Jeff Ryan

“All of us drivers use ATVs for many different applications. What works great for me is going to be absolutely wrong for someone else.”

THINK 350cc in a four-wheeler isn't enough power to handle the tough jobs on your farm? Our Team FIN farmers put six of these mid-range ATVs to the test and found that all of them measure up to the task.

“This class is the most-likely-to-buy class,” driver Kent Lock said. “I'm not interested in bigger ones. Small ones, yes. But farmers don't buy the big ATVs.”

Seven of our Team FIN farmers from around the Midwest gathered at the Caribou Gun Club, set in a hilly wooded area just a couple of miles east of the Minnesota River, for our ATV Rodeo. Six companies — Arctic Cat, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha — sent their latest 300 to 400cc models.

All of the drivers had participated in our previous ATV rodeos where the vehicles boasted nearly double the power of those tested in this one. But ATV size appears to have topped out at 800cc. Manufacturers are now redirecting their engineering efforts to the popular mid-range models.

The companies were eager to participate in the head-to-head comparison. Polaris, anxious to try out its newest 300cc model, brought a pre-production vehicle straight from research and development to our event. The smallest of the bunch, the Hawkeye 300, caught everyone's attention for its striking appearance. The rest of the companies sent their newest models, too. All of them were equipped with automatic transmission, 4-wd and plenty of other new features.

During the rodeo, the field of ATVs proved that mid-range four-wheelers can be just as good as the biggest vehicles while still providing plenty of power, ease of operation, and many of the bells and whistles found on their big brothers.

Close race

The farmers spent a day and a half putting the six ATVs through a series of tests that replicated farm jobs. The tests included a barrel weave, log pull and salt-bag haul with plenty of driving time on rough trails, creeks and steep hills. Each driver rated each vehicle on a scale of 1 to 5 in five different categories. The scores were added up and averaged.

The high caliber of vehicles tested this year showed through in the final scores. Just a half point separated the top vehicle from the bottom one. This was the tightest race yet for a FIN ATV Rodeo.

“There is a very narrow gap from top to bottom ATVs,” Team FIN driver Jeff Ryan said. “I don't think anyone can make a bad decision buying any one of these machines. I don't think any vehicle really stood out with a single feature that blew everyone away. And no vehicle was so terrible that it finished last either.”

In the final scoring, Honda and Yamaha tied at the top with Suzuki just a breath away. These three were closely followed in a tight scoring race with Arctic Cat next and a tie between Polaris and Kawasaki. All vehicles made a top-three spot in at least one of the five scoring events. Although no ATV clearly came out a “winner” or a “loser” overall, some were stronger in certain categories than others.

Driver bias

Although each final score was the average of all the drivers' scores, individual farmers showed very different preferences. One driver liked a particular vehicle best while another ranked that same vehicle last. In interviews after the event, farmers explained their personal preferences. Sometimes, a driver's physical size made the difference in what vehicle felt most comfortable. A physically larger driver preferred larger vehicles.

Other preferences were tied to how a farmer uses ATVs. If a farmer drives an ATV when herding cattle, he wants a nimble vehicle. If he uses an ATV for heavy hauling or pulling, he prefers a vehicle with more power and torque.

When it comes to deciding what vehicle to purchase, many farmers said the local dealer plays a big role. “For a lot of us, it comes down to dealer location, which in a way is kind of nice because there are so many excellent machines to chose from,” Ryan added. “It is kind of a relief to know that you cannot go wrong picking anything we tested today.”

Here's a closer look at each ATV, its scoring and comments from the test drivers.

Yamaha Grizzly 400 4×4 400cc, automatic $5,799

Clark McPheeters

“I would place Yamaha at top. All around, it was just a good machine. The suspension was a little soft so I would adjust it. But it's nice.”

Team FIN ratings
YAMAHA Grizzly 400 4×4 auto 400cc
Maintenance and service 4.03
Loaded hauling and pulling 4.31
Low-speed handling 4.49
Unloaded handling/4-wheeling/comfort 4.01
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 4.16
Team FIN rating 4.2

The Yamaha Grizzly 400 scored at the top of the Team FIN ATV Rodeo ratings this year, just as it did last year. All of the drivers ranked the Grizzly 400 among the top three of each category, which boosted it to the head of the pack. It shares the top spot with Honda.

The Grizzly did the best in the loaded hauling and pulling event. It easily handled salt bags through the course run, which included backing up a steep hill in 2-wd. Across all categories, it received impressive marks for its ease of engine maintenance, suspension, braking and four-wheel performance.

The vehicle is equipped with an Ultramatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that includes forward, neutral, reverse and park. Some drivers marked the parking gear as a big plus. Others mentioned that the power and acceleration on the vehicle were good.

“I really liked the Yamaha,” reported driver Shirley Hodgen. “It was a nice fit. It wasn't too big or too small and it was agile. I like the independent suspension, which is why I rated it over the Honda.”

Drivers had to nit-pick to find things they didn't like about the Grizzly. One driver mentioned it needed a low range for better pulling. Another thought the seat was too big. Kent Lock, who placed the Yamaha second in his scoring, said he was too lazy to make adjustments on the independent suspension that seemed a little soft. But Lock also gave plenty of praise to the company. “I give Yamaha the most improved award because they are trying to do a lot of things right,” he said. “They had issues at a previous rodeo and those have been fixed and fixed right.” Four years ago, the Yamaha 660 was hit with low scores in maintenance and service. Not this year. The Grizzly 400 ranked second in the category.

Most drivers liked the Yamaha. “My top ATV is Yamaha,” driver Erik Petry reported. “If I was going to jump on one ATV and ride it all day long, that is the one I want. Maybe the suspension and my weight were just right. But when I got on it, I knew right away it would be my favorite.”

HONDA TRX400FA 397cc, automatic $6,099

Shirley Hodgen

“I liked Honda's instrument panel. On some other Honda units, they have an option for GPS, which I think is real marketable.”

Team FIN ratings
HONDA TRX400FA Hondamatic auto 397cc
Maintenance and service 3.81
Loaded hauling and pulling 4.10
Low-speed handling 4.63
Unloaded handling/4-wheeling/comfort 4.18
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 4.24
Team FIN rating 4.2

Honda's entry in this year's rodeo outscored its vehicle of last year. The TRX400 proved to be a strong competitor by finishing in a virtual tie for first with the Yamaha Grizzly. The TRX400 scored tops in low-speed handling and overall comfort and styling.

Many of the drivers praised the Hondamatic automatic transmission, which offers automatic or shift and 2-wd or 4-wd. “The Honda transmission was really smooth with a lot of power,” Ryan reported. “I'm on a machine [at home] that shifts, so all of these ATVs with CVTs are a big improvement. But Honda's seemed the most responsive with great engine braking.”

Did drivers use the manual shift feature? The response was mixed, with some drivers using it in situations where low-speed power was needed and others thinking it was unnecessary.

Although the drivers liked the transmission, a couple of them suggested the CVT sucked power away from the vehicle. They thought the Honda didn't perform quite as well in pulling as its competitors with the same engine size.

Another drawback cited by several drivers was a ride that was rougher than some of the other ATVs provided. “The suspension was pretty stiff,” Ryan said. “If I was driving on rough ground all the time, I think it would get old to be on it very long. Otherwise, it was an excellent machine.” He said the Honda was agile and boasted one of the shortest turning radiuses in the group.

In the maintenance and service category, the lack of a convenient spin-on oil filter hurt Honda's scoring. The other ATVs featured this type of filter for easy oil changes.

However, the negatives against the Honda didn't hurt it much in scoring or in the preference of some drivers. “I just like the Honda,” Lock stated. “Honda has an innovative engine design and all the little things have been taken care of like scratches [with removable plastic edges on the fenders]. Yes, it rides rough, but I'll take the dependability with the rough ride. It's not the prettiest, but it is a worker.”

Suzuki Eiger LT-A400F 376cc, automatic $5,399

Kent Lock

“Ergonomically, Suzuki had everything there, easy to reach. It felt big, and big isn't necessarily better. I liked it because it was quick and agile.”.

Team FIN ratings
SUZUKI Eiger LT-A400F auto 376cc
Maintenance and service 3.33
Loaded hauling and pulling 3.80
Low-speed handling 4.48
Unloaded handling/4-wheeling/comfort 4.28
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 3.87
Team FIN rating 4.0

The Suzuki Eiger earned good scores and comments from drivers in most categories, which put it close to the top of the pack. It scored impressive numbers for its braking ability and handling and good numbers in pulling, power and 4-wd performance.

“The Suzuki seemed to be a really good utility-type vehicle, where you could go eight hours a day, every day for weeks and not have trouble with it,” Clark McPheeters explained. “It was just a solid machine. I did bottom out the rear shock; they need a little more travel on it or a little stiffer freeload. But I really liked it a lot.”

Several drivers liked the agility of the Eiger, including its tight turning radius. Another favorite feature on the vehicle was the shifter with its straight line from high/low range to reverse. “I want to go from forward to reverse really fast, so I don't want to go through a maze,” Ryan said. “That's why I like the Suzuki where it is a straight slot.”

Shirley Hodgen liked how the Suzuki handled, too. She liked the easy-access gear shift, but thought the lettering for the gears should be on the inside of the shifter so the driver doesn't need to remove her hand to read it. She also didn't like squeezing the brake handle to set the park brake; she prefers a parking gear.

Overall, the Suzuki Eiger performed well in the ATV Rodeo, and most drivers indicated it would be a good choice for farm work. Abe Hodgen in particular said he would put his money down on this vehicle. “That little Suzuki could do about anything I want it to do,” he said. Although his first choice was the Honda, the Suzuki was a close second.

Arctic Cat 400 4×4 376cc, automatic $5,949

Abe Hodgen

“I liked the Arctic Cat's ground clearance. When I went through the water, I felt it did have more clearance than the others.”

Team FIN ratings
ARCTIC CAT 400 4×4 auto 376cc
Maintenance and service 3.34
Loaded hauling and pulling 3.92
Low-speed handling 3.68
Unloaded handling/4-wheeling/comfort 3.62
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 4.15
Team FIN rating 3.8

Arctic Cat returned to the ATV Rodeo this year with its new 400 4×4 ATV. The new model performed well, particularly in the hauling and four-wheeling events where its suspension excelled. “The fully independent suspension provided the best ride and the most clearance,” Scott McPheeters reported. The vehicle's ground clearance is 12 in., the highest of all the vehicles tested, with 10 in. of suspension travel.

“It also had the best gauge package,” McPheeters added. Arctic Cat has equipped many of its ATVs with a full instrument panel, which includes odometer, speedometer, fuel gauge and trip meter.

Drivers praised Arctic Cat's accessory package. The Speedrack system allows easy attachment of any accessory including custom ones. It also offers plenty of hook points for bungee cords when drivers needed to tie down the salt bags.

Another innovative design is a rear-mounted fuel tank, which creates a storage locker at the front of the vehicle. Drivers liked this feature and the 2-in. receiver hitch. “For farmers, a 2-in. receiver hitch is very positive because we have 2-in. receivers on everything,” Abe Hodgen reported.

Drivers remarked that the Arctic Cat was the largest vehicle in the rodeo. “It was a big machine and you could tell in the way it handled,” Clark McPheeters said. “You couldn't break it because it is heavy framed.” While some drivers liked the big size, others thought it was too big and found the steering difficult.

One item the Arctic Cat lacked was a right-handle brake. Many drivers mentioned this because they are used to brakes on both handlebars.

The Arctic Cat had its supporters, like Scott McPheeters. When asked what vehicle he would buy, he said the Arctic Cat, because “it was the most fun pound for pound.”

Kawasaki Prairie 360 4×4 362cc, automatic $5,199

Scott McPheeters

”I'm so thrilled to do this testing because we need to update our older ATVs. These are all similar in price and there's not one we can't consider.”

Team FIN ratings
KAWASAKI Prairie 360 4×4 auto 362cc
Maintenance and service 4.03
Loaded hauling and pulling 3.49
Low-speed handling 3.45
Unloaded handling/4-wheeling/comfort 3.83
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 3.71
Team FIN rating 3.7

The deep red Kawasaki Prairie 360 earned high marks for its ease of maintenance and service, a category in which it finished second. However, on the course, it proved less popular. Its performance in low-speed handling and overall comfort didn't match those of its competitors. Final scoring did put it very close to the four front runners and in a tie with Polaris.

The Prairie 360 had its fans. The scores of four drivers placed it in the rodeo's top three ATVs. “Kawasaki was an excellent machine if it had a little better stability,” Ryan said. “When you turned with a load, it felt it would tip over. Otherwise, it was great. I might have ranked it on top if it had a 2-in.-wider wheelbase. The suspension was good, the ride comfortable. Ergonomically it was a good fit.”

One problem with the Prairie 360 was placement of the radiator. Lock said he thought the radiator would plug up quickly. But he complimented the vehicle for other reasons. “I liked the color,” he said. “It had adequate power and was easy to get on and off. It also didn't drown out and did everything I wanted it to.”

The Kawasaki features a variable limited-slip front differential so drivers can control the amount of slip. “I thought it was a positive because, from my experience, a front differential doesn't need to be locked all the time,” Abe Hodgen said.

A couple of the drivers mentioned that the ATV did not have a speedometer, which they thought was needed. And others thought the vehicle rode rough and the engine braking wasn't up to par.

The negatives shouldn't obscure the pluses of the Prairie 360, however. It performed well and pulled good scores overall.

Polaris Hawkeye 4×4 299cc, automatic $4,699

Erik Petry

“Polaris is putting back some grease zerks. I like that. With zerks, at least we know we're getting them greased and feel better about it.” it

Team FIN ratings
POLARIS Hawkeye 4×4 auto 299cc
Maintenance and service 4.04
Loaded hauling and pulling 3.20
Low-speed handling 3.63
Unloaded handling/4-wheeling/comfort 3.61
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 4.02
Team FIN rating 3.7

None of the ATVs created as much discussion as the brand-new Hawkeye 4×4. From the moment it rolled off the trailer, the vehicle drew attention with its unique steel bumper and attractive body design. The Hawkeye had a tough road ahead, however. First, it had to overcome the fact that its 299cc engine was the smallest in the rodeo.

Second, this model was pre-production and hadn't gone through the full rigors of testing. This caused a problem when the vehicle flooded during a run over a creek. Because it was a research vehicle, shields were not in place to prevent flooding.

“This was a research and development vehicle and that's exactly the kind of feedback they look for,” Clark McPheeters said. “On other Polaris ATVs, I've never had this problem. I'm confident they will get that issue worked out.” A Polaris representative said the shields now are in place on the Hawkeye model.

Overall, the Hawkeye stayed close to the other ATVs and tied with the Kawasaki in the final scoring. This was only a half-point back from the highest ranked vehicles. The main pluses for the Hawkeye were its maneuverability and looks. The negatives were a lack of power in the loaded hauling test and no brake on the right handlebar.

“The Polaris came up short on pulling the log,” Ryan added. “Still, through the rest of the course, it provided more power than I would have thought for being that much smaller than the rest.”

The vehicle did take the top spot in service and maintenance for easy access to all components and the appearance of some grease zerks.

“I really wanted the Polaris to score well,” Lock stated. “You can tell someone was really thinking. The engine transmission design is one piece. The center of gravity is lowered. It appeared to be easy to maintain, and I liked the short wheelbase.

“I call this vehicle the most likely to buy if fixed,” he continued. “If you put in a rear brake and fix some other issues, I would like to have one.”

SPECIFICATIONS

POLARIS Hawkeye 4×4
Suggested price $4,699
Engine 299cc, 4-stroke
Transmission Automatic CVT
Drive type On-demand all-wheel drive, 2-wd; belt
L×W×H 74 × 42 × 45.5 in.
Ground clearance 8 in.
Dry weight 550 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Rack capacity 70 lbs. front, 100 lbs. rear
Polaris Industries, 800/765-2747 Polarisindustries.com or circle 200
Team FIN rating 3.7
HONDA TRX400FA
Suggested price $6,099
Engine 397cc longitudinally mounted, single cylinder, 4-stroke, air cooled
Transmission Hondamatic automatic CVT with selectable manual
Drive type Direct front & rear drive-shafts, front differential; 2-wd, 4-wd
L×W×H 80 × 43.9 × 45.2 in.
Ground clearance 7.2 in.
Dry weight 559 lbs.
Fuel capacity 3.8 gal.
Rack capacity 66 lbs. front, 133 lbs. rear
American Honda Motor Co., 866/784-1870 Hondamotorcycles.com or circle 201
Team FIN rating 4.2
ARCTIC CAT 400 4×4
Suggested price $5,949
Engine 376cc SOHC, 4-stroke, single cylinder, air/oil cooled
Transmission Automatic CVT with engine braking, high/low range
Drive type 2-wd, 4-wd, differential lock
L×W×H 84 × 47 × 49 in.
Ground clearance 12 in.
Dry weight 650 lbs.
Fuel capacity 6.5 gal.
Rack capacity 100 lbs. front, 200 lbs. rear
Arctic Cat Inc., 218/681-8558 Arcticcat.com or circle 202
Team FIN rating 3.8
KAWASAKI Prairie 360 4×4
Suggested price $5,199
Engine 362cc, SOHC, 4-stroke, single cylinder, air-cooled
Transmission KAPS automatic, dual range w/reverse
Drive type 2-wd, 4-wd; shaft
L×W×H 81.3 × 47.4 × 46.3 in.
Ground clearance 9.8 in.
Dry weight 604 lbs.
Fuel capacity 3.6 gal.
Rack capacity 88 lbs. front, 154 lbs. rear
Kawasaki Motors Corporation, 877/529-4288 Kawasaki.com or circle 203
Team FIN rating 3.7
YAMAHA Grizzly 400 4×4
Suggested price $5,799
Engine 400cc, SOHC, 4-stroke, single cylinder, liquid cooled with fan
Transmission Ultramatic automatic CVT with forward, neutral, reverse, park
Drive type On-command push-button, 2-wd, 4-wd; shaft
L×W×H 78.5 × 43.0 × 44.1 in.
Ground clearance 10.8 in.
Dry weight 578 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.0 gal.
Rack capacity 88 lbs. front, 176 lbs. rear
Yamaha Motor Corporation, 800/962-7926 Yamaha-motor.com or circle 204
Team FIN rating 4.2
SUZUKI Eiger LT-A400F
Suggested price $5,399
Engine 376cc, SOHC, 4-stroke, single cylinder, air/oil cooled
Transmission V-belt CVT automatic with high/low range
Drive type 2-wd, 4-wd, front differential; shaft
L×W×H 85.6 × 45.1 × 32.7 in.
Ground clearance 9.3 in.
Dry weight 590 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.0 gal.
Rack capacity 66 lbs. front, 132 lbs. rear
American Suzuki Motor Corp., 800/950-9097 Suzuki.com or circle 205
Team FIN rating 4.0

THANKS!

OUR THANKS to Arctic Cat, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha for sending their vehicles to test and their company representatives to answer questions. And a special thanks to Randy Vos and his crew at the Caribou Gun Club, Le Sueur, MN, 800/672-3936, www.caribougunclub.com, for hosting our ATV Rodeo once again.