Bushmaster Polaris Sportsman 570 HD
Like everything in life, the motorcycle industry – including allterrain vehicles (ATVs) and side-by-sides (SxSs) – experiences highs and lows. Over the past 12 months it has been a big fat low. In 2017, overall sales fell by 9.3 per cent. You know things are a bit fizzy in the road bike market when Harley Davidson is the highest selling motorcycle. But that’s what happened.
Things weren’t quite so bad in the ATV/SXS market. According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, what these days we like to call a ‘peak body’, despite the general sales decline, ATVs and SXSs grew their share of the local market in 2017 by a couple of percentage points. Polaris was market leader last year, followed by Honda then Yamaha.
The Polaris Sportsman has been with us for a long time now. In fact, I pretty much learned to ride an ATV on my colleague
Reg Grant’s Sportsman 800; what Reg referred to as his Mumma Hummer. That big machine crawled over anything for Reg, and did the same for me, proving as it did that the old girl’s throttle control, compliant suspension and flexible transmission were tough to beat when you really couldn’t go around an obstacle and had to go over it. Reg sold that quad several years ago and to the best of our knowledge she’s still going.
Today’s Sportsman comes in three variants: Utility, Performance and Scrambler. The Utility model has 450 or 570cc; the Performance version 850 or 1000cc, and the Scrambler is an XP model with 1000cc, electronic power-steering and camo colours. The unit we reviewed is the 570 HD EPS, but there’s a variant with a ute tray – one of the most useful ATV configurations we’ve seen.
The 570cc ProStar engine is, we believe, the benchmark engine for farm ATVs. With 44 horsepower (32.8kW) and electronic fuel injection it develops plenty of torque for general farm work, and at the same time is easily controlled. There’s a lot to be said for full-size ATVs with engines around this capacity. Larger engines are more difficult to modulate with the throttle. Too much grunt, if not handled judiciously, can produce an unexpected burst of acceleration when you least need it, and that compromises a vehicle’s rough terrain ability. When crossing difficult terrain you need an engine that will plug away at it, not charge it, and the 570 ProStar does this very well. It has no flat-spots either, and a decent top speed.
As an engine-related comment, we’d like to see a brush-guard in front of the radiator. The basic setup leaves the radiator prone to debris damage and that no doubt would be an expensive fix.
The front and rear suspension guards are enormous, and the bashplate full-length, so no complaints there. The Sportsman also gets a beefy front guard. On the other hand, we noticed that for some reason they’ve abandoned plastic racks and re-employed steel ones. Not long ago there seemed to be a consensus that steel racks were dangerous. We don’t know how or why that theory was torpedoed but someone in Rackland obviously made the call so that’s the end of that.
AH, ABOUT THE STEERING
All 2019 Sportsman models get “improved electronic powersteering”, only it’s not an improvement. First thing you notice after about 100 metres is that the steering feels very light, too light actually, and the sensation worsens as speed increases.
The aggressive tyre tread pattern may have something to do with vagueness in the steering, and the Sportsman’s fondness for understeer, but as a general observation we’d say that most experienced operators will find this Sportsman’s method of changing direction unsettling until they get used to it. The old Sportsman steered better.
But the same can’t be said for off-road ability. The Sportsman has always felt like a ship of the line, a battleship more accurately, a bit of gear that would take an awful lot to stop. We’re not talking about the brakes, which are strong without being touchy, but about the general feeling you get when you’re punting around the place on a full-size ATV like this one. The Sportsman ride has
always been soft-as, in fact you can flog it across broken ground and barely feel any disturbance. Power-steering has a lot to do with this, but even before Yamaha invented ATV power-steering, the Sportsman was showing us all how sweet a rough terrain ride can be. Okay, so it comes with noticeable understeer, but it really does seem to float over rough ground and that means a lot when you don’t feel like being smashed around all day by a farm ATV that should know better.
Engine braking is first rate too. Reg Grant and I are tough on any ATV with lousy engine braking, and there are still a few of them, but the Sportsman ain’t one. The factory has perfected its Active Descent Control to the point where, like the Ranger XP side-byside, this model has one of the safest braking setups in the petrolpowered ATV world.
Okay, conclusions. When we get an ATV for review, we have it for a few days and then it goes back to the dealer who, by circuitous means, got it to us in the first place. We don’t keep the machine for long so we don’t know what mechanical weaknesses may show up over time. It could run sweetly for years or bust a boiler tomorrow.
The observations we pass on to you guys are gained over a short but intense period. We evaluate the machines on a cattle property between Toowoomba and Ipswich in Queensland, a place of big hills, deep water, bridges, gates, grates, sheds, fallen trees, and steep tracks that’ll catch you out if you’re not paying attention. The area is known to us as Fat Camp, because we have a big cowproof shed – the girls like to poke around when we’re not there – and we have cooking gear, a toilet, bench space, a table and chairs, all which make ATV testing more pleasure than pain.
But some ATVs have failed that course. Bits fell off. Things broke. On a few, engine braking was pathetic or non-existent. One had a front wheel that locked up without notice. One nearly broke me in half. One caught fire. But since first impressions are often the most accurate, we know what most machines will do because we’ve seen ‘em all. The Sportsman isn’t perfect, but it’s big, strong, comfortable on any terrain, and the drivetrain is the best in the business.
If nothing else, it’s a good place to start your search for a new ATV.
Far left: Polaris added a variable low speed limiter to this engine, a welcome safety measure for the inexperienced. Speed can be set between 11 and 22km/h.
1. In the US, the Sportsman is claimed to be the best selling 4x4 ATV of all time. It’s not doing badly here, either. In 2017 Polaris was Australia’s leading ATV supplier.2. Suspension components are well shielded and themachine wears a full-length bashplate3. Whack on a brush-guard to protect the radiator4. In high range the vehicle descends with twice the speed it does in low range so you get a choice about how you want to tackle a hill