Polaris Sportsman 550 X2

If you are looking for a fast-response quad bike that can race across the park or estate to get you to an incident quickly, be sure to have a look at the Sportsman 550 X2 from Polaris.

Polaris Sportsman 550 X2. Image: HW
Polaris Sportsman 550 X2. Image: HW

What's more, it's an exhilarating ride. It's got power and it's got speed. We got it up to 54mph (87km/h) and could have done more had the ground and conditions allowed.

Not only can this quad bike carry a first aid kit in its covered front carrier, but it can also transport a trained first aider to the scene. This is a quad bike built for two - when it's needed. So whether you just want to ride around the grounds and check everything is OK or if you need to ferry a vet, consultant or engineer to the furthest corner of the property, this quad bike fits the bill.

The 550 X2 is not Polaris's biggest bike but it is the largest of those designed to take a passenger. Surveying the quad, the first thing we notice is the generous seat. It's for the driver, not the passenger, and it is very comfortable. This quad bike is rider-reactive. The seat lets you position forward when going up hills and towards the back when going down. Cornering is a dream. The seat is designed to enable you to shift your weight wherever it is needed.

If you want to carry a passenger you simply fold down part of the rear tipping box to accommodate the driver's back rest, which then becomes the pillion seat. It takes seconds. There are footrests and hand grips either side to keep the passenger safe and comfortable.

The 550 X2 is the latest model from the company that invented the snowmobile. Although it is loosely based on the 500 model, the only part that remains the same is the passenger seat mechanism. The 550 X2 has a bigger, more powerful engine, which has been turned round. The transmission and suspension have also been changed.

The 550cc four-cylinder engine is fuel-injected and pumps out 42hp. The engine is rubber mounted for low vibration. As with all Polaris utility quads, this machine has an automatic gearbox, making it a doddle to ride.

The gear-shift lever is on the right-hand side. Clearly illustrated on the knob of the stick is "P" for park, "R" for reverse, "N" for neutral and "Lo" and "Hi" ratios for forward travel. There is no clutch to worry about. Similarly, start the engine, select the gear required, release the hand brake - this machine has hydraulic braking covering all wheels - and then depress the throttle lever on the right-hand grip.

A yellow switch, also on the right-hand handlebar, engages four-wheel drive. In fact, there are four selections. The 2x4 position gives two-wheel drive. This was quite adequate for riding around the training course and for most of the off-road riding during the test.

The next position is 4x4 - four-wheel or all-wheel drive. This locks in all the diffs, but only when you want them. It's on demand, according to conditions, and reverts back to two-wheel drive when not required. If you go from two to four-wheel drive, which you can do on the move, as soon as the bike senses that you need the all-wheel drive it will lock all the diffs in.

The switch also shows a picture of a quad bike descending a hill in 4x4. Because the machine will drop in and out of all-wheel drive, it means you could get to the top of a hill and, as you start to go down, the ATV might think it has finished with all-wheel drive and drop back into two-wheel drive.

This special "downhill" position lets the rider manually override the system and relock the diffs to give true four-wheel drive. With this you find the engine braking and all the diffs locked for a safe descent - especially useful if you are towing a trailer. With active descent control, you shouldn't get pushed downhill with this one.

There is one other position on the selector and it's one that should appeal to park, sports ground and golf course staff - a turf mode. Selecting "Turf" engages a slip diff on the rear wheels to lessen the damage when turning on grass surfaces.

Controls on the left-hand handlebar include the engine switch - run or off - headlights and a reverse override. The 550 X2 has a restricted reverse, but this switch allows the rider to override the reverse speed cut out.

Polaris clearly takes a responsible attitude to safety. The 550 X2 has distinct, easy to read labelling. A big label, in an in-your-face position as you mount the bike, states: "No operator under the age of 16." Another advises us to contact our dealer for information about ATV training courses.

Elsewhere, four distinct symbols recommend the rider and passenger always use approved helmets and protective gear, never to use the quad on the road because paved surfaces may seriously affect handling and control, never to carry more than one passenger and never to ride under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The first thing we notice when riding this quad is the power. It's also very quick to accelerate. Gardner mounts the bike and starts the engine; it purrs. He engages the throttle. "Whoa!" You will want to use the throttle sparingly until you get used to it. It's very sensitive, but apart from that this quad is easy to ride and tremendous fun.

Ten minutes later, he dismounts. "What an exciting ride. It's quite straightforward to use - stick it in the ratio required and off you go."

Gardner's first lap of the training course was gentle. Second time round, he got some speed up and negotiated the steep ramp with ease. "You quickly get the feel of this machine. It feels very stable. Going over that grass mound it felt as safe as houses. I just sat back and descended comfortably," he adds.

The dual A-arm front suspension gives 22.9cm of travel. The rear has 25.4cm. This is an extremely comfortable ride. Added to this is generous ground clearance. The footplates are a good size and have a ridge to ensure that your feet stay out of harm's way.

Tucker takes to the bike quickly and is soon speeding round the course. After two laps, she glances across at us to see whether she dare have another go. "The tipping box is good. I like the fact there are lots of options. It means you can really match the ride to the conditions. There are all kinds of things you could tow, like mowers and fertiliser spreaders. It would be really useful for spreading salt in winter," she notes.

Gardner adds: "Obviously it would be great in country parks, estates, zoos - and with turf tyres we could use it on the golf course. I think this would be a great vehicle for use in the grounds at Cannington."

Meanwhile, Nash is thoroughly enjoying her ride around the course. After three laps I suspect that we are going to have trouble getting this quad back to the dealer. "It's fantastic." "Loved it." "Brilliant." Tucker and Nash are both impressed.

We try the passenger seat. It's high position is really comfortable and carrying a passenger seems to have no effect on balance. The steering is a little on the hard side. It's anti-kickback but you need to be quite forceful until you get used to it. Gardner says power steering would be an advantage. It is much easier to steer in "Turf" mode.

Having learned the basics, the four novice riders are keen to expand their experience. Gardner suggests that we head down the straight and out past the golf course to the fields, where we might find some different conditions - and some mud.

The dealer returns to collect the quad but it's nowhere in site. Reluctantly, the test team returns, splattered with dirt but very happy.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine 549cc EFI (42hp)
Seating 1+1
Rear box carrying capacity 181.4kg
Front box carrying capacity 54kg (31 litres)
Towing capacity 680kg
Transmission Automatic P-R-N-Lo-Hi
Drive 2WD, on-demand 4WD, downhill 4x4 and turf modes
Suspension Duel A-arm front (22.9cm travel) and rolled independent rear (25.4cm travel)
List price ex VAT £6,799
Contact Polaris Britain 0800 915 6720

 

CONDITIONS
Dry, though rain on previous days had left areas of puddles and mud.

 

THE REVIEW PANEL

Andre Gardner Grounds manager, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College

Sarah Nash Part-time gardener, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College

Rob Stones Full-time gardener, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College

Lisa Tucker Full-time gardener, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College

Mark Tyrell Part-time gardener, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College and proprietor of Ashcroft Gardening

 

MACHINES FOR 2010

The Apache RLX 400 2WD utility, with a 360cc engine and automatic transmission with reverse and hi/lo ratios, is designed to suit medium duties around the estate. It has fully independent suspension and front winch as standard. Price is £3,300 ex VAT.

Suzuki's new KingQuad 500 has all the features of the 450 but with updates to the chassis, suspension and engine. It is fitted with a 454cc fuel-injected four-stroke engine, has automatic transmission with two forward ratios and one reverse. It also has power steering.


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