"As we have come to know from Polaris, it's a fantastic engine - beautifully torquey and very gutsy - and it has high fun value," confirms MacPherson. But it's the engine braking that impresses him most. The Sportsman has selectable two- or four-wheel drive and also has automatic descent control. MacPherson puts it all to the test as he drives down a 50 degs slope.
"I came down that slope completely at tick-over," he says afterwards. "I'd say this is the best I've ever ridden for keeping you fully braked on such steep slopes. I'm very impressed."
It's clear from the start that a lot of thought has gone into the design and production of this quad bike. It's packed with good ideas that many other manufacturers would leave on the drawing board because of cost - things like the lockable rear diff. MacPherson again: "As an engineer I like to see a diff, but most quads do not have a diff in the back. It means that on precious grass you have to be really careful - use your body weight to lift one rear wheel to let it spin - or you are likely to rip the turf. Alternatively, you have a very large turning circle. I tried this one on the grass and, as wet as it is today, it didn't cut in - although it does make the bike handle slightly differently to a normal quad." Polaris calls it "turf control". We call it brilliant.
We also like the transmission lock. Just as in an automatic car, the lock is represented by the "P" on the gearstick. The normal handbrake on the Sportsman is on the left-hand control lever and it's hydraulic. This bike is all four-wheel braking and there is a very simple latch to hold the brake lever in the "on" position. But would you want to leave the hydraulic system pressurised all night? The "P" transmission lock means you don't have to. What's more, it acts as extra security when you are servicing the bike in the workshop. MacPherson believes it is a very good idea.
The Sportsman is a comfy ride. The footplates are an ample size for big feet and are designed to keep the feet in place - motorbike riders will find it difficult to perform the dangerous practice of putting a foot on the floor when cornering. The footplates are shaped so it is unlikely the operator will ride with their feet sticking out.
At the back there is a well-positioned hitch. There's also plenty of carrying capacity on this bike and we especially like the clever lashing system on the front carrier - it has positive hook points so you don't end up trying to lash to a slippery metal rail. The box on the back holds just over 80kg but can be swapped for a pillion seat. I see MacPherson's sharp intake of breath. He's not keen on two-seater bikes. He points out: "We spend all our time trying to put the message over that quad bikes are single riders - passengers are absolutely forbidden."
Nigel MacPherson, engineering lecturer, Sparsholt College, Winchester
The test took place on the purpose-built ATV training and test course at Sparsholt College, near Winchester, in Hampshire. The course has been carved out into a hillside and presents a variety of features, including steep slopes, hummocks and water splash.
Conditions on the day were cold and wet. Rain during the preceding days meant some areas of the course were muddy.
Engine: 498cc four-stroke, liquid cooled, electric start
Transmission: Automatic, continuously variable, with transmission lock
Gear box: P/R/N/L/H
Drive: Selectable two- or four-wheel drive
Front suspension: MacPherson strut with 208mm travel
Rear suspension: Fully independent progressive rate with 241mm travel
Tyres: 25x8-12 front/25x11-12 rear
Brakes: Single-lever hydraulic disc to front/hydraulic rear foot brake
Dimensions (LxWxH): 2.11m x 1.22m x 1.22m
Ground clearance: 18.3cm
Cargo bed capacity: 200kg
Towing capacity: 555kg
Fuel tank: 15.5 litres
List price (ex VAT): POA
Contact: Polaris on 0800 915 6720