2014 POLARIS ACE SPORTSMAN
We repeatedly climbed this ugly stair-step section at varying speeds. It was rare to hear the full skid plate kiss the rock, and the Ace never hesitated. The roof and the small cross-cab bag are Polaris accessories.
Polaris is having an amazing year introducing new models, and you would think that the company would pick a front and plan a battle. But instead, it has been a full-on assault on all fronts. How else do you explain the XP 1000 4, the monster-mash Scrambler 1000 sport 4×4, the Sportsman Ace and the Sportsman 570 EPS in the same model year? In terms of sheer performance, the Ace is clearly the bratty little brother here. In terms of impact on the market, though, the Ace may just be the 800-pound gorilla. Certainly the Ace as a single-seat OHV is not unique. Honda has been there and gone, but the Ace is far from an Odyssey when it comes to features and performance, and it is clearly aimed at a different market. However, you may remember that Polaris came up with a thing called a RZR a few years back. It was different, too, and look what that did to the sport of off-road.
The curious limestone makeup of the Hidden Falls Park leaves these mud holes littered around in low areas. Despite water and hidden holes dunking the front tire, we stayed dry and comfortable.
To see the direction of the Ace, you need only look at the name: Sportsman. Not Ranger or RZR, despite the supportive, comfortable, bolstered bucket seat and the protective cage. We’ve heard that the Ace is a 4×4 trail machine rather than a single-seat mini RZR with speed and performance in mind. Remember that effective trail quads put Polaris on the road today, and the company hasn’t forgotten that not all off-roaders are racers or have sand dunes handy.
NEW SKIN, NEW BONES
You can see how compact the machine really is. Polaris did a masterful job of shrinking the machine while leaving a large and comfortable cockpit. The seat is well-padded and supportive.
Compared to the RZR 570 that is considered as compact as UTVs go, the Ace is much smaller, sharing the 48-inch width, suspension travel, tire and wheel size, and suspension design with the Sportsman 570. Obviously the frame is unique, with the rider/driver sitting inside rather than on top. No doubt it was an exaggeration, but one Polaris engineer described the Ace as having the Sportsman’s front suspension and the RZR 570’s rear suspension. The transmission and half shafts are from the 570, so the drivetrain on the Ace should be bulletproof with just 32 horsepower on tap. Polaris reps also spent a good deal of time comparing the Ace to the Sportsman 570 Touring two-seater ATV. The Touring wheelbase is 5.5 inches longer than the single-seat Sportsman but 5.5 inches shorter than the Ace, though the overall length of the Ace is only 4 inches greater than the Touring.
We didn’t encounter much sand, but the Ace was perfectly mannered in it. This turn had a sharp, steep approach forced by a rut, and we weren’t able to cut tight enough to miss the water completely.
The brakes, shifting, drive system, engine braking and four-wheel drive are all great, but are standard Polaris fare and no longer unique. Where the Ace stands out in the Polaris line is the engine. Polaris was free with the 32-horsepower claim—one we have no reason to doubt judged by performance—but stingy with the displacement numbers. We feel that the 327cc in the spec panel is pretty close. If the engine were a 400 or 450, it wouldn’t have needed to be all new, and the mill is very compact and modern in architecture with dual cams and four valves. The engine builds power with prodigious rpm rather than torque, but it is very spunky and responsive, enough so that the tow rating is a healthy 1500 pounds. Polaris claims the engine is extremely fuel efficient, and we saw the truth of that in the on-trail consumption.
This is a completely modern engine design with two cams and four valves. Don’t expect to find this many chromed parts inside your engine.
This stripped version shows the chassis design. It mounts the fuel under the seat, the engine right behind the seat and the air intakes cleverly on either side of the cage.
Polaris is looking to bring new off-roaders into the sport, and we have to believe that the cab frame will appeal to those worried about falling from an ATV. When the driver is in the machine, it looks shrink-wrapped around him (or her), but the Ace is extremely easy to enter and exit. The high-backed, 4-inch-adjustable (fore and aft) bucket seat is paired with an adjustable steering wheel with 3.5 inches of tilt to fit the compact machine to any driver. One 6-foot-2 driver claimed it was the most comfortable and roomy UTV he has driven. The seat has a three-point seat belt and has side bolsters. An integrated dead pedal gives you a left footrest, while the right tucks into the integrated heel pocket for the gas pedal. Bad news for two-footed drivers: you have to use your right foot for the brake and gas. This car may look small, but it is designed for amazing room inside with plenty of comfort for all-day rides.
With the radiator this high, it is out of harm’s way. The suspension works fine for the intended use of the machine, and despite the fact that the engine is right behind the seat, we never felt heat in the cab.
The floor hump to clear this driveshaft is the reason you can’t drive the Ace two-footed. Your feet ride on either side of the shaft.
ONE OF A KIND
The relatively small engine with a long, usable rpm range works to drive the Ace forward with amazing traction in any situation that we encountered, even wet rocks.
So what kind of OHV is the Ace? For the time being it is in a new category. It must be a UTV of sorts, but one that will fit and be legal on many more trails than any two-seat machine. With a price of $7499, it is $200 more than the single-seat Sportsman 570 and $200 less than the Touring. The weight difference between the Ace and the 4×4 quads is just over 100 pounds at 835 pounds. Most UTVs struggle hard to get near 1000 pounds, and many are much heavier.
This machine fits in a short-bed, full-size pick-up for sure, and probably in many of the mid-size trucks we call mini trucks these days, so it is priced like a quad, hauls like a quad and fits on trails like a quad—but it has protection like a UTV. Polaris will have accessories to enclose or partially enclose the cab for inclement weather.
TRAILS AND WORK
Polaris had a unit on hand fitted with many of the company’s products designed specifically for the Ace. You can’t see it, but there is a full sound system under the roof. There are closed-cab options too.
We were fortunate to do our testing at Hidden Falls Off-Road Adventures Park near Marble Falls, Texas. Our first impression was that the Ace was cute and we should have brought a kid to drive it. Being able to climb in easily and find such great comfort was a welcome surprise. Hidden Falls gave us a nice variety of terrain, and it was fun in spite of the fact that Texas, like much of the West, is facing drought conditions. We still had plenty of rocks, tight woods trails and a few maintained roads. No matter what terrain we selected, the Ace was a willing partner. The small engine craves rpm, but pulls away from a stop easily and accelerates strongly. Top speed is just the far side of 50 mph. Because the powerband is so wide, the Ace really never needed low range in Hidden Falls. We tried it anyway and were amazed. Some machines get jumpy and lunge forward in low range, but the Ace sort of oozes up rock steps and boulder jumbles with the tires sticking like glue. It is hard to imagine a place that the Ace wouldn’t go. When we tested the Sportsman 570 EFI that remains a staff favorite 4×4, we said, “If you are looking for a throw-dirt, wild-slide radical wheelie machine, this isn’t it.” That quote applies to the Ace even more. If you slide it, choose a surface that is hyper-slippery with nothing to trip the wheels. If you are sliding this machine, you are wasting it. Get it out on technical trails and you will have a blast and truly realize why Polaris built it. When you are zipping in and out of trees in the woods, you will be scratching the surface of the fun. Go find some rock-crawling and mud-slopping to have some real fun.
Polaris designed the Ace to be fun for recreation, easy to drive, and convenient for hunting, fishing, camping and work. It looks like all sport and no business, but it has front and rear cargo capacity and a 2-inch hitch. Add in the ease of climbing in and out, and we would absolutely use the Ace for work. Even though it is large for a quad, it is petite for a UTV, and as such it is extremely nimble and able on tight trails. We didn’t get ridiculous, but it seemed at home with cambers. While climbing stair-step rocks, the Ace often assumed a tripod stance with one wheel in the air, but it never felt like it was protesting that treatment.
If you want the most fun with the Ace, find someplace with trails that are tight, technical and low speed. It will get up and go and play at racing, but that isn’t what it does best.
The Ace will certainly appeal to those new to off-road. It will allow less experienced off-roaders to head out with others in the family that might be more experienced. It may also agree with experienced ATV riders that are worried they might be getting a little brittle for falling off of OHVs, and the cage could let them stay in the game.
2014 POLARIS SPORTSMAN Ace
Engine 327cc, 4-stroke, DOHC
Bore x stroke TBA
Fuel system Electronic fuel injection
Fuel capacity 5.25 gallons
Starting system Electric
Final drive Shaft
Front MacPherson strut; 8.2″
Rear Dual A-arm IRS; 9.5″
Front Dual hydraulic disc
Rear Dual hydraulic disc
Ground clearance 10.25″
Total rack capacity 360 lb.
Towing capacity 1500 lb.
Curb weight 835 (dry) pounds
Color White Lightning
Instrumentation Digital gauge,
analog speedometer, odometer,
tachometer, trip meter, gear
indicator, fuel gauge, AWD
lights, DC outlet