Nothing, it seems, can cool our enthusiasm for off-road travel, not even economic downturns and soaring fuel prices. So it's hardly surprising to learn that sales of all-terrain vehicles topped 50,000 during 2011 in Canada alone, outpacing sales of the long-entrenched standard—on-road motorcycles. Almost 30 years have passed since the first quad rolled onto the North American market, but based on the models featured here, we've clearly come a long way in just a short time.

 

Arctic Cat 500 XT

Arctic Cat 500 XT

The Cat’s new mid-size quad rides tough on the bigger, more robust frame of the 550 version. With class-leading ground clearance and good power to the turf, it’ll eat up and spit out just about any obstacle the trail can come up with. But mind the somewhat higher centre of gravity—it’ll take some getting used to.

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 443cc, single overhead camshaft (SOHC), 4 stroke, 4-valve with electronic fuel injection.

Transmission: Continuous variable (CVT) with high and low range, plus reverse.

Braking: Hydraulic discs front and back, plus engine braking.

Suspension: Double A-arms with 10 inches of play front and back.

Steering: No power assist

Fuel Capacity: 21.6 litres

Rack Capacity: 100 pounds front, 200 pounds rear

Gauges: Digital

Colours: Blue; additional charge for camo

Can-Am Outlander 1000 X MR

Can-Am Outlander 1000 X MR

You’ll want to take a deep breath before you hit the throttle on Can-Am’s latest brute. Outfitted with gnarly muck-slinging Silverback tires and almost a litre of displacement, this bad-boy mud machine won’t stop until you tell it to. The rumble alone will turn heads.

Engine: Liquid-cooled, V-twin, 976cc, SOHC Rotax, 4-valve.

Transmission: CVT with high, low, park, neutral and reverse.

Braking: Twin piston hydraulic discs front and back, plus standard engine braking.

Suspension: Air control suspension with Fox Air Assist HPG shocks.

Steering: Tri-mode dynamic power steering.

Fuel Capacity: 20.5 litres

Rack Capacity: 100 pounds front, 200 pounds rear

Gauges: Analog/digital

Colours: Yellow/black, camo

CFMOTO Tracker 800 ERI

CFMOTO Tracker 800 ERI

The styling of this new Asian-made side-by-side is distinctly North American, but the price is surprisingly low—especially when you factor in niceties such as electronic fuel injection, power steering, a big-bore V-twin and four-wheel drive.

Engine: Water-cooled, V-twin, 799cc, SOHC 4-valve with electronic fuel injection.

Transmission: CVT with high, low, park, neutral and reverse.

Braking: 4-way hydraulic discs.

Suspension: Double A-arm independent suspension with spring-loaded hydraulic shocks.

Steering: Electric power steering.

Fuel Capacity: 26 litres

Gauges: Digital

Colour: Grey, orange, black, cam.

Honda Pioneer 4

Honda Pioneer 4

Thanks to automotive-style folding seats, this side-by-side does duty as a two- three- or fourseater. Look for this restyled and re-engineered machine to completely replace the Big Red next year. It’s set to arrive in Canada in the fall, with more details available this summer. Engine: Liquid-cooled, SOHC 4-stroke with electronic fuel injection.

Transmission: Automotive-style transmission with hydraulic torque converter, three forward gears and reverse; 2/4 wheel drive with front locking differential.

Braking: N/A

Suspension: Independent wishbone with 7.9 inches at the front, 9.1 inches at the back.

Steering: N/A

Fuel Capacity: N/A

Rack Capacity: Carries a half-ton payload; will tow 1,500 pounds.

Colours: Red, olive, Phantom Camo.

John Deere Gator RSX 850I

John Deere Gator RSX 850I

John Deere hit the right nerve with this machine. It all started when they bolted a highperformance motorcycle engine to the chassis and hooked it to a full-locking four-wheel-drive system. With 62 horsepower and a top speed of 85 kilometres an hour, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Along with the base model, the RSX family includes the Sport ($16,739) and beefed-up Trail ($16,199) models.

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 839cc, V-twin with electronic fuel injection and 62 horsepower.

Transmission: CVT with high, low, reverse and neutral; shaft-driven front-wheel drive.

Braking: Hydraulic discs on all 4 wheels.

Suspension: Independent double A-arms upfront, linked A-arms at the back, 9 inches of travel all around.

Steering: Rack-and-pinion.

Fuel Capacity: 28 litres

Rack Capacity: 400 pounds in a high-density polyethylene cargo box.

Gauges: Digital

Colours: Green/yellow, olive/black, Realtree cam.

Kawasaki Brute Force 300 2X4

Kawasaki Brute Force 300 2X4

So maybe calling it a “brute” might by overstating things, but this is a well-thought-out, well engineered and well-made quad that can handle the chores and take you where you need to go. Styled after its big-bore predecessors, this is an easy riding machine with a reasonable price tag. I give it a defi nite thumbs-up.

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 271cc, SOHC with twin valves.

Transmission: CVT with high, low and reverse; shaft-driven front-wheel drive.

Braking: Dual hydraulic discs in front, singlepiston caliper on the back axle, and engine braking.

Suspension: Double wishbone front, swing-arm rear with 5.2 and 5.6 inches of travel, respectively; five preload settings.

Steering: No power assist.

Fuel Capacity: 12 litres

Rack Capacity: 44 pounds front, 66 pounds rear.

Gauges: Digital

Colours: Black, red

Kymco MXU 700I IRS

Kymco MXU 700I IRS

Kymco’s entry into the big-bore lineup is a winner. The frame is a beefed-up version of the trail-proven MXU 500, and the redesigned engine cranks out 45 horsepower. Its stance at rest is automotive, but its behaviour on the trail is solid, stable and capable. This quad raises the bar on performance.

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 695cc, SOHC with 45 horsepower and electronic fuel injection.

Transmission: CVT with high, low, reverse, neutral and park; shaft-driven front-wheel-drive.

Braking: Dual hydraulic discs in front, and a shaft-mounted single hydraulic disc on the back axle, plus engine braking.

Suspension: Double A-arms with 6 and 6. inches of travel rear and front, respectively.

Steering: No power assist.

Fuel Capacity: 16.5 litres

Rack Capacity: 45 pounds on front rack, 85 pounds on the rear.

Gauges: Digital

Colours: Red, green, black; silver in the LE version.

Polaris Ranger XP 900

Polaris Ranger XP 900

When Polaris trotted out this new 60-horsepower side-by-side, it did so with plenty of fanfare. But 10 minutes into the test drive, I realized it more than lived up to the hype. With its powerhouse relocated under the bed, this redesigned Ranger is a sweet-running machine that’s a pleasure to ride, in all respects.

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 875cc Prostar, fuel-injected engine delivering 60 horsepower.

Transmission: Polaris variable transmission with high, low, reverse, neutral and park; 2-wheel drive with on demand all-wheel drive, plus turf mode.

Braking: 4-wheel hydraulic discs with Dual Bore calipers on the front.

Suspension: Dual A-arms with 10 inches of travel front and back.

Steering: Electric power steering is available in the Ranger XP 900 EPS package.

Fuel Capacity: 37.9 litres Rack Capacity: Half-ton in the rear bed

Gauges: Digital

Colours: Sage green, red, Polaris Pursuit camo; limited edition models come in red, orange, bronze, Browning cam.