POLARIS rolled out its new and improved 2006 ATVs for media at a driving event in Tennessee. The Minnesota company unveiled a new mid-sized ATV called the Hawkeye, a new Sportsman 450, and an expansion of electronic fuel injection in its Ranger and Sportsman lines.

The new round of changes and models continues to improve Polaris's easy-to-drive vehicles. The company that had its start in snowmobiles wisely moved its shiftless transmissions into its four-wheel vehicles when it first began building them. Today, Polaris manufactures some of the most popular ATV models in North America, including the Sportsman 500.

The backdrop for this ATV ride was a 67,000-acre wooded preserve owned by a mining company and located in the Cumberland Mountain Range. The region holds special notoriety for its role in World War II: The uranium used in the atomic bombs was mined there. Today, the area is known as Oak Ridge, TN, but during WWII, it was called Secret City.

The rocky, rough terrain of the former mining area provided plenty of challenging trails to test the mettle of Polaris products. Here's a look at what we tested.

Hawkeye

The new Hawkeye feels like a high-powered model but is slightly smaller in size and is priced less. A 299cc four-stroke engine powers the well-equipped Hawkeye. “Polaris and its dealers realized many customers wanted a mid-sized ATV with the same features, performance and tough versatility they enjoyed in our full-sized models,” reports Mike Dougherty, general manager of the ATV division.

This tough model proved to be powerful and comfortable while hitting the Tennessee trails. It boasts an independent rear suspension with 8 in. of ground clearance and a MacPherson strut for 7 in. of travel in the front. The Hawkeye 4 × 4 features on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD). A 2 × 4 model is also available.

Most mid-sized ATVs are not equipped with full instrumentation. The Hawkeye, however, features a full range of digital instrumentation that quickly lets drivers read speed and distance.

The Hawkeye will tow 750 lbs. and hold 170 lbs. on its racks. It meets the needs of farmers who want an entry-level-priced machine with the power and utility features of a full-sized vehicle. Suggested retail price: $6,799.

Sportsman 450

The new Polaris Sportsman 450 has more power than the 400 model, which it replaces. The new 450 is powered by a Polaris liquid-cooled, single-cylinder, four-stroke, 455cc engine that reaches 54 mph. The vehicle is easy to drive with the automatic Polaris variable transmission and comfortable with a great suspension system. In front, MacPherson strut suspension allows 8.2 in. of travel, and the Polaris independent rear suspension in the rear provides 9.5 in. of travel.

The Sportsman 450 is equipped with AWD and double offset joint half-shafts to reduce vibration when running in this mode. The AWD system reverts to 2wd when AWD is not needed. Price: $8,899.

Sportsman 500

Ranked as the best-selling automatic 4 × 4 ATV, the Sportsman 500 just got better with the addition of electronic fuel injection (EFI). EFI provides easy and consistent starting in any temperature — from -40°F in Roseau, MN, where Polaris builds ATVs to +100°F in Tennessee where the ride took place. EFI also means better fuel economy by providing more precise delivery of fuel.

“Much of the appeal of the Sportsman 500 EFI is that is excels in both recreation and utility use,” Dougherty says. “It can haul heavy loads, run down a trail or transport gear to a hunting camp.”

Manipulating the rough trails of the mining area proved easy with the Sportsman 500 EFI model. It was powerful yet easy to maneuver, and it did start quickly in the high June temperatures.

Polaris will continue to offer its Sportsman 500 H.O. alongside the new EFI model. Price: $9,299.

Sportsman X2

The popularity of riding an ATV with a passenger prompted Polaris to develop the new Sportsman X2. The company designed a unique seat that folds in seconds into a rear cargo box. The box will hold 400 lbs. of cargo.

The model is designed on the Sportsman 500 platform and is equipped with EFI. The company beefed up the independent rear suspension (IRS) to handle the additional load in the back. It installed a “rolled IRS” that reduces vehicle squat under acceleration. This model also has the Versatrac system that provides 2wd, on-demand AWD, and a turf mode.

The new X2 model will be available later this year. Price: $10,499.

Ranger 4 × 4

Polaris introduced a new limited edition Ranger 4 × 4. Upgraded with EFI, the 500cc vehicle is responsive and reliable in extreme weather conditions and over tough terrain. This model features the Polaris Lock & Ride cargo system that the company introduced last year. The cargo system allows fast and secure attachment of a wide array of Polaris accessories. The cargo box itself is big enough to hold a standard pallet and haul 1,000 lbs. Price: $9,399.

Ranger XP

Polaris is now making this model available to the full market after a limited rollout last year. The XP model with EFI is equipped with a 700cc, twin-cylinder engine and will tow 1,750 lbs. or carry 1,500 lbs. in the cargo box. This vehicle fully loaded handled the steep, rocky Oak Ridge trails. It plowed through streams with water hitting the floorboard and easily maneuvered around boulders and trees. The model fits the utility bill while remaining comfortable and fun to drive. Price: $10,799.

Ranger 6 × 6

The massive Ranger 6 × 6 now comes with EFI, too. The Ranger is powered with a Polaris Liberty 700cc, parallel-twin engine that enables it to carry a payload of 1,750 lbs. or tow that same amount. The model is an on-demand, true 6wd and is equipped with the Lock & Ride cargo system. Price: $10,999.

For more information, contact Polaris, Dept. FIN, 2100 Hwy. 55, Medina, MN 55340, 800/765-2747, visit www.polaris industries.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 201.