Farmers Weekly joins forces with its Dutch counterpart Boerderij for a unique six-ATV comparison. Andrew Pearce reports.

There’s never been a wider choice of ATVs. Mainstream brand or cheaper import, petrol or diesel, 2wd or 4wd: take your pick.

This multitest sets out to reflect the buyer’s options by bringing together a selection of machinery, both to see what the different brands are like to live with and – vital these days – to see how much fuel they use.

For the line-up, market leader Honda joins Polaris to represent the mainstream makers. Kymco and Quadzilla weigh in for the lower-cost Far Easterners, while Arctic Cat and Ecorider speak for the diesel brigade.

That’s six bikes with different agendas, running on different fuels and with wildly different prices – so how can we compare them?

 

The contenders

Model   Fuel Clained hp   Retail price (£) before VAT
Arctic Cat 700 Diesel TRV Homologated  Diesel  17.8  7250
Ecorider Ecoquad  Diesel  10.9  3950
Honda Foreman S (TRX 500FM)  Petrol  26.8  5600
Kymco MXU 400RL  Petrol  19.8  4680
 Polaris Sportsman 500 4×4 Touring  Petrol  20.1*/35  5899
Quadzilla 500 ES 4×4 long wheelbase  Petrol  20.1*/26  3658

 *If restricted to qualify as a quadricycle/unrestricted

 

Our verdict on each ATV

For starters we asked each importer to supply its most popular farming model: that pretty much levelled the ground for the four petrol machines, as every maker put forward its 500-class contender.

But Kymco’s MXU 500 broke while checking test routes, to be replaced at the importer’s suggestion by its hot-off-the-press 400. The diesels neatly chose themselves, as the two here are the only ones with a significant UK market presence. This is what we had, plus prices:

The petrol-powered models are much of a muchness, offering selectable 4wd, shaft drive and single-cylinder powerplants.

But the diesels differed physically, in philosophy and in price. Arctic Cat’s sizeable, sophisticated 4wd packs a 700cc watercooled twin, whereas the Ecoquad is designed for simplicity with 2wd, chain drive and a single-cylinder aircooled engine.

Test basics

We measured weight, performance, fuel consumption, turning circle and stopping distance – see Ways and Means for how. This info was then backed up by subjective assessment of machine comfort, practicality and so on, building the picture of each machine.

THE OVERVIEW

1. Weight, size and origins.

The Arctic Cat and Polaris are made in the States, have substantial bulk and a long wheelbase.

The Quadzilla is from the same mould and hails from China.

Honda’s familiar Foreman is built across the Pond but so far has stayed relatively petite.

The similar-sized Kymco comes from Taiwan and is a collaboration with Arctic Cat and carries many parts branded with that company’s name.

Ecorider’s Ecoquad completes the trio of compact machines and is the sole UK-made product.

Weights reflect size: the porky Arctic Cat, Polaris and Quadzilla are all around 400kg, the smaller models cluster round 300kg with the Honda lightest of the five we could weigh. The replacement Kymco missed that particular boat but claims the same 290kg.

2. Looks and build quality. Our choice – Arctic Cat

If looks could kill then the wide-stance, slant-eyed Arctic Cat slays the opposition, with the Kymco close behind.

On quality, the big brands – Arctic Cat, Honda and Polaris – dominate. Kymco’s new 400 is well made if rather plasticky. The Quadzilla is below the group average on finish, and in some areas also on function.

Ecorider supplied a pre-production diesel, solidly made from basic if unsophisticated materials.

3. Equipment cost . Our choice – Polaris

On value the Quadzilla can’t be beat, with a winch, bolt-on passenger seat and alloy wheels in the ultra-low price. Polaris is unique in having fuel injection and an unlockable rear diff.

Arctic Cat and Polaris both supplied models featuring a more quickly-detachable second seat.

The top-dollar Arctic Cat also totes a Warn winch, front diff lock and quick-change rack system as standard.

The back-to-basics Ecoquad sticks to 2wd where the rest have selectable 2wd/4wd.

4. Practicality. Our choice – Arctic Cat

Gearchanges

Fastest to jump on and ride away are the Polaris and Ecoquad slowest is the foot-shift Honda.

Best gearchange award goes to the gated shifts of the Arctic Cat and Kymco worst is the Honda (mainly for its long-winded reverse selection), followed by the consistently irritating Quadzilla and the rather primitive Ecoquad.

All but the Honda can start in gear – sometimes a very useful ability.

Towbars

Polaris, Arctic Cat and Kymco fit extended towbars, which really help when coupling a trailer.

Bodywork

Honda bodywork features particularly flexible, replaceable mudguard extensions.

The Arctic Cat and Kymco have no extensions, so panel damage could involve changing a complete moulding.

The Ecoquads’ glassfibre bodywork is readily repairable.

Load racks

Load racks vary from the skimpy (Kymco, Honda) through the unusual (Polaris) to the all-embracing (Ecoquad).

Potential highest load capacity goes to the American Arctic Cat and Polaris – it must be all that bear hunting – with the diminutive Kymco next.

The Ecoquad’s racks wrap protectively over its lights.

Polaris uses moulded versions that don’t easily take a rope but have a massive lidded tray up front.

The Quadzilla’s racks look chunky but share the lowest capacity (60kg total) with the much smaller Ecoquad.

Arctic Cat’s interchangeable rack system offers the most options. All ATVs provide 12V through a ciggie lighter socket, at the rear on the Ecoquad.

Instrumentation

The Ecorider just has a fuel gauge.

The others offer more or less info from generally LCD displays, with Polaris the most comprehensive.

Speedos proved more or less optimistic something to watch in speed-critical operations like pelleting and spraying. The manual shift Honda is definitely easier to ride at a constant forward speed than the automatics.

5. Performance. Our choice – Polaris

Which ATV pulled a 390kg load the fastest up a 0.49mile test hill?

The Polaris and Honda rocketed to the finish in an average of 1min 4sec, well clear of the Quadzilla and Kymco’s 1min 15sec and 1min 18sec.

Not surprisingly the two diesels were well adrift, the Arctic Cat taking 1min 40sec and the Ecoquad a very leisurely 2min 50sec.

Results reflect weight and power. The Polaris turned the scales at 410kg (heaviest in this test) but has 35hp on tap.

The Honda had less power but also 120kg less flab, so produced an equally quick time despite the need to shift gears.

The Quadzilla’s 390kg counted against it, even though it claims 6hp more than the smaller Kymco.

Among the diesels the Arctic Cat was bound to struggle with 17.8hp and 400kg, while the relatively light 330kg Ecoquad only has 10.9hp to do the business -yet it coped without complaint and got there, by-and-by.

A word on power restriction. To qualify as a quadricycle and so be road legal straight from the crate, ATVs must meet various rules. One is that power output is limited to 15kw (20.1hp).

Subsequent de-restriction may be possible, but then road use under quadricycle rules becomes illegal. Polaris, Arctic Cat, Kymco and Quadzilla offer suitable versions.

Rated towing capacities vary from the Honda’s ungenerous 386kg to the Polaris’s 555kg.

6. Fuel consumption. Our choice – Ecoquad

The six ATVs covered 18 miles over a set course, pulling a 330kg load for half the time (see Ways and Means box).

The Ecoquad emerged clear economy champ with 45.5mpg, despite spending much of its time at full throttle.

Then came the Honda at 32.1mpg and the diesel Arctic Cat at 31.7mpg, comfortably ahead of the Kymco and Polaris’s 24.9mpg.

The Quadzilla trailed with 18.6mpg.

All averaged 16.2mph round the course except the Ecorider, which managed 14.8mph.

The Honda’s excellent economy compared to the other petrol machines comes partly from its light weight and partly from its five fixed gears, which often give the option of lower revs at a given speed.

The Arctic Cat, like the other automatics, uses stepless belt drive and revs relatively high to maintain progress.

This, along with its extra weight, bigger engine and lower power (which meant more throttle to pull the same load) hits fuel consumption compared to the Ecoquad and Honda.

But it still used 21% less fuel than the petrol Kymco and Polaris, and 41% less than the profligate Quadzilla. And like the super-thrifty Ecoquad, it can burn red diesel.

7. Brakes. Our choice – Arctic Cat

Discs all round are the order of the day, aside from the Honda’s drum back brake. Stopping distances of around 6m from 25mph-26mph were the norm. Lever response in normal riding was excellent on the Arctic Cat, Polaris and Kymco, poor on the Quadzilla and average on the others. Nifty detail: Kymco’s flip-the-lever parking brake tops the rest.

Engine braking

Consistent engine braking on steep drops boosts safety. It’s excellent on the Arctic Cat, Honda and Polaris and good on the Kymco, but it disappeared at low revs on the Quadzilla and was non-existent on the Ecorider.

Descending in reverse gear, engine braking was maintained by the Arctic Cat, Honda and Polaris but vanished from the Kymco.

Polaris links front and rear brakes though a single lever the others’ independent control is better on slippery downhill going.

8. Ride, comfort, noise. Our choice – Polaris

Independent rear suspension and sheer mass helps the three long-wheelbase quads steamroller their way over rough land.

Tops for comfort is the armchair-riding Polaris, followed by the Arctic Cat and stiffer Quadzilla.

Of the smaller fry the Kymco rides easiest, though it’s significantly more bouncy than the heavyweights.

Then comes the beam-axle Honda and last the stiff-legged Ecoquad.

Engine vibration is a problem on the Quadzilla and even more so on the diesel Ecoquad, whereas the twin-cylinder Arctic Cat is unexpectedly smooth.

And take your earplugs to the Ecoquad – its air-cooled engine is by some way the noisiest in this group.

9. Handling, steering. Our choice – Honda

The heavier, long-wheelbase brands fare best in straight-line stability. Despite their bulk, the Polaris and Arctic Cat deliver light (if slow) steering and a respectable turning circle. Not so the Quadzilla, which pivots with the speed (and steering lock) of an oil tanker.

The smaller Honda and Kymco turn comfortably tighter and faster than the big boys, which helps with a trailer and in narrow places. Both are also substantially handier in demanding off-road situations.

But all the smaller quads were more easily disturbed by bumps and ruts, particularly the hard-sprung, twitchy-steering Ecoquad.

Special mention goes to Polaris’s turf mode switch, which unlocks the rear diff to give the tyres an easier time and reduce scuffing.

10. Maintenance. Our choice – Honda

Engine dipstick access is quickest on the remote-sumped Polaris, hardest on the Kymco. The Ecoquad cuts its engine if oil runs low so abuse isn’t easy, but its chain will need attention. The air-cooled Honda needs only periodic engine oil checks.