Making big buying decisions seems to get tougher and tougher every year. I don’t know if it’s me just getting older and my brain not digesting information as quickly, or if there’s so much more from which to choose that it’s almost overwhelming. Take buying a new ATV, for instance.
If you’re like me, sorting out which one brand/model to purchase is downright tough. The easy part is knowing I want a 4x4 utility model that’s also sporty. That way I can use it for hunting, and then when the season is over, I can still make good use of it around the property or take it on vacation.
Four-wheel-drive, strong cargo racks, locking front/rear differentials, an electric winch and a wide array of available accessories are also mandatory. These are all things you’d expect to have on the short list for a hunter shopping for that new single-rider ATV. My brain begins to get overloaded when I consider how much power I need and which of the new models fits my riding style best.
ARCTIC CAT has a brand new four-wheel-drive quad with monster power called the THUNDERCAT H2 EFI, powered by a whopping 950cc four-stroke engine. It’s the meanest, biggest utility quad on the block and has enough factory accessories to fill a catalog. But it weighs a shade more than 700 pounds, which makes it too heavy for the type of terrain I like to hunt.
They also have a new 366 4X4 model built around an equally new engine and lightweight chassis. It has 10 inches of ground clearance and a price that’s very attractive. So is the Arctic Cat Speerack system that allows you to quickly change racks and rack-mounted accessories. But the new model is a little too small for my liking.
Arctic Cat’s 700 DIESEL 4X4 is also intriguing. When reducing running costs comes into play, it’s tough to beat diesel. The four-wheel IFS system underneath the 700 provides a good ride over rugged terrain, while the diesel’s low-rpm power band adds a lot to lower speed drivability.
Then there’s what the KAWASAKI dealer has on the showroom floor. Kawasaki’s alpha-dog, the BRUTE FORCE 750 4X4i is back with its powerful 749cc V-twin engine and fully independent rear suspension (IRS) system. The big news is its digital fuel injection system and a host of updates in the suspension and comfort departments.
The Brute Force 750 4x4i also gets a new seat, increased sealed storage, new bumper design, lighter aluminum foot pegs and stronger axle boots. All those things add up to a pretty good value.
Of course, power steering is also a new ATV innovation that attracts my attention. HONDA started it last year and has now added electric power steering (EPS) to more of its 2008 machines. My favorite EPS-equipped model is the workhorse FOURTRAX FOREMAN 500 4X4 ES, and it’s now available with the popular and less-expensive manual shift
The EPS on the Foreman 4x4 is controlled by the same computer that controls the 475cc four-stroke engine. The electronic control unit monitors steering torque and vehicle speed to adjust the levels of steering assist and feel in both 2WD and 4WD models. When stopped or at low speeds, it provides more assistance for a light steering effort. As speed increases, the amount of assistance is reduced to provide the appropriate level of feedback.
Perhaps the most significant benefit is the system’s ability to provide light and consistent steering feel in both 2WD and 4WD operation. As a secondary benefit, the EPS system acts like a steering damper to greatly reduce undesirable kickback through the handlebars in rough terrain.
POLARIS has always caught my attention by its cool styling and reasonable pricing. If you haven’t dropped by a dealer in recent months, you’ll find that there are a lot of changes in the 2008 Polaris offerings.
First off, it dropped the “Hawkeye” moniker, so now all Polaris sport/ utility ATVs fall under the Sportsman brand. Then Polaris simplified its Sportsman line along with bringing in complementary models that will appeal to a wider variety of ATV riders.
For example, in single-rider ATVs, Polaris has added a SPORTSMAN 400 H.O. to its wide line-up. Its appeal to me is the Polaris On-Demand All-Wheel-Drive that operates as rear-wheel-drive until the system automatically engages the front wheels as slip is detected. It also has a very effective engine braking system for use on steep grades, and a dual-sensing Polaris Variable Transmission that responds to both engine RPM and the ATV’s torque load for seamless response to changing off-road conditions.
Underneath is a fully independent suspension with progressive-rate springs that can carry 100 pounds on the rear rack and tow 750 pounds. The composite rear rack system accepts a number of the Polaris’ PURE line of Lock & Ride accessories, adding to its versatility.
If you’re looking for a bargain price for a 4x4 sport/utility ATV, the 500 H.O. 4x4 is going to be hard to beat. The On-Demand four-wheel-drive system, single-cylinder four-stroke, PVT automatic, composite rear rack, front storage compartment and long-travel four-wheel independent suspension add up to an inexpensive ATV package.
I looked closely at the new Polaris SPORTSMAN 800 EFI with its 1,500 pounds of towing capacity and the ability to carry 300 pounds between the front and rear racks. But I’m not bear or elk hunting these days, so this big boy is a little more than I need. Although I have to say I really like the idea of it being finished in automotive paint that’s nine times more resistant to scratches and wear than the typical color-impregnated plastics found on most ATVs.
When shopping for a new quad, YAMAHA’S offerings can’t be overlooked. The single-rider head-turner for 2008 is the DUCKS UNLIMITED EDITION GRIZZLY 700 FI AUTO 4X4. This machine rides on four-wheel IFS and gets the Advantage Max-4 High Definition Camouflage and a 686cc liquid-cooled, EFI four-stroke engine that makes it the most powerful Grizzly yet.
Add in this ATV’s light weight and it ends up having the best power-to-weight ratio of any utility model in the industry. The power steering system makes trail riding a whole lot easier, too, as does the quad’s industry-exclusive all-wheel downhill braking system.
The new three-position On-Command In/Out 4WD feature lets you switch between 2WD, limited-slip 4WD and fully locked differential 4WD—all with the simple push of a button. But I’m thinking the smaller BIG BEAR 400 is more to my liking. The 386cc air-/oil-cooled, SOHC four-stroke single-cylinder engine delivers reliable, class-leading low-end and midrange power.
I like the idea of having the push-button On-Command 4WD system backed with a constant-mesh five-speed transmission with automatic clutch, reverse and a super-low, stump-pulling first gear instead of one of those constant velocity transmissions everyone seems to be favoring these days.
So now you get an idea of what I’m up against when I look around at all the new ATVs and try to make a good purchasing decision. It’s almost as bad as trying to decide which new pickup I should buy when it comes time to make that decision.