Which Type of ATV or SxS is Right for You?

Derrek Sigler
by Derrek Sigler

Have you ever walked into a big ATV and SxS dealership and marveled at all the wonderful machines on display? It’s a safe bet that most of us have done that at some point. There are a lot of different types of machines available, and that can make it hard to pick the right one for you. There are three basic types of ATVs and Side-by-Sides (SxS) and there is definitely some overlap. Those three basic classifications are Utility, Recreation and Sport. Which type of ATV or SxS is right for you? Let’s see if we can answer that.

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What Do You Want to Do the Most?

The logical first step in deciding which type of ATV or SxS is right for you is figuring out exactly what you want to do with the machine for the majority of the time you will use it. Keep in mind that only the machines at the extreme edges of the categories are limited to just one type of use, so when we say that the lines are blurred, we definitely mean it.

You can start out by deciding to be completely honest with yourself about how you plan to use the machine. When will you be using it, and what do you want it to do? For example, the go-fast sport machines look like they are going to be a lot of fun - and they are - but is that all you want to do? Do you have a lot of fast, wide-open areas to really use it? Being honest with what you want the machine to do is the best place to start.


A Utility ATV or SxS is designed primarily for work. This is the original category for most machines and brands, too. For ATVs, this means the machine will have racks for carrying cargo, a trailer hitch of some kind for towing, four-wheel drive with drive shafts and a high- and low-range transmission. Whether you’re working around the farm, or job site, setting up some hunting property or just working on some landscaping projects, these machines are designed to help you get the job done. For SxS vehicles, the Utility segment means a spacious cargo box that dumps, a trailer hitch and generous towing capacity, easy access to the cab of the machine, and a mellow power delivery that helps get things done. If you have tasks you want to accomplish and that is the primary reason you want to buy an ATV or SxS, then a Utility model is where you should start your search.

All work and no play makes for a very boring day, though. Fortunately, most Utility ATVs and SxS models are quite capable of sliding into that recreation space. For example, a Yamaha Grizzly is generally classified as a utility ATV. It checks all the boxes for the category. However, this is a machine that can give you plenty of thrills. It is a great handling and fun machine that is extremely capable of fast trail riding. If you add in the XT-R model option, you have a seriously fun machine that blurs the lines between a Utility and a Recreation or even Sport model.


An ATV or SxS in the recreational space is designed for adventure. These machines have improved suspension for tackling trail obstacles, increased power delivery for traversing at a little higher speed, and retaining some of the capabilities of the Utility segment, such as cargo capacity, low-range transmissions and towing. This is the fastest-growing segment of the power sports category, and many people are finding that a Recreation-class machine fits what they want to a tee. These machines can tackle seriously rough terrain while giving you a smooth ride. They have the power to move at a fun speed, and still have the low-end grunt to handle doing tasks and chores.

One of the biggest factors with a Recreation ATV or SxS that most don’t realize right away is how quiet these machines are. That is one of the major design goals for a Recreation machine. How quiet are they? The goal according to one designer was to be able to carry on a normal conversation while using the machine.


Do you feel that need for speed? Want to tackle some sand dunes, or hit the track? Sport ATVs and SxS models are made for going fast. They don’t have many of the attributes of a recreational or utility machine. You won’t find regular racks for cargo, or trailer hitches for towing. What you will find with a Sport machine is a hearty-sounding engine, long-travel suspension and the fastest way to travel from point A to point B.

One thing we would like to add about Sport machines is this - they are not really for the inexperienced. If you’re looking for the right ATV or SxS for you, and you have never ridden or driven one before, or have little experience, a Sport model can be a handful. Sport ATVs and SxS models look cool and go fast, but if you’re not ready for that, you can find that you don’t enjoy the ride as much as you think you might. Go try some other models first and then decide.

Use Your Head

Be smart about using your machine. Wear the appropriate safety gear, like a helmet, and always ride within your own limits. Tread lightly, too. There are great programs, like Yamaha’s Outdoor Access Initiative, that help expand opportunities for off-road use by opening more areas to riding, and improving trail systems across North America. Do your part to help keep this going by being a respectful rider/driver and passenger when applicable. It’s better for all of us.

Check out the New Riders Hub for more articles geared towards new off-road enthusiasts.

Derrek Sigler
Derrek Sigler

Derrek's love for all things ATV started when he was a mere 11 years old, growing up on his family farm. His mom gave him and his sister a choice - get a horse, or a three-wheeler. The sister wanted the horse, and Derrek wanted the ATV. Luckily he won out, and was soon burning up the trails on a Yamaha Tri-Moto 200. By the time he was 14, he had saved enough of his own money by working on the farm and in his folks restaurant to buy a new 4-wheeler. That happened the day he and his mom were driving past the dealership and saw 1987 Banshee. His mom had no idea what he was buying, and he never looked back. He's been riding ever since, and been writing professionally for many years. He has ridden all over North America and been behind the controls of just about every machine out there. And yes, he still has his 1987 Yamaha Banshee.

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