Rugged and tough yet powerful and smooth, this machine can take a beating
ATV.com recently headed to the hills of northern California to test the 2008 Polaris Sportsman 800 EFI HO, on a guided ride with the Glende Polaris dealership in Chico, Calif.
The terrain was a mixture of relatively smooth fire trails and rocky, technical climbs and descents with plenty of fallen trees thrown in for good measure—an adequate test for any ATV.
The Sportsman 800 is built like a tank and tips the scales at a hefty 770 pounds, which is more than 50 pounds heavier than Arctic Cat’s 950cc Thundercat 4X4. Polaris says the added heft is the result of designing a rugged vehicle that can take a beating.
Though the ruggedness and durability add considerable weight, it’s a compromise Polaris was willing to make because the ride is smooth and the handling good so that you don’t really feel the additional pounds.
Despite its weight, the Sportsman has plenty of speed. The 760 twin cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled engine has power to burn, and we pushed the needle to about 65 mph on the fire trails.
Polaris loaded the Sportsman with standard features, including their new ADC—Active Descent Control. This feature comes in very handy when reaching a steep descent. When you flick the switch to ADC, the front and rear brakes engage and you can move down the hill at a slow, steady pace without touching the brakes or the throttle.
Should you be flying around on the trails and have to come to a sudden stop, you can do so with one hand. Polaris’ 60/40, front/rear braking system is operated by a single lever so you always have one hand fully on the handlebars.
Also coming in handy was the on-demand AWD (all-wheel drive). If your rear wheel slips just 1/5 of a turn without traction, the AWD is automatically engaged. Once adequate rear traction returns, the vehicle reverts to two-wheel drive. The process saves you from manually switching from AWD to two-wheel drive when you should be concentrating on the trails.
You have the option of keeping the vehicle in two-wheel drive without the on-demand AWD, but on the terrain we were riding this wasn’t necessary. It would have been better suited for more muddy riding when you want the steering to stay light so you can slide out of a turn without the front wheels engaging.
As much fun as it is to whip around on the fire trails at high speed, the Sportsman earns its stripes going over the rough stuff.
With 8.2 inches of travel up front, you can comfortably roll over rocks and bumps without much added stress on the steering. Fully independent suspension in the rear, however, is a real difference maker and allows for almost a foot of ground clearance—11.25 inches to be exact.
With all that clearance, you get the confidence to choose more aggressive lines. Even going up a steep hill, the Sportsman easily climbed over huge logs without bottoming out. It really makes you feel like you’re a better rider than you actually are—which could become an issue when you step onto a different machine.
Because the Sportsman is such a big ATV, you really have to throw your weight around in certain situations. One such scenario occurred when driving over a big rock that we probably should have avoided—but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. When the rock got underneath the rear right tire, the Sportsman started to tip to the left. It took a strong weight shift to the right to steady the vehicle and a little throttle to roll over the rock.
Polaris thought of the weight-shifting issue, though, and included full floorboards instead of foot pegs. If and when you need to swing over to one side you have plenty of room for both feet. This comes in handy not only when you try to tackle a rock you shouldn’t, but also when you are sidehilling.
The Sportsman is also well equipped for longer rides. We were out for more than six hours and put on nearly 60 miles without having to refuel, thanks to the 4.1-gallon tank.
Carrying all our gear was no trouble, either, with the roomy front storage compartment, which Polaris says is the biggest of any ATV. You can carry 100 pounds on the front rack, but if you can keep your tied-down items on the rear rack—with a 200-pound capacity—the front storage unit is easier to access.
None of the riders on this excursion got stuck, but just in case, the Sportsman comes standard with a trailer hitch that can tow up to 1,500 pounds.
With an MSRP of US$8,599, the Sportsman 800 EFI HO doesn’t come cheap, but it is comparable in price to other big utility ATVs from competing OEMs.