Outdoor Life Online Editor

Polaris Sportsman 500
“Big” and “cushy” are adjectives often used when referring to automatic 4×4 ATVs, but those words wouldn’t be appropriate for the Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.RSE. (“H.O.” refers to the high-output 499cc engine. “RSE” stands for “Remington Special Edition.”) This ATV is rigged for the outdoorsman who likes an aggressive ride, and by that we mean it’s stiff — a welcome suspension characteristic when trail conditions get rough, but a wrist-wrencher when you’re riding over obstacles. The Polaris Sportsman 500 meets rugged terrain with its MacPherson-strut front suspension, fully independent rear end and good undercarriage clearance. It even looks macho: This package sports a Mossy Oak Break-Up camo job, large front and rear rack extenders and stout front and rear tube bumpers.

Although we like the awesome power and impressive 1,225-pound towing capacity, our test model failed on downhill slopes. With the transmission in 4-LO and while employing multiple techniques (such as adjusting the throttle and brakes), steep descents on snow and mud were a little scary because the front wheels wouldn’t lock into the drive train; as a result, the front wheels spun as freely as they would in two-wheel drive. This problem persisted even when we were driving uphill with the ATV in reverse.

Overall, the Sportsman 500 H.O.RSE is a serious trail machine with a lot of power, good traction and a rough-and-ready suspension system. The inability of the front wheels to lock in on steep downhill slopes is a significant drawback; however, those outdoorsmen who like to be “one” with the trail might find that this is the automatic 4×4 for which they’ve been looking. (763-542-2314)