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HI-PERFORMANCE SHOOTOUT

 
(2/3/2005)

2003 promises to be the year of the high-performance sport quad. New models are now starting to pop up with increasing regularity in the hottest and fastest growing segment of the ATV market today. One of the newest machines to arrive on the high-performance scene is Polaris’s radical Predator 500. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on a long-term test unit so that we could compare it to the established models in the class to see how it fares against its esteemed rivals.

 

Well, we finally got our production Predator 500 and were able to compare it with our 2003 model Yamaha Raptor 660R, a 2003 Cannondale Cannibal 440 and our 2003 model Suzuki Z-400 QuadSport.

 

MISSING FROM THE LINEUP

Missing from this  preliminary shootout is the Bombardier DS650, the Banshee 350, Honda SporTrax 400EX, Kawasaki KFX400 and the, yet-to-be released KFX 700 V-Force quad. We did not want to wait an additional month or two to gather up most of these other models, due to time and deadline constraints, so we have opted to do a down-and-dirty, get-our hands-and-feet-wet, comparison of these four top models in this issue.

You can look forward to a full-on shootout of all these machines, in a future issue, but for now, we know that many of you out there are itching to know how Polaris’s all new Predator 500 compares to these three leading high performance quads.

FROM 398cc to 660cc

 

All four machines in our shootout use liquid-cooled, single cylinder four-stroke motors. The smallest displacement quad is the Suzuki Z-400 at 398cc, followed by the 432cc Cannondale Cannibal, the 499cc Polaris Predator, and the 660cc Yamaha Raptor. The Cannondale uses fuel injection while the Raptor uses twin 33mm Mikuni carbs, the Predator a single 43mm Mikuni and the Z-400 a single 36mm Mikuni.

The Suzuki, Cannondale and Polaris quads use Double Overhead Cam (DOHC) engine designs with four valves, while the Yamaha uses a Single Overhead Cam (SOHC) with five valves. The heaviest competitor is the Predator at 415 pounds, followed by the Raptor at 399 pounds dry, the Cannibal at 375 pounds and finally the Z-400 at 373 pounds.

 

They also all feature dual front A-arm suspension systems with single shock, solid axle rear suspensions (though the Predator has an innovative anti-dive front and anti-squat rear end). All have five-speed, manual shift transmissions and clutches and all four come equipped with electric starters.

 

While the Cannondale Cannibal and the new Polaris Predator are aimed  more at the “racer” or “racer wannabee”  crowd with lean styling and standard heavy duty features such as rugged axles, knobby tires, and competition style shocks, the Suzuki Z-400 and Yamaha Raptor 660R are aimed more at the all-around sport user. They come with the more versatile but less racy “all-terrain” tires, softer suspension, and the inclusion of a reverse gear.

 

In the chassis department, the Cannondale has the only aluminum frame of the bunch. The Suzuki Z-400, Raptor and Polaris Predator use conventional steel round tube frame construction. The Predator, however, has a unique PRO (Polaris Rider Optimized) steering system. In short, it allows for virtually no “bump steer”—which is the tendency for a machine to steer in the direction of a bump it hits.This, along with its anti-dive and anti-squat suspension systems, give it the most distinctive and different handling characteristics of the four machines tested.

 

These four high performance quads all use dual disc front and single disc rear braking systems. The Cannibal and Predator come with “racing-type” steel braided brake lines for improved performance, while the Raptor and Z-400 use traditional rubber brake lines on the front and back.

 

When it comes to suspension, the Predator has the most travel with 10 inches up front on the rebuildable Fox shocks and a whopping 11 inches on the Fox single shock back end. Next up is the Cannibal with nine inches up front on the Ohlins shocks (which are also rebuildable) and 10 inches on the Ohlins single shock rear end. Following them are the Raptor’s 9.1 inches in the front end and 8.5 inches in back and the Suzuki Z-400’s 8.5 inches up front and 9.1 inches of travel in back. All four quads have built in pre-load, compression and rebound damping adjustment

 

ROCK AND ROLLING

After warming up all our test machines thoroughly, we proceeded to put in a rigorous test session at the Quail Canyon motocross track located near Gorman, California. The first thing we did was to line them all up and do drag races to the first turn. In this comparison, pure cubic displacement came into play, as the mighty 660cc Raptor was able to edge its way to the front of the pack repeatedly. Hot on its heels, though, were the hard charging Cannibal 440 and the rapid Predator 500. Predictably, the smallest displacement machine, the Suzuki Z-400, suffered on the starts. While it held its own initially, it was no contest as the other larger displacement quads shifted into higher gears.

 

While the Predator had plenty of power for getting off the line quickly, we soon found its major flaw. We were losing ground off the starts when we could not make full throttle shifts between gears. To get the Predator to shift properly, we had to back off the throttle, and then make our shifts. Every time we backed off the gas, we lost ground on the start.

This might not seem like much of  a problem on the trail, but while involved in a straight up drag race it translates into lost forward momentum. We have heard that by switching to a different (10w40 synthetic) engine oil in the transmission you can make this less a problem. We will test this theory in a future issue. But with the production machine we had, you had to back off the throttle in order to make proper shifts between gears.

Even with the shifting problem, the Predator was always in the hunt at the end of the first turn straightaway, mostly thanks to its extremely good hook-up and acceleration factors.

Our Cannondale Cannibal could be ridden and shifted with the throttle full on. It comes with a hydraulic clutch that makes the clutch work even easier. As the only quad with fuel injection, it gets its four-stroke power to the wheels rapidly and accelerates with spot-on crispness.  Though it does not have as wide a powerspread as the Raptor, the Predator, or even the Suzuki Z-400, an adept rider, taking advantage of its quick revving nature and snappy top-end powerband, can make it a top contender in any drag race contests.

 

Our final drag race results showed the Raptor taking the most wins with the Predator and Cannibal almost dead heating over the second spot. Last, but not least was the Suzuki Z-400 with its easy-to-ride motor and chassis.

 

POWER TO THE GROUND

After drag racing the machines we matched them up on the Quail Canyon motocross track. The track is a wide, expansive layout, with lots of table-top jumps, several long straights and a rough whoop section to test suspension limits. Due to some earlier rainfall, the track was in near perfect condition with abundant traction for our monster quad shootout.

 

Our test crew soon found that under these conditions, the Predator and Cannibal began to stand out from the Z-400 and Raptor. With lower profile knobby tires, and more competition-oriented suspensions, the Predator and Cannibal were able to be ridden much more quickly than the less racy suspended Z and Raptor. As least on the track, anyway.

Our Z-400 did prove its agility and nimbleness on the motocross course thanks to its low center of gravity and light weight. It felt more competitive against the Predator and Cannibal than the somewhat heavier and taller Raptor. Even with the Yamaha Raptor’s power advantage, it was much more difficult to corner it as quickly as its lowered, more aggressive handling rivals.

 

STEERING & SUSPENSION

The Predator’s anti-dive, anti-squat Fox suspension and PRO steering came into play on the motocross track. Since the shocks did not squat under acceleration, and the front suspension did not dive going into corners, it was able to hook up and drive into and out of turns much better than any of its competitors. You can also rebuild and even modify the stock Fox shocks with accessory reservoirs and upgradeable valving and springs.

With virtually no bump steer, the Predator can be flung into turns and you can save your braking for the last possible second. Since the  Predator’s front shocks don’t “dive” into the turn and literally change the machine’s steering geometry, you can rail it around a corner exceptionally fast. You steer it from the back rather than the front end and adapting to that will require some changes to how you enter and exit corners. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself shaving your lap times considerably.

One area that was a bit awkward on our Predator was that the rear wheels seemed to break traction more than we would have liked. We checked the air pressure and found it to be on the high side, with six psi in the front and rear tires. We dropped both tires to four psi and this lessened the problems with tire spin considerably. We still feel there is a bit too much rear tire spin for our tastes, though. This could be unnerving approaching a full throttle jump where the back end might suddenly break loose.

The closest quad on the track to the Predator, in terms of handling and suspension, was the Cannondale Cannibal 440. We found that it does require more concentration and work than most of it fellow quads to get the faster lap times it is capable of. An attentive rider is rewarded with an aggressive handling machine that can and does get the job done. The Cannibal felt most at home for the pro riders in our ranks who could manage its power curve and take full advantage of its no compromise chassis.

With Ohlins shocks on the front and rear end of the Cannibal, it has plenty of travel, but offers a much stiffer ride than any of its competitors. The shocks do have a wide variety of adjustments for dialing them in for varying rider skill levels and track conditions, however. We did find that the harder you rode it, the better it worked.

All four machines steered well. The least steering effort was required on the Predator with its PRO steering effect. All four vehicles track well with predictable handling. Our Cannibal did have a tendency to fly crooked off of jumps if there were any irregularities on the takeoff ramp. The Predator, Raptor and Suzuki all jump very predictably and would sail straight and true off any jump, regardless of the condition of the take off ramp.

 

DISC & DAT

With steel braided brake lines,  and extra powerful brake pads, the Predator and Cannibal have a distinct edge in braking performance over the Raptor and Z-400’s rubber lines. The front disc brake on the Raptor was particularly spongy, requiring the rider to pull it all the way in to get it stopped properly.

 

Overall comfort was judged best on the Z-400 and Raptor, with their smooth ergonomics and comfortable seat/bar/peg relationships. We did not care for a hump in the middle of the Predator’s seat that made moving forward or back more difficult. The Cannibal has a comfortable seat but you feel the frame rails when hanging off the sides in a turn. The Suzuki Z-400’s seat was the most comfortable and easiest to slide around on and made weight transfers to either side of the machine simple.

 

Both the Z and the Raptor are much more prone to two-wheeling in sharp corners, mostly due to their Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) all-purpose tires. They tend to make these machines more tippy in hard cornering situations. The Predator and Cannibal quads come with more race proven, knobby tires (Maxxis Razr and ITP Holeshot respectively) shod on both ends. This makes them feel more at home on a race track.

 

OVERALL RACE TRACK CONCLUSIONS

In the battle for the best track ready quad it finally comes down to a shooting match between the all new Polaris Predator 500 and the Cannondale Cannibal 440.

While the Yamaha Raptor has more than enough beans to be competitive in any drag race, it does fall behind the others in terms of weight, handling, and suspension, especially on a race track.

 

The Suzuki Z-400, while possessing great handling, light weight and a nimble feel on the track, has the  drawback of its limited power when measured against these fearsome competitors.

 

With its innovative  PRO steering system, anti-dive, anti-squat suspension, and plenty of power available from its DOHC, 499cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke engine, it is our conclusion that the Polaris Predator takes the overall track title ahead of the Cannibal. Our biggest complaint with the Predator was its lack of full throttle shifts while drag racing.

 

Even so, its combination of handling, power, and suspension make it a formidable competitor. Hot on its heels is the quick revving, high tech Cannibal 440. It has race ready suspension, razor sharp (if demanding) handling, and is fast enough to make it a viable choice for racers and high performance oriented trail riders alike.

Following these two in for third and fourth spot are the Suzuki Z-400 and Raptor 660. We give the Z a slight edge on the track due to its better handling chassis and lighter weight. While down on power, especially compared to the Raptor, it does allow its rider to use all its available power immediately.

 

TRAIL RIDE TEST

After finishing up our track test we took all our contestants out to a winding trail section. Here we would see how well these four machines matched up on the tight switchbacks, steep climbs, vertical drop offs and rocky trails we encountered.

This is where the Yamaha Raptor showed us why it has become one of the top choices for high performance ATVers nationwide. It literally wheelied away from its competitors in this test. With its shorter and narrower chassis, plus the torquey and smooth power output, the Raptor was a delight on the trail.

 

The Raptor suspension is plush and the seat comfortable, either sitting or standing. You don’t even have to shift it all that much, thanks to its meaty powerband and ample power spread. Some of the negatives that hurt it on the track testing, like its slightly higher center of gravity and heavier weight, were not as much of a handicap on the trail rides.

Taking second in our trail testing was the smooth and easy to ride Suzuki Z-400. Again, while down on power in comparison to the other three machines, it does get what it has to the ground very well. It has such a light and agile feel to it that you can blaze through trails with abandon. The suspension sucks up bumps, jumps and ruts and it has a stable predictable feel that is hard to match.

 

Our Predator exhibited good manners on the trail but lacked the Raptor’s snap and crackle powerband and did not have the Z-400’s nimbleness on the tight and twisties. The Predator’s suspension action was good but the lump in the middle of the saddle made it harder to sit down for longer periods.

Taking fourth in the trail section of our shootout, the Cannondale Cannibal’s quick revving, hard hitting power made it much more of a handful for long distance riding. While the suspension action is first rate and particularly impressive over very rough terrain, it still is a bit on the stiff  and harsh side for less aggressive riders or at lower speeds.

 

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

In our high performance battle for ATV supremacy, is there a clear winner in this frantic fray? Given the choice of buying one machine to ride both on the trail and track, there is more than one way to go. It all depends on what is most important for you.

If all out horsepower is your primary requirement, then the Yamaha Raptor is the route  you will want to take. If has the best and most power of all these four high performance quads. It is comfortable, dependable, has plush suspension, and you won’t have to shift it all that often either.

 

Then again, if state-of-the art handling, suspension and the latest high tech gadgets are your cup of tea, then the new Polaris Predator might become your top choice. It handles extremely well, has good top-end power and incorporates the latest technology in the ATV industry. The power output is good, if somewhat flawed by it poor power shifting ability.

 

Should you want a no compromise ATV racer, and you are willing to push it to the limit, the Cannondale Cannibal has proven itself to be a superb high performance machine. It has excellent high speed suspension, a fast, quick revving, fuel injected motor, and the only all aluminum production chassis. 

 

Then again, if overall ease of handling, light weight and an agile, comfortable feel are most important to you, the Suzuki Z-400 could vault to the top of your list. With a pipe and some tuning mods (see Z-400 pipe test in this issue) it can be brought up to speed quite easily.

 

There you have it, four viable choices for the track and trail. The best one for you depends on what’s most important to you and where you plan on doing most of your riding.

 


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.
Copyright 2008 Hi-Torque Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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