Alterra 600 we’re testing and two-seat Alterra 600 TRV are available in four trim packages. Starting with the Alterra 600 EPS for $9.199, it features electronic power steering, a stout looking front bumper and tow hooks are standard. The $9,899 Alterra 600 XT features Arctic Cat’s premium front bumper with expanded protection and an upgrade to aluminum wheels. At $10,499, the Alterra 600 LTD gains a lockable front differential, a step up from 25” to 26” tires mounted on larger, unique 14” aluminum wheels, over-molded front and rear racks, a 3,500 LB Warn Winch, and LED accented front headlights. For $10,999, the Alterra 600 SE receives steel rack extensions on the over-molded racks, along with unique styling featuring color matched front bumper and suspension springs.
Priced at $11,599, Arctic Cat is offering two specialized versions of their Alterra 600 with the Mud Pro and Black Hills Editions. Both machines feature a square tire setup rolling on 28” tires mounted on 14” aluminum wheels, and low range in the transmission was lowered 14% for enhanced torque. High range was also lowered a bit to maintain similar performance with the taller tires. The Mud Pro is designed for the hard core mud rider or racer with the Black Hills Edition focused on the rider who needs the rollover and ground clearance to tackle rough, rocky conditions.
The Mud Pro rolls on Maxxis Zilla Tires. Its radiator, snorkels for the engine, and CVT intake and ventilation have been neatly located under its unique front plastic hood. The Black Hills Edition comes similarly appointed to the 600 SE with the addition of its big tire setup and lowered gear ratios. Both machines receive use-specific front bumpers, the addition of rear bumpers, grips that turn down on the ends for added leverage at extreme angles, and high clearance, arched lower A-Arms at both ends.
After wrapping up a tour of the Arctic Cat factory in Thief River Falls, we traveled over an hour to the Beltrami Forest for testing. We grabbed an XT Black Hills Edition and Mud Pro and headed out for a few hours to see what the Alterra 600 line had to offer.
The 45hp, Arctic Cat produced, fuel injected engine displaces 600cc, topped with a four-valve, DOHC head. Its performance is impressive from the second you stab the throttle. Low-end engine performance could be class leading for a 500-600cc 4×4 ATV, especially when combined with responsive clutching that feels fitting of a sport 4×4. The 25” tire-equipped XT was spinning the tires in 4WD off the line on drag runs in the packed sand. The 28” tire-equipped Black Hills Edition wasn’t quite breaking the tires loose out of the gate like the XT, but its acceleration still feels impressive. Short runs at climbs or towing a load shouldn’t be an issue with this much grunt on tap.
Its surprisingly strong low-end lets you power out of turns followed by midrange power, which is nearly as impressive. This is where the automatic, continuously variable transmission likes to keep the engine running to maximize acceleration and performance.
As the machines started topping out, Ed hit 61 MPH on the XT and 56 on the Black Hills Edition. Although we didn’t film the Mud Pro in wide open spaces, its top speed seemed on par with the Black Hills Edition. Overall, the engine and clutching seem focused on getting things moving with some authority, and that makes the 600 fun on the trail. With more punch than we remember from the old 700, the 600 had no trouble churning its way through the pond.
5.7 gallons of fuel should allow the 600 to go quite a distance on a tank of gas. The tank is mounted low on the machine, helping lower the center of gravity and centralize mass.
A low profile gear selector lets you choose between high, low, neutral, reverse, and park, and seems well out of the way of the rider’s right knee. Functionality was light and precise, but the small size took a little getting used to.
We swapped between two and four-wheel drive on the fly, although it was hardly necessary in the dry, relatively flat terrain. Front differential lock performed predictably, as expected on the Mud Pro and Black Hills Editions’ maximizing traction.
Engine braking was light and smooth as we like it, especially in high range. This results in a smoother ride transitioning off the throttle and less annoying driveline chatter.
Suspension and Handling
Geometry and suspension performance make the Alterra 600 the best handling 4×4 Arctic Cat ATV we’ve ridden. Like the engine, the steel chassis and suspension were new designs for the 600’s release. Dual A-Arms are mated to 5-way preload adjustable shocks controlling a competitive 8.75” of suspension travel at both ends across the Alterra 600 line. Arctic Cat relies on shock settings instead of a rear sway bar to control body roll allowing the rear suspension to react more independently. All of the Alterra 600s come standard with electronic power steering.
Overall width is modern, between 47.8” and 48.8” depending on the model’s wheel offset. The 52” wheelbase is around 1.5” to 2” longer than most in the class with overall heights that start at 50.1” for the EPS and XT models, going up slightly on the models with larger tires. The base and XT model’s 25×8-12 front and 25×10-12 rear tires mounted on aluminum wheels provide a claimed competitive 11.3” of ground clearance that increases on the Alterra trim packages with larger tires.
Suspension performance was on the firm side, but certainly not harsh. In uneven bumps, the benefits of having no rear sway were definitely noticeable. The shocks do a good job of absorbing square-edged, high-speed hits while remaining firm enough off the top to help keep body roll in check both in turns and on sidehills. Medium sized hits were well muted by the shocks, which retained enough bottoming resistance for a little air time. Throughout our testing, we never felt like the suspension held the 600 back. And, with the same shock package across the Alterra 600, the Mud Pro is essentially as comfortable on the trail as any of the other Alterra.
Gone is the spooky steering of the old 700, which randomly pushed or oversteered at will. The Alterra 600 does well at going where it was pointed, especially at low to intermediate speeds. As we mentioned, cornering stability and sidehill stability are both good; however, the EPS makes steering light. Combine that with a little rear end wag and the 600 feels a little nervous at high speeds, especially on high centered trails. We preferred the smaller tires and lower center of gravity of the XT for high-speed trails. The large tired Black Hills Edition rolled more smoothly over bumps, but wasn’t quite as planted feeling at speed. Rocky worn trails is where the Black Hills Edition would really shine.
The Mud Pro was similar handling to the Black Hills Edition although its center of gravity felt a bit hither and its tires did buzz a bit on dry ground. Still, it was at home on the trail or in the mud.
A single handlebar mounted lever operates the brakes at both ends with a foot brake operating the rear brake independently. Braking feel was good. Stopping power was excellent. We’re not sure if it was the sandy soil or, perhaps, the brakes could use a bit more front end bias, but we did lock the back end up a bit from time to time with the single lever braking. Opposite of Polaris, which requires the use of the rear brake pedal to maximize braking, we’d need more time to form a more solid opinion, but the brakes seemed pretty hard to fault.
Ergonomics and Other Details
Ergonomics are decent. The quad seems narrow enough between your legs with a good amount of stand over height for the typical rider. We like hanging off the back at speed and found the protrusions into the back of the footwells a little irritating. We’d also like to see metal footpegs across the entire lineup.
Whether it’s the standard style grips found on most models or the grips that turn down on the ends on the Black Hills and Mud Pros, all of the grips are hard, lack traction and dampening, detracting from what is otherwise a quality looking and feeling ATV. Tell your dealer to throw in some plush grips at the time of purchase. The adjustable bar rises on the Mud Pro and Black Hills Edition help move the bars forward or rearward if desired.
Arctic Cat is partnering with Garmin for accessory GPS systems with group ride connectivity, communication, and more. The factory installed digital gauge is minimalist in size, which we applaud on vehicles designed to take us away from the glare of screens. Mounting the screen in front of the handlebars, rather than in a pod on top of them adds protection and makes swapping out to your favorite aftermarket handlebars a simple task. Other manufacturers should take note. ATVs require a higher level of rider integration than SXSs and your favorite handlebar can make you feel right at home.
One thing we really appreciate are the side panels, which can easily be removed and installed in a few seconds with no tools. Removing them and the seat provides instant access for easier maintenance and cleaning of the machine.
Whether its steel racks on the EPS and XT or the plastic covered racks on the other models, the racks are rated to carry 100 lbs front and 200 lbs rear, near the front of the class. A substantial looking 2” hitch receiver is rated to tow 1,050 lbs, a few hundred pounds less than some. Based on its appearance and overall vehicle performance, we can’t imagine why it wouldn’t tow as much as its competitors. A small onboard storage box is located in front of the driver where the fuel tank is often located. Overall performance and capability should make the Alterra 600 a solid choice as a work capable machine.
Compared to their full-size 4x4s of old, the Alterra 600 is leaps and bounds better than anything we’ve experienced from Arctic Cat previously. Its performance is definitely at home and competitive with the other machines in the 500cc-600cc 4×4 segment. Big low-end power, the ability to take advantage of its IRS design while retaining a stable feeling ride makes the Alterra 600 a unique machine we enjoyed riding.
Experiencing the XT, Black Hills, and Mud Pro, we came away impressed with Arctic Cat’s numerous, well thought out options. The Mud Pro is similar to the Yamaha Grizzly 700 XTR, a trail worthy, mud tire equipped 4×4. However, the Mud Pro possesses true mud ATV specific capabilities and features for $800 less than the Grizzly.
The Black Hills Edition could be a great choice for the person who typically rides rocky eroded SXS trails thanks to its larger tires and added ground clearance. It retains the length and width of a typical 4×4 ATV and costs $6,299 less than the Polaris Sportsman S or Scrambler S, renowned for their rough trail capability and out of reach retail prices.
As typical all around trail riders ourselves, we came away most impressed with the nearly base model Alterra 600 XT. The smaller 25” tires of the base model and XT yield the best handling on smooth to moderate trail conditions along with the most responsive feeling engine performance. We could easily see Arctic Cat filling the need for an affordable sport 4×4 with the Alterra 600 platform.
We guess the takeaway is this, Arctic Cat has targeted the most popular segment in ATVing with a number of uniquely specked models offering something for every type of 4×4 rider and overall performance that should be taken seriously.
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