Stirring up dirt and working hard since 1996, the Sportsman has so far done a great job of pushing its maker Polaris, leap forward in their ATV division. It has been at the heart of their quest to flood the market with what is now the most complete and varied line-up there is. The Sportsman name now enjoys a good reputation for amazing work capabilities, while still offering playfully good control. It has gone through years of improvements and was already considered among the best before this 99% change for even better. With a highly competitive market and growingly high expectations from consumers, the time had come for yet another strong leap forward for the Sportsman. A host of luxurious features are popping out of every manufacturer’s bag of tricks and the race to please a growing number of very demanding ATV aficionados is on. The LE version of the new Sportsman XP 850 is certainly a good example of how far Polaris will go to please their folklores.
However, that’s not what this particular quad is all about. We all know what truly count is not what your quad is wearing, but rather how it performs. So it seems, this might just be, at least from a Polaris team member’s point of view, the one that has it all! The Sportsman has been totally re-designed from the ground up to create the new XP series; XP standing for “Xtreme Performance”. Major differences can be noticed between the new Sportsman models and what Polaris has kept and now call their “value” models of the 2009 line-up. A new roller clutch, 20% larger radiator, rolled I.R.S suspension and new digital instrumentation, to only name a few. Of course they look a lot better in their new “Show car finish” type colours, but much more importantly, they are ergonomically close to perfection with lots more room to move around and a much narrower mid-section. Mounting the engine longitudinally allowed Polaris engineers to create a 33% more spacious area for the rider’s legs. Sadly for guys a bit tall like me, the very edgy and modern look of the front fenders creates a nasty pointy protrusion running down the entire length of it, which would almost tear away my knee caps every time I would want to drop my body down for a fun power-slide.
I remember the Thundercat 950cc monster caressing my knees with a nice and soft great big flat area of plastic, welcoming them. Another miss, I think, was making what should be true foot pegs, almost disappear. I personally consider dictating the best rider weight placement to be of great importance. The row of threads, protruding up a mere half inch from the bottom of the wells, just isn’t enough to keep the rider’s feet from applying pressure only at that point. The foot is quite free to slide wherever and rider weight distribution on the ride is constantly changing at every bump, as the feet frequently end up planted in different places. They go to great lengths to do just that; achieve the most weight centralization as possible, with a wiser placement of every component in the machine. Better foot peg presence would have really complemented that whole effort. Those few little pet peeves aside,
I truly think this exact, red metallic ride, might be my #1 choice for the coming season. My final decision will have to come soon, as I must vote for what I judge to be the ultimate best for 2009, in our 2009 ATV Guide, hitting newsstands this coming February. Reduced kickback in steering, smoother delivery of power, enhanced overall ride are among expected improvements from the new XP line and I’m getting dizzy here trying to remember everything I like about this awesome quad. Merely climbing on it is a pleasurable experience, let alone starting it up with a turn of the key and feeling its rumble caress you. We, media guys, get to ride so many, that it takes quite a bit to get us excited about a ride before we even try it. Strangely enough, I actually felt like a kid again, caressing those fenders, jerking the throttle a bit, smiling. Oh what a sweet feeling I got at that first press of the thumb. Rarely do I let the front lift on the very first moments on a new machine, but it was so smooth and responsive to my command that I let it carry me 50 feet forward with the wheels just about a foot off the ground. Oddly enough, there was no intimidation felt on my part as it had done before in my first such moments on other such powerful 4×4’s, like the Can-Am Renegade 800 for example.
Much easier steering and smoother suspension make it feel just like driving a regular size quad, and I wonder why anyone would want to have the optional power-steering unit installed. It does a great job on its own with anti-kickback steering really decreasing rider fatigue. The very light steering was achieved by using what are now the longest A-arms and largest–diameter wheels on the market. This way, the steering axis was moved to near the neutral center of the tire. Not only was the engine totally repositioned, but it’s an all new creation. This new Polaris Sportsman XP engine is an entirely Polaris-built 850cc that is said to develop 70-hp at 7,200 revs. Now at this point, I would normally give you my sermon on how this all-powerful quad should be operated with extra care, and by whom, only by an experienced rider, right? Truth is, this one I would actually be comfortable with the idea of training a newbie on it. It is a very predictable ride, while also very forgiving of human error.
The engine braking system seems to not only make descents much easier to manage and safer, but also keeps the power output to the wheels stable and smooth throughout the whole spectrum of handling situations. Despite the rookie’s tendency to jerk the throttle in a turn, incidents are less likely to happen than on a smaller quad that is absolutely free to keep rolling, where the rider is faced with the challenge of stopping it in a smooth and controlled manner with his other hand or foot. This quad does away with the need to brake when riding at low to medium speed and seems to transfer control of the entire machine into the thumb. While this Sportsman actually renders braking almost obsolete when riding at low speeds, this precise behavior also greatly improves its obstacle conquering capacity, offering perfect control of how the wheels grip or spin. What we now call good throttle response, I would rather call; throttle precision for this ride.
Imagine, your wheels stuck to a 6″ log in a stopped position. Many powerful machines have so much “Throttle response” that the wheels’ spin is almost instantaneous and you are obligated to jerk the throttle gently in order to get all the available grip of your threads, before they spin wildly and become useless. This means anyone without much experience, will see himself being slowly carried over just about any obstacles with ease, in a much more relaxed and safe fashion, while saving up brakes that would otherwise be very solicitated by the frightened rookie. A great deal of effort was put into this very powerful machine to make it handle better than any other Polaris had ever been able to. Then they topped it with an endless list of cool new features, other improvements and available options, and in that process, might just have created a true ATV trail rider’s dream machine.
For more information on the above mentioned models, please visit the Polaris Website