Polaris introduces its 1999 lineup of innovative ATVs for work or play.

Mud, dust and isolated trails were the key ingredients for test driving Polaris's 1999 line of ATVs. We strapped on helmets and goggles to drive and compare Polaris's new ATVs in the backwoods trails near Polaris headquarters in Roseau, MN.

Diesel power. Most unique of the models on hand was the Diesel, the first and only diesel-engine-powered ATV on the market. This loud purring ATV is powered by a liquid-cooled, .455-L, 4-stroke diesel engine, which uses an advanced dry-sump lubrication system for optimal cooling and enhanced performance.

The 4x4 Diesel features an independent shaft drive chassis, automatic transmission, dual-sensing EBS, single-lever hydraulic disc brakes and fully independent rear suspension. The company claims that the Diesel gets great fuel mileage at 37 to 45 miles/gal. For work around the farm, a Cat. 0 3-pt. hitch is also available.

A heavy throttle made it more difficult for the Diesel to get up and go, but the 755-lb. machine eventually took to the trails with as much gusto as its gas-powered rivals.

The independent rear suspension made for easy handling in and out of the corners, and climbing on rough terrain or steep hills did not threaten or slow the Diesel down. Reliability served as the key descriptor of the machine, as the test drivers discovered that it had the capability to power through any situation and maintain control.

Tough man's ATV. Replacing the Magnum 425, the Magnum 500 serves as the tough man's ATV. The 4-wd Magnum features Polaris's unique shaft ride system chassis. This system provides what the company claims is the best of both worlds with simple, durable shaft drive and Polaris long travel suspension. The rear shock axis is aligned with the rear axle, increasing traction to the ground during acceleration and braking. It also features dual-sensing EBS and increased front suspension travel up to 6.7 in.

The Magnum was difficult to control on rough terrain and made for a bumpy ride on washboard trails. For those farmers looking for an ATV that needs to be tamed, this is the perfect machine.

Ranger 6x6 powers through. The Ranger 6x6 was the best general- purpose off-road vehicle suited for the farm. Test drivers compared it to a military tank in its ability to cover any type of terrain. The 4-wd vehicle provides a smooth, comfortable ride over rough washboard roads, potholes, rocks and hills with its fully independent, double A-arm center wheels and rear-wheel swing arm for stability and control.

The Ranger also prevented mud from splashing on passengers as it moved through deep mudholes and bogs. It impressed nearly every test driver with its ability to effortlessly tackle the same terrain as the ATVs. The cupholders and console storage were nice touches too.

However, it was slow to brake, and as with most utility vehicles of its kind, it exhibited hard turning with a large turning radius not very convenient when you're in a tight spot.

The automatic 6-wd vehicle has a 1,500-lb. towing capacity, and the flip of a switch provides on-demand front-wheel drive. The no-slip system senses rear-wheel traction and engages for full torque. The dump box has gas-assist frames for easy unloading, and the Ranger fits in the back of a pickup. List price: $9,949.

Xplorer with spunk. The new Xplorer 400 proved to be one of the peppiest of the 1999 line of ATVs. The 4-wd 400 features a concentric drive system that aligns the rear chain drive sprocket with the swing arm's pivot, resulting in a consistent chain tension throughout the suspension travel that reduces chain wear. The system also isolates the rear suspension from engine torque reaction, enhancing handling and the transfer of power to the ground.

The 400 has a straight suspension, which made it difficult to handle. Its two-cycle engine gave it added spunk for quick acceleration, providing the driver with a lesson in strong gripping. It made for a fun ride, even if you had to adjust to the bounciness and learn to control the sliding rear end.

Sport-minded ATVs. The Trail-blazer and Sport 400 are the latest sport ATVs in the 1999 lineup. These 2-wd models also feature concentric drive systems and long-travel suspensions. They are smaller and designed more for play than work. These sport ATVs didn't hesitate in taking off and provided a challenge for any thrillseeker looking to wreak havoc on hills or trails.

Standard features. A standard feature on all Polaris ATVs is the fully automatic Polaris Variable Transmission (PVT), which eliminates shifting and assures smooth, efficient delivery of power to the wheels. The PVT is dual-sensing, responding to engine rpm and vehicle torque load for best response to constantly changing off-road conditions.Other standard features includ e single-lever hydraulic disc brakes and an auxiliary rear break activated by a foot pedal, full floorboards, independent front suspension using MacPherson struts and the E-Z shift lever which allows for smooth shifting between gears.

Prices were not available for all of the new models at press time. For more information, see your local dealer, or contact Polaris Industries Inc., Dept. FIN, 1225 N. Hwy. 169, Minneapolis, MN 55441, 612/542-0500.