May 09, 2014
By John Arens
There have been a lot of changes in the off-road world in the last five to ten years, and if you bought your last machine when Bill Clinton was still president, you'll be floored by the innovations churned out by manufacturers in 2014.
To help you catch up, we've gathered the best hunting-capable models on the market right now. Go forth and tackle tight woods, rocky canyons, downed timber, or whatever you please.
There are seven new Arctic Cat
side by side Prowler models, ranging from the 500 HDX up to the 1000 XTZ. Our favorite is the 700 HDX
, and it's an excellent choice not only for going to camp, but also for year-round use. All of the HDX models come with a chassis that is 10 inches longer than the standard Prowler, and
the extra length means a smooth, stable ride.
Unique to the HDX line is a transformable rear cargo bed that can quickly be converted to a workbench or flat bed for hauling oversized items. Under the bed are two side storage compartments, and Arctic Cat was the first to utilize space under the hood for another giant storage bin.
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 using front mounted attachments like a snow plow. The Cat side by sides are known for powerful, smooth-running engines, and the HDX 700 comes with a 695cc liquid-cooled, EFI-equipped SOHC engine mated to Cat's Duramatic CVT transmission. We love the sound of the 700's engine on the trail.
Starting at $
Our favorite ATV in the Can-Am
lineup (and for that matter, any other lineup) is the Outlander Max 650
. The Outlander Max 650 is unusual in that it is an ATV built for two that handles extremely well despite the longer wheelbase. The engine on the 650 MAX is a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, SOHC V-twin Rotax driving a high-performance CVT transmission. On the trail Can-Am ATVs generally feel a little bigger than some competing models, but everything feels natural, and the supple independent suspension delivers a smooth, controlled ride.
The plush rider's seat has you well protected, and it's very comfortable even for riders well over six feet tall. Huge sealed storage compartments and tough, composite racks in the rear can handle anything you can stack on them, and a receiver hitch is ready to
tow any load. You can't go wrong with the Outlander 650 MAX, but if you're the sort who has to have maximum power, Can-Am has engines guaranteed to thrill, from the 650 all the way up to the mind-numbing Outlander 1000.
Can-Am is also the master of option packages, and you can configure the Outlander models with any number of engines and camo schemes.
Starting at $
The biggest news from Honda
is the new Pioneer
side by side —
it comes in two different versions: the 700 and 700-4. We've been using one (the 700-4) all fall and winter, and there is a lot to love about this brand-new offering. It's not overly fast, and other models have more power, but it is extremely well designed.
As with all Hondas, the ergonomics are flawless. Inside the cab are a stylish dash and a bench seat, although seating is really limited to two. Powered by the same 695cc fuel-injected single-cylinder engine as the Rincon ATV, the Pioneer also features a completely unique fully automatic three-speed transmission.
The most unique feature on the Pioneer, though, is the tilting cargo bed. Although it appears to be a two-seat model, a second set of seats can be folded out of the cargo bed, making the Pioneer 700-4 the only machine with this option. The fit and finish on the entire machine is excellent, and with our daily use it's been flawless.
Starting at $
The new Teryx 800
comes with a 783cc SOHC four-valve-per-cylinder digital fuel-injected 90-degree V-twin engine delivering almost 10 percent more power and broader torque. As with most side by sides, the Teryx uses a fully automatic CVT-style transmission.
We appreciate how Kawasaki
installed extra sound-deadening material for 2014 around the mid-mounted engine, but it's the longer wheelbase that makes the Teryx something special. Since the Teryx 800 is built on the four-seat Teryx platform, the
ride is very smooth and stable, but it still handles well in the trees.
Suspension is fully independent at all corners, and the Teryx 800 has ample ground clearance for clearing any obstacles along the trail. We especially love the super-comfortable seats, and half doors keep you well protected in the cab. Overall, the new Teryx 800 is powerful, comes with great off-road capabilities, is reliable, and is tough as nails.
Starting at $
At the head of Polaris'
new Sportsman lineup is the incredibly smooth-running, powerful Sportsman 850 XP
. We've spent considerable time crawling through the cedars of Michigan's Upper Peninsula on one, and it's never let us down.
Everything about the Sportsman 850 XP is designed for comfort and performance, from the wide, comfy seat to the smooth running, EFI-equipped motor that never lacks for power€¦ever. The XP chassis is designed to soak up any bumps and comes with excellent brakes, dual A-arms, independent rear suspension and cast aluminum wheels and delivers a precise feel on the trail. But that's not all. Polaris has introduced another Sportsman recently that definitely deserves consideration.
The new Sportsman 570 EFI replaces the legendary Sportsman 500, and the new model is head and shoulders above the one it replaced. The chassis on the new Sportsman 570 EFI is a combination of old-school MacPherson struts on
the front with independent suspension at the rear, and the ride is smooth.
The smooth-running 44 horsepower fuel-injected motor has plenty of power, but best of all, at $6,499 the 2014 Sportsman 570 EFI is only $50 — you read that right — more than the original price when it was introduced in 1996. The new Sportsman 570 EFI is a winner.
Starting at $
The last few years have not been kind to Suzuki
. Trouble on the automotive side inevitably placed considerable pressure on the power sports divisions, greatly slowing new model development. To make matters worse, as side by sides began to take hold, Suzuki had no answer or new model to offer. A company reorganization was followed by a bankruptcy filing, and only now is Suzuki beginning to reemerge with a sustainable business plan. Despite the organizational problems, Suzuki still has several ATV models that deserve consideration.
Thankfully, when the KingQuad 750
was introduced, it was far ahead of anything else in its class, and as a result it's still competitive today. From the saddle, all of the controls are exactly where they should be, and it's comfortable and easy to operate. There are several KingQuad models to choose from, and most have smooth-running, liquid-cooled engines with electronic fuel injection. One of the best features is the CVT transmission, which shifts perfectly every time, making back-and-forth work, like plowing snow, extremely easy.
Suzuki likes to use a common chassis that features dual A-arms up front with independent suspension at the rear. It's also been our experience that they are extremely reliable, and as long as you keep the air filter clean and the oil changed, they'll live practically forever.
About the only drawback to the KingQuad lineup is the tires, which ride well but sometimes lack traction. Whether you go for the top of the line KingQuad 750 AXi with power steering or the 500 AXi you can't go wrong. We even own one, and after using them for everything from hauling wood to hauling white tails to weekend riding adventures, they've never let us down.
Starting at $
We've always liked the Yamaha
Grizzly ATVs, but for 2014 Yamaha is releasing an all-new, hardworking side by side designed less for crossing desert and dunes and more for crossing creeks and pastures. The new Viking
is Yamaha's first new side by side in a decade, and it should work well for hunters.
At first look, the Viking appears big. It carries a wide stance for sure-footed stability over difficult terrain, and the bed sits slightly higher to avoid any wheel well intrusions in the steel cargo box. Styling is edgy and aggressive, and the fenders extend far enough to do a good job of protecting the cab area from mud and splashed water. Inside the cab, Yamaha did a good job of laying out instrumentation and features, but the most important feature is full seating, and seat belts, for three. We tried it in every position with two other hefty guys, and there was still enough room for all€¦with no awkward intrusions.
Powering the Viking is a 700cc liquid- cooled, fuel-injected motor based on the 700cc Grizzly ATV. In our experience the Grizzly engines (and for that matter the entire machine) have been extremely reliable. Yamaha also gives the Grizzly and Viking engines a fully automatic CVT transmission with a very unique sprag clutch system that creates consistent belt tension, especially at idle, greatly increasing belt life.
On the trail the Viking feels very stable, with predictable steering and good throttle response, although the suspension can be a little stiff. Overall, though, the Viking will get the job done.
Starting at 12,499
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.