The ATV world is always changing. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen it shift from conservative times with modest offerings to technological hyperdrive, with wild new models hitting us at every turn. Today, the ATV business is in both modes at once. At the high end, we have stunning new technology and innovations. But at the same time, a soft economy is driving renewed interest in budget-minded products. So that you can know which end of the business calls to you, we’ve gathered the most important ATVs of 2012 in one place—high, low, fast, slow. Enjoy.

YAMAHA RAPTOR 700R ($8399)
Yamaha’s big guy is the unquestioned king of the sport quads. It’s not a racer, but it’s powerful, fun and technologically impressive. It has a hybrid steel/aluminum frame wrapped around a big, 686cc, EFI motor. Piggyback shocks connect to the double A-arm front suspension in front and a swingarm in the rear. The Raptor is one of a kind.

CAN-AM DS450 X mx ($9199)
The Can-Am Motoworks team has won everything in sight for 2011, and this is the machine behind it all. The X mx is aimed at hardcore MX racing and decked out with wider A-arms and axle, bringing the width to 50 inches. It has upgraded suspension and wheels, plus nerf bars, bumpers and a very cool color scheme.

CAN-AM DS450 X xc ($8999)
For cross-country racing, the X xc version of the DS450 comes ready to go straight to the GNCC start line. The width is narrower than the X mx model, but it has upgraded suspension, wheels and tires, plus caster-adjustable aluminum A-arms. It also has the addition of nerf bars, bumpers, an aluminum skid plate and a distinctive look.

CAN-AM DS450 ($7799)
The DS450 is the platform on which all of Can-Am’s championship winners are based. The DS450 has a Rotax single-cylinder motor and a composite steel/aluminum frame. The liquid-cooled, DOHC motor’s top end is actually taken directly from the Aprilia RSV1000 sport bike, with its massive intake valves and throttle body.

HONDA TRX450R ($7999)
Honda’s 450 sport quad is officially back after a brief hiatus. It didn’t change in that time, aside from its appearance. It now comes in the very cool-looking white-and-orange scheme that once was reserved only for a special edition. It still has the Unicam motor design, which is said to have the simplicity of a single cam with the rpm of a double cam.

KAWASAKI KFX450R ($8099)
Kawasaki has done very well in the pages of Dirt Wheels over the past two years. A race-team replica KFX450R dazzled our test riders in a modified 450MX shootout, and the stocker won our cross-country shootout, thanks mostly to having a reverse gear. In stock form, the KFX is narrow enough for trails and fast enough for the track.

YAMAHA YFZ450R ($8599)
This is the most ready-to-race quad ever built. The Yamaha 450R was designed by racers with competition in mind. It still meets CARB and EPA rules for noise and emission, but in stock form, it is a full 50 inches wide and has top-notch suspension. It also has excellent quality wheels, tires, handlebars and brakes.

YAMAHA YFZ450 ($6799)
Yamaha has some very smart people at the helm. They know the economy isn’t in the greatest shape, so they responded by offering a bargain. The YFZ450 is essentially the original carbureted YFZ with more affordable parts sprinkled here and there. The bottom line is that it’s priced more like an entry-level 400 than what it is—a pro-level ATV.

HONDA TRX400X ($6299)
The Honda 400 is credited with revitalizing the sport quad industry 12 years ago. It has been upgraded and restyled several times since then, but it remains an excellent-handling, trail-width quad with a reliable, air-cooled, four-valve motor. It has reverse, electric start, a manual clutch and five-speed gearbox. It gets a new color combo for 2012.

A few years ago, this was the 400 that beat all the 450s in the National MX Championship. Suzuki is apparently hoping that history will repeat itself, because the R450 has been dropped from the line, leaving the 400 as Suzuki’s main sport quad once again. It is fuel injected these days and still quite competitive on the trail.

YAMAHA RAPTOR 350 ($5499)
Since the days of the legendary Warrior, Yamaha’s 350 sport quad has been reborn a number of times, but the essence of the Warrior is still alive in the Raptor 350. It has a simple, reliable air-cooled motor with a good old Mikuni carb, a manual clutch and a six-speed gearbox. These days, it has reverse and Raptor styling.

The Trail Blazer is a very basic two-wheel-drive machine with an air-cooled, four-stroke motor, a CV transmission, and single-lever braking for all four wheels. It has a fairly long travel suspension in the rear, at 10.5 inches. It got a cosmetic makeover two years ago, and, in 2012, it will be available in a new color scheme of white and blue.

ARCTIC CAT 300DVX ($4099)
Arctic Cat’s take on 2WD sport quad riding has a definite utility feel. The 300DVX has a 270cc motor with a CV transmission, reverse and a driveshaft. It’s essentially the same machine as the 300 Utility, but without the racks and with sportier styling. The DVX is listed as having more suspension travel this year.

KYMCO MONGOOSE 300 ($3749)
You can see a lot of shared DNA in the Kymco Mongoose and the Arctic Cat 300. Kymco makes many parts for other ATV and motorcycle manufacturers, including such upscale brands as BMW. The Mongoose has a CV transmission, a driveshaft, reverse and a 270cc, liquid-cooled motor.

CAN-AM DS250 ($3799)
Can-Am’s DS250 has the only liquid-cooled motor from a major manufacturer in the 250 class. It has an automatic CV transmission, hydraulic brakes and single-shock rear suspension. It also has full lights for night operation. The DS250 is rated for 14-year-old kids, meaning it must adhere to a max unregulated speed of 38 mph.

HONDA TRX250X ($4299)
The Honda 250X is actually a 225. Like the quads in Honda’s utility line, the X has a longitudinal motor with a driveshaft. The coolest part about the TRX is the SportClutch, which is actually two clutches in line—a manual one and a centrifugal one—that allows you to learn the art of the clutch without consequences.
APEX 250
Apex is a group of dedicated quad nuts in Arizona who design high-end race quads that major manufacturers won’t build. The 250 has a five-valve YZ250F motorcycle motor stuffed into a competition-quad chassis. The frame and many of the components are manufactured overseas, but the engineering is as American as the Grand Canyon.
YAMAHA RAPTOR 250 ($4599)
If you find someone who doesn’t love the Raptor 250, call the doctor. He’s sick. The Raptor 250 is fun for beginners and experts because it’s light and handles so well. The old-school air-cooled motor isn’t particularly powerful, but in the world of 250 sport quads, there isn’t much competition from major manufacturers. We still wish it had reverse.

The Phoenix is a fun little machine, designated Y14 (for riders 14 years old and older). It has double A-arm front suspension, long-travel swingarm rear suspension and a CV transmission with reverse. It has disc brakes in the front and a drum in the rear. This is a great quad for a beginner or a veteran who just isn’t in a hurry.

YAMAHA RAPTOR 125 ($3399)
Yamaha likes to explore strange little corners of the ATV market. The Raptor 125 has essentially the same chassis as the Raptor 250, but with a smaller, stone-axe-simple 125 four-stroke motor. It turns out that having an admittedly slow motor in a premium, high-tech chassis is a recipe for sheer fun. No reverse, just a manual, five-speed gearbox.