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Shootout: Can-am vs. Polaris vs. Suzuki vs. Yamaha

 
(9/20/2010)
It didn’t take long for power steering systems to catch on and become all the rage in the ATV world. Of the major ATV brands, only Kawasaki and Arctic Cat are left without the offering.

In the top-dog unlimited 4x4 class, Can-Am offers the Outlander 800 ($10,749), Polaris sells the Sportsman 850 ($9999), Suzuki has the KingQuad 750 ($8699) and Yamaha has the machine that started the craze, the Grizzly 700 ($9299). Although Honda does have a power steering system on some of the mid-sized Rancher and Foreman models, they have yet to equip their flagship Rincon 675 with power steering. That’s why it will be left out of this comparison along with the Kawasaki and Arctic Cat flagship machines.



CONTEST
In this test, we pitted the power-steering-equipped, big-bore, 4x4s head to head in a no-holds-barred shootout. All of the machines in this test are 2010 models except the KingQuad, which is a 2009. Suzuki wins the price war with their dated $8699 offering. However, keep in mind that the highest price $10,749 Can-Am Outlander comes standard with a 3000-pound winch and a wind deflector. This is an added value of well over $500 for the winch from companies like www.warn.com and another $20 for hand guards purchased at www.mooseutilities.com. To pick a winner, we subjected these machines to days of torture in the mountains, deserts, mud bogs and snow. We looked at features such as comfort, ease of use, power, handling (loaded and unloaded), price, fuel mileage, fit and finish, accessories and more.


Yamaha was the first to incorporate power steering on an ATV. Honda and Suzuki quickly followed. Kawasaki and Arctic Cat have yet to join in the game.

POWER DEPARTMENT
All four engines are distinctively different from one another. Can-Am stuffs a huge 799cc, SOHC, four-valve, V-twin mill in the Outlander. It has been proven very reliable over the years, and Can-Am claims it has more horsepower than even the 850cc Polaris Sportsman powerplant. That Polaris mill is a twin-cylinder design utilizing a parallel construction with a single overhead cam.

The smaller engines found in the Suzuki KingQuad and Yamaha’s Grizzly are single-cylinder designs. The Suzuki has a dual-overhead cam, four-valve head, while the Yamaha has a single-overhead cam also operating four valves. Actual displacement numbers on the KingQuad and Grizzly are 722cc and 686cc, respectively. All four engines are fed by electronic fuel injection systems. The Outlander has a single 46mm unit while Polaris uses two 40mm throttle bodies. Suzuki also uses a single 46mm EFI system for the KingQuad, and Yamaha equipped the Grizzly with a single 40mm EFI.

Other numbers in the fuel department we are always concerned with are tank capacities. Remarkably, the larger engines do not get larger gas tanks, in this case. The smaller Yamaha gets the largest tank at a whopping 5.3 gallons. The Suzuki carries 4.6 gallons, while the Polaris and Can-Am hold 4.5 and 4.3 gallons, respectively.

During our tests, we were able to travel the furthest on the Yamaha and the Can-Am at just under 100 miles each. The Suzuki went 76 miles before the tank went dry, while the Polaris ran dry very early at 60 miles. The dual throttle bodies might be to blame, along with the machines’ extra weight.


For deep mud riding and the addition of big mud tires, you want the quad with the most horsepower. That is hands down the Can-Am Outlander 800XT. For 2010, it has power steering and improved handling.

CHASSIS TALK
Polaris was the first to build a quad with a good, working, four-wheel, independent suspension system. They still use this design today. The Sportsman has dual A-arms on all four corners. Up front, wheel travel numbers are a respectable nine inches, while a healthy 10.25 inches of travel is found out back.

It is one of the smoothest riding machine of the bunch. It has a comfortable ride and handles great in all types of terrain. However, the front shocks started to fade early in the rough stuff. And the 14-inch wheels help handling, but one fell victim to our only flat tire during testing. We hit a rock with the left rear tire, and the sharp cast aluminum rim sliced the tire so close to the bead it was unrepairable. We did suffer some flat spots on the aluminum rims found on the Yamaha and the Suzuki; however, they are all still holding air just fine.


The Outlander is the highest priced machine of the group. However, you get what you pay for, with a winch, hand guards and brush guards. We used them all during our weeks of testing.

The Grizzly also has dual A-arms on all four corners with 7.1 inches of movement up front and nine inches in the rear. This machine is also very comfortable, and the controls worked flawlessly. It was very hard to find any complaints with this machine. If we could change anything we would put slightly taller footpegs on it. Actually, you can add a couple of washers under them to do the trick.

Suzuki gave the KingQuad four-wheel independent suspension as well. However, dual A-arms are only found on the front end with 6.7 inches of travel. Out back, travel is 7.7 inches via a single A-arm on the bottom and an I-beam control up top.

This machine has good suspension but very twitchy steering. All of the IRS-equipped KingQuads suffer this problem. And the higher the horsepower the machine has, the worse the feeling gets. We had hoped that the power steering system would help cure this issue, but it does not.

Can-Am has the most unusual suspension system controlling the Outlander chassis. Up front, standard A-arms provide eight inches of movement. Out back, Can-Am uses a trailing arm setup at each corner with nine inches of travel. Trailing arms are connected to each other by a torsion bar that provides the anti-sway properties that the other machines get from a typical anti-sway bar.

The Outlander also has a twitchy steering system that takes a little getting used to. It’s not as twitchy as the Suzuki, but not as comfortable as the Polaris or the Yamaha. A unique thing about the Can-Am is that it has two modes of power steering; a light assist or heavier assist. The lighter assist mode was the most comfortable. The heavy assist setting would be reserved for heavy mud tires or even snow tracks.


It was hard to find any complaints with the Grizzly. If we were to do anything to it, we’d raise the footpegs a quarter inch. You can do that yourself with four small washers.

MORE FEATURES
All four machines have convenient digital instrument panels, with features such as fuel level gages, hour meters, clocks, trip meters and warning lights. Another feature we like to look at is storage capabilities. Polaris gives the Sportsman a big water-tight box at the rear of the machine under the rack. However, the exhaust system is also in this area, so storing water bottles or food (unless you want to cook it) is out of the question.

Yamaha and Suzuki both have a front fender compartment and a rear under the rear rack box provided. All work well as long as whatever you are trying to store is not too big. Small water bottles barely fit. Can-Am provides a nice box integrated into the rear rack. It’s big, easy to access and we like it the best. We wish Yamaha and Suzuki had this type of storage.



TRAIL TEST
Our test started off with a drag race. The Outlander smoked the other three. From the drop of the green flag, it shot out front and never looked back.

None of the machines were slow. At the top end, the Can-Am topped out at 77 mph, and the Polaris was a touch slower at 74. Suzuki’s KingQuad was the next fastest at 70, and the Yamaha topped out at 68 mph.

Bringing the four machines to a stop from a test speed of 65 mph was another question. The Yamaha has the best binders with separate front and rear controls, offering a controllable feel. Suzuki’s KingQuad stopped just as well. The Polaris and Can-Am still feature single-lever hand brakes and a foot brake. Although we do not prefer this style of braking, the binders on the Sportsman were far superior to the ones on the Can-Am.

They both feature steel-braided lines, but the brakes on the Outlander were rock hard, required lots of force and it was hard to control the amount of pressure you wanted to give them. Also, in the water, they slipped much more than the other three did.

When climbing up the steep hills, we clocked two sections of the trail. This is a good test of how the clutching operates and how much torque they have. The Suzuki had the biggest drop in speed from 32 down to 24 mph when climbing the hill. The Yamaha, although the slowest initially, only dropped 2 mph to 28 as it kept chugging up the hill. These tests were all done in high gear. The Outlander dropped from 36 mph to 30, and the Polaris did about the same and dropped from 34 down to 30.


Polaris gave the Sportsman models full coverage bodywork and great splash protection. We did have the front shocks on our machine fade quicker than the other machines.

CONCLUSIONS
The four machines we tested here are all good. In our 150-plus miles of testing, the only failure we suffered was a flat tire on the Polaris and some loose and scratched bodywork on all of them. Since Suzuki does not offer any 2010 machines, their 2009 KingQuad has a much lower price than the others. Unfortunately, that alone does not make it a winner. You could possibly find lower cost, 2009 Yamaha, Polaris and Can-Am’s as well.We actually liked the smaller KingQuad 500 better.

If speed is your thing, the Can-Am Outlander 800 should be one of your top choices. It offers an exhilarating ride. However, twitchy steering and imperfect brakes add to that effect. It does come with some features, like lots of storage, hand guards and a winch that we welcomed on this test, but they do add to the price. Price and weight of the Sportsman are the two issues that hurt it the most. The added weight and perhaps dual EFI throttle bodies gave it poor mileage, which hurt it in this test. Another issue that kept it from winning was that the major item (cast aluminum wheels) that adds to its $9999 price was the only thing the caused a failure on all four machines.

The only machine that generated no complaints and worked flawlessly throughout our testing was the Yamaha Grizzly 700. It’s not the fastest. In fact, it was the slowest in some situations. However, a 68 mph top speed is plenty fast for a machine weighing well over 600 pounds.

In the comfort and handling departments, it was on top. Fit and finish were also first-rate. Those points along with great mileage and near perfect ergonomics help it land on the top of this contest.

Topic: Tests

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WARNING: Much of the action de­pict­­ed in this magazine is potentially dan­gerous. Virtually all of the riders seen in our photos are experienced ex­­perts or professionals. Do not at­tempt to duplicate any stunts that are be­­yond your own capabilities. Always wear the appropriate safety gear.
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