The growing sport 4x4 class is one of our favorites. These capable, fun machines are fast when they need to be and tough and ready when things on the trail turn nasty. The latest entry into this segment is the new Polaris Scrambler 850. This is not just a bored-out version of the old Scrambler 500, nor is it a rack-less Sportsman 850. This newcomer has an all-new body, a high-output engine and Fox suspension. So looking at the spec chart, it seems to be a winner. To see if it is, this month we are comparing it to Can-Am’s beast of a machine, the Renegade 800.
Can-Am offers their Renegade in five different versions. A 500cc ($8149), 800cc ($9999) or 1000cc ($11,049) engine can power the base models, which feature standard wheels, shocks and no power steering. The X xc model is outfitted with Fox Podium shocks, tri-mode power steering, handguards and beadlock wheels. For power on the X xc model, you can choose between the 800cc ($12,499) or 1000cc ($13,549) engines.
Polaris offers two versions of their new Scrambler, and both are powered by the same high-output, 850cc engine. The base version outfitted in the white bodywork sells for $9499. It has standard shocks, steel wheels, and no handguards or power steering (EPS). The top-of-the-line Scrambler is available only in black and comes with EPS, handguards, cast-aluminum wheels and Fox Podium shocks on all four corners. That Limited Edition model sells for $11,999.
For the purposes of this test, we chose the standard-model Renegade with the 800cc engine. It’s close to the same power output as the Polaris Scrambler, and to be honest, the 1000cc engine is just too much power for normal ATV trail riding. Sure, if you are mud riding with huge tires or racing in a straight line, more power is usually welcome.
Can-Am uses their proven Rotax V-twin on all of their big quads. Each cylinder has four valves and a single overhead cam. Liquid-cooling, fuel injection and an attached CVT transmission are all standard. The 800 produces just over 70 horsepower. The 1000cc mill churns out 85 ponies.
To power the Scrambler, Polaris also uses a SOHC, four-valve, 850cc twin. This is a parallel design mated to a CVT transmission with a horsepower output of 77 ponies. However, those numbers cannot be directly compared, unless you consider the weights of each machine. Polaris claims their new Scrambler tips the scales at 745 pounds dry. BRP claims their Renegade only weighs 687 pounds dry. So mathematically, the power-to-weight ratio is practically dead even for both machines.
In this arena, the two machines differ slightly. While both machines use standard dual A-arm setups in the front allowing for an even 9 inches of wheel travel, the rear ends are quite different. Polaris also uses dual A-arms in the rear, moving an impressive 10.25 inches. Can-Am on the other end uses their dual-trailing-arm suspension system on the Renegade. This system allows for 9.3 inches of travel.
No matter what brand you are riding, you will notice a huge difference between the Fox Podium shocks versus the standard units. Are they worth the extra money on the LE (Polaris) and X xc (Can-Am)? Yes, we would pay the premium price for the shocks alone. The better wheels, handguards and color options are just a bonus. The same can be said for spending the extra money to get power steering. We would—although neither of these machines are hard to turn without EPS. It’s just that when you have EPS, a day of riding is much less abuse on the body than it is without.FEATURES
Can-Am recently added a dual-lever brake system to the Renegade. It gives the rider more control options. The Scrambler still uses a single-handlebar-mounted lever setup. In this case, it’s a little spongy where the Can-Am system requires extra effort to manipulate the binders. Both machines could use fine-tuning in this area.
Another area not particularly exciting is the storage. Polaris outfitted the Scrambler with two small racks and a very small cargo box under the rear one. The box is barely big enough to carry a pair gloves, a water bottle or a tie-down—not all three.
Can-Am only gives the Renegade a small platform behind the rear seat. Straps have to be used if something needs to be carried there. We hope future models incorporate under-seat storage or other watertight pockets on different parts of both machines.
We did like the replaceable steel footpegs on the Renegade much better than the plastic raised floorboard pegs on the Scrambler. However, the Scrambler has a more comfortable seat featuring a small hump toward the back that is a nice touch when climbing hills.TRAIL TEST
On our torture test loop, both machines were a blast to ride. The Scrambler lends itself more to a sit-down position, while you feel more comfortable standing up on the Renegade. Both machines have killer torque from the very snap of the throttle. Neither feels any more powerful than the other.
You can definitely tell that the Renegade has better traction. In a drag race, the two are just about dead even all the way until they top out at 75 mph. Around corners, the Polaris pushes slightly and is a little skatey in the rear end. The Renegade hooks up tremendously well, but maybe too well in the corners, as it tends to two-wheel instead of slide.
In the really nasty terrain, the 4WD system on the Polaris engaged quicker than the system on the Renegade. Although this fact never left us stranded, it did require us to make several attempts through some situations.
On the other end, we liked the Renegade’s super-strong downhill engine braking. It slowed the big machine down to a crawl if needed. The Polaris system only engages the rear wheels, so more braking was usually needed. CONCLUSIONS
This was one of the closest shootouts we have done in a long time. We found plenty of good points about both machines and hardly any negatives. Depending on which package you want, the prices come out relatively close. Basically you pay $500 more for the Can-Am products. On the X xc model, you get beadlock wheels for the extra money. And on the standard-model Renegade, you get aluminum wheels versus steel rims on the Scrambler.
If Can-Am would simply add some storage and a front-locking differential button, it would be easy to call the 800cc X xc Renegade the best sport 4x4 around. If Polaris would outfit this Scrambler with their Active Descent Control feature and source slightly better gripping tires, we would call the LE Scrambler the best. Until then, they both get to share that honor.