There are a lot of very good but widely varying reasons to look for a new sport quad. We don't all use our quads for the same thing. Sport is a pretty wide net to throw. There is a chance, a small chance, that your choice of a killer dune machine, a cross-country race mount or a motocross starting point might be the same machine, but it probably isn't. For this comparison we were looking for high-performance sport quads that make no pretense about being racers. We wanted sport, but for trail riding and general use. One of our main concerns was selecting quads with suspension that were already suited for technical trail riding. Any quad that makes any claim of race readiness is generally too stiff and unyielding for fun and effective trail riding.
We started by selecting the Suzuki QuadSport Z400
, also known as the LTZ400. In our opinion, that is the lower displacement limit for a do-it-all trail quad. Suzuki had plenty talent to draw on when they developed the latest rendition of the 400, and it shows. The Z has very effective ergonomics that allow seated and standing comfort to get the job done while riding. As a 400, and a mildly tuned one, the power is modest in stock form, but there is plenty of power to be had with very little work.
To battle the 400, we looked at the opposite end of the spectrum: Yamaha's potent Raptor 700
. The Raptor is a sport quad in every sense of the word. Of the two quads, the Raptor has more adjustable suspension components and, surprising nobody, considerably more power. The 400 is a little soft down low in stock form, and to get more juice, you turn up the rpm. The 700 is like a hybrid that combines some of the chuggy torque of earlier air-cooled Yamaha thumpers with the free-revving pull of modern four-strokes. You can rev it, and it hauls mail when you do, but the best part of the power is in the bottom and middle rpm ranges.
We spent a lot of time getting the two machines in a variety of terrain. We stayed away from the track, but did hit the sand, open but steep and hilly desert, and some good old California-baked adobe and rocks. Some of the trails were quite narrow with sharp drops on the downhill side. The tighter and more technical the riding, the happier the Z400 was. In the sand or the desert, though, the stock Z400 was sleepy off the bottom. We chose a three-step approach to boosting the performance. We started with a K&N air filter ($80.98), added a filtered airbox cover from K&N ($139.21), and finally mounted an FMF Q4 muffler ($339.99). The Q4 slip-on is reasonably priced, and it passes sound scrutiny at any riding area we have ever been at. On top, we added almost 4 horsepower, but the big difference is down low. Right off-idle, there is more pull and energy, so the engine is a lot more fun and effective.
We actually went the other way on the Raptor. We had installed a $141.50 K&N filter kit that includes a billet joint that must be mounted to the airbox, and a Barker's Performance dual exhaust to the 700 that made the thing a monster-a fun monster, and just the companion you want in the dunes or open desert. For more technical trail work on the hard clay, we went back to the stock header and used the Barker's more economical $395 slip-on muffler with a $20 quiet insert.
The tires on both machines were a little too balloonish for our tastes with too much bounce for good control. We wanted better traction and improved handling. For the 700, Maxxis Razr Xc tires did the trick. They improved traction immensely, helped the handling be much more predictable and they are showing amazing life. The Razr Xc tires are expensive, with a retail price of roughly $170 each and a street price in the $120 area, but it's easy to tell that they are race tires developed from cross-country use, and that melded perfectly with our trail-quad plan.
For the Suzuki, we chose the new CST Pulse tires. They range from $95 to $120 retail depending on the size, so they are a much lower-priced option. We made a good choice putting them on the Suzuki. The CSTs were not quite as sticky as the Maxxis tires, but they do work very well and are great considering the price. We noticed the same handling improvements from the race-spec tires on the Suzuki.
Both of these quads have suspension that was able to deal with fast, rough desert all the way to the packed clay and rocks. The Yamaha was more supple than the Suzuki because it was softer overall, but the Z400 is much more at home in whoops or over jumps. The Yamaha has a piggyback reservoir in the rear only and preload adjustment with no external damping capability at either end. The Suzuki has piggyback shocks, front and rear, with compression and preload adjusters, but no rebound damping. Yamaha does offer a 700 with fully adjustable shocks, but it is more expensive.
Both of these quads are great on the trail. For certain, the LTZ400 responded better to the mods, but that is because it needed more power. Now, the 400 is an absolute pleasure to ride on any sort of trail. The chassis inspires rider confidence, and it is just natural to pop little jumps or loft the front end over jumps. For sure it is an easy fit for a lot of different skill levels. Then there is the Raptor 700. If we were shopping for a 700 today, we would spend the extra money for the R model with the adjustable suspension. As it is, you cannot fault the power of the 700. It is always there, but it demands a rider with a delicate touch on the throttle when the going gets tight. The seated riding position is full desert-limo, but standing is not as roomy or natural as on the Z400. The 700 feels heavy, but it is lighter than the 400. We would never have guessed it from the trail, but the more you ride the 700, the better it feels.