The MOST EPIC 450 shootout! 7 sport quads: BLAST FROM THE PAST

Epic450shootoutlead

Whether you explore trails, ride the dunes or race in organized competition, you have seven high performance 450s to pick from.

Honda has their electric or kick starting TRX450, Can-Am has the exotic aluminum-framed DS450, Kawasaki offers the fuel-injected KFX450, Suzuki has a wide LT-R450, Polaris offers a 450 version of the straight-axle Outlaw, Yamaha has their proven YFZ450, and KTM just entered the ring with a trick 450XC.

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PRICE & WEIGHT WARS
Honda kills the competition in the price game. Their electric-starting TRX450R that we tested has a price tag of an even $7000. Their kick-start version is $150 less. Yamaha added upgraded shocks to the YFZ450 in 2008. This gave the “blue arrow” a slightly higher price tag of $7100. The Polaris Outlaw MX450 is a hundred dollars more and comes with Fox suspension and Maxxis rubber. Their 525S Outlaw has the same price tag. Suzuki and Kawasaki share a $7400 retail price. The exotic Can-Am DS450 commands $7500 at the dealer before you can roll it out the door. Last and definitely not least, the new KTM 450XC has the highest retail price of $8800. That’s nearly $2000 more than the Honda and $1300 more than its closest competitor. That savings can buy a lot of gas for both your quad and its tow vehicle.

On the scales, KTM, Honda and Yamaha all have a claimed dry weight of just over 350 pounds. The Can-Am DS450 is five pounds less than that. The Kawasaki and Polaris Outlaw have a claimed dry weight of around 365, give or take a pound. And the wider Suzuki is the heaviest quad out of the box with a claimed weight measurement of 368 pounds.

ENGINE SPECS
All seven machines are powered by electric-starting, liquid-cooled, overhead cam, four-stroke engines. Two-stroke powerplants are now a thing of the past.

KTM and Polaris share nearly the same KTM-built single overhead cam engine. Honda also uses a single overhead cam design. These three motors all rely on a standard FCR carb for fuel delivery.
Suzuki, Kawasaki, Can-Am and Yamaha all use a dual overhead cam design. Here the Yamaha is the only carbureted engine. The others all use electronic fuel injectors to deliver fuel into the engine.
To get the power to the ground, all seven machines feature manual clutches and five-speed transmissions.

Kawasaki, Polaris and KTM offer a reverse gear, while the others do not. Kawasaki and Polaris riders activate their reverse systems with their right thumbs while KTM riders have to use a finger pull lever on the left side of the handlebars.

Another factor that affects power delivery is the size of the rear tires. Five of the quads feature 20-inch tires while the Suzuki and Polaris 450s have 18’s. The lower profile eighteen-inch tires help these quads corner fast, while a larger 20-inch tire helps a quad get out of corners quicker while adding a ground clearance advantage for trail riding.

In our drag race tests, Honda and Yamaha had the best accelerating 450s. Polaris, Suzuki, Can-Am and KTM tied for third, while Kawasaki rounded out the group.

On the top end, Honda and Yamaha again had the highest ratings with a 78 mph top speed. The DS450 was a close third with 77mph. Our 2008 Suzuki and Kawasaki’s tied at 74mph, while the KTM and the Polaris had the slowest top speed at 73mph, according to our Garmin GPS.

COMFORT AND HANDLING
Along with contributing to lower top speeds, the eighteen-inch tires Suzuki and Polaris uses hinder those machines in the comfort department but help them on the track. Suzuki does combat this with a very comfortable seat, while the Outlaw’s plush Fox suspension helps score points for Polaris.

Speaking of suspension, all seven machines use standard dual A-arm (front) and a solid axle, swingarm (rear) setup.

Can-Am’s A-arms are all aluminum while Yamaha has an aluminum top A-arm and steel bottoms. All the other machines use steel A-arms. Out back, Polaris, Suzuki and KTM all use steel swingarms, while the other machines have cast aluminum rear arms.

Polaris and KTM have the highest wheel travel numbers in the rear with eleven inches. Honda has the lowest number with nine inches.

Up front, Polaris and KTM are best in class with ten inches while Honda only has 8.4-inches of travel.

Those wheel travel numbers are definitely felt on the track and trail. All of our test riders were in agreement that the KTM and Polaris offered the plushest rides. The DS450 and YFZ450 were not far behind in this department. They both have over nine inches (front) and ten inches of rear wheel travel.

When riding the Honda and the Suzuki, it was much easier to find their suspension limits. At this point, the Suzuki would give a jarring sensation while the Honda would offer a bouncy feeling. Those differences surely can be attributed to the tire selection as well.

On long trail rides, the KTM450, DS450 and the YFZ450 were all the most comfortable. The three were also the fastest through our 20-mile test loop and had identical 34-minute lap times. The Honda was close behind at 34.25 minutes. Both the YFZ and KTM received complaints of a stiff thumb throttle after the test loop was finished.

The most common complaints on the DS450 was strangely shaped heel guards, and a notchy transmission. In fact, in just one 20-mile trail ride, we found a false neutral three times. This is when the transmission appears to hit neutral between gears. Ours happened between third and fourth gear.

The lower-sitting Suzuki and Polaris machines did well on the fire road sections of our loop but they were in constant danger of clipping rocks and other trail obstacles.

Lap times were increased on the Polaris and on the Suzuki when line selection in the tight trails was of importance. In more than one instance, we got the Polaris high-centered on tree roots, and the Suzuki had be backed up on occasion to fit between the trees.

In the corners, the YFZ450 and KTM quads went right where you pointed them every time. They weren’t the least bit tippy. The Kawasaki and the Honda suffered the most here. In the suspension department, the KTM, YFZ and the Outlaw were more responsive to compression, rebound and preload changes. The Can-am didn’t need adjusting and the Suzuki could use a ride specific rebuild kit if it’s going to be raced.
In the corners, the YFZ450 and KTM quads went right where you pointed them every time. They weren’t the least bit tippy. The Kawasaki and the Honda suffered the most here. In the suspension department, the KTM, YFZ and the Outlaw were more responsive to compression, rebound and preload changes. The Can-am didn’t need adjusting and the Suzuki could use a ride specific rebuild kit if it’s going to be raced.

THE GOOD AND BAD
Here are some more notes on what our test riders had to say about each machine during our test rides. This is a reduced list. These are only the attributes that all of the riders and staffers agreed upon.

CAN-AM DS450
CAN-AM DS450

CAN-AM
Good: Feels light, looks unique, light steering and thumb throttle, soft seat.
Bad: Notchy transmission, poor bottom end power, noisy clutch and engine, no reverse.

HONDA TRX450R
HONDA TRX450R

HONDA
Good: Most low-end torque, great front brakes, easy to wheelie, price.
Bad: Felt a little cramped, looks dated, no reverse.

KAWASAKI KFX450
KAWASAKI KFX450

KAWASAKI
Good: Looks sharp, feels light, great brakes and has near-perfect controls.
Bad: Rock-hard seat, twitchy steering, noticeable vibration, lack of front and rear traction.

KTM 450XC
KTM 450XC

KTM
Good: Comfortable seat and controls, has a standard kill switch, ergos next to perfect, solid motor, best selection of tires, suspension, front and rear brakes.
Bad: Break-the-bank price tag, stiff thumb throttle.

POLARIS OUTLAW 450MX
POLARIS OUTLAW 450MX

POLARIS
Good: Low and mid range power, excellent suspension.
Bad: Air cleaner design, hump in center of seat, lack of top end, tire choice, use of uncommon fasteners.

SUZUKI LT-R450
SUZUKI LT-R450

SUZUKI
Good: Almost track-ready, comfortable seat, wide stance, very stable.
Bad: Jarring front end, not pre-wired for ignition kill switch, too wide and low to go fast on some trails, no reverse.

YAMAHA YFZ450R
YAMAHA YFZ450R

YAMAHA
Good: Power everywhere, looks, perfect ergos, awesome brakes, price.
Bad: Stiff thumb throttle, needs fuel injection, no reverse.

Our test-rider contingent for this shootout consisted of (from the left) Daniel Coutuer, Brad Johnson, Derreck Murphy, Logan Holladay, Daniel Hendrix, Mark Mallott and Ty Godde. These expert riders, along with out staff, collaborated to come up with our final conclusions.
Our test-rider contingent for this shootout consisted of (from the left) Daniel Coutuer, Brad Johnson, Derreck Murphy, Logan Holladay, Daniel Hendrix, Mark Mallott and Ty Godde. These expert riders, along with out staff, collaborated to come up with our final conclusions.

CONCLUSIONS

Kawasaki has a very light front end. It makes the whole machine feel much faster than it is. We like ITP’s Holeshot SR tires as replacements for the stockers. A one-tooth smaller rear sprocket will also help it in the traction department.
Kawasaki has a very light front end. It makes the whole machine feel much faster than it is. We like ITP’s Holeshot SR tires as replacements for the stockers. A one-tooth smaller rear sprocket will also help it in the traction department.

Kawasaki’s KFX450 has some issues with handling, traction and power that can be cured easily. Unfortunately, their test riders didn’t see this in time for the 2008 production run. The aluminum-framed, fuel injected fun machine can be fixed with a few simple bolt-ons and minor motor mods. Check out our November and December 2007 Dirt Wheels to find out how.

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Honda made some changes to the TRX450R in 2006 but they have now run their course. Honda has two versions of the 450; kick and electric starting. We would like to see two versions with a little more than those subtle differences. The electric-start version should have softer suspension, fuel injection and reverse.

The kick-start version should be more race ready with an ignition kill tether, minimal lighting and disposable low-cost suspension. Racers can then upgrade their machines to suit their own needs. They do this already anyway. Just ask the 2007 WPSA, ATVA MX or Desert racing champions; they all won their titles using highly modified Hondas.

Suzuki and Polaris outfitted their 450s with low profile 18-inch rear tires. This setup works great on a groomed track but not on the trails. We wish Polaris had supplied a wide axle and wider A-arms to go along with their MX moniker.
Suzuki and Polaris outfitted their 450s with low profile 18-inch rear tires. This setup works great on a groomed track but not on the trails. We wish Polaris had supplied a wide axle and wider A-arms to go along with their MX moniker.

Suzuki has the perfect motocross quad for the racer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money after leaving the dealership. Install a set of nerf bars and an ignition tether and the LT-R450 is ready for the starting line. Another $39 investment in a Yoshimura Cherry Bomb (or equivalent product) and the LT-R450 is ready to win in the amateur MX ranks. A different tire and wheel package can turn this machine into a very good trail machine as well.

Can-Am built their 450 to be the lightest of the bunch. It feels that way in the air and when it lands. The shocks provide pillow soft landings. We do wonder why Can-Am used steel handlebars instead of aluminum ones. It could have been to dampen vibration from the aluminum chassis.
Can-Am built their 450 to be the lightest of the bunch. It feels that way in the air and when it lands. The shocks provide pillow soft landings. We do wonder why Can-Am used steel handlebars instead of aluminum ones. It could have been to dampen vibration from the aluminum chassis.

Can-Am’s DS 450 not only has a high-tech chassis, it has incredible suspension and great ergonomics. The motor is strong as well and with a simple modification it can be made even faster. Under the left sidepanel you can find a pink wire covered in blue tape; cut this wire and add a aftermarket EFI control box to get the most out of a DS450.

With so much time in development and a liberal use of aluminum, we wonder why the DS has steel handlebars. With some minor improvements the DS450 may very well be on top of the 450 class next year.

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The Polaris Outlaw MX450 is American made (except for the motor), well-built, priced right and makes for a good all around package. This is just shy of being the best quad. While its Maxxis tires are good for the track, the wheels they sit on are not.

To have an MX (Motocross) moniker, the Outlaw 450MX needs to be much closer to track ready than just a set of tires. It should be wider, use stronger wheels, and have provisions for nerf bars and an ignition kill switch. It has a fast KTM motor, but the overall package could use a little more attention to detail before we’ll consider it perfect. The 525 will surely be a contender for the ultimate trail quad and with a few improvements the MX450 will be on top of its class as well.

Yamaha’s YFZ450 has great hookup out of the corners. It goes exactly where you point it and is easy to fling around. The priced-right YFZ450 is the best of the bunch in the dunes.
Yamaha’s YFZ450 has great hookup out of the corners. It goes exactly where you point it and is easy to fling around. The priced-right YFZ450 is the best of the bunch in the dunes.

Yamaha’s YFZ450 finished first in last year’s 450cc shootout. In 2008, Yamaha improved the YFZ450 even more with better suspension, which raised its price tag a hundred bucks.

A price increase would be much more justified if Yamaha added fuel injection to the YFZ. Our chief complaint about this quad is its stiff thumb throttle. A high output EFI system would cure this problem and keep the $7100 Yamaha YFZ450 on top of the class.

Our test riders all agreed that the KTM, Can-Am and Suzuki felt the most comfortable in the air. The KTM was the most comfortable everywhere. Our only complaint was that it had a stiff thumb throttle.
Our test riders all agreed that the KTM, Can-Am and Suzuki felt the most comfortable in the air. The KTM was the most comfortable everywhere. Our only complaint was that it had a stiff thumb throttle.

With no cost considerations, KTM’s 450XC is the best trail quad. With input from ATV racing champion Tim Farr, KTM nearly built a perfect machine their first time out. It has lots of wheel travel, great working Ohlins shocks, an ultra comfortable riding position and lots of high-end components. It has the perfect tire selection, stop-on-a-dime braking components and a free flowing exhaust. The only complaints we have after riding the 450 XC is with a stiff thumb throttle and that they didn’t make a MX version. If you can afford the high $8800 price tag, buy the KTM 450XC. As long as you don’t take it to a motocross track, you won’t need to spend another dime on the KTM 450XC.

SPECS……………..Can-Am…………Honda……………Kawasaki……….KTM……………..Polaris Outlaw….Suzuki…………Yamaha
…………………………DS450………….TRX450R………….KFX450…………450XC……………450MXR…………LT-R450………..FZ450
Engine type………..DOHC, liquid-…..SOHC, liquid-…….DOHC, liquid-…..SOHC, liquid-…….SOHC, liquid-…..DOHC, liquid-…..DOHC, liquid-
………………………….cooled, 4-stroke..cooled, 4-stroke….cooled, 4-stroke..cooled, 4-stroke….cooled, 4-stroke..cooled, 4-stroke..cooled, 4-stroke cooled, 4-stroke
Displacement………449cc………….449cc……………449cc………….448cc……………448cc………….449cc………….449cc
Carburetion………..46mm EFI……….40mm FCR…………42mm EFI……….39mm FCR…………39mm FCR……….42mm EFI……….39mm FCR
Starting………………Electric……….Electric…………Electric……….Electric…………Electric……….Electric……….Electric
Transmission……….Manual-clutch…..Manual-clutch…….Manual-clutch…..Manual-clutch…….Manual-clutch…..Manual-clutch…..Manual-clutch
5-speed……………….5-speed………..5-speed………….5-speed………..5-speed………….5-speed………..5-speed………..5-speed
Final drive…………..Chain………….Chain……………Chain………….Chain……………Chain………….Chain………….Chain
Suspension/travel:
Front………………….Dual A-arms/9.5″..Dual A-arms/8.4″….Dual A-arms/8.5″..Dual A-arms/10″…..Dual A-arms/10″…Dual A-arms/10″…Dual A-arms/9.1″
Rear…………………..Swingarm/10.5″….Swingarm/9″………Swingarm/10″……Swingarm/11″……..Swingarm/11″……Swingarm/10.9″….Swingarm/10.6″
Brakes:
Front…………………Dual hyd. discs…Dual hyd. discs…..Dual hyd. discs…Dual hyd. discs…..Dual hyd. discs…Dual hyd. discs…Dual hyd. discs
Rear………………….Hydraulic disc….Hydraulic disc……Hydraulic disc….Hydraulic disc……Hydraulic disc….Hydraulic disc….Hydraulic disc
Tires:
Front………………..21×7-10………..22×7-10………….21×7-10………..21×7-10………….20×6-10………..20×7-10………..21×7-10
Rear…………………20×10-9………..20×10-9………….20×10-9………..20×11-9………….18×10-9………..18×10-8………..20×10-9
Length/width/height…72.4″/46″/41.9″…73.3″/46.3″/43.3″…71.1″/46″/41.9″…71.2″/45.2″/44.3″…71.5″/47″/45.0″…72.6″/49″/42.7″…72.4″/46.1″/42.9″
Wheelbase………….49.9″………….50.2″……………49.4″………….50.4″……………50.5″………….50.6″………….50.4″
Seat height………….32.7″………….32.8″……………30.9″………….32.2″……………32″……………30.7″………….31.9″
Fuel capacity……….3 gal………….2.7 gal………….2.6 gal………..3.5 gal………….3.9 gal………..2.6 gal………..2.6gal
Ground clearance…5.2″…………..4.4″…………….4.3″…………..5″………………4.5″…………..3.9″…………..4.5″
Color…………………..Yellow, black…..Red, white,………Green, white,…..Orange…………..Red, white……..Yellow, white,….Blue, grey, black
…………………………..black………….black……………black……………………………………………black
Price…………………..$7500………….$6850……………$7400………….$8800……………$7200………….$7400………….$7100

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