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Full-Monty Four-Wheeling ATVs - An ATV Primer

Posted in Features on April 1, 2002 Comment (0)
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Full-Monty Four-Wheeling ATVs - An ATV Primer
Photographers: The Manufacturers
131 0204 02 z+full monty four wheeling atvs atv primer+atv splashing

"ATVs? Hey, buddy, I got your all-terrain vehicle right here! It's a...[insert your 4x4's year, make, and model]."

We anticipated your reaction when we decided to run a spot on ATVs in this issue of 4-Wheel & Off-Road. But after considering that many ATVs have a four-wheel driveline and are designed exclusively for off-road use, we reckoned that these machines definitely fall within the 4WOR camp, and that it was high time we acknowledged that fact. Furthermore, the ATV industry is exploding right now, with sales skyrocketing and increasingly more powerful and sophisticated trail crawlers coming to market.

But really, in our realm of fullsize, gonzo 4x4 trucks and SUVs, why do we care about these micro-wheelbase four-wheelers, whose engines are measured in cubic centimeters instead of inches? Simply put, ATVs present a fun and exciting means to expand our off-road driving passions.

Full-Monty Four-wheelingATVs offer a new level of off-road action for even veteran trail jockeys. Many of the ATV riding principals are similar to those we employ with our fullsize 4x4s. Whether you are picking lines in a boulder field or manipulating the drivetrain for optimal gearing and traction, the basic rules are the same. There is, however, a difference...and it's a big 'un. In spite of their having four wheels, ATVs demand a high degree of "body English" to correctly and safely maneuver. In essence, the body and the machine become one. You must shift positions while riding in order to change the center of gravity and maintain correct balance on hills, in turns, and while negotiating obstacles-fun skills you never develop sitting in a cockpit.

Expanded Trail AccessAs we are all painfully aware, there is limited access to public land trails where fullsize 4x4s can legally travel-especially in the East. Nevertheless, many federally owned lands offer ATV and motorcycle trail access in areas where fullsize or street-legal trucks and SUVs are not permitted. ATVs thus give us a chance to explore some exciting new country. ATVs also have a high portability quotient, meaning they easily fit into the back of most compact, and all fullsize, pickup beds. When the trail peters out, it's a simple matter to roll out the little four-wheeler and keep on going.

Buddy CompatibleNo one likes to (or should) go 'wheeling by themselves. Many of us have friends without rigs who'd like to join us on the trail, but who wants to be a passenger all day? Throw an ATV in the back of the truck, unload it at the trailhead, then everyone gets a cut of the action.

They Speak Our LanguageThe current line of premium sport/utility ATVs is being built in the spirit of the true off-road enthusiast. ATVs used to be putt-putt machines. Now, due to their expanding popularity among recreational riders, hunters, farmers and commercial interests, ATV manufacturers are racing to outdo each other in power and trail performance. It's similar to what we saw during the 1960s musclecar wars, only the push is on for bigger engines, four-wheel independent suspensions, increased wheel travel, higher ground clearances, locking differentials, improved engine braking, and the like. All the cool stuff we try to incorporate in our big rigs the ATV manufacturers are doing to their out-of-the-box machines. Heck, they're even beginning to look a lot like SUVs. Sure, the platform may be different, but the hardware and the language is remarkably similar.

ATVs come in a variety of sizes, features, and prices. The past year, however, has seen a lot of activity in the development of what is called "premium sport utility" machines-with a serious push toward larger engine displacement, electronic drivetrain controls, independent rear suspensions, and locking or progressively locking front differentials. To give you a taste of what's out there, we present the cream of the '02 crop. In sum, the "A" list of bad boy ATVs.

Arctic Cat 500i 4x4 Automatic
Engine 493cc four-stroke, four-valve,
  liquid-cooled
Transmission Continuously variable automatic
Driveline Manually shifted 2WD/4WD;
  shaft drive
Range H/L/R/N
Suspension Independent double A-arm front
  and rear w/ spring preload
  adjustment
Ground Clearance 12 in.
F/R Wheel Travel 10 in./10 in.
Highlights Excellent engine braking; best ground clearance and wheel articulation in industry; adjustable coilover shock preload to match driving/load conditions; front and rear hydraulic disc brakes; high towing capacity
Price $6,799
Bombardier {{{Quest}}} 650
Engine 644cc four-stroke, four-valve,
  liquid-cooled
Transmission Continuously variable automatic,
  beltdrive
Driveline Full-time 4WD
Range H/L/N/R/P
Suspension Double A-arm front;
  swingarm rear
Ground Clearance 7.4 in. at rear axle
F/R Wheel Travel 7.0 in./7.5 in.
Highlights Low-profile shifter, torque-sensing engine braking; progressive Visco-Lok differential; 5.8-gallon tank (largest on market); rear-mounted radiator to minimize punctures and airflow blockage
Price $7,799
{{{Honda}}} Rubicon
Engine 499cc four-stroke, four-valve,
  longitudinally-mounted
Transmission Continuously-variable
  hydromechanical automatic
Driveline Direct front and rear shaft;
  torque-sensing limited-slip front
  differential; full-time 4WD
Range Three electronically controlled
  shift programs (torque-
  centered, horsepower-centered,
  manual driver selectable)
Suspension Double wishbone front;
  swingarm rear
Ground Clearance 7.8 in.
F/R Wheel Travel 6.7 in./6.7 in.
Highlights Hondamatic hydromechanical transmission offers diverse transmission control; no belts to wear out; allows for true engine braking; velvet handling characteristics; smooth-riding suspension; digital instrumentation; differential reduces torque steer
Price $6,999
Kawasaki Prairie 650
Engine 633cc V-twin four-stroke,
  four-valve, liquid-cooled
Transmission Continuously variable automatic
Driveline Electronically selectable 2WD/4WD, limited-slip front differential w/lock
Range H/L/N/R
Suspension MacPherson strut front;
  swing-arm rear
Ground Clearance 7.6 in. at rear axle
F/R Wheel Travel 6.7 in./7.2 in.
Highlights Powerband goes on forever; super-smooth suspension, light steering; manually actuated progressive front differential lock; speed-sensitive engine braking; sealed multidisc rear braking system; digital instrumentation
Price $6,999
Polaris 700 Sportsman
Engine 683cc parallel twin four-stroke,
  four-valve, liquid-cooled
Transmission Continuously variable automatic
Driveline Electronically selectable
  all-wheel drive, shaft-driven
Range H/L/R/N/P
Suspension MacPherson strut front;
  independent rear
Ground Clearance 11.25 in.
F/R Wheel Travel 6.7 in./9.5 in.
Highlights Biggest engine displacement in its class; plush suspension; traction-sensing On-Demand all-wheel-drive system; industry-best towing capacity (1,500 lbs.); digital instrumentation and mechanical VDO speed-ometer; single-lever all-wheel hydraulic disc brake system
Price $7,399
{{{Suzuki}}} Vinson
Engine 493cc four-stroke, four-valve,
  liquid-cooled
Transmission Continuously variable automatic
Driveline Shaft drive; electronically
  selectable 2WD/4WD
Range H/L/N/R/P
Suspension Double wishbone front;
  swingarm rear
Ground Clearance 9.9 in.
F/R Wheel Travel 7.1 in./7.9 in.
Highlights Good throttle response and wide powerband; good low-end torque; light steering; comfortable seating; adjustable preload coilover shocks; excellent engine braking; automotive-style gear shifter; torque-sensing limited-slip front differential; digital instrumentation; front and rear disc brakes
Price $6,599

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