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Outdoor Life Reviews the Best New ATVs and UTVs

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hunting quad
With the average 500cc-class ATV costing in the neighborhood of $9,000 and the average UTV costing even more, we know that test-driving a rig around the dealer's parking lot just doesn't cut it when it comes time to buy. We asked some of Alaska's toughest ATV owners to take a break from moose season in September in order to ride, assess and speak their minds about the industry's five most practical and popular mid-power wheelers. We also round up 5 new side-by-side UTVs and review Kawasaki's new 750 Brute Force. Outdoor Life
Polaris Sportsman 550 EPS
Polaris Sportsman 550 EPS (Editor's Choice)
With the Sportsman series selling more than 1 million units since 1993, Polaris has had plenty of time to get it right. The 2012 550 EPS has few changes over the 2011 model. The four-wheel independent suspension system is powered by a gutsy overhead cam engine, and the refined steering system allocates additional rider assistance at slower speeds while expending less at higher RPMs. Commanding the highest score of all the ATVs in the test, the Polaris won over every tester. The most common tester comments centered on the Sportsman's exceptionally smooth ride and extremely stable footprint, though some worried that the wide stance could prevent it from fitting into tight spots. Everyone felt the bike could stick to nearly any surface at any angle, thanks to the Active Descent Control, which kept the machine stable in steep situations. The power curve received kudos for its consistency and strength. "The value per dollar is highly competitive," said Wes Hudson. Specs
Price: $7,699
Dry Weight: 733 lb.
Suspension Travel (front/rear): 9 in./10.25 in.
Engine: SOHC, single cylinder, 4-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 549cc
Fuel capacity: 5.25 gal. Test Results
Performance: A-
Design/Construction: B+
Durability: A-
Innovation: B+
Price/Value: A-
Overall: * * * * Price: $8,699 ( Polaris
Yamaha Grizzly
Updates for the 2012 Grizzly include a new oil-access cover, textured-finish fenders that resist scratching and scuffing, gas-charged rear shocks for improved dampening and Maxxis brand tires with greater puncture resistance and off-road control. The 550 Grizzly is now made in Newnan, Georgia. Finishing just behind the Polaris, the Grizzly received high marks for its aggressive trail-consuming abilities. It nimbly performed in steep spots, dominating roots and rocks and never straining to climb. Testers extolled the front locking differential and the high-gear downhill braking. Everyone agreed that the bike had the most attitude of the bunch. "The Grizzly's technical trail abilities were simply outstanding," said Matt Courtney.
There were multiple comments about the stiffness of the shifting handle, and the performance of the rear brake at high speed. "I found myself drifting a little when I applied the rear brake hard at high speeds," said Courtney. Specs
Wet Weight: 648 lb.
Suspension Travel (front/rear): 7.1 in./9.5 in.
Transmission: Yamaha Ultramatic with all-wheel engine braking
Engine: SOHC, single cylinder, 4-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 558cc
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal. Test Results
Performance: B+
Design/Construction: B+
Durability: A-
Innovation: B
Price/Value: A-
Overall: * * * * Price: $8,699 ( Yamaha
Arctic Cat TRV 550i GT
Arctic Cat is the second North American manufacturer to adopt a two-man seating system on a traditional ATV (Can-Am was the first), a configuration that is gaining acceptance as an alternative to side-by-sides. Powered by Cat's own EFI motor, the longer chassis is supported by a sensitive suspension and speed-sensing power steering. Other features include underside suspension guards, a 2-inch receiver and a fold-up rear rack.
The testing group enjoyed the trail performance of the two-up machine and found it highly capable in jagged terrain, even with the longer wheelbase. Compliments were given to the on-demand locking 4-wheel switch and the stable, assured ride. The power was responsive and the brakes had a firm feel, even with human cargo. "The shifting handle was the absolute smoothest of the bunch," said Krystal Hudson. A few issues crept up with the Cat, including increased noise levels at high speeds and a wider-than-expected turning radius. "The steering was not forgiving when overcorrected," noted Paul Pesta. Specs:
Dry Weight: 764 lb.
Suspension Travel (front/rear): 10 in./10 in.
Transmission: Automatic CVT with EBS
Engine: SOHC, single cylinder, 4-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 545cc
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gal. Test Results
Performance: B+
Design/Construction: B+
Durability: A-
Innovation: A-
Price/Value: B
Overall: * * * 1/2 Price: $9,799 ( Arctic Cat
Honda Fourtrax atv
The Honda was clearly the most unique bike of the test, with its non-independent rear axle. The on-demand auto shift transmission allows the operator to choose when to change gears. For 2012, Honda has performed a complete overhaul of this bike, including the addition of a water-cooled EFI engine, power steering, changes in the front and rear suspension and new body molding. The crew appreciated the Honda's simple design and clean handling on the trail. The steering was well received, and everyone enjoyed the ease of using the shift buttons. "Being able to control your speed and torque with the buttons was a real advantage," said Pesta. There was also praise for how quiet the bike was and its light fuel consumption. No matter how many times we hit rocks and logs, the steering did not feed back. The slightly shorter wheelbase allowed the Foreman to fit into some snug places. The straight axle was not universally loved, and the handlebar lever "reverse" push button was not always appreciated. "I found the straight axle great for feeling the trail…sometimes a little too much," said Krystal Hudson. Specs:
Curb Weight: 644 lb.
Front Independent Suspension Travel: 6.7 in.
Rear Straight Axle Suspension: 6.9 in.
Transmission: ESP five-speed with reverse
Engine: OHV, single cylinder, 4-valve, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 475cc
Fuel capacity: 4 gal. Test Results
Performance: B
Design/Construction: B+
Durability: A
Innovation: B
Price/Value: B
Overall: * * * 1/2 Price: $7,699 ( Honda
Can Am quad
The other "two-up" stretched wheeler of the test comes to us from Can-Am. With the only 40.4-hp V-twin in the category, the bike uses a three-setting programmable power-steering system. Extras include an auto-locking differential and handlebar covers. The passenger seat sits slightly forward of the rear axle. The system converts to a one-up by replacing the seat with a toolbox. It takes a bigger bike to carry two passengers, and size was an issue during the evaluation due to the wider steering radius, but testers agreed that the seating position with lumbar support offered more comfort than the Arctic Cat. Impressive torque and braking were also the rule. The Visco-Lok auto-locking differential operated flawlessly when climbing over trail logs. "The ride was balanced and extremely comfortable," said Krystal Hudson. Specs
Dry Weight: 704 lb.
Suspension Travel (front/rear): 7 in./9 in.
Transmission: CTV with engine braking
Engine: SOHC, V-twin, 8-valve (4 per cylinder), liquid-cooled
Displacement: 499.6cc
Fuel capacity: 4.3 gal. Test Results
Performance: A-
Design/Construction: B
Durability: B
Innovation: A
Price/Value: B-
Overall: * * * 1/2 Price: $10,149 ( Can Am
Arctic Cat Wildcat quad
Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i H.O.
This speed demon is definitely not made just to carry bales of hay around the farm. The all-new 2012 Wildcat uses a 95-inch wheelbase and up to 18 inches of wheel travel. Combined with an electric differential lock, this monster will let you climb just about anything the machine will fit over. Outfitted with a dual exhaust system that puts out up to 95 horsepower, the mammoth 951cc V-twin engine is a blistering powerhouse that, combined with the 300-pound bed, will get your deer out of the woods and back to camp in a hurry. Price: $15,900 ( Arctic Cat
john deere gator UTV
The Gator 550 S4 provides 9 inches of wheel travel and 10.5 inches of ground clearance, and it comes standard with two rows of bench seats. For cargo hauling versatility, the rear seat can fold down to create a large flatbed. The vehicle has a top speed of 28 mph, standard four-wheel drive and is powered by a 16-hp, 570cc, air-cooled, V-twin carburetor gas engine. The cargo box can carry up to 400 pounds of gear, and the unit is small enough to fit in the bed of most full-size pickup trucks. A camouflage finish is available. Price: $9,299; ( John Deere
Polaris Ranger UTV
This unit will carry six men and 1,000 pounds of gear. It sports a 904cc, three-cylinder Yanmar diesel engine that's rubber-mounted to the frame to reduce vibration. The beefed-up 55-amp alternator can run plenty of extras–like cab heaters, plows and work lights–simultaneously. It also boasts a hearty 1-ton tow rating and has a standard 2-inch receiver. The rear box features a handy gas-assist dumping operation, and the independent suspension is fully adjustable. The drive system can switch from two-wheel to all-wheel or to grass-saving Turf Mode. This wagon will haul an entire deer camp. Price: $13,999 ( Polaris
Part UTV, this high-performance rig is used by the U.S. military and Border Patrol. The TM2's frame is built from extra-heavy-duty steel. With its tall, 15-inch ground clearance, the suspension is capable of conquering extreme terrain. A traditional four-cylinder, fuel-injected, 1.0-liter four-stroke automotive engine is standard. The CVT rear-drive transmission with locker will push this machine over some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. The underside aluminum skid plate enables this vehicle to float over rocks. One of the greatest attributes of the Tomcar is that its numerous interchangeable parts can be repaired on-site with hand tools. These machines are crazy fast, agile and so dependable that they are used in potash mines. Given those credentials, a mule deer hunt should be no big deal. Price: $17,999 ( Tomcar
bad boy UTV
With Bad Boy's recent sale to EZ-GO, the machine's dealer network and parts availability is vastly improving. Going for a whitetail tactical look, the front is clad in heavy armoring and features a backlit Bone Collector logo. The unit comes loaded with a roof, baskets and a stout 3,500-pound remote-control winch. There are even green cabin lights so you won't spook game. Underneath, a four-wheel McPherson strut, independent suspension and all-disc brakes combine to provide a trail-responsive ride. Price: $14,199 ( Bad Boy Buggies
Kawasaki UTV
While Kawasaki did not have a 500-class bike for our test, the company does have some big news for 2012: Its 750 Brute Force is receiving a serious redesign, from a revised engine to an overhauled body. Located at the bottom of the shaft, the new power-steering system no longer connects directly to the front differential. In neutral, the steering reacts to bumps and knocks, improving turning capacity even when the bike is at rest. Both of these modifications contribute greatly to smoother steering and handling. A larger radiator is affixed higher on the bike with increased-diameter hoses for better cooling. The CVT belt has been supersized, there are new stabilizers on the updated independent suspension and engine, and new transmission mounts improve vibration control. A thumb switch quickly activates selectable two-wheel-drive or limited-slip four-wheel-drive, and some sweet new storage compartments allow for greater gear-hauling capability. Specs
Dry Weight: 694.6 lb.
Suspension Travel (front/rear): 6.7 in./7.5 in.
Transmission: CVT with engine braking
Engine: SOHC, V-twin, 8-valve (4 per cylinder), liquid-cooled
Displacement: 749cc
Fuel capacity: 5 gal. Price: $9,999 ( Kawasaki

We review and rank the best new ATVs and UTVs. Find out which is the right bike to get you to your hunting spot and back.