Polaris' hybrid ATV/UTV is all grown up
The Polaris ACE has been one of the most talked about and hotly debated off-road vehicles since it was introduced two years ago.
All we heard when the original ACE hit the ground as a 32hp single cylinder was “we need more power” and it soon came in the way of the Polaris 45hp 570 engine. But it wasn’t until we had a chance to strap in between the doors of this newest ACE 900 SP with its 60hp ProStar 900 engine that we realized we now have enough on tap.
We had a chance to get behind the wheel of the 2016 Polaris Sportsman ACE 900 SP at the Polaris Camp RZR held at the beautiful Brimstone Recreation riding area of Huntsville, Tenn. This mountainous riding location took us up to somewhere around 1600 feet in elevation, but it also gave our driving skills in this ACE a good refresher course. The trails were as easy as we wanted, but when taking the tougher sections it also made us glad to be in a vehicle with plenty of power.
Polaris’ ProStar 900 is virtually the same engine found in the 900 RZR. Of course some tuning and transmission changes helped shoehorn the beast in place, but it only takes a quick blip of the throttle to discover that this is no slouch. Obviously the fuel injected engine has been tweaked to perform well in this platform, but one thing that Polaris has added for 2016 is ETC – Electronic Throttle Control. Rather than have a throttle cable running around in the engine bay, the ACE’s computer now recognizes the demand for throttle increase or decrease and reacts accordingly. You may think this could take away from the feel or connection between the rider and engine, as it has in other machines, but rest assured it does not. Throttle response is instantaneous and a little too much can loft the front end while bringing a smile to your face.
Of course when you add big power to such a small platform the suspension needs to be revised to keep things stable. Polaris has added a front sway bar to the ACE and also changed the rear sway bar to a solid bar instead of a tube-style stabilizer. This helps the ACE feel more comfortable in tight corners and it gives the driver a little more confidence knowing that the machine is a touch more predictable. Now do not get us wrong here – this is still a narrow 48-inch wide ATV-sized machine and turning in too fast or too tight can have negative results. But for its intended purpose, this ACE seems to handle moderate speed really well. The springs on the shocks have also been beefed up to a dual rate configuration to help settle the big bumps on the trail. With the available 10 inches of ground clearance, the Sportsman ACE does seem to get over many obstacles with ease.
Slipping into the cab of the ACE you will find the comfortable high back seat of the 50-inch RZR. These seats are very comfortable, but it would be nice to have a little more bolstering in the bottom as well as along the sides. We say this because you really do find yourself repositioning inside the cab often because you seem to slide around on the seat when the trail speeds pick up. This is by no means a deal breaker, but it may make the ride just a little sweeter to those who are a little more timid on the trail. Who knows, maybe a RZR 900 S seat would bolt into the cab of this beast.
Our ride consisted of many high-grade flat trails with the typical water breaks across the trails. These were fun when hit just right with a dose of the gas pedal, as the ACE would just launch over the hump. But as the day wore on we found many trails that had just a little more treacherous terrain and these were the ones we had been looking for to test the ability of the ACE 900.
Climbing through steep rocky trails with boulder-sized obstacles, we figured out really quick that we appreciated the Power Steering on the ACE 900. Having the assist of the power steering made turning the wheel effortless and really helped when negotiating sketchy terrain. Our slow climb through the many rock gardens was painless and it made the ride more enjoyable.
The half doors not only looked good on the ACE, but gave us protection from trail debris as well. We think in really muddy terrain that a filler panel for the bottom of the door would prevent many of the mud biscuits that the front and rear tires throw up from getting into the cab with us.
Looking back on our first experience in the 2016 Polaris ACE 900 SP, it was very fun and the big power makes the ride exciting. The Sportsman ACE is built for someone who does not really want the sheer size of a RZR, but maybe does not want a traditional ATV. It is a vehicle that is smaller in stature, yet nimble and fun to drive while inspiring confidence in the first time off-road enthusiast. The protective structure also gives the rider, who may be a little leery of off-road riding hazards, the push to actually get in and try the machine.
We’re not sure where the direction of ACE is headed, but by the ingenuity we see in the products that Polaris is producing, we are looking forward to finding out.