With the proliferation of 4x4 ATV models, the landscape that faces new buyers is pretty strange and tough to understand. Much of the confusion is thanks to high-end 4x4s that come in two or more models, though the differences can be as superficial as special-edition graphics, or the addition like electric power steering (EPS) that is a genuine performance advantage. Add in decisions about straight axle, the varying forms of IRS, diff-lock, fully auto or with shifting, big engine, little engine, single, twins and more (you get the picture) before you consider brand loyalty or your favorite color. And, of course, let’s not forget about price. It’s a wilderness out there before you ever get to the great outdoors.
We know how you are; you looked at the pictures first, and if you judge by those, this looks like a 4x4 shootout. But, this isn’t a direct comparison between machines. Each of the three machines here represents a class of machine. At the lower end of the weight, power and price scale is the able Suzuki KingQuad 400 ASi. This is a straight-axle machine with a lever to switch between 2WD and 4WD. It is far from the bottom of the class, since it comes with camo covering the plastic, and it has a fully automatic CVT transmission and fuel injection. This Suzuki may stretch the “King” designation a little, but for sure this is a prince of quad and a fair representation of the affordable entry-level 4x4s in the 400cc-and-under category. Other examples in this class include the Arctic Cat 400 Core, Can-Am Outlander 400, Honda Rancher 420, Kawasaki Prairie 360, Polaris Sportsman 400 and the Yamaha Grizzly 350.
Next in line is the Honda Rincon. It is fairly unique in the mid- to big-bore utility 4x4 class. It features the fuel-injected 675cc version of the Honda single with the cam beside the head to keep weight low, and a mechanical, automotive-type, three-speed automatic transmission that has a fully auto mode or ESP mode that allows shifting electronically via buttons on the left-side switchgear. As a consequence, it has no low range. If you want low, you choose ESP and select first gear. That proves plenty low for most uses. The Rincon also features IRS with double-wishbone suspension and two shocks. For the purposes of this comparison, the Rincon represents the more fully featured and powerful single-cylinder 4x4 quads in the 500cc to 750cc arena. Keeping things somewhat apples to apples with the Suzuki, this Rincon has no EPS or diff-lock. The Rincon is standing in for the Arctic Cat 450, 500 and 550 Core, and 500 and 550 XT; Can-Am Outlander 500 and 650 and the Renegade 500; Honda’s Foreman 475 and Rubicon 500; Kawasaki Brute Force 650; Polaris Sportsman 500; Suzuki KingQuad 500 and 750; and the Yamaha Grizzly 450, 550 and 700. We included the 700cc singles in this class since they are closer in performance to mid-size machines than they are to V-twins.
Finally, we have the Can-Am Renegade 800 sport 4x4 doing double duty. It represents the sport 4x4 class, but that class is a thin one, with only Can-Am and Polaris having entries. There are more Open-class utility quads, though, and the Renegade reps for the Arctic Cat 700 and 1000, Can-Am Outlander 800 and Renegade 1000, Kawasaki Brute Force 750, and the Polaris Sportsman 800 and Scrambler 850. The fact that the Can-Am is a twin allows it to stand in for the large and powerful twin-cylinder utility quads as well, even though it has only rudimentary carrying capacity and no large racks. The suspension is stiffer than utility 4x4s, and this model has no EPS. To keep our comparison consistent, the KingQuad and Rincon don’t have EPS either. Also, the Can-Am uses a third sort of rear suspension with trailing-arm IRS.
POWER IS LIKE PORRIDGE
When Goldilocks was breaking and entering at the Bear abode, she encountered porridge (think oatmeal) that was too hot, too cold and just right. You want to think about power the same way—more is not necessarily better. We headed for our favorite brutal trail loop that includes a great deal of technical trail with rock crawling, severe side cambers and tight turns. Before and after the tight and technical section is faster, more-open riding. In the fast, the 400 went a little over 50 mph, the Rincon 65 mph and the Can-Am frighteningly close to 80 mph. Once away from the straight bits, it was only on the long climbs that the 400 fell behind a little. Some of that gap could be explained by the fact that we went to low range for safety and simply didn’t have the speed of the larger machines.
On the faster sections, the Can-Am borders on addicting. You steer with the throttle, and the sand and acceleration feel are like a powerful sport quad! When we worked the quads dragging trees, the Renegade boost was a fine thing if there was a hard surface. In soft field dirt, it dug holes really fast and well. There is no shortage of boost for the Rincon, but it isn’t even in the Can-Am league.
On the trail, it was super pleasant and effective with just the right blend of power and control, and when we worked the quad, it pulled well and resisted digging holes. The Suzuki tools along fine. Its speed is limited more by the straight-axle rear end reacting to trail chop than by the modest power.
Once we got into the tight and technical riding, though, the Renegade became a big-time handful. It was jumpy enough off-idle in high range, and it just gets snappier in low range. Better watch that right thumb carefully. The Honda displayed ample power for all situations, but remained easy to control, but did require care with thumb input.
The Suzuki was in its element. For technical steps or steep climbs, there is no worry about throttle control. All it has is pretty much perfect, and it never gets away from the rider. Oddly, when we worked the 400 with the tree-dragging, the need to call on higher rpm made it spin easily. The light overall weight may have been a factor as well. Oddly enough, the two bigger quads didn’t have a trailer hitch, though all are rated for towing. That isn’t an insurmountable problem. Fuse Powersports has bolt-on hitches for the front and rear of popular 4x4 quads and UTVs. Reach them at (763) 689-4800 or www.fuse-power
sports.com.SUSPENSION IS BLOODY
In the open, the Can-Am can generate speed, and the suspension feels plush and able to handle anything. The feel is even plush, but the plush feeling goes away with speed. At slow speed, the front feels solid and reluctant to move. Without EPS, the front jolts often, resulting in difficulty modulating the throttle. The Rincon IRS is set on the stiff side, so it isn’t especially plush-feeling in the open. But for cambers and technical climbs, steps, and rock crawling, the suspension setup made for great control. The 400 has the least amount of power and the lowest price point, and we felt that in the suspension. You feel more of the rear suspension than you should, since the rear reacts whenever either rear wheel hits a bump, since either side feeds it through the straight axle.
For rock crawling, side cambers and steep climbs, the suspension was fine. Climbing with ruts and rock steps doesn’t upset the chassis and weight distribution as much when you have a straight axle. You do have to consider the reduced ground clearance, but machine control is actually excellent at slow speeds. Typically IRS has excellent ground clearance and is amazingly better over choppy terrain than a straight axle, but it generally feels more tippy on side cambers, and if the rear wheel drops into a rut while climbing, the opposite front wheel paws the air. Generally, though, all things considered, IRS is a good thing if you can afford it.DOES SIZE MATTER?
Even on our super-technical and tight route, physical size didn’t really become a limiting factor. We never found a spot that the svelte KingQuad could squeak through that held back the larger machines. What did matter was the size of the feature list. We have tested on the same trail many times with quads that have EPS and diff-lock. Both features generally add to the price of a new machine, but they are both what we consider must-have features if you can possibly fit them in the budget. Tires make a huge difference on a 4x4. Not all tires work well everywhere. Check with locals at you area and see what is working. It could be that no stock tire will suffice for your riding. Changing out four new tires will dent the wallet, so know that going in if possible.WHAT ELSE?
When you shop, think about the type of terrain you ride on. If you hit a lot of rutted mud, you are going to want IRS, and make sure the quad you pick has huge fenders. Ground clearance is going to be a top priority for you. If you pull long hills, deep sand or gumbo mud, power is going to mean vastly more to you than if you ride tight, packed or slippery trails where traction is much more important than sheer power. If you have a lot of flat terrain or smoother roads, then a straight-axle quad with a lower ground clearance will rail the turns better and slide with more predictability.
Remember that you will need to work on the quad. How easy is it to check and change the oil? What about the air filter? Some models require that you remove tricky body panels and those annoying plastic rivets to even get to the air cleaner. What about the CVT belt? How easy is it to change? Does the engine and CVT have high inlets? That is important if your riding has water to cross. If you ride fast trails that have hard braking, a single drum rear brake may not be up to the task. How hard would it be to replace a bent handlebar? What about adjusting the valves? A twin is always harder there. Are the valves adjusted with shims or a wrench and a screwdriver? How important is a backup starting system to you?
The good news is that with the numbers of 4x4 quads out there, there should be at least one that is just right for you. Naturally we all need to consider price, but if you truly use your quad, don’t ignore features you really need or want. Spending a little more up front is far better than spending a bunch on aftermarket parts, or worse, deciding you made a mistake and have to sell and buy again. Buying the right quad for the job you need it to do will be a source of great satisfaction, and you will be more likely to use it a lot. Nothing makes a price reasonable like spreading it out over many years and miles. Have fun, pick well, and we’ll see you on the trail. Oh, and send us a picture when you bury it in the mud. What were you thinking? That was a new quad!