The day's news was abysmal. Heavy rains to continue. Flash flood watch in effect. Mosquito-borne West Nile virus on the move. ATV accident rate up since last year. But 10 farmers in the middle of a muddy, buggy woods couldn't have been happier. Each had scored a slot on the Team FIN ATV Rodeo and the right to drive the industry's best new machines in the worst conditions. First, they survived. Then they picked their favorites.

Since Farm Industry News conducted its first ATV Rodeo four years ago, ATVs have changed. Many are bigger, boasting power up to 700cc with improved transmissions and driver-friendly controls. We decided to stage a second rodeo to test how these new beefed-up ATVs handle on the farm. We developed tests that duplicated farm tasks and asked 10 farmers to rate the vehicles on how well they performed the specifics of each task. Seven manufacturers — Arctic Cat, Bombardier, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha — sent us their newest ATVs targeted for the farm market.

We chose the Caribou Gun Club just outside of Le Sueur, MN, for the test site. The hunting club offers 700 acres of wooded, hilly land with a creek and small fields of crops and CRP land. It fit our testing needs perfectly.

ATV mudland

August 21, the first day of the rodeo, dawned with a forecast of heavy rains. As the crews arrived at the club, the downpour began. We moved the maintenance and service evaluations indoors to the club's shed and out of the growing deluge. Three hours later, three inches of rain had turned the hunting preserve into an ATV mudland. The test drivers quivered with excitement.

As the sun peered through the clouds, the 10 farmers finally hit the trails. They rode the ATVs hard through creeks, muddy fields and woods. Only the fittest ATVs could have survived this pounding, and all seven of our test vehicles handled the challenge. The farmers came out covered with mud, but smiling.

The second day brought no more rain, but plenty of slick, soupy mud to keep the test interesting. The drivers spent the day evaluating the pulling and hauling capabilities of the ATVs.

In the end, the drivers agreed most of the ATVs were impressive. “From one to the other, there wasn't that much difference, maybe a little bit of power,” Tim Nicholson concluded. “All the ATVs should make a good addition to a farm situation.”

Overall rating

But we didn't let the drivers off that easy. For each test event, drivers rated several specified capabilities (such as “quick-handling ability”) of each ATV on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). We added the numbers for each category and divided by 10 to find the average score.

We then compiled the average scores for each ATV into a final, overall score. The Kawasaki Prairie 650 and Honda Foreman Rubicon 500 tied for the highest rating of 4.0. Right behind came the Yamaha Grizzly 660 with 3.9 and Polaris Sportsman 700 with 3.8. Bombardier's Quest 500 and Suzuki's Vinson 500 were one-tenth point behind with scores of 3.7 each, and the Arctic Cat 500 had a final rating of 3.2.

Overall, less than one point separated the top from the bottom overall score. But different ATVs scored the highest in the individual testing events. These separate scores should help you identify the ATV that will work best in your farm operation. But, of course, as a smart ATV buyer, you also will need to consider price and dealer support.

4-wheelin' power

With the trails in prime 4-wheelin' shape from the rain, the drivers barreled through mud and water, creating the hardest workout for the ATVs. In one mucky area, the Polaris ATV, with Kent Lock at the wheel, shot mud 30 ft. in the air. All drivers drove through quicksand-like mud uphill and plowed through creeks with one foot of water.

“We rode the ATVs hard that day,” Greg Washmon admitted. “But I didn't ride them any harder than the ones I ride at home. I'd fly into the water there, too.”

The ATVs rising to the top in this category were the Kawasaki Prairie, Polaris Sportsman, Honda Rubicon and Yamaha Grizzly. The powerful Prairie, Sportsman and Grizzly kept drivers the driest, hauled them through the mud the quickest and created more fun on the trail than the smaller-horsepower models. The biggest ATVs earned the top spots in this test by gathering scores of 4.5 or higher in the 4-wd performance category. The Polaris is powered by a 683cc engine, the Yamaha has a 660cc, and the Kawasaki has a 633cc. Honda hit the top of this test by earning a 4.5 score for mud and water protection.

“Kawasaki was my favorite based on how it handled rough terrain,” driver Ronny Ennen said. He also liked the Yamaha and Polaris. “I like the big horsepower. It seems the bigger the power, the bigger the fun. I tried to not look at just horsepower, but when something has the power, everything else seems to work better. It has the power to overcome situations.”

Driver Shirley Hodgen liked the Polaris and Yamaha because they are equipped with independent suspension. She drives over wooded terrain on her farm and prefers an independent suspension for a smooth ride. Otherwise, she found that, of the machines with solid back axles, the Honda and Kawasaki provided the best rides on rough terrain.

Not all the drivers agreed. “The Kawasaki has plenty of power, but is top heavy and makes me nervous to ride it,” Lock said. “It was likely to tip over.”

Lock thought the Polaris was the most powerful machine — maybe too powerful. “Any time you can throw mud over trees 30 ft. high, you've probably got too much power,” he stated. However, he liked the Polaris tire design that provided superior traction. “No other machine has a tire like that,” he said.

Arctic Cat dropped to the bottom in this test because drivers reported getting the muddiest on it. Chuck Myers called it the “mud cat.” Hodgen admitted she didn't want to get on the ATV for testing the second day because of the mud problem.

Braking, handling

While on the mile-long 4-wheelin' course, the drivers tested the unloaded ATVs for braking ability and handling. They checked how the ATVs shifted, braked, reversed and handled while crossing rocks in the creek, turning corners on muddy fields and braking downhill. Top performers were the Kawasaki and Honda, with the Yamaha close behind. The high scores these three earned for braking, control on uneven terrain, and ease of using the reverse gear pulled them to the top.

Myers gave the Honda high marks for its stability. “With two kids, that is pretty important to me,” he said. “The more exotic suspensions are more apt to get you into trouble. The Honda had a low center of gravity and I could tell that made a difference. I just felt more secure riding it.” He also liked the automatic, hydromechanical, continuously variable transmission on the Honda. “It may be more expensive to repair, but being a farmer, I'm familiar with hydrostatic transmissions. The other ATVs are belt-driven,” Myers said. Many of the drivers wondered how long the belts would last.

Paul Gervais said Honda had the best brakes of all the ATVs. He also liked the Kawasaki because it had good balance, handling and power. He called it the “stump-puller.”

The Yamaha's transmission caught Ennen's interest in this test. “I liked the way it shifted in and out of 2- and 4-wd. This is how the Yamaha really shined,” he said. The fully automatic Grizzly offers an “on-command” button to operate the system with limited slip 4-wd, 2-wd and full-time 4-wd with differential lock.

A park gear in addition to a park brake was a big plus for Hodgen. The Polaris, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Bombardier ATVs are equipped with the park gear, which Hodgen said she would use when parking on a steep incline.

Other ATVs had support in this category, too. “The Bombardier was similar to Honda,” Jeff Ryan reported. “It felt good, stable and had good power.”

Ennen liked Suzuki's handling because “it has a low center of gravity. But it seems smaller and maybe you get that with lower horsepower.” He also appreciated the way the Arctic Cat “tiptoed through the logs and bricks down by the creek. It had independent rear suspension and the clearance [to get through the course].”

Pulling power

A loaded utility wagon weighing at least 500 lbs. was hitched to each vehicle to test its pulling abilities. One wagon gathered extra mud on the trails, increasing its final weight to about 1,500 lbs. Most of the ATVs handled the weight well. Four were ranked within one-tenth point of each other. The Yamaha took the top score, and the Kawasaki, Bombardier and Honda all tied for second.

In this event, Ryan preferred the Honda. “It is a pulling machine…not real fast on acceleration or a speed demon, but a workhorse. If I were doing a lot of pulling on the farm, it would be my choice,” he said. Ryan also liked the Bombardier.

The Bombardier impressed other drivers, including Lock. “It might turn a little harder and not go as fast as others, but it will really pull,” he said. “It will pull forward, backward, and you can hook onto just about anything. It is a very powerful and interesting engine.”

Nicholson also liked the Bombardier for pulling. “I had the trailer on and it pulled it right up the hill,” he said.

The Honda and Bombardier also caught the attention of Paul Johnson. He said these two were heavy-duty machines and could handle farm applications well, including pulling.

The 500cc Arctic Cat was rated low in this category, and probably unfairly. It was hitched to the wagon when it was full of mud, and the weight exceeded the ATV's rated pulling weight.

Hitch design posed some problems, too. A few of the ATV hitches lacked enough length to handle a wagon tongue. None of the ATVs garnered very high scores in this area.

Heavy hauling

Farmers always need to haul stuff. In this test, our drivers evaluated how well the ATVs handled on rough terrain when loaded with 50-lb. bags of feed. One bag was put on the front and two on the back of each ATV. Drivers were asked to check the braking, power, handling, suspension and rack design for hauling. The Honda won the top spot with the Kawasaki right behind. The Suzuki and Polaris tied for third.

The drivers struggled to keep the bags on the ATVs with flat rack designs, particularly on the Kawasaki and Yamaha. On the other hand, the Polaris earned high marks for its good rack design. “Polaris had one of the better rack systems on it to keep things from falling off,” Dale Koester said.

All the ATVs were supposed have engine braking. But Hodgen found two did not. She headed each ATV down a steep hill, then let off the throttle and brake. “The Kawasaki and Bombardier slowed me down to 2 mph,” she reported. “The engine brakes worked. The Yamaha, Polaris and Honda took me down to 4 mph and slowly increased to 8 mph. So they weren't running away with me. The Arctic Cat and Suzuki freewheeled it. I had to apply the brakes.”

Comfort, convenience

Drivers were asked to evaluate the comfort and convenience of the ATVs, including their styling, controls and accessories. Again, the scores among the top vehicles were very close. The Yamaha edged out the Honda for top ranking. The Kawasaki was third, Polaris was fourth and Suzuki was fifth. The Yamaha Grizzly's scores were high in all categories and the highest in styling.

One feature many of the drivers appreciated was electrical outlets for running accessories. “We're becoming more of a computer age,” Hodgen commented. “We're using GPS and plugging in sprayers and seeders.” All of these ATVs had outlets.

The drivers thought most of the ATV displays were adequate. But Hodgen complained that she had a hard time reading the digital display on the Polaris when it was sunny.

Koester considered how exposed he and the ATV instruments would be to getting hit by tree limbs. He found the Kawasaki and Yamaha protected the driver and controls pretty well. But he said he sat a little too high on the Polaris and Suzuki. He liked the instrument panel on the Yamaha and the lights on the Honda. Other drivers commented positively on Honda's three headlights that allow spotlighting.

Johnson liked the ride on the Kawasaki with its V-twin engine. “It was real smooth with no vibration. Plus it gets up and goes when you put the throttle to it,” he said.

When considering comfort, Ryan had a couple of favorites. “I liked the way the handlebars on the Kawasaki felt. Ergonomically, it was one of the best. Suzuki was another one that felt comfortable. You wouldn't get tired and worn out very quick,” he noted.

Ryan and a couple of other drivers commented on shift handles, including the long handle on the Polaris, which they claimed was harder to shift than the shorter one on other ATVs.

The drivers gave Arctic Cat's styling and controls the lowest scores. Washmon summed up the sentiment of several drivers. “The Arctic Cat looked like old technology,” he stated. “The instrumentation panel and handlebars all look old and incomplete in today's market.”

Maintenance, service

Many farmers service and maintain their own ATVs. And if they don't, they have to pay someone to do the service work. So we asked the drivers to evaluate how easy it would be to service each ATV, such as change the oil, coolant, spark plugs and fuel filter. Company representatives discussed the main components of the ATVs, showing the drivers how to maintain the equipment.

In the end, the drivers found the ATVs were fairly easy to service. The final scores were only 0.7 points apart. The Kawasaki topped the list, followed by the Bombardier, Honda, Polaris, Arctic Cat and Suzuki.

“Overall, the Kawasaki is the best in this class for maintenance and service,” Johnson reported. “Bombardier is a close second with the exception of the required lubrication category.” The vehicle has 13 zerks that need greasing.

The drivers noted improvements made for maintenance on the Polaris. “It was well known that you should have a grease gun if you had a Polaris,” Ennen recalled. “I see on the new ATVs the company has reduced [the number of zerks], which helped in this judging.” Polaris reduced the number of grease zerks from 24 to just two. The Kawasaki, Honda, Arctic Cat and Suzuki have no grease zerks.

Ennen said he thought maintenance of the Honda would take more time. For example, its oil filter is inside a canister. “I would rather have the spin-off types like Kawasaki, Polaris and Yamaha,” he said. “Maintenance takes time and is not a lot of fun.”

Some drivers docked the Yamaha for having too many covers that need to be popped off for servicing. Myers speculated, “It is probably a safety feature or to keep the engine clean. But I think a lot of farmers will let the covers lay somewhere and not put them back on.”

FIN tested

In the end, most of the drivers agreed they'd take home any of the ATVs they tested during the two-day ride. They gave most of the ATVs a Farm Industry News stamp of approval.

“Overall, I don't think there are many bad four-wheelers,” Gervais concluded. “I think there are some ATVs that are more advanced than others. And I can pick out some that were more fun to ride than others. But they are all pretty good workhorses. The manufacturers have done their homework.”

Extras


Today ATVs do more than ever on the farm. Just look at Arctic Cat's latest ATV designed with a MultiRack Platform that makes bungee cords obsolete.

Easy attachment

The special platform will accept 22 different slide-on accessory racks or attachments. The attachments fit on the vehicle's rails in just seconds with a pin. Some of the farming accessories include a barbwire stringer, tool storage and vise table.

The platform is ordered on either a 500 4×4 automatic ATV retailing for $6,849 or a 400 4×4 automatic ATV retailing for $5,649. Contact Arctic Cat, Dept. FIN, 600 Brooks Ave. S., Thief River Falls, MN 56701, 218/681-8558, or visit www.arctic-cat.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Cycle Country products

If you're looking for other ATV accessories such as an ATV spot sprayer, check out the line of attachments and accessories from Cycle Country. This company manufactures a large line of ATV products, from carts and implements to winches, snow blades and seeders.

For more information or a product catalog, contact Cycle Country, Dept. FIN, 2188 Hwy. 86, Milford, IA 51351, 800/841-2222, or visit www.cyclecountry.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

thanks!


Farm Industry News gives a big thanks to a number of people who helped make the ATV Rodeo possible. A thank you first goes to Arctic Cat, Bombardier, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha for bringing their vehicles and support people to the rodeo. Thank you to Morris Crane and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America for the ATV safety training. It helped make our event accident-free.

A special thanks goes to Randy Vos and his crew at the Caribou Gun Club, Le Sueur, MN, 800/672-3936, www.caribougunclub.com, for taking on extra tasks and helping out whenever and wherever they could.

And finally, we give a big round of applause to our test drivers who spent time away from their families and farming operations to bring you some sound ATV buying advice.

4-Wheelin' scores
KAWASAKI Prairie 650 4×4

4.1

POLARIS Sportsman 700 Twin

4.1

HONDA Foreman Rubicon TRX500A

4.1

YAMAHA Grizzly 660

4.0

SUZUKI Vinson 500

3.7

BOMBARDIER Quest 500 4×4

3.5

ARCTIC Cat 500 4×4

3.2



Unloaded braking and handling scores
KAWASAKI Prairie 650 4×4

4.1

HONDA Foreman Rubicon TRX500A

4.1

YAMAHA Grizzly 660

3.9

SUZUKI Vinson 500

3.7

POLARIS Sportsman 700 Twin

3.6

BOMBARDIER Quest 500 4×4

3.5

ARCTIC CAT 500 4×4

3.3



Pulling power scores
YAMAHA Grizzly 660

4.1

BOMBARDIER Quest 500 4×4

4.0

HONDA Foreman Rubicon TRX500A

4.0

KAWASAKI Prairie 650 4×4

4.0

SUZUKI Vinson 500

3.7

POLARIS Sportsman 700 Twin

3.5

ARCTIC CAT 500 4×4

2.8



Heavy hauling scores
HONDA Foreman Rubicon TRX500A

4.2

KAWASAKI Prairie 650 4×4

4.1

POLARIS Sportsman 700 Twin

3.9

SUZUKI Vinson 500

3.9

YAMAHA Grizzly 660

3.8

BOMBARDIER Quest 500 4×4

3.7

ARCTIC CAT 500 4×4

3.1

Maintenance and service scores
KAWASAKI Prairie 650 4×4

4.0

BOMBARDIER Quest 500 4×4

3.9

HONDA Foreman Rubicon TRX500A

3.7

POLARIS Sportsman 700 Twin

3.7

ARCTIC CAT 500 4×4

3.6

SUZUKI Vinson 500

3.6

YAMAHA Grizzly 660

3.3

Comfort and convenience scores
YAMAHA Grizzly 660

4.2

HONDA Foreman Rubicon TRX500A

4.1

KAWASAKI Prairie 650 4×4

4.0

POLARIS Sportsman 700 Twin

3.9

SUZUKI Vinson 500

3.8

BOMBARDIER Quest 500 4×4

3.5

ARCTIC CAT 500 4×4

2.9

KAWASAKI
Prairie 650 4×4
Suggested price

$6,999

Engine

633cc, 90° V-twin 4-stroke, liquid-cooled

Transmission

CVT selectable 4-wd with hi/lo/reverse brake

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

84.8×46×45.28 in.

Ground clearance

7.6 in. (rear)

Dry weight

604 lbs.

Fuel capacity

4.5 gal.

Rack capacity

88 lbs. front; 176 lbs. rear

Kawasaki Motors Corp.
800/661-7433
kawasaki.com
Team FIN rating 4.0

HONDA
Foreman Rubicon TRX500A
Suggested price

$6,999

Engine

499cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled

Transmission

HondaMatic 4-wd, CVT 5-speed, hi/lo

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

81.6×46.6×47 in.

Ground clearance

10 in.

Dry weight

600 lbs.

Fuel capacity

3.7 gal.

Rack capacity

66 lbs. front; 133 lbs. rear

American Honda Motor Co.
310/783-2000
honda.com
Team FIN rating 4.0

YAMAHA
Grizzly 660
Suggested price

$7,099

Engine

660cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled

Transmission

4-wd, V-belt with hi/lo/neutral/reverse/park

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

82.1×45.3×47.6 in.

Ground clearance

11.8 in.

Dry weight

600 lbs.

Fuel capacity

5.3 gal.

Rack capacity

99 lbs. front; 187 lbs. rear

Yamaha Motor Corp.
800/889-2624; yamaha-motor.com
Team FIN rating 3.9

POLARIS
Sportsman 700 Twin
Suggested price

$7,499

Engine

683cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, parallel twin

Transmission

CVT 4-wd with hi/lo/neutral/reverse/park

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

81×46×47 in.

Ground clearance

11.25 in.

Dry weight

740 lbs.

Fuel capacity

4.75 gal.

Rack capacity

100 lbs. front; 200 lbs. rear

Polaris Industries
763/542-0500; polaris industries.com
Team FIN rating 3.8

BOMBARDIER
Quest 500 4×4
Suggested price

$6,499

Engine

500cc, 4-stroke, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled

Transmission

CVT 4-wd with hi/lo/neutral/reverse/park

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

81.5×47×45 in.

Ground clearance

7.4 in.

Dry weight

760 lbs.

Fuel capacity

5.8 gal.

Rack capacity

90 lbs. front; 175 lbs. rear

Bombardier
715/842-8886 bombardier.com
Team FIN rating 3.7

SUZUKI
Vinson 500
Suggested price

$6,599

Engine

493cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled

Transmission

CVT 4-wd with hi/lo range

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

82.5×46.1×47.2 in.

Ground clearance

9.9 in.

Dry weight

604 lbs.

Fuel capacity

5 gal.

Rack capacity

66 lbs. front; 132 lbs. rear

American Suzuki Motor Corp.
800/950-9097
suzuki.com
Team FIN rating 3.7

ARCTIC
CAT 500 4×4
Suggested price

$6,849

Engine

500cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled

Transmission

CVT 4-wd with hi/lo range

Drive type

Shaft

L×W×H

81×47.5×49.3 in.

Ground clearance

12 in.

Dry weight

647 lbs.

Fuel capacity

4.8 gal.

Rack capacity

100 lbs. front; 200 lbs. rear

Arctic Cat
218/681-8558
arctic-cat.com
Team FIN rating 3.2