2012 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 Long term Review

2012 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 Long term Review


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To climb on this imposing ATV, gives you a feeling like no other. It is big; it is strong and unequalled in all-around performance. Some have great power, some have good stability on the trails, others are known to tow more than one could imagine an ATV could. After spending four months of quality time with this one, we can truly say that this quad has it all! No matter what type of riding you do, this beast can satisfy any hard worker, player or racer.

You might think that all we do is test quads at their maximum speed and ability, which is somewhat true, but we also ride them smooth and relaxed, get a feel for how the average rider can enjoy the ride. As hard as it might be to believe, the Sportsman 850 XP, flagship of one of the most extensive lines of quads on the market, can even hold its own on a motocross track. You might have read about and seen this truck-like ATV being compared to Can-Am’s intimidating Renegade 1000 X-xc in a recent issue of your favourite ATV magazine and thought that it wasn’t a fair pairing, but the truth is that although those two rides are worlds apart in design, feel and looks, they are very closely matched in performance. Cranking out 20% more HP than the previous 850, the Sportsman more than held its own against what is considered by many to be the fastest stock sport off-road vehicle in the world and figuring that out was among the coolest things we had done for our ATV curious readers.

Luckily for us, and a true testament of the confidence the Polaris team has in their products, we got to keep this awesome machine to ride it in every possible fashion and in all imaginable conditions. Even nice and slow, which we do happen to experience from time to time, even if the photos tell another story, to discover that this must be the most multipurpose, comfortable and unintimidating big-bore ATV on the market today. Of course, great ergonomics are partly responsible for this, with certainly the narrowest mid-section and hugest floorboards you can find, but also because of small details like a very well-designed thumb throttle and the power steering system that offers the most assistance out there. Flat, long and shaped to accommodate many different ways of manipulating it, this throttle control, is by far, the best designed we have ever experienced and this was more noticeable when trekking around at very slow speeds. It enables the rider to use the entire length of the thumb, which greatly reduces the chances of your thumb cramping up from holding back and only pressing it a tad, to calmly cruise around the trails and enjoy the scenery. Many other thumb throttle designs tend to force you to use the Low range on the transmission, in order to acquire the same comfort at the thumb, with the throttle pressed in further under the grip, keeping the thumb in a more natural feeling position, in relation to the rest of the hand.

Engaging the on-demand true all-wheel drive and maybe even the exclusive active descent control, that works together with the engine braking system to monitor and control downhill braking and offer optimum control and smooth, even deceleration during descents at  15 mph or less, creates the perfect machine behaviour for this type of slow and relaxed nature exploration and enjoyment. Set as such, the machine becomes extremely user friendly, and although riding with just the right hand isn’t something we can recommend, it is totally doable with this quad, which almost rides itself in these conditions, even if the trail gets a little more challenging at times. This is something many ladies can thoroughly appreciate, since most of them are more likely to fall victim to such pain at the thumb. Steering the machine in 4WD won’t demand any extra effort, the ADC and EBS will render the brake controls obsolete and although this quad seems to be designed for big and aggressive riding boys like me, it doesn’t feel too large for smaller riders in any way. Another advantage is the 12″ of ground clearance, which means much less chances of hooking up the underside of the machine, an occurrence which has a tendency to be unnerving to most ladies.

Four months of hard (and slow) trail riding isn’t all that much for a quad, but we still appreciate the fact that our unit showed no signs of even the slightest mechanical problem. The front of the seat is showing a bit of tearing up, but I’m sure I am to blame because of my generous weight and tendency to almost exaggerate my side to side movements while chasing after my good friend Fitto on his extra light and quick DS 450 X-mx.  You would be surprised to see how well I can keep up though. Off the line my beast was more often than not better at putting all of its generous power to the ground, and in all-wheel drive launched off a little quicker and efficiently, of course even more so on slippery surfaces.

This article must feel like a Polaris ad campaign at times, but trust us when we say we just tell it like it is. In all honesty, there are still a few things we would like to see improved; like better foot pegs, less grip to the seat, a more precise foot brake pedal, and maybe a bit more plastic around the 4WD and ADC button, to avoid it being switched inadvertently. Those are just little suggestions that would render this ride almost flawless. Truth is, with its class-leading towing and rack capacity, a generous 680.4 kg (1,500 lb.) hitch towing rating, this great quad simply fits a much wider range of user types and is adaptable to more applications than any other ATV. More impressive is that despite this work-oriented look and capacities, it also boasts competition-ready stability and handling. With its two lights located in the front bumper and one mounted in the handlebar pod, it also surpasses all others in lighting efficiency. It has the convenient ability to not only light the trail far ahead, but also wherever you steer, which simply makes night time trail riding safer, and yet another cool thing to experience all over again on this heavy-duty beast. This vehicle we highly recommend in every way, from racetrack to out in the woods pulling huge fallen logs out of the way, which is something that can’t be said about many such imposing rides. Polaris reliability is also proving itself to have gotten better and better this past decade, with most owners reporting only regular maintenance needs and few repairs. If you are still not convinced, take a good look at the specs. They sort of speak for themselves and paint the same high-performance picture we just did.

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

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