Ten Years ago at our first ATV Rodeo, it was mainly our Team FIN drivers who were tested. Riding the machines for hours at a time could be grueling — not only because of the mud and mosquitoes on the trails — but because the ATVs were often small, noisy bone-rattlers.
This year our Team FIN testers became easy riders. The brand-new amenities on all the machines kept the drivers relaxed and comfortable — and smiling all day long.
“The field of ATVs is greatly improved,” said Shirley Hodgen, a farmer from Roachdale, IN. “They are a joy to drive. The power steering and new seats are wonderful. The four-wheeler companies are adopting the same things that tractor manufacturers have done with their cabs to make us less stressed and fatigued. We can ride these all day and not feel beat up.”
Clearly, the bar keeps getting raised for ATVs, and manufacturers are packaging as many features as possible into their new models.
The sagging economy has cut ATV sales in the recreation and hunting markets, but the farm/utility sector is the one bright spot in the business. As a result, ATV companies were eager to participate in our test of ATVs for the ag market. They also had plenty of new models to show off.
Seven ATVs were delivered to the testing site for seven farmers to drive. The lineup of vehicles broke into two power groups: 500 to 550cc and 650 to 750cc models. Drivers were asked to compare the vehicles only to each other in each of these power ranges.
The testing was again held at the Caribou Gun Club near LeSueur, MN, with fields, woods and streams available to test the mettle of the workhorse vehicles. The tests included pulling logs, weaving through barrels, going up and down hills with and without a load, driving over landscape timbers, and four-wheelin' on trails in the woods with a water crossing.
“Overall, the spread from top to bottom is incredibly narrow again this year,” reported Jeff Ryan, Cresco, IA. “It gets tougher and tougher to pick any vehicle that stands out above the others by a wide margin.
“One good thing to see is that no vehicle here was even close to a failure,” he continued. “And you have to be picky to even come up with very many downsides to most of these. I think I could be comfortable with any of these machines.”
Ryan's sentiments were reflected in the scoring. Less than a point separated the vehicles in both the large and small categories. The drivers rated each vehicle (from 1 to 5 points) in five different categories: maintenance/service, loaded hauling/pulling, low-speed handling, four-wheelin' and overall comfort/styling. All the individual scores were then averaged for final scores.
Because farmers use ATVs in many different ways, the tests were designed to show how a vehicle performs various farm tasks. While one farmer may want an agile vehicle to chase down calves, another may want one to drag irrigation pipe. No single vehicle is designed for all farmers, and we designed our tests to address those differences.
The testing for the Polaris Sportsman XP was cut short after an accident. Because the accident was not caused by vehicle failure, we have included its incomplete scores.
Here's a closer look at each ATV, its scoring and comments from the test drivers.
Price $6,849, Engine 475cc, Team FIN rating 3.11
View the Honda Fourtrax Foreman Video 
Although the Honda scored the lowest in the test drive, it was never far behind in any category. In fact, one regular test driver said this Honda with...
Price $8,299, Engine 498cc, Team FIN rating 3.48
View the Polaris Sportsman 500 X2 video 
Polaris wanted the farmers to test-drive the two-person Sportsman 500 X2 and for good reason. Most of the drivers liked the vehicle with its longer wheelbase...
Price $7,499, Engine 549cc, Team Fin rating 3.50 (partial scoring)
View the Polaris Sportsman 550 XP video 
Polaris recently introduced its redesigned Sportsman 550 XP. Unfortunately, an accident sidelined this vehicle before all the drivers could finish testing...
Suzuki KingQuad 750 
Price $7,599, Engine 722cc, Team FIN Rating 3.39
View the Suzuki KingQuad 750 video 
Although the Suzuki KingQuad was third in the scoring among the large ATVs, the drivers considered it to be a solid vehicle and a strong contender in...
Price $7,799, Engine 558cc, Team FIN rating 3.96
View the Yamaha Grizzly 550 FI video 
Just like its big brother, the Grizzly 550 landed on top in the 500 to 550cc group by pulling the highest score in each category. The features of the...
Price $7,399, Engine 633cc, Team FIN rating 3.66
View the Kawasaki Brute Force 650 video 
Among the three large vehicles, the Kawasaki Brute Force was the middle contender in all the events. Although the ATV's score put it in second place,...
Price $8,599, Engine 686cc, Team FIN rating 4.09
View the Yamaha Grizzly 700 FI video 
The Yamaha Grizzly 700 was the clear winner among the three large ATVs included...