2012 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 H.O. Review

2012 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 H.O. Review


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Built for extreme performance, the 2012 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 H.O. is to Polaris what the Corvette is to GM. Namely the most powerful and fastest accelerating vehicle that they sell. With its new High Output 850 engine, the mighty 2012 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 H.O. EPS, still offers all the wonderful features that give the ride XP status, and feels its usual powerful self, but with a little extra power to fly off to the next challenge more quickly. Polaris says it is 20% faster off the line, and we all discussed that after we took turns blasting off for a short but telling first try, and the claim seems about right. We also all agreed that the delivery did feel smoother and heightened an already very good amount of comfort in really rough sections, which was also always one of this quad’s best qualities.

Before we plunge into the very long list of interesting characteristics that the Polaris flagship boast’s, I think it is important that we start by underlining the quality. in general, of this Polaris product. We here at ATV Trail Rider do put test units through exaggerated challenges and, this will of course, transpire in the images, which we need always remind our readers, depict expert test riders with many years of riding experience. First and foremost, it is important that you don’t try and repeat any of the manoeuvres seen in this magazine, or any other, but fully appreciate what these images have to say about how the machine displays natural and comfortable extreme performance when in the right hands.

That’s over 30 years of riding experience in the case of Martin Bouchard, better known as Fitto, one of the best airbrush artists in the world, yet less known for his fantastic trick riding abilities on any quad, or even trike, for that matter. My point here is to reiterate the fact that when Fitto tests a ride with us, he takes it far beyond the usual recommended behaviour on a quad. Trying to match what he does is downright dumb. I’m counting on all of you to encourage safe use of ATVs and respect for nature any time it is possible to do so.

All of us, meaning Fitto, and Fox, our other talented ATV expert and collaborator, as well as myself, agree that it offers excellent handling and tough to equal conquering abilities. The overall value of this beautiful off-road machine is just great, and it has been since its coming. Adding a bit more power is just about the only way this awesome machine could be improved. That’s how good it already was! With more suspension travel, higher ground clearance, superior rack capacity and wider stance than any other big-bore utility ATV.

This quad was also already well equipped with a mightily powerful twin cylinder SOHC engine. The H.O. version is basically just a better breeding and made more efficient copy of the same motor, coming in to set the bar higher in the Big Bore Utility class, without necessarily having to resort to extremes in displacement size and having to struggle to keep the weight down. How can you go wrong when you already have such a well-balanced and suspended chassis to work with?

SOHC stands for Single Overhead Camshaft. That means that there are 2 camshafts, one camshaft per cylinder head of this V-type engine. For a SOHC engine, there are usually 2 valves per cylinder, as is the case with this one. Dual-balanced shafts contribute in providing smooth power delivery and a clean fuel burn. New upgraded throttle bodies also play an important part in this power gain, which felt concentrated at the low end, providing better acceleration and thus nicer control out of some of the tight turns we experienced on loose soil. Of course, EFI remains an important to mention addition that takes almost all the credit for keeping everything running at peak performance when conditions the ATV is used in, suddenly change. Funny enough, we got our chance to find out how practical and efficient that feature could be, when winter started on us, in one huge slap in the face fashion. We had a first test ride on a surprisingly comfortable feeling Sunday and then the next morning a thick blanket of snow covered it up, before we even got a chance to wash off traces of its inaugural mud bath. No hesitation whatsoever, the turn of the key shoved the beast to life with a short decisive and reassuring jolt of energy.

You will also enjoy more room to move and greater simplicity of use than with most other quads and profit from a huge dose of flexibility and practicality when you consider the whole Lock and Ride system and the huge amount of accessories the Pure Polaris line offers. The applications, where this machine can pleasantly surprise its owner, are numerous and possibilities to put it to good use, almost endless. As much as it rides super stable at high speeds, conquers the roughest of terrain with incredible efficiency and can even be used as a formidable race machine, its true calling remains: to be put to hard work.

Whether it is used for tilling the land or ploughing up snow, or any other chore needing extra efficient traction, this ride will intelligently monitor that aspect for you when the on-demand true all-wheel drive is activated by a simple click of the slider switch. That automatic 4×4 system won’t ever disappoint and contribute to the maker’s clear objective of making this quad ideal for hard working everyday ATV users whp want the operation of their machine to be as simple as possible. A very small  detail, like only needing to turn the key to start it up, instead of having to turn the key and then press a button to start it, as you would expect to see on just about any other manufacturers quad, doesn’t sound like it makes any difference; but combined with a few other little details like the design of the shifter, it can mean the world to someone like an emergency responder, needing to fly off as quickly and efficiently possible.

The long and pointing straight up drive mode selector remains its perfect self, with the letter in accordance with the CVT transmission’s selected choice, flashing so big on the instrument panel that you have no choice to see it and use it for a lightning fast operation when frequently backing up and going forward again. The user can select High range in one swift push forward of the long stick to the very top position and be off.

This quad is big and yes it is also quite heavy, but it felt like it was only when things got tight in the woods and we tried to keep a logical, but fun speed generous pace. Everywhere else, the imposing machine felt like it was even lighter still, and smaller than it actually is, when confidently going through some really fun fairly flat stuff that permitted a sport-oriented riding style. A huge part of that is due to the presence of the EPS, Electronic Power Steering, on our unit, which remains the most generous feeling in assistance we have so far experienced. In feel and necessary effort to steer while riding in more normal conditions, it actually makes you a bit lazy and nonchalant. In most situations, this can be a huge advantage for most users, yet does have a bit of a tricky side to it, when the quad is pushed in performance, by a user with little experience. Truth is, that almost any type of rider can rejoice, as the system simply brings more comfort, better steering kickback protection, and makes super quick corrections possible on low traction surfaces, like in snow covered trails. A reminder that this particular EPS equipped all powerful ATV isn’t meant for beginners and that Polaris offers a very wide range of models that enable any rider to find the perfect ride, in accordance with her or his size and skill level, is in order.

As you can see in the photos, we got a unit painted in a classy new Magnetic Metallic colour, one of many choices available again this year. The XP EPS is also available in Painted Sunset Red and a new Bronze Mist paint. Limited editions come in a choice of Orange Madness or Browning Polaris Pursuit Camo model.

Let’s just lean in here while it is up and tightly fit in the standard full-size pick-up box  of our Ford F-150, only a few inches too long for us to completely close the tailgate. What do we see up front? The large surface area radiator raised high to stay well protected from flying debris. The EPS is in a new weird position and perfect spot to not steal away any space from the big 20 L capacity fuel tank. Last year’s tank was smaller, because of it, but they found more room by moving the engine back a little bit. The engine repositioning also gives the ride better balance. As we observe this part of the ride, a hand lays on the premium Maxxis tires featuring a durable construction and a tread-cleaning pattern that maximizes traction in mud and on loose terrain. Here, we can also observe the long Dual A-Arm front suspension, which dramatically reduces kickback and minimizes rider fatigue, by placing the steering axis near the neutral center of the wheel. This minimizes the effects of jolts to the handlebars from sharp trail obstacles. We need to take this thing out of the box and into the garage to explore furthermore! A simple flip up of two locks and ride fasteners suffices to remove the front rack, to reveal many components that would normally be found under the seat on many other quads. All the electrical components, including the battery and relay and fuse box, are intelligently hidden here in this higher and less exposed to the elements area.

A few other maintenance needs can also be taken care of right here under the front rack. We see the radiator cap and coolant bottle cap in plain view, or the brake fluid or ADC (Active Descent Control) system fluid reservoirs a little further back near the adjustable handlebar. Of course, the two lights located in the front bumper and one mounted in the handlebar pod are obvious at this point, and lighting all three of them in the garage was a blinding experience. They truly maximize your security during nighttime trail rides, with a total of 150 W of power. Removing the seat is quite easy, as you only need to give it a good yank upwards to pop the pins out of the rubber mountings, but that will only be when you need to access the air-filter once every week for inspection and cleaning, as recommended by Polaris, or if access to the CVT cover or breather tube. From here, the top of one of the cylinder heads is also in plain view and the Polaris engineers’ very different approach in ATV conception becomes obvious. Nothing seems placed quite the same way as on any other quad, but the end result is truly efficient weight distribution, with a surprisingly narrow mid-section for such a big machine.

It has a large but ultra-smooth power output, and a suspension that permits you to take full advantage of it. Newbies should stay away and settle for a lesser and more logical amount of power. Intermediate riders need to be mindful that the level of comfort is so high while riding this quad, even after an entire day of riding, that it can cause a rider to be overconfident at times. This being said, a rider who is already very knowledgeable in proper ATV use, will find this new Sportsman XP 850 H.O. EPS to truly have dream ride potential. Navigating the deeply rutted and usually wet trails in the wooded part of our testing grounds at Saisons Express, a landscaping company in Léry, Québec, was extremely telling of how it compares to others we have had the chance to ride through the very same challenging stretch of mayhem. To give you a better idea, it is the sort of trail section where if you decide to conquer it, a certain amount of courage and boldness is in order.

Hesitation can get you into sticky trouble. Momentum must be kept, as every mud hole conquered only means you’ve got another one to worry about to continue. This quad simply offers more of everything and is clearly the best to have under you in such extreme conditions. The 12 inches of ground clearance are highly practical, while the Rolled Independent Rear Suspension (IRS), with the shocks angled rearward with 10.25″ of travel to offer a very smooth ride over sharper obstacles. This angled position of the shocks also causes less squatting during acceleration, so a generous squeeze of the thumb doesn’t take you by surprise and send the front up too nervously, during such touchy to manage situations.

At a glance in a showroom or at an exposition, this Polaris might not cause the casual ‘’I’ve got to get me one of those!’’ reaction, but a test ride will surely do the trick. This is truly a ride that has more to it than what its tough and work-influenced look can reveal.

For more information on the above mentioned models, please visit the Polaris Website

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