2009 Polaris Sportsman: First Look
Polaris makes major changes for 2009 and they're all good
Story by Jerry Bassett, Photography by Jerry Bassett and Polaris, Jul. 24, 2008
A virtually all-new Polaris Sportsman hits the trail for 2009. While a quick glance may have you thinking the 2009 Sportsman doesn’t look all that different, you will be right — and very wrong. There is a new XP series that carries over the look and feel of the previous generation Sportsman that has been an all-time best seller for the Minnesota-based powersports manufacturer. Upon closer inspection you will see major differences between the new Xtreme Performance models and Polaris’ ‘value’ models.
Let’s not even get into the powertrain for now. Just check out where you’ll be conducting business aboard this new-for-2009 Sportsman XP series. Your ‘office’ is narrower and your foot room is greater. You can see the base of the engine looks a bit different as well. That’s because the all-new Polaris Sportsman XP powerplants have been turned about and canted to give you that revised seating position.
Both the single and twin-cylinder motors run the crankshaft down the middle of the Sportsman’s spine reminiscent of Honda’s engine positioning. But don’t use the H-word around Polaris people, they are a bit sensitive about this. The first thing you’ll be thinking when you preview the new Sportsman from the brake lever side will be Honda. But, that’s as far it goes. Honda should have powertrains like these!
The Next Generation
This next generation Polaris Sportsman has been in development in one form or another for nearly eight years. That would tend to make us believe that the replacement for this series is underway already. But it may be quite awhile in coming as this XP series is terrific for both utility and sports. In fact, we figure that this platform will be the basis for Polaris ATVs for quite some time. That’s a very good thing.
Engine and powertrain aside, the Sportsman XP sports an all-new narrow frame, all-new front suspension and vastly improved handling characteristics brought about by those changes. Gone is the Polaris-pioneered MacPherson strut front end. Say hello to a very nifty double A-arm front design that nearly eliminates nasty steering kickback when waddling over stone fields or stump-strewn old forest trails. Say welcome to Polaris’ optional electronic power steering (EPS), which makes life so much easier when you plow snow or need to carry a front rack full from a trophy hunt. This version of EPS comes alive as soon as you switch on the electrics, other EPS units only work when the vehicle is in motion.
But it will be the powertrain that convinces you to move up to the XP series from your old Sportsman. There is a Sportsman 850 XP and a smaller-engined single cylinder Sportsman 550 XP.
The 550 single is built by longtime Polaris engine partner Fuji Heavy Industries in concert with Polaris engineers. Think of this engine as an upgrade of the existing 500cc single. Also think in terms of this engine satisfying the needs of most ATV owners with a sturdy 40-horsepower. Designers felt that the follow-up engine to the base 500 should produce greater torque at midrange as well as a bump in power. That is exactly what the Fuji-built single provides in what is a wonderfully drivable ATV.
Engineers specified a counter balancer to reduce harshness and vibration tendencies that are inherent with many singles. This smoothed-out motor is fuel injected with an onboard computer that helps the engine maintain maximum torque from drive away to full open throttle. With its slight reduction in weight due to the single versus twin cylinder engine configuration, the Sportsman 550 XP may actually be more nimble than the 850 in very tight trail conditions where brute power is negated.
But power comes in handy for many ATVers and the all-new, liquid-cooled 850 twin gives it. Expect upwards of 70-hp at 7,200 revs from this Polaris-built motor. Outfitted with electronically regulated fuel injection, this inline twin is the pride of Polaris engine designers.
You could hear that pride in the voice of Polaris senior design engineer Ron Danielson as he outlined the specifics of this engine for ATV.com. He was quick to credit the success of this engine to the hard work of Polaris’ joint design team. “Much of the design was done in Polaris in our Osceola (Wisconsin) engine facility,” he stated.
The 850 features dual balance shafts as a way to assure smoothness through the frame and to maximize rider comfort. Rubber engine mounts help, too. This engine comes with an overhead cam with four valves — two for intake and two for exhaust. To make sure that Polaris owners have as much electrical power to run accessories and such, the 2009 Sportsman 850 XP offers up to 450 watts of electrical output at idle.
Danielson explained that the engine was canted to better fit the new frame. But, he said, this engine packaging allows better heat management as it creates a more efficient placement for the exhaust system.
Going with a more powerful engine necessitated greater cooling capacity. You’ll find a 20% larger radiator and more efficient water pump to cool the 70 hp twin.
Danielson emphasized that the engine design is not just about power and torque — both of which are very important, of course — but also about noise, vibration and harshness. The Polaris engineer said that engineering made a very conscious effort to enhance rider comfort as it designed the new engine. That explains the emphasis on engine smoothness. Of course, reliability comes into play and this engine features improved bearing rods and minimal maintenance rockers. In fact, Polaris expects the engine to easily perform up to 10,000 miles before needing any valve adjustments. The whole idea behind the 2009 Sportsman 850 XP is providing ATVers with a smooth-performing unit that continues the Polaris Sportsman reputation that has led to more than a million Sportsman ATVs being sold.
These two new engines deliver power to a new final drive system. Because the engines, especially the 850, generate more power than previous Polaris ATV motors, the final drive has been upgraded to roller drive clutches. Snowmobilers will look at this new clutch and think nothing about it, simply wondering: “Why didn’t Polaris do this before?” Non-snowmobilers may wonder what’s the fuss about. Simply stated, the roller drive clutch is both much more power-friendly and efficient. Current Sportsman owners will note the XP series gets power to the wheels right away and will immediately feel vastly improved backshifting.
To take advantage of the new engine’s improved torque, Polaris engineers increased the low gear range to allow speeds up to 39 miles per hour. Polaris spokesmen claim, “The added power gives the Sportsman 850 XP and 550 XP the highest pulling and towing at 1,500 pounds and biggest rack capacity at 120 lbs. front and 240 lbs. rear.”
Trust The ATV
When we test rode the new Sportsman XP models at the introduction this past June, we were treated to a hands-on demonstration of Polaris’ Active Descent Control (ADC). We were taken to a very steep hill and told to trust the ATV as we descended. Polaris ADC gives you all-wheel braking when the vehicle is in all-wheel drive and operating at speeds less than 15 miles per hour and no throttle is used. Trust the ATV we were told. Okay, we trusted. Okay, the system worked as advertised.
The all-wheel drive system works as advertised, too. If you have the Polaris On-Demand AWD system, it will engage when you need greater traction and revert to two-wheel drive — all automatically.
Of course, if you need stopping power, grab the single brake lever control. It grips four discs on the 850 XP and three discs on the 550 XP.
We truly enjoyed the new power of both the 850 and 550 motors. Frankly, we were more impressed with the improvement we felt from the Fuji single versus the previous 500cc powerplant. Where we felt the older engine seemed a bit underpowered in really tough going, the 549cc EFI engine felt extremely competent. As noted earlier, in some cases we thought the 550 actually handled some of the tight terrain better than the 850.
Both models of the new XP series handle extremely well thanks to the totally new front end. We wouldn’t have thought A-arms would make such a change for the better versus the heritage of the long travel MacPherson struts. Combine the new front end with an improved independent rear suspension and you have an ATV that rides better than… well, a Polaris.
Polaris ATVs long have been one of the best riding units you could buy. The XP series is better yet. The new IRS rear features improved ‘squat’ control thanks to A-arms and dual-stage rear springs that provide up to 10.25 inches of travel. The new front suspension affords up to nine inches of travel. Ground clearance is substantial at 12 inches.
Power and ride combine to make the Sportsman XP models stand out, but like a late night infomercial, “Wait, that’s not all!”
We’ve mentioned the new frame being used to fit the new engines. With the motors mounted inline and canted; the new chassis automatically gets narrower. This results in floorboards that are 33% roomier and offer more freedom of movement overall. The ‘sit’ is a more comfortable fit, as it is narrow and a bit longer in feel.
You sit aboard the new XP models feeling much more in control. Add in the reduced kickback in steering, the smoother delivery of power, enhanced overall ride, and you know that this is not your old Sportsman.
But, it is like your old Sportsman when it comes to accessories. Rest assured that Polaris has a very full catalog of add-ons for you and your choice of the 2009 Sportsman 850 XP or 2009 Sportsman 550 XP.
Getting a 2009 Polaris Sportsman 850 EFI XP in your garage will set you back $8,999 ($9,699 with EPS), while the 550 EFI XP starts at $7,499 ($8,199 with EPS).
The Sportsman XP may be the top of the Polaris ATV food chain, but carrying the goods is the job of the revised for 2009 Sportsman 800 6x6 Big Boss. This hard-working vehicle gets a major upgrade in power for the upcoming season as it now features the proven 760cc fuel-injected twin. More power to the six-wheel drive Big Boss calls for greater control so Polaris adds engine with its Active Descent Control. That’ll be something you’ll want if you are hauling a full load downhill. For ride comfort the Big Boss comes standard with six-wheel independent suspension at the rear. The Big Boss has an MSRP of $9,699.
Polaris will continue to add maximum versatility in its 2009 line with a choice of dual passenger models. Polaris touts its Sportsman Touring as “The world’s most comfortable 2-up ATV.” Available with a choice of an 800cc or 500cc engine, the Sportsman Touring offers a large passenger backrest, dual cup holders and vibration-absorbing footwells.
The Sportsman X2 is one of the most versatile quads you can buy. It comes with either a 500cc or 800cc powerplant and the capability to convert from pickup truck-like utility to two-up touring status.
The 800cc Touring and X2 models retail for $9,699, while the 500cc Touring and X2 models cost $8,299.
With the arrival of the all-new Sportsman XP models, Polaris repositions the older chassised models as its ‘value’ line. Expect to see the Sportsman 800 EFI ($7,999), Sportsman 500 EFI ($6,999), Sportsman 500 HO ($5,999), Sportsman 400 HO ($5,699), Sportsman 300 ($4,599) and Trail Boss 330 ($4,099) continue to be offered at Polaris dealerships. They are very good models, proven values, but in our view the all-new Sportsman XP is truly worth the upgrade. Check it out at your local Polaris dealership. You should insist on a test ride, it will prove enlightening.
Check back with ATV.com in the coming weeks for more on Polaris’ 2009 ATV lineup.