We’re always on the lookout for the next perfect hunting spot. That usually means traveling farther from the truck or camp cabin, but there is only so far you can travel on foot, especially when it comes time to pack out game. An ATV can greatly extend your hunting range. They can be a hunting buddy, pack mule and even rescue team, all in one well-equipped and supremely capable machine. Each year brings a new crop of models, and through diligent testing, hopefully we can steer you in the right direction.
We’ve also included a few of the best UTVs for 2013, which aren’t quite as maneuverable as an ATV but add plenty of versatility. UTVs can typically haul up to six hefty hunters and a mountain of gear in the rear cargo bed. They’re not quite as fast as an ATV, but with a fully automatic transmission they make up for it with superior torque and towing capability. Selecting the right machine comes down to your preference of features, capabilities and price. Here’s a rundown of the best ATVs and UTVs to help make your decision as easy as possible.
Arctic Cat has more models (17) in their Recreation and Utility ATV lineup than many other manufacturers do in their entire fleet, offering a huge number of engine, comfort, and performance features, with each machine designed for maximum performance and reliability. Most models offer fully independent suspension with adjustable shocks, a low profile seat for reduced center of gravity, and excellent ground clearance. The suspension designs lets the Cat ATVs squat and dig for traction when under power yet float over rough spots on the trail while maintaining a smooth ride.
There is an engine for everyone and a chassis to go with it, but our favorite Cat ATV is the excellent 700 Limited. Cat uses their Duramatic CVT transmission, 2-inch receiver hitch, and heavy-duty steel racks on every recreation model ATV, and their Speedrack accessory system lets you add other attachments quickly as well. They’re ready for work or hauling whitetails anytime you are!
Our favorite in the Prowler line is the HDX 700. There are a couple features that set it apart from other Prowlers and make the HDX a great choice for the hard-working and hard-playing crowd.
The HDX 700 chassis is 10 inches longer than the standard Prowler. The extra room was put to good use with dual side storage compartments. Under the hood is another cavernous storage area, and the rear dump box can be transformed into a flat cargo bed or a handy workbench. Inside the crew compartment, the HDX comes with a three-person bench seat, tilt steering, a combination digital/analog gauge, a dash-mounted shifter and power steering—which is especially welcome when hauling a heavy load or using front mounted attachments like a snowplow. The Arctic Cat side-by-sides are known for powerful, crisp, smooth-running engines, and the HDX 700 comes with a 695cc, liquid-cooled, EFI-equipped, SOHC engine mated to Cat’s Duramatic CVT transmission.
The performance from each Commander model is excellent, and the ride is smooth and well controlled. Ergonomics are superb, the gauges pivot with the steering wheel, all controls are within easy reach, and a beefy tube structure keeps the occupants well protected. A composite cargo bed is ready to haul your gear to camp.
It’s almost hard to believe an 800cc machine would not be the most powerful ATV in the lineup, but with Can-Am anything is possible. The engine on the 800R is a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, SOHC V-twin driving a high-performance CVT transmission. What makes the Outlander 800R great however is the G-2 chassis and suspension, which delivers a smooth, controlled ride and feels very precise on the trail. As part of the total package design philosophy, Can-Am engineers also sculpted the bodywork for better ergonomics, and even though the machines generally feel a little bigger, everything feels natural. From the plush rider’s seat, the bodywork has you well protected—it’s even comfortable for riders well over six feet. Between the rear taillights is a huge storage compartment, and the tough, composite racks can handle anything you can stack on them. A receiver hitch is ready to tow any load.
We named the 2012 Can-Am Outlander Max 650 as the best ATV of 2012 from any manufacturer. It’s that good, and if we could only pick one machine for everything from weekend trail rides to work around the farm, it would be the Can-Am Outlander MAX 650. It’s off-road perfection on four wheels. At 62 horsepower, it’s not the most powerful Can-Am, but it has as much or more power than most other manufacturer’s top-of-the-line machines. The 650cc, liquid-cooled, EFI-equipped engine runs extremely smooth with zero vibration and delivers instant yet easily controlled throttle response. The Outlander Max 650 is not a one-trick pony though, and it’s made for two passengers and all day comfort. When riding solo, the rear seat can be removed within seconds and a nifty storage box locks down into place for extra storage. On the trail it’s very comfortable, handling and stability are excellent, and you’ll forget it’s a two-up machine. We love it!
A sturdy, raised peg keeps your feet anchored above the floorboards. Splash protection on all models is excellent. About our only complaint with the Foreman is it could use a bit more on-board storage. The Honda Foreman isn’t flashy, particularly quick, or overly nimble, but it will get the job done.
The big news at Honda is the introduction of their new Pioneer 700-4 UTV. The new Pioneer 700-4 brings Honda into the era of modern side-by-sides with the looks, features and almost certainly the performance to match. Styling is much more edgy, sporty and muscular. We like it! Honda’s Pioneer has one trick the others can’t match: it can be quickly converted to a four-seat machine by folding two seats out of the cargo bed.
A super reliable, fuel injected, 675cc, 4-stroke engine powers the platform. The Pioneer uses Honda’s automatic transmission. Shifting is done with a dash-mounted lever. Expect to see the Pioneer 700-4 at hunting camps later this year.
Deere’s heavy-duty, hard-working Gator is the 825i XUV. Rather than an industrial engine, the Gator 825i is powered by a DOHC, liquid-cooled, triple-cylinder, automotive-style engine with EFI that cranks out 50hp. Mated to the engine is a CVT transmission.
We love the oil fill and dipstick locations, and air filter access is excellent as well. On the trail, the 825i tops out at 44 mph. You can expect to be passed by nearly every other machine, but the Gator 825i is extremely stable and predictable. It’s also a little loud, and Deere would do well to include a baffle between the cab area and the rear-mounted engine.
The Gator 825i XUV is built for hard work, though, and at that it excels, thanks to a 2-inch receiver hitch at both ends, steel underbody protection, and a 1,000-pound capacity dump box. A super handy, 44-inch ruler is molded into the tailgate.
The RSX 850i is Deere’s first model aimed squarely at the sporting and recreational crowd. The 850i shares a chassis platform with the 550XUV, and it’s by far the best-looking Gator yet. The overall look is sporty, tough, and ready for action. Cab styling, instrumentation, and driver and passenger accoutrements are outstanding. The digital instrument readout on the RSX 850i is the best in the sport, and the seats are so comfortable we would happily ditch our living room La-Z-Boy for them.
The EFI equipped, liquid-cooled, 837cc, 4-stroke, V-twin engine churns out a claimed 62 hp (59.5 ft-lb torque) with top speed listed at 53 mph. We prefer the RSX 850i over the sometimes underpowered 550XUV. The only weak feature on the RSX 850i is the brakes, which need larger rotors and more clamping force for more reliable stops. As with all UTVs, the RSX gets up to speed with a CVT-style transmission.
The new Gators are a world apart from any previous Gator design. They’ve still got the heavy-duty dump box, hitches, and working capabilities to handle any tough job, but they can also carry you and your gear on just about any adventure.
Kawasaki’s Brute Force ATVs are a lot like their Teryx 750 side-by-sides—powerful and ready for action. The Brute Force ATVs offer excellent power thanks to a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, V-twin engine and a multi-range CVT transmission with low, high, and reverse. Shifting on every Brute Force we’ve tried has been very smooth. In the saddle you’ll find a comfortable set of handlebars, a firm yet forgiving seat, fenders that provide excellent splash protection, and large foot wells that drain quickly. We really like the easy-to-read digital display as well. Kawasaki’s front differential lock is unique in that it can be applied incrementally by pulling a small lever on the left handlebar. Thanks to sturdy, steel racks, the Brute Force ATVs can haul plenty of gear. We really like the top-of-the-line Brute Force 750, but don’t overlook the smaller models, including the Brute Force 300, which is an intro model with a basic platform yet very capable and fun to ride as well.
We consider the Kawasaki Teryx 750FI 4x4 side-by-side a crossover vehicle because of its ability to perform many different tasks extremely well. It’s got plenty of power and is sporty by nature, but it also has the essentials for hauling and towing a serious load. Got a mountain of gear to get to camp or a bear to pack out? The Teryx can do it! Ready for a weekend trail ride? The Teryx can handle that too! The powerful, 750cc, V-Twin engine is fed by EFI and runs smooth and crisp with instant throttle response.
Shifting the CVT transmission between gears is extremely smooth, and the Teryx 750FI comes with heavy-duty CV axles, joints, and boots designed for long-term reliability. We really love the throaty sound of the Kawasaki engine, but the Teryx is also tough! We took a fleet of Teryx 750s on a brutal, bone-jarring, 400-mile jaunt across the desert and had zero problems. We didn’t even have a flat tire in our group, which was a new record! About the only potential problems are the bucket seats and not-so-spacious, dash-mounted storage box. In our experience, the Teryx 750FI 4x4 has been tough as nails.
If we had to describe KYMCO’s UXV 500i side-by-side in one word, it would be “tough.” We took the UXV 500i deep into the Utah desert last year, and despite a brutal pounding over terrain that was difficult to even walk over, the UXV 500i never let us down. It’s tough, capable, reliable, and sporty.
We tested it up steep hills, through deep water and mud, over rocks, and through deep whoops, and it never had so much as a hiccup. While the UXV 500i is powered by the same engine as the MXU 500i ATV, we expect a 700cc engine this year. One of the best features about KYMCOs is the price, which is often significantly less than competing models.
KYMCO also offers option packages right from the factory, with scabbards, different tires and wheels, winches, and just about everything else you could need at much better prices than you could get on your own. Either way, the KYMCO UTVs are the real deal.
Polaris built their reputation with the legendary Sportsman ATV lineup. What makes them great is they are easy to operate, the ride is excellent, they come with plenty of onboard storage, and they’ve got the essentials like 4wd and a 2-inch receiver hitch. The original Sportsman chassis is still available and just as capable as ever, but the new XP style chassis amplifies it by a factor of 10. It’s like going from a nice 8-point to a B&C trophy.
The XP Sportsman models have more power from EFI-equipped engines, more features, better brakes, excellent ergonomics, and dual A-arms for improved suspension and handling. Independent rear suspension soaks up any bumps, and the entire chassis has been designed for a precision feel. Cast aluminum wheels and a longer and wider stance increase stability. About the only feature we miss is the extra storage, but Polaris offers plenty of easy to attach accessories. We’ve named the Sportsman 550 and XP 850 as ATV of the Year in their class, and the Sportsman 550 is our all-time favorite. It’s one of the best ATVs ever made.
The KingQuad 750 AXi dominates the lineup. When introduced, it was far ahead of the competition in nearly every category. The main features we look for are easy operation, reliability, and ease of maintenance. The Suzuki KingQuad 750 AXi and 500 AXi excel at all three.
Both share a common chassis with dual A-arms at the front and an independent rear suspension. Each model features a smooth-running, liquid-cooled engine with electronic fuel injection, and it’s been our experience they’ll run practically forever with a clean air filter and regular oil changes. Both tasks are easy to accomplish on the KingQuads, although we cut a hole in the side panel to reach the dipstick easier.
We like the controls. At the center of the handlebars is an excellent, easy-to-read display. The left hand operated shift lever is the best in the sport. It works smoothly and is perfect for back and forth work like plowing snow. Optional power steering provides excellent feel yet plenty of assist. We’re also fond of the KingQuad’s foot pegs, which allow your foot to pivot as needed on uneven terrain. Our only real complaint is the stock tires, which ride well but spin easily in slippery conditions. Swap them out for an aggressive tire of the same size or one size larger. Don’t get super aggressive tread patterns, as they can lead to CV-joint problems.
We’ve used KingQuads for towing trailers, hauling whitetails, and pushing snow, and they’ve never let us down. They’re comfortable, they run smoothly, and they’re reliable. We fully expect the slightly smaller KingQuad 400 AXi to be the same. They’ve got everything you need for the camp or trail.
Both the Grizzly 700 and Grizzly 550 share a common chassis. Front dual A-arms, independent rear suspension, and five-way, preload-adjustable shocks ensure a smooth ride. Dual storage compartments, one under the seat and the other in the fender, and durable steel racks front and rear can haul a mountain of gear. While other utility ATVs have increased in displacement and size, the Grizzly is slightly more compact and feels almost sporty!
The handlebar bend and location is slightly forward, the seat is comfy, and the control layout is clean. As a group, the Grizzlys offer rugged good looks, excellent ground clearance, good hauling and towing capacity, and a transmission with Yamaha’s exclusive sprag clutch. The unique clutch setup ensures constant belt tension for longer belt life but also helps with 4-wheel engine braking. They’ll push, pull, or climb anything in front of you.
The Grizzly 700FI and 550FI engines have a very linear feel to the power band. Electronic fuel injection provides great starts and a crisp running engine regardless of temperature or elevation. The Grizzly engines are not overpowering; instead, they are very easy to control. The Grizzlys basically dig in and get up to speed with a healthy bit of torque to get moving, but not so much that it spins wildly. The chassis delivers a sporty, light, and nimble feel—overall very confidence inspiring. Yamaha also recalibrated the Electronic Power Steering just over a year ago, and we like it! We also like the Maxxis tires and wheels, which resist bending. There are plenty of other big-bore utility ATVs offering higher overall horsepower than the Grizzly 700 F.I., but it’s not always about peak power—it’s about how well it works as a package.This is the strength of the Grizzly.
Today the Rhino is as capable as ever. Thanks to a 700cc fuel-injected engine and a relatively compact footprint, it has no problem prowling around the tight woods. Power is very good, the engine always fires up, and we like the versatility the Rhino offers for both work and play. The Rhino can do every job it was designed for, and they’re proven reliable. The only problem with the Rhino is other machines have surpassed it in capabilities. Yamaha won’t sit still for long though and we’ll see renewed efforts soon.