500cc 4×4 SHOOTOUT: Can-Am vs. Honda vs. Polaris

If you were a fly on the wall of the boardroom at all of the major ATV manufacturers, you would hear them say that the 500cc utility/4X4 ATV class has the most sales of any ATV category. It may not be the most profitable since in some cases they are now basically like the big 700–1000cc machines feature-wise, just with a smaller piston and price. But if you want people to buy your brand, a good 500-class machine will attract them. Recently, Honda, Polaris and Can-Am have all responded and have released new models.

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CAN-AM
Can-Am’s offering is probably the most solid. They took some proven suspension and engine technology and attached it to a proven chassis and left out a couple of bells and whistles to come up with the Outlander 500L. The L still has EFI, IRS and EPS (three modes, in fact) and a V-twin engine. The biggest difference between this model and the standard Outlander is that it doesn’t have fancy LED lights, dual taillights, rubber-coated composite racks or the digitally encoded security system. We were not fans of any of those features anyway. Our test unit, the DPS model, still has aluminum wheels, steel racks that accept the Link accessory system, and great storage for $7999. The Outlander 450L, which uses the same components, starts at $6399 without EPS.

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HONDA
Honda’s mid-sized 4×4 stable actually has six Rubicon models, nine Rancher (420cc) models and a standard Foreman that all range in price from $6200 up to $9600.The 475cc Foreman only comes with a solid-axle swingarm suspension and uses a manual transmission. The Ranchers are all powered by a 420cc engine and come in many different transmission and suspension configurations. For this test we are using the feature- filled Rubicon 500 with IRS, EFI, EPS and Honda’s dual-clutch, automatic, five-speed transmission (DCT). It’s the highest-priced machine in the comparison at $9149 and only slightly more expensive than the Yamaha Grizzly 550 at $8699. During the test we did spend a little time on the manual foot-shift version, too, to get a feel for it.

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POLARIS
Polaris has had a winning 500cc-class 4×4 since the mid-1990s with their early IRS-equipped Sportsman automatic. Recently, they have been experimenting with engine and chassis combinations, and for 2015 have two models to choose from that are both powered by the 570cc single also found in the RZR and ACE lines. Basically, the difference between the chassis are the front suspension systems. One uses a dual-A-arm setup like the discontinued Sportsman 550 had, and the other is a MacPherson strut set up like the original 500 used. The Sportsman 570 with the dual-A-arm front suspension system sells for $8500 and only comes with EPS. Both have IRS and EFI. For this test we are using the MacPherson-strut-equipped machine with EPS selling for $7399, plus another $500 for the camo. The non-EPS version sells for $6499.

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POWER AND SPEED
Can-Am’s proven four-valve, overhead-cam, liquid-cooled V-twin powers the 500. It has a high/low fully automatic CVT transmission, and BRP claims the mill puts out 46 horsepower. The Polaris ProStar’s dual-overhead-cam, four-valve, single-cylinder powerplant has a claimed 44-horsepower output. Honda has a longitudinally mounted, OHV single churning out around 35 horsepower. The transmission is complex. There is a high and low range, along with five speeds of push-button manual transmission. Or, you can leave it in full auto mode in high or low range. This test will surly tell how well the design of Honda’s drivetrain compares to more powerful CVT-equipped machines. We will see if Honda can get the power to where it’s needed better than the rest of the industry does it.

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For a quick towing test, we forced each machine to pull with a rope a 1400-pound RZR S 900 (with driver) placed in neutral up a 30-degree, off-camber, steep dirt road. It was about the limit of what any 4×4 could do out in a typical trail or work situation. We were surprised that all three machines preformed equally. They all made it to just about the same point on the hill when their tires started slipping. All three machines were very stable, and none of them wanted to squat or go off-course with the heavy load. So, we consider them all equally good for towing. For pure acceleration on flat ground in high gear, the Polaris took the top spot. It would jump off the line quicker than the other two and posted a higher top speed at 67 mph. The Outlander came in a distant second at 62 mph, and the Honda brought up the rear at 48 mph.
But on the trail, where power really counted, the Can-Am was lacking and was very soft down low, making it hard to get over some tough obstacles. We think it’s just a matter of EFI tuning, but it needs to provide more grunt. The Honda had power anywhere you needed, just not arm-jerking power. The low range was handy in the rocks, and the tight trails and high range were great on the flats. It just was no speed racer, and the machine required a lot of shifting to have fun on more aggressive trails. The Polaris had more than enough power in high or low range, and it was noticeable over the other two. The Sportsman wins in the power category easily.

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STORE MORE
We put high importance on storage opportunities that an ATV might have. Sure, the rack capacities are nice for big loads and chores, but we tend to have the need to carry smaller items too. On trail rides, we like to carry trash bags for trail clean-up, lunches, bottles of water, tools, etc. It’s nice to have on-board storage boxes that can fit these items quickly without having to worry about strapping or securing. The Sportsman 570 has the best storage opportunities, with an under-rack box up front for a wide variety of items, as well as a watertight cargo box behind the back of the seat. You can basically carry twice as much stuff easily on the Sportsman as you can on the Outlander. The Outlander, though, does have a decent-sized 2.9-gallon box that is integrated into the rear cargo rack. It works great and comes in very handy. Honda’s on-board storage is limited to a small rear box and an even smaller fender-mounted cubby that is barely big enough to fit a pair of gloves in. This disappointment carries across the entire Honda ATV line. As for rack capacities, things are pretty consistent between Honda and Polaris. Honda recommends a limit of 99 pounds on the front rack and 187 pounds out back. Polaris is slightly less at 90 pounds up front and 180 in the rear. Both Polaris racks are primarily plastic. The Can-Am is rated at about 20 percent more cargo, with a 120-pound limit up front and 240 in the rear. The Honda racks have the most tie-down points, but both Polaris and Can-Am have uniquely branded accessory cargo items that specifically connect to their rack systems. Of course, Honda has a line of rack bags, baskets and accessories available at the dealer as well.

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RIDE MORE
Overall, comfort is a key to enjoying hours in the saddle, and suspension construction is where that comfort comes from. All three machines go about this part of the game differently. Honda uses the most typical setup with dual-A-arm-style suspension on all four corners. The front end has 7.28 inches of travel, and the rear has 8.46 inches of movement. All four shocks are only preload adjustable. The setup works awesome over a variety of terrain. You can pound the bumps, slam the rocks, and run over roots with no steering feedback and total comfort. Even with a listed ground clearance of 9.4 inches, we never seemed to scrape unexpectedly on the Honda. However, the opposite was felt on the Can-Am. It would hit rocks without warning, and rode so low in the front that we had to crank the preload all the way up to keep the ground clearance to the advertised level of 10.5 inches—but only when parked. When moving, the front end rode lower than the others. The Can-Am also uses a dual-A-arm system up front, and it moves a full 9 inches. Out back, Can-Am uses a trailing-arm suspension system with 8.8 inches of travel. The four shocks on each corner are also only preload adjustable.

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The steering was also not as good as the others. We ended up preferring Max assist, as Min was almost not noticeable when jumping from the other two machines, and Med provided too much feedback from the tires grabbing traction. On this Sportsman 570, the front end uses a non-adjustable MacPherson-strut setup that offers 8.2 inches of travel. Out back, a dual-A-arm-style system with 9.5 inches of preload adjustable travel is found. We liked the handling on the Sportsman almost as much as the Honda. The seating area was just a bit firmer and wider, and the floorboards weren’t as good, but we liked the handlebar layout and steering.

CONCLUSION
Can-Am did a great job slimming down the Outlander 500L in the price department without giving up quality or performance. Fit and finish are near the top, as well as storage and comfort too. A few little adjustments on the EFI would help the Outlander use all the motor it has inside its V-twin. The other part that keeps the 500L from being the best is the front end. It needs stronger front shocks and some tuning on the steering system. With those changes Can-Am would have a home run with this machine. Plus, the decent storage, great build quality and $7899 price tag make it a grand slam. Honda’s Rubicon finally earns its namesake with this new machine. Front differential lock and a low-range transmission allow it to climb anything without a struggle. Honda nailed the handling with the new independent rear suspension for sure. The ergonomics and build quality are first-rate. If speed and price are not huge priorities, the Rubicon should be your top choice. And, we can’t wait to see how they redesign the larger, faster Rincon in the near future.

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Polaris was going after affordability and performance with this Sportsman and had no trouble meeting that goal. The only changes we would make to this machine are to relocate the battery or build a box around it and put some heat tape on the rear storage box to keep the contents cooler. Neither of those gripes hinder performance. Yes, the fit and finish are not as great as the other two, but the Sportsman has more performance at a better price and does nothing wrong, which are two things we like very much.

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SPECS
CAN-AM OUTLANDER 500L… HONDA RUBICON 500… POLARIS SPORTSMAN… 570
Engine type………………………Liquid-cooled V-twin,……………Liquid-cooled, OHV, ……………………………..Liquid-cooled, DOHC,
4-valve SOHC 4-stroke…………2-valve 4-stroke……………………………………..4-valve, 4-stroke
Displacement……………………499cc……………………………………..475cc………………………………………………………567cc
Bore & stroke…………………….82mm x 47mm……………………….92mm x 71.5mm……………………………………..99mm x 73.6mm
Fuel system……………………….(2) 46mm EFI throttle……………..Single EFI throttle body…………………………Single EFI throttle body
bodies
Fuel capacity……………………5.4 gal…………………………………….3.9 gal……………………………………………………4.5 gal
Transmission…………………….Fully auto CVT w/ …………………Fully auto & 5-speed w/………………………..Fully Auto CVT w/
sub low/high sub low/high sub low/high
Final drive………………………..Shaft w/ auto-locking…………….Shaft w/ push button…………………………….Shaft w/ auto-locking
front diff locking diff front diff
Suspension/wheel travel:
Front………………………………..Dual A-arms w/ 9″…………………Dual A-arms w/ 7.28″…………………………….MacPherson struts w/ 8.2″
Rear………………………………..Trailing arms w/ 8.8″……………..Dual A-arms w/ 8.46″…………………………….Dual A-arms w/ 9.5″
Brakes:
Front………………………………..Single lever dual…………………..Dual hydraulic disc………………………………Single lever dual
hydraulic disc brakes hydraulic disc
Rear………………………………..Single hydraulic disc…………….Single shaft-mounted……………………………Single hydraulic disc
hydraulic disc
Tires:
Front………………………………..25×8-12……………………………………25×8-12…………………………………………………..25×8-12
Rear………………………………..25×10-12………………………………….25×10-12…………………………………………………25×10-12
Length/width/height………….83″/46″/49″……………………………….84.5″/47.4″/48.6″………………………………………83″/48″/48″
Wheelbase………………………..51″…………………………………………..50.9″……………………………………………………….50.5″
Seat height……………………….33.8″………………………………………..35.9″……………………………………………………….33.75″
Ground clearance…………….10.5″………………………………………..9.4″…………………………………………………………11″
Claimed weight………………..703 lb. (dry)…………………………….719 lb. (wet)……………………………………………713 lb. (dry)
Towing capacity……………….1300 lb…………………………………….1322 lb……………………………………………………1225 lb.
Rack capacity: f/r……………..120 lb/240 lb……………………………99 lb/187 lb…………………………………………….90 lb/180 lb
Price………………………………….$7899………………………………………$9149……………………………………………………..$7399
Contact……………………………..canamoffroad.com………………..honda.com…………………………………………….polaris.com

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