Two-up middleweight impresses our test riders
I spent three months and untold hours taking the 2013 Polaris Sportsman Touring 550 EPS anywhere and everywhere. It has earned a special place in my off-road-loving heart.
In my arsenal of riding gear, boots, helmets, gloves, socks, shirts and pants, I have a few favorites of each. But of my riding gear is a pair of boots that I am especially fond of; and this pair of boots is what I wear when I am not involved in some magazine photo shoot or editorial trip. Like you, when I slip these boots I say “Ahh, that’s nice.” They are comfortable. That is how I feel about Polaris’ Sportsman Touring 550 EPS… comfortable.
As an ATV.com journo, I pay attention to what toys mountain backcountry riders place on their trailer or pickup box. After receiving our test unit, I began seeing Blue Fire Polaris Sportsman Touring 550 ATVs with their signature passenger seats and back rests on many trailers and in many pickups.
Could it be they have a comfortable pair of boots like mine? Or, could it be they have learned the two-up Polaris Sportsman Touring 550 EPS is simply a comfortable and fun loving ATV?
So pleased are we with the sky blue Sportsman Touring 550 that we have given it a name, “Sky.” Only those products that distinguish themselves from our fleet of test vehicles receive a name. Those products that fall apart during long-term evaluations are simply known as “that POC” (for piece of crap).
The 2013 two-up Sportsman Touring 550 from Polaris is powered by single cylinder four-stroke motor that has a displacement of 549cc. It is an electronically fuel-injected motor. This mill generates excellent torque, especially at bottom RPM.
Front suspension is handled by Polaris’ dual A-arm design with a vertical travel of 9.0 inches. Rear suspension is also a dual A-arm system, but its vertical travel is longer, 10.25 inches. The rear suspension is Polaris’ “Rolled Independent Rear Suspension (IRS).” This unique label means the rear shocks are angled rearward which helps it gain an extra 1.25 inches of travel over that of the front, and as Polaris declares, the IRS prevents squatting under acceleration. What this means is that when the throttle is jabbed, drive torque does not force the front end up and the rear suspension down. All in all, the vehicle stays flat.
Steering is managed by EPS – electronic power steering – which is coupled with Variable Assist. Variable Assist controls the speed, or the EPS’ sensitivity, to assure under slow speeds and high front-end loads that steering remains feathery light.
Up front the Polaris Sportsman Touring 550 rolls on Maxxis 26 x 8-14 M9805 tires. At the tail end are Maxxis 26 x 10-14 M9806 tires. All four Maxxis tires are mated to eight-spoke cast aluminum rims. For a small-bore touring ATV, this tire and wheel combination offers an expensive and classy look. The tires provided traction on dirt and loose rock, but in loose sand, such as on sand dunes, they could not hook up like a paddle tire. However, the 550 Touring is not designed as a sand dune toy like a sport quad. To that end, for its intended purpose, the Maxxis tires are perfect – and strong – for trail cruising. Wheelbase is a generous 57 inches.
Front and rear racks are limited to 120 pounds of capacity and the total payload capacity for the unit is 570 pounds. Polaris advertises the 550 Touring as having a dry weight of 765 pounds. We weighed the machine in full wet ready-to-right configuration at 820 pounds.
Start Me Up
Starting up the 550 Touring is always easy and its distinctive sound, which is reminiscent of a two-cylinder diesel, caught some of our guest test riders off guard. Two commented that it sounds like the motor threw a cam or is ready to suck a valve. After schooling them on the motor – that it is a single-cylinder four-stroke – all comments subsided. Its unique musical note is different… that’s all.
As you might expect, power for the Polaris Sportsman Touring 550 is sufficient, but not Clydesdale strong. Though we had two more powerful two-up ATVs in our test fleet, many of our test riders gravitate to the 550 Touring because, as they often state, it feels more in control on tight and narrow trails. Not a head snapper, when you pinch the throttle wide open, the motor gently rolls out high RPM and MPH without being vicious. For newbies and the less experienced, this is a plus as these folk are scared of being dumped off an ATV. The 550 is strong, but tamed.
In our thin Rocky Mountain air, where on average a motor loses about 3% of its sea level horsepower per every 1000 feet gained in elevation, the 550 Touring becomes somewhat lethargic at 6,000 feet and above. Carrying two people and a day’s worth of photo equipment and food, the 549cc motor loses its giddy up. I don’t fault the machine for this, for that is the nature of physics at high altitude. Yet, those darn trailers and pickups hauled many Polaris Sportsman 550 Touring ATVs up to the mountains.
The 550 Touring has a very compliant ride. With its tall wheels and tires, the unit rolls over chatter bumps, ruts and sand rollers with ease. The tall wheels are a plus for the 550.
Polaris’ EPS is feathery light. Being the 550 Touring does not blast the trails like a white tail deer running from a hunter, our test riders have not mentioned the over steer/over correcting factor like those who tested the 850 Touring. Though an effortless electric power steering unit, its feedback to the driver is spot on for the speeds the 549cc mill delivers.
Throttle pull is not a drag on the thumb; it is light. Handlebar controls are easily distinguished and require little effort to push or move. The 550’s shift selector is not cumbersome, it moves into and out of a desired gear with ease.
To bring forward motion to a halt, the brakes are quick acting. When the left brake lever is squeezed, the tall tires out front come to a gentle and controlled stop. Likewise, the right foot pedal when stomped brings the 550’s rear drive to a stop, but not as gentle as the front. When the lever and pedal are simultaneously acted on, the disc brakes bring the ATV to a hurried stop.
The front lever is more progressive than the rear brake pedal due to the fact with a boot, drivers tend to crush the rear brake pedal rather than gently press on it. Regardless, we have not experienced any brake fade or vehicle drift to the right or left when applying the brakes.
Rear seat passengers appreciate the well designed seat and backrest. Handholds are sufficient in keeping passengers secure. The Comfort Ride Rear Suspension for the passenger has a coil spring beneath the passenger seat that adds an inch of travel. The adjustable spring tunes rear seat travel and load absorption for passenger weight. Adjustments are made with a Polaris-supplied tool. We found the factory setting to be adequate. Like the 850 Touring, we made adjustments, then returned to the factory setting. When I am on the back, though, I adjust the shock to its stiffest setting.
We learned if a driver is around 125 pounds and the passenger is 200 pounds, then 550 Touring’s nose becomes light. When loaded down like this, steering is not as responsive; the front wheels are not aggressively biting the dirt surface. Hence, when loading down the rear passenger seat with loads beyond 200 pounds, the Touring 550 (as well as the 850) can be a bit unpredictable when powering across a trail with rollers or when climbing.
Polaris’ on-demand 2WD/4WD system works seamlessly. Generally we ride the 550 Touring in 2WD High, but when we encounter loose dirt on an incline, we flip the toggle to 4WD and keep the tranny in High.
The Sportsman Touring 550 EPS, like the 850 Touring, comes with Active Descent Control (ADC) and an Engine Braking System (EBS). These, according to Polaris “work together to monitor and control downhill braking to give you optimum control and smooth, even deceleration during descents (less than 15 mph).” As a mountain snowmobiler, descent control is a must. Thus, we are pleased the 550 Touring (and 850 Touring) have this. We use it, call on it often, and find this system does indeed help minimize speed off a descent and keeps our passengers calm.
To light the way, the 550 Touring has three headlamps up front, one that rotates with the handlebars and two buried in the front plastic bumper. Drivers appreciate having a light (when set on High Beam) that travels around a bend, following handlebar rotation, while the fixed lights provide a wide beam. This is a well-thought concept.
Fit and finish on the Sportsman Touring 550 is tough and appealing to the eye. The only nit we have is the blue paint, where the driver’s knees rub, has begun to scrub to a dull white.
Storage on the 550 is ample for our needs. Though we have not taken any three-day long treks across the Continental Divide, we find long-day excursions are easily handled by loading up the front storage compartment. Polaris offers many accessories to carry your junk and we recommend their products.
Fuel consumption on the 550 Touring impressive – this ATV is a fuel-pinching Scrooge. Though it is a happy ATV, it uses little pocket change to fuel up after a day’s long outing. We haven’t kept mileage stats, but we often note after fueling up the other ATVs that the 550 hardly took a drink.
Amazingly, we have only one gripe with the 550 Touring – its rear grab handle. Located at the rear of the unit, the single grab handle is small and moving the 550 Touring inside an enclosed trailer to position it with other ATVs makes us gritch and groan. We’d like to see a larger grab handle in the rear and a rear bumper with grab bars behind each rear fender similar to the Can-Am Outlander MAX Limited. Manually moving the 550 Touring inside a trailer is a stink.
After three months riding the Sportsman Touring 550 EPS, I believe Polaris offers the consumer a nice looking, tough and gentle two-up touring ATV. This is a product just about anybody could drive with confidence and safety. It is tuned for comfortable riding for both the driver and passenger. With a $9,299 base price, the 550 Touring delivers big-price ride, comfort, reliability and quality.