FOR TWO DAYS in July, the rough terrain surrounding a hunting lodge in Minnesota became the testing grounds for the Farm Industry News ATV Rodeo. Here, a group of Team FIN farmers put six of the latest ATVs through their paces. The farmers tested the ATVs on a course designed to replicate farm tasks. It was a combination of woods, water, hills and sand with a barrel event and salt-bag handling tossed in.

The farmers attempted to push the ATVs to the limit. They spun the vehicles in a sand pit and plowed them through a muddy creek. They loaded them down with the salt bags and tested the brakes on hills. They opened up the throttle on gravel roads and wove the vehicles around barrels.

In the end, the machines performed exceptionally well, and the drivers reached their limits before the vehicles did. Driver Abe Hodgen reported that while the course didn't fully challenge these powerful vehicles, he was glad it didn't because “I would have been challenged and might have ended up in the hospital.”

When the testing was done, the farmers scored each vehicle in five performance areas.

Two ATV classes

The ATVs tested in our rodeo fell into two categories: big and bigger. Three years ago at our last ATV Rodeo, we thought ATVs had maxed out in size, but we were wrong. This year, engine size reached 800cc. Four of the manufacturers brought their largest models for the testing, while two brought mid-sized vehicles.

The farmers did their best to take into account the difference in size, but power does have its pluses, especially in head-to-head tests. The larger vehicles generally scored higher, but the smaller models had significant pluses, too.

Scoring was very close. The Yamaha and Suzuki ATVs tied in the final tally, with the Kawasaki model immediately behind them. The Polaris machine, with the largest engine, was a close fourth. And the 500cc ATVs, Honda and Deere, followed behind the field of larger vehicles. The scoring was so close that if a vehicle received a lower score in just one event, it changed its placing.

“Nobody really stood out as a clear winner and nobody really came up short, which is good to see,” Team FIN test driver Jeff Ryan reported. “The thing that impressed me compared to three years ago is everyone added features. No one is left behind. All the manufacturers are in a competitive mode and are ready to meet customer needs.”

The drivers generally agreed that any of these ATVs will be good on the farm. Some models are better suited for rounding up livestock, while others are better for hauling loads. After the testing, the Team FIN farmers were asked what ATV they would actually buy. Each ATV, including the lower-scoring ones, had a buyer.

Here's a closer look at each ATV, how it scored in the different categories, and comments from the test drivers.

YAMAHA Grizzly 660
660cc
automatic 4×4
$7,199

AMONG THE biggest ATVs tested, the Yamaha Grizzly was not the largest with 660cc, but it consistently scored well in all categories, earning it a top spot alongside Suzuki. “The Yamaha was pretty consistent all the way across,” Paul Gervais stated.

The Grizzly is equipped with the same engine that is in Yamaha's powerful side-by-side vehicle, the Rhino. This engine easily moved the vehicle through the four-wheelin' course and down the gravel road at high speeds. “The Yamaha was very impressive, especially on acceleration,” Jeff Ryan remarked. “It has an engine that will just take off and go. It almost has more of a racing feel to it than a working machine.”

Shirley Hodgen was impressed with the Yamaha after testing its agility around the barrels. “The Yamaha wasn't as large [as some of the other ATVs],” she said. “It maneuvered in and out of the barrels with no problems.” She prefers an agile ATV with independent suspensions like the Yamaha for working her cow/calf herd. She also gave a thumbs-up to the Yamaha's standardized instrumentation.

The Grizzly features an automatic transmission with a high/low gearshift on the left fender. Comments about the shifter were mixed, with some drivers saying the Grizzly was harder to shift than other machines. The gearshift also is equipped with a parking gear, which earned praise from the drivers. Some drivers noted that this machine and most others tested could get nearly everything accomplished in 2-wd.

Several farmers noted that one drawback of the Grizzly is engine noise. “It was too loud and the engine just hammered my ears,” remarked Abe Hodgen. “But I liked the Yamaha a lot and would buy one anyway.”

The Grizzly placed high in the maintenance and service category. Oil, spark plugs and air filter are all in locations that are easy to reach. The seat lifts off for fast battery access.

Team FIN ratings

YAMAHA
Grizzly 660 Auto 4×4
Maintenanceand service 3.97
Loaded hauling 4.05
Low-speed handling 3.99
Unloaded handling/4-wheelin'/comfort 4.10
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 4.05
Team FIN rating 4.0

Suzuki KingQuad 700
695cc, CVT automatic
$7,299

THE TEAM FIN test drivers were eager to try out the new Suzuki KingQuad 700, which won several driving tests last year. They were not disappointed. Suzuki placed tops in three of our categories, edging out the Grizzly. However, it ended up tying for first with the Grizzly because of its lower scores in maintenance.

The KingQuad features electronic fuel injection, a dual overhead cam motor, front and rear independent suspensions, like the Yamaha, and an automatic transmission.

“I was very impressed with the Suzuki KingQuad,” Jeff Ryan reported. “The speed was great; power was good; loaded acceleration was good. We use ATVs to get from one farm to another, so we want something that is quick and efficient. If I had to pick one, it probably would be the Suzuki. But it would be a close call with the Yamaha. The Suzuki was a comfortable ride, and it was pretty agile.”

Shirley Hodgen liked it, too. “The Suzuki was about the quietest and it had an excellent ride,” she said. “Its suspension was better than the Yamaha's.”

The Suzuki is equipped with an automatic transmission and a gearshift on the left fender with high/low, neutral and reverse. Drivers liked how the Suzuki shifted. It was also easy to switch from 2-wd/4-wd and differential lock with a push button on the handlebar. The instrumentation earned points from the drivers, too, for being easy to read and standardized.

A couple of the drivers didn't like how the vehicle reacted when braking. “The Suzuki squatted under hard braking, where it really went down like the back end was going to come up on you,” Paul Gervais reported. On the other hand, Erik Petry and Abe Hodgen thought the Suzuki braked well, especially downhill.

Maintenance was a drawback for this vehicle, mostly because its side panels are secured with pushpins, which the farmers did not like. Suzuki representatives noted that the panels rarely need to be removed, however. The farmers also thought the location for changing spark plugs and oil was harder to reach than in the other vehicles.

One other small complaint about the Suzuki was that its storage area has a round cover that resembles a gas cap. A couple of the farmers thought employees might mistake it for the gas cap.

Who would consider buying a Suzuki? Dale Koester would. He said it was one of the best at the rodeo and would fit on his dairy farm where he needs an ATV to get him around quickly, allow him to spray along creeks, and pull a trailer with feed buckets.

Team FIN ratings

SUZUKI
KingQuad 700
695cc
Maintenanceand service 3.41
Loaded hauling 3.78
Low-speed handling 4.06
Unloaded handling/4-wheelin'/comfort 4.38
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 4.36
Team FIN rating 4.0

Kawasaki Brute Force 650
633cc, automatic 4×4
$6,599

KAWASAKI'S BRUTE Force followed the Yamaha and Suzuki in scoring with less than one-tenth of a point difference, putting it in a very close third position. Overall, the Kawasaki ATV came out as a solid workhorse. In category scoring, the Kawasaki took third in four of the categories and first in low-speed handling where the drivers ranked its pulling power, handling and braking very high.

The Brute Force is powered with Kawasaki's 633cc, liquid-cooled V-twin engine. It, too, has an automatic transmission with high/low and reverse. Switches on the handlebars allow the operator to change from 2-wd to 4-wd and to activate front differential.

“The Kawasaki probably had the best ergonomic feel to it of all of them,” Jeff Ryan said. “The throttle position was especially comfortable and shaped differently than the others.” Other drivers also commented on the comfort of the handlebars as well as the easy-to-read digital display and standardized instrumentation.

The vehicle's braking systems earned the most praise. “The Kawasaki had the right amount of engine braking and it was smooth,” Dale Koester said. Other drivers agreed with this assessment. Shirley Hodgen said she tested all the ATVs by slamming on the brakes at different speeds. The Kawasaki braked well and stayed straight.

A couple of the drivers said the Kawasaki wasn't as agile as others they tested. “The agility wasn't that good when we went through the barrels,” Ryan said. “If it was a cow in front of me, she would have gotten away.”

At the ATV Rodeo three years ago, Kawasaki brought a Prairie 650, and test driver Paul Gervais remembered it. “It was rated real high last time and now it is the middle of the pack,” he said.

Driver Kent Lock echoed that sentiment. “The Kawasaki is average in everything,” he said. “It is functional; has no big problems; is quiet.”

But as in any group of farmers, there is disagreement. “Kawasaki is my first choice overall,” Abe Hodgen said. “If I was going to buy one, the Kawasaki would be it.”

Team FIN ratings

KAWASAKI
Brute Force 650
633cc
Maintenanceand service 3.94
Loaded hauling 3.78
Low-speed handling 4.06
Unloaded handling/4-wheelin'/comfort 4.05
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 3.81
Team FIN rating 3.9

Polaris Sportsman 800 EFI
760cc, automatic
$8,599

POLARIS BROUGHT the biggest ATV tested at the rodeo, the Sportsman 800. This model features electronic fuel injection, selectable 2-wd/all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission with high/low, reverse and parking gears. In scoring, it was right behind the top three competitors. It scored its best in loaded hauling.

“The Polaris was just fun to ride,” Paul Gervais said. “It had good high-speed handling and a nice cushy ride.”

Some of the drivers questioned the size of the Polaris. “There's a point where you can get too big with four-wheelers and we're there,” Shirley Hodgen stated. “If I'm going to go that big, I'm going to get a utility vehicle. You can buy a UV for less money than the Polaris.”

A big plus for the Polaris model is its rack system. “The best racks of all the ATVs were on the Polaris,” Erik Petry reported. “A lot of racks are on just for the company to say that it's a working ATV. But the Polaris actually makes the racks with slots for toolboxes, etc.”

Drivers liked the parking gear, the digital display and the engine braking on the Polaris.

Several drivers said they did not like the Polaris ATV without a right handle brake. “It has a brake, but not where I'm used to having a brake,” Kent Lock said. “It would be difficult spraying when you spray with your left hand and throttle with the right.” The vehicle has a left handle brake and foot brake.

In the end, many drivers questioned the higher engine power and the higher retail price for the vehicle. “Price would be the limiting factor on the Polaris,” Jeff Ryan said. “Everything else was great, but I didn't think there was enough extra value to make me want to pay that much more.”

Team FIN ratings

POLARIS
Sportsman 800 EFI
760cc
Maintenanceand service 3.62
Loaded hauling 3.85
Low-speed handling 3.50
Unloaded handling/4-wheelin'/comfort 3.69
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 3.59
Team FIN rating 3.7

Honda FourTrax Foreman 4×4 ES
475cc, electric shift
$6,599

THE HONDA FourTrax, with considerably less power than the top four vehicles, seemed to be at a disadvantage from the beginning. But drivers said they kept this in mind when test driving and scoring the vehicle. This Honda model featured a five-speed manual transmission with electric shift and selectable 2-wd and 4-wd.

Most of the drivers liked the power and performance of the Honda FourTrax, but a few features of this particular model held it back in scoring.

“Honda is my favorite here,” Kent Lock reported. “I like the size and weight of it and it is easy to get on and off. It has a good feel. There's a whole bunch of little things that I can't name that Honda does right. The engine is air-cooled, which is one less system to go wrong. And I like the positive feel of the manual transmission.”

Not everyone agreed. Most of the drivers gave a thumbs-down to the thumb-operated electric shifter on the FourTrax model. It was the only ATV in the rodeo with a manual transmission, and most drivers preferred automatic transmissions. “The electric shifting was fine, but I prefer not to do it,” Abe Hodgen explained. “I never got it to be smooth, but I know that would get better with practice.” He thought the mechanical transmission was a plus for downhill driving though. It kept the FourTrax from freewheeling down the hill.

Hodgen and other drivers ran into problems putting the ATV in reverse. “It had a sequence and it was pretty complicated, especially when you weren't paying attention,” he added.

Most of the drivers found the Honda performed well in the field. “Power-wise, it was very good for running a sprayer and other continuous tasks,” Jeff Ryan reported. “It has a great engine. But comfort-wise, it came up short. Ergonomically it had an uncomfortable feel to the ride.” He did note that he is 6 ft. 3 in. tall.

A couple of the drivers said they would consider buying a Honda ATV, but would look at models other than the FourTrax Foreman ES.

Team FIN ratings

HONDA
FourTrax Foreman
4×4 ES 475cc
Maintenanceand service 3.58
Loaded hauling 3.50
Low-speed handling 3.66
Unloaded handling/ 4-wheelin'/comfort 3.22
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 3.34
Team FIN rating 3.5

John Deere Buck 500
498cc, automatic 4-wd
$6,499

JOHN DEERE joined the ATV Rodeo for the first time. The popular agricultural equipment manufacturer entered the ATV market just two years ago with a line of mid-sized vehicles based on Bombardier's ATV platform. Deere has ended its arrangement with the Canadian manufacturer and now is designing and building its own vehicles.

The Deere Buck 500 is powered with a Rotax 498cc engine and operates with an automatic transmission. The vehicle was out-powered in the test. But when the Buck scored well, it came out on top. The vehicle took first place in the maintenance and service category with several features that had the farmers nodding in agreement.

“The Deere had features I liked, but it lacked the power,” Dale Koester reported. “The feature I really liked was the large cargo box in the front. It was superior for storage. And I liked the on-command 4-wd. On most of the machines, you had to push a button.”

Another feature all the drivers liked was the rear-mounted fan. “I thought that, for farmers, when it isn't air-cooled, the industry needs to go this way,” suggested Abe Hodgen. “I've struggled with cleaning fan screens on our ATVs at home.”

The drivers agreed that the vehicle's oil filter, spark plugs and battery are in easy-to-reach locations, adding to its high score for maintenance.

“If I was buying an ATV for an employee to operate, I would buy the Buck,” Abe Hodgen said. “I like the simplicity of not figuring out the 4-wd or differential. And with the rear fan, I wouldn't have to worry about overheating it. I felt it handled good.”

Tom Henry noted a couple of problems with the Deere, especially the shift handle that was located on the right fender. “I hated to shift because both the throttle and shifter were on the same side,” he explained. “The Deere also felt sluggish compared to the rest of the ATVs. Some of the most innovative ideas were on the Deere, though. I liked how you can throw it in gear and go though.”

What many of the drivers did note was the advantage of Deere's service network. Shirley Hodgen said she knew she could go online, order a part, and have it the next day. When it comes to deciding which ATV to purchase, the dealer network is a big factor.

Team FIN ratings

JOHN DEERE
Buck 500
498cc
Maintenanceand service 4.15
Loaded hauling 3.10
Low-speed handling 3.19
Unloaded handling/4-wheelin'/comfort 2.92
Overall comfort/styling/accessories 3.38
Team FIN rating 3.4

SPECIFICATIONS

YAMAHA
Grizzly 660 Auto 4×4
Suggested price $7,199
Engine 660cc, 4-stroke single, liquid-cooled with fan
Transmission Yamaha Ultramatic V-belt with high/low/reverse/park
Drive type On-command push-button 2-wd, 4-wd, differential; 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 Corporation, 800/889-2624 Yamaha-motor.com or circle 200
Team FIN rating 4.0

SPECIFICATIONS

SUZUKI
KingQuad 700
Suggested price $7,299
Engine 695cc, 4-stroke, single-cyl., electronic-fuel-injected, liquid-cooled
Transmission V-belt CVT automatic with high/low/reverse
Drive type Electric 2-wd, 4-wd, differential; shaft
L×W×H 83.5 × 47.6 × 48.0 in.
Ground clearance 10.2 in.
Dry weight 602 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.6 gal.
Rack capacity NA
▪ American Suzuki Motor Corporation, 800/950-9097 Suzuki.com or circle 201
Team FIN rating 4.0

SPECIFICATIONS

KAWASAKI
Brute Force 650 4×4
Suggested price $6,599
Engine 633cc V-Twin, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled
Transmission CVT automatic with high/low/reverse
Drive type Selectable 2-wd, 4-wd; shaft
L×W×H 86.0 × 47.6 × 45.9 in.
Ground clearance 7.6 in.
Dry weight 602 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Rack capacity 86 lbs. front, 176 lbs. rear
▪ Kawasaki Motors Corporation, 877/529-4288 Kawaski.com or circle 202
Team FIN rating 3.9

SPECIFICATIONS

POLARIS
Sportsman 800 EFI
Suggested price $8,599
Engine 760cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled
Transmission Automatic PVT, high/low/reverse/park
Drive type Selectable 2-wd/AWD with on-demand AWD; shaft
L×W×H 83 × 48 × 48 in.
Ground clearance 11.3 in.
Dry weight 770 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.13 gal
Rack capacity 100 lbs. front, 200 lbs. rear
▪ Polaris Industries, 800/765-2747 Polarisindustries.com or circle 203
Team FIN rating 3.7

SPECIFICATIONS

HONDA
FourTrax Foreman 4×4 ES
Suggested price $6,599
Engine 475cc, single-cylinder, 4-stroke, air-cooled
Transmission Electric shift five-speed with reverse
Drive type Selectable 2-wd, 4-wd; shaft
L×W×H 83.0 × 46.8 × 46.5 in.
Ground clearance 7.5 in.
Dry weight 597 lbs.
Fuel capacity 4.2 gal.
Rack capacity 66 lbs. front, 133 lbs. rear
▪ American Honda Motor Company, 866/784-1870 Honda.com or circle 204
Team FIN rating 3.5

SPECIFICATIONS

JOHN DEERE
Buck 500 Auto
Suggested price $6,499
Engine Rotax 498cc, liquid-cooled, rear-mounted
Transmission CVT
Drive type 4-wd with progressively locking front differential
L×W×H 84 × 47 × 45 in.
Ground clearance 7.4 in.
Dry weight 713 lbs.
Fuel capacity 5.8 gal.
Rack capacity 90 lbs. front, 175 lbs. rear
▪ John Deere, 800/537-8233 Johndeere.com/atv or circle 205
Team FIN rating 3.4

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 Honda, John Deere, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha for bringing their vehicles and support people to the rodeo. Another thank you goes to Scott Vesperman and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America for the ATV safety training.

A special thanks goes to Randy Vos and his crew at the Caribou Gun Club, Le Sueur, MN, 800/672-3936, www.caribou gunclub.com, for allowing us to hold the rodeo at their facility and taking on all the extra tasks that needed to be done for a successful rodeo.

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

Team FIN final ratings
Yamaha 4.0
Suzuki 4.0
Kawasaki 3.9
Polaris 3.7
Honda 3.5
Deere 3.4

BEST DRESSED

ATV DRIVERS TESTED GLOVES, SHIRTS

ATVS WEREN'T the only things tested at the Farm Industry News Rodeo. Our drivers tried out new gloves and shirts while riding the vehicles through the hot, dusty trails. The farmers gave rave reviews to both product lines.

The gloves came from Ergodyne, a St. Paul, MN, company that specializes in work gear. Some of the farmers tried out the 710 model glove that features a gel pad in the palm to reduce vibration. The palm also is protected with textured PVC. Constructed of stretch spandex, the glove doesn't hamper hand dexterity. The 710 model retails for $24.15.

The 720 model features an open thumb, index and middle finger for additional dexterity and retails for $23.25. Ergodyne also makes several thermal versions of these work gloves.

For more information, call Ergodyne at 800/225-8238 or visit www.ergodyne.com.

Long-sleeve shirts were required during the ATV testing, and the drivers were given Dickies brand denim shirts to fill the bill. The shirts feature 100% blue denim that is stone-washed for comfort, button-down collars and double-button cuffs. The drivers appreciated the lighter-weight denim in the summer heat, yet liked the protection it provided. Test driver Abe Hodgen reported that he liked the size of the shirt pocket because he could put a notepad in it and could easily slip his glasses in and out of it.

The denim work shirt from Dickies sells for $22.99 for neck sizes up to 17Ω in. and $25.99 for 18 to 19½ in. You can purchase the shirts and many other clothing items online at www.dickies.com or call 800/342-5437. Dickies brand clothing also is available at many farm stores.