Every year we put in thousands of miles over all types of terrain determining what a vehicle can and can't do. We want to see what it's made of, how it handles different jobs and how easy it is to maintain. After all, we count on them during hunting season, too, and after another year of prowling around the woods and using them for everything from hauling firewood, whitetails, cinder blocks and hay bales, here is how the lineups compare.
ARCTIC CAT TRAIL REPORT
: Durability / power / comfort / ground clearance on ATVs / front & rear receiver hitch / huge storage & bench seat / fully adjustable air shocks / huge, transformable cargo bed on Prowler HDX
: Stock tires prone to cuts in sharp rocks on HDX / could use more storage on ATVs
Arctic Cat's Prowler HDX 700 side-by-side is aimed for the hardworking and hard-playing crowd, and the HDX 700 comes with a smooth-running, 695cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC engine. Electronic fuel injection ensures excellent starts and crisp throttle response. Rather than bucket seats, the HDX comes with a 3-person bench seat, tilt steering, combination digital/analog gauge package, dash-mounted shifter and power steering, which is especially welcome when hauling a heavy load or using front-mounted attachments like a snow plow.
The chassis is 10 inches longer than the standard Prowler, and the extra room was put to good use with dual side storage compartments. Under the hood, there is another cavernous storage area. A couple of features we really like about the HDX 700 are the premium-quality Fox air shocks, which can be adjusted for whatever load you're carrying, and the rear dump box that can be transformed into a flat cargo bed or a handy workbench. Finally, the HDX is equipped with strong cast aluminum wheels. We've even named the HDX 700 the best Heavy Duty side-by-side two years in a row.
HONDA TRAIL REPORT
: Stability / legendary Honda reliability / ergonomics / towing and hauling
: Lack of standard instrumentation / minimal storage / dated designs
Honda's Big Red MUV utility vehicle rides on a solid platform designed to handle years of abuse. Functionality, attention to detail and reliability were the driving force in Big Red design. A fuel-injected, 675cc four-stroke engine powers the Big Red. Ergonomics were designed for both driver and passenger comfort. There are a few warning lights on the dash, but instrumentation that is standard on every other model is an option on the Honda, and in this area it is well behind. Even the glove box door is an $89 option!
On the trail the Big Red is extremely stable, and the engine runs smooth. The Honda will get the job done but offers all the tingling excitement of watching grass grow. Plenty of other models in camp will give Honda riders the feeling of a first year spike amid a group of seasoned trophy bucks. Because it's a Honda, it will likely still be in camp long after the trophies are retired to the wall.
JOHN DEERE TRAIL REPORT
: New suspension / excellent stability / higher top speed of 44 mph / tough cargo box / good price
: More leg room and storage would be nice / needs a rear firewall to reduce noise and better splash protection
The new John Deere Gator 825i XUV offers more wheel travel, ground clearance and features than ever before. Lightweight, cast aluminum wheels are shod with Maxxis tires, and adjustable shocks smooth out the trail. True to its working roots, the new chassis is very beefy with a two-inch receiver hitch at both ends and a certified roll cage. Underneath, Deere gave the Gator real protection with thick steel armor.
The Gator 825i is powered by a three-cylinder engine with EFI that cranks out 50 hp. We love the oil fill and dipstick locations, although we wish the air filter and CVT air intake were higher in the chassis for better protection. Mated to the engine is a CVT transmission with low, high, neutral and reverse. Control layout is simple with high-quality switches and an excellent digital display. Storage is vastly improved, there is a 1,000-pound capacity, super tough composite box with a steel bottom, removable sides, plenty of tie down points and a stroke of genius: Deere molded a 44-inch ruler into the tailgate.
KAWASAKI TRAIL REPORT
: Power / handling / comfort / shifting / looks / sporty power delivery / instant throttle response / toughness
: Needs more storage / stock tires on some models could be more aggressive / rear brakes fade on some models
All Kawasaki's utility ATVs under the Brute Force name are like the dominant buck in the herd: big, powerful and tough. They offer excellent power thanks to a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, V-Twin engine and their multirange CVT with low, high and reverse. Shifting on every Brute Force we've tried has been very smooth. In the saddle you'll find comfortable handlebars, a firm yet forgiving seat and great splash-protection fenders. We're especially fond of the digital display. The 4wd button is on the right handlebar, and if things really get ugly, a small finger lever on the left handlebar activates the progressive differential lock. Thanks to sturdy steel racks the Brute Force ATVs can haul just about anything you can pile on them. Kawasaki did introduce a smaller Brute Force for 2012, and while the Brute Force 300 is an intro machine with a more basic platform, we liked it so much we named it 'ATV of the Year. '
The Kawasaki Teryx side-by-side blurs the line between utility work and play, and we think of it as a 'Crossover Vehicle ' for its ability to perform many different tasks extremely well. The powerful V-Twin engine fed by EFI runs smooth and crisp with instant throttle response. Shifting the CVT transmission between gears is extremely smooth, and the Teryx comes with heavy-duty CV axles, joints and boots designed for long-term reliability. Although the Teryx loves to play, it's not afraid of hard work, and the tough rear dump box can haul everything from duck decoys to cinder blocks. We've even crossed 400 miles of brutal, bone-jarring desert on a Teryx with not so much as a flat tire, and it will easily haul gear to the campsite, slog through a muddy bean field or cross a rocky hillside. About the only potential problems are the bucket seats and the not-so-spacious dash-mounted storage box, but the Kawasaki Teryx has never let us down.
POLARIS TRAIL REPORT
: Stability / handling / comfort / seats 3 on Ranger / supple suspension / excellent all around
: Oil filter difficult to remove on Ranger / XP ATVs lack previous front storage box
All Polaris Sportsman ATVs are equipped with MacPherson struts, CVT transmission, comfy seat, receiver hitch and plenty of other features. You can't go wrong with the Sportsman 500, but the XP lineup is beyond outstanding. The chassis features dual A-arm suspension; large disc brakes tucked inside massive, cast aluminum wheels; and a wider and longer stance for better stability. Independent rear suspension soaks up any bumps, and the entire chassis geometry has been designed to optimize handling. The Sportsman XP 550 and XP 850 are so good we've named them 'ATV of the Year ' in their class.
The Polaris Ranger utility vehicles completely redefined the category with features and performance that made them very user-friendly. The Ranger XP 800 is powered by a 760cc High Output, EFI-equipped, twin-cylinder engine capable of towing and stopping 2,000 pounds. All feature independent rear suspension, adjustable A-arms, dump box and a receiver hitch. Interiors have a 3-person bench, good leg room and splash protection, massive storage and tilt steering. Air filter access is under the rear dump box, which is rated for 1,500 lbs. Polaris also offers a midsized Ranger 500 with most of the same great features.
SUZUKI TRAIL REPORT
: Good power / smooth suspension / easy maintenance / excellent power steering / very good all-around package
: Stock tires better suited to a golf course than a hunting camp — needs more aggressive tread / annoying panel covers dip stick — do yourself a favor and saw a hole in it! / sometimes twitchy front end
Suzuki's KingQuad lineup is overdue for an upgrade, but they're still excellent machines. We've put thousands of miles on the Suzukis, and we count on the top of the line KingQuad 750 AXi for towing a trailer full of firewood, hauling a whitetail on its steel racks and for pushing snow. All of the full-sized KingQuads from the 450 AXi to the 750 share a common chassis platform, and they are comfortable, run smoothly and proven to be reliable. Air-filter and oil-filter access is also very good, although we did cut a hole in the side panel to make reaching the dipstick easier. We're also fond of their footpegs, which allow your feet to pivot as needed on uneven terrain, and large holes in the floorboard drain water away quickly. Optional power-steering provides excellent feel and feedback, working so well it practically overshadows the other great features of the Suzuki.
YAMAHA TRAIL REPORT
: Predictable power delivery / reliable /ground clearance / good tires and durable wheels / storage dipstick access cover / very good ergonomics and sporty feel
: Airbox access on top models — plastic screws are a pain / must hold left hand lever or use foot lever to shift into reverse — not the easiest for back-and-forth work like plowing snow
The Yamaha Grizzly 700, introduced in 2007, raised the bar for 4x4 performance. This new Grizzly was powerful, fun to ride and full of technical innovations, such as power steering and electronic fuel injection. The unique clutch setup ensures constant belt tension for longer belt life, but also helps with 4-wheel engine braking on 4wd models. The engines are easy to control, and they'll push, pull or climb anything you need. While other utility ATVs have steadily increased in displacement and size, the Grizzly is more compact and feels sportier in the saddle! Maintenance is quite easy, too. The Grizzlies are tough. After a nasty crash last year, we dumped the gravel out of our helmet, flipped the Grizzly off its back and zoomed back to the truck. We also like the Maxxis tires and the stock wheels that resist bending.
Yamaha's side-by-side Rhino offers good trail performance thanks to a 700cc fuel-injected engine and a more compact footprint. Hauling everything from firewood to whitetails, the Rhino has proven extremely reliable. Power is very good, and the engine always fires up. Bucket seats hold the occupants in place. The Rhino can do every job it was designed for, but there's no denying it's due for an update.
CAN-AM TRAIL REPORT
: Awesome power / suspension / comfort / easy maintenance Visco-Lok 4wd / most refined
: ATVs possibly too big for smaller riders / bucket seats on Commander side-by-sides
The new Can-Am Outlanders updated the SST chassis with added rigidity, twice the strength and tighter suspension pivot spacing. When you crack the throttle, the rear end squats, digs in and launches forward — quickly. The steering responds precisely, and the suspension handles bumps with ease. The engine stands ready to deliver a shot of adrenaline to your spine.
The Commanders' level of performance, refinement and handling set a new standard for side-by-side excellence. All five Commander models share a common chassis with dual A-arms at the front and Can-Am's TTI trailing arms in the rear. Engine choices are an 800cc or 1000cc liquid-cooled, SOHC, V-Twin EFI engine. A flat, automotive-style air filter is under the hood, and we really like the 1000 XT package that offers aluminum wheels, 26-inch Maxxis Bighorn tires and a 4,000-pound winch.