27 September 1996

Bearcat revs up to pounce on the UKmarket

Its powerful, its comfortable and its user friendly. The Bearcat 454 ATV is set to make a name for itself on the UK market. Andy Collings gave it a work-out

AS ATVs go, the Bearcat 454 4×4 must count as one of the front runners. Equipped with a powerful engine, wide range transmission and forgiving suspension, the machine probably offers as much as any other ATV on the market.

The only stumbling block to its ultimate success in the UK market – a market worth some 7000 machines a year – could be in getting its manufacturers name recognised.

Built in the States by Arctic Cat Inc which has its core business entrenched in the manufacture of snowmobiles and marine leisure craft, the Bearcat is the companys first entry into the ATV industry.

A short cut to stardom may come in the fact that the machine is marketed in the UK by Crawley-based Suzuki GB with the likelihood the trade will come to know the machine as the Suzuki – it is, after all, powered by a Suzuki engine and Suzuki itself has a stake in Arctic Cat.

Even so, name or no name, a machine eventually has to prove its worth to perpetuate sales and continued existence. And on that score the Bearcat appears to be reasonably well placed.

Powerful unit

To start with the Suzuki power unit. Rated at 28hp, the 454cc single cylinder, water cooled block links directly to the gearbox, with shaft drives to the front and rear axles passing centrally along the machine. The transmission offers five forward speeds and one reverse with a high/low ratio doubler giving the machine a total of 10 x 2.

As with all ATVs, the rear axle is solid with the final drive calling for only a simple directional gear arrangement, albeit enclosed. The front axle, with its split half-shafts, has a limited slip differential on board.

Such axle arrangements dictate to some extent the type of suspension which can be used. A one-piece rear axle will never lend itself to independent suspension but the Bearcat designers have attempted the next best thing and constructed what they call semi-independent suspension.

This simply means that each end of the axle, through the use of coil springs and shockers, can move up or down and the whole axle can move up or down. The front axle though, does boast independent suspension and employs double A-frame arms to increase operating strength. Movement of suspension, both front and rear, is through some 18cm (7in) and ground clearance is 23cm (9in).

A nice enhancement for the underbelly clearance is to fit a plastic shield virtually all the way along the length of the machine to prevent any expensive snarl-ups on boulders, tree stumps or any other protruding obstacle. Its something Formula One racing cars also have but perhaps not for the same reason.

So, whats it like to drive? The saddle is comfortable, the feet reach the platforms and the arms head quite naturally for the handle bars.

Starting the Bearcat is simply a matter of turning the ignition key, moving the cut-out switch to "on" and pressing the start button. In the event of a flat battery there is a pull-start arrangement connected to the transmission.

With the engine running and the occasional blip of the throttle lever sited by the right thumb, gear engagement is operated by the left foot. A heel and toe rocker system, pressing down with the heel engages first gear and, by repeated pressing, into higher gears; pressing down with the toe shifts down into lower gears.

A useful dashboard display reveals which gear has been selected and, more importantly, when the machine is in neutral. There is no clutch.

With first gear selected, the parking brake released (right foot) and the throttle opened the Bearcat moves off. On the flat as a solo machine, first gear is clearly too low with a tendency for any throttle advancement to result in violent acceleration.

A push of the heel and second gear, third gear and the machine starts to travel. Down to second for a steep climb which, with only the minimum of throttle is taken at ease. A sharp left turn – perhaps a bit wider than intended – and onto a deeply rutted track to test the suspension.

Confident handling

First impulse is to find bottom gear and crawl but confidence and security increases as the suspension soaks up the potholes, with only a suggestion of handlebar kick. Round the track, a right turn – better that time with throttle control and an element of leaning – to be faced with a steep dive of several hundred yards. The sort of slope quarry faces are made of.

Brakes. The Bearcat has all round discs, that is, two on the front and one for the back axle which, it will be recalled, is solid. The handlebar lever operates all of them hydraulically. A pedal by the right foot provides a mechanical link to the rear disc to act both as a parking brake when locked, and as an emergency brake in the event of hydraulic failure.

Sitting well back in the saddle, the machine, with a low gear selected and not a hint of throttle, works its way safely downwards, the engine providing adequate braking and the tyres adequate grip. At the bottom theres time for another lap, and another, each one demonstrating to a greater extent the ability of the engine to pull and perform well from low to high rpm.

So, after a few hours running in some pretty testing terrain, whats the verdict? The Bearcat certainly has the ability to produce the goods. For a sheep farmer working in the Highlands it should be more than enough for his needs and for the lowland farmer wanting a useful runabout, the Bearcats turn of speed and towing capabilities could well swing the deal.

Suzuki GB is currently setting up its dealer network throughout the UK with the intention of selling some 300 machines before the year end. Plans are to introduce a two-wheel drive version later this year and increase the range with smaller machines in 1997. &#42


BEARCAT 454


&#8226 Engine: 454cc single cylinder Suzuki 28hp

&#8226 Transmission: 5 x 2 with hi/lo doubler

&#8226 Suspension: Coil springs, independent front, semi-independent rear

&#8226 Tyres: Dunlop, 25×8-12 front, 25×10-12 rear

&#8226 Carrying capacity: 45kg front rack, 91kg rear

&#8226 Price: £4995

Suzuki power for the Bearcat 454. Rated at 28hp, it drives through a five-speed transmission com plete with hi/lo doubler.

Instrument detail. Note the central coloured display which tells the operator which gear has been selected.