2018 POLARIS SCRAMBLER 850
— 4×4 ATV TEST: Is it a sport quad? —
By the staff of Dirt Wheels…
Most sport quad manufacturers have taken our pride and joys off of their assembly lines. In fact, only Yamaha currently produces traditional sport quads with manual transmissions and solid rear axles. The days of sliding corners on a variety of brand-new sport 450s are disappearing, and a new breed of sport quad has come to take the spotlight. Polaris calls their Scrambler a “sport performance ATV,” and, honestly, we don’t feel they are wrong.
Yes, it’s true that the machine has four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. The Scrambler 1000 even comes with electronic power steering, but until you ride one of these beasts, you won’t believe us when we say it’s the new definition of a sport quad.
The Polaris Scrambler 850 isn’t shy in the power department. It’s a twin-cylinder, EFI, 850cc, liquid-cooled four-stroke with 78 horsepower. And when you push that thumb-operated throttle, you can feel every horse. The engine is paired to a fully automatic continuously variable transmission. There are high and low forward gears, neutral, reverse and park controlled by a shifter on the right side of the gas tank.
Polaris is proud of its On-Demand all-wheel-drive system. This 4×4 system only sends power to the front wheels once it senses the rears slipping. If the system didn’t perform as well as it does, we would be bummed that the Scrambler 850 doesn’t come with a true locking front differential.
You can switch between rear and all-wheel drive through an easy-to-operate thumb-operated selector switch. The surface area of the throttle lever is large and easy to manipulate for hours of riding.
We know that our first thought when someone says sport quad are images of roosting through the dunes on a TRX250R or sliding sideways through corners on a YFZ450R. We feel the heavier AWD Scrambler’s engine and suspension performance qualify as a sport quad. It may not be as low to the ground as conventional sport quads, or nearly as light weighing in at 735 pounds, but its suspension handles the rough stuff better than you’d anticipate.
The front suspension boasts 9 inches of dual-A-arm-design travel controlled by spring-preload-adjustable shocks. Unfortunately, only the Scrambler XP 1000 comes with compression-adjustable shocks. The back of the machine has a dual-A-arm independent rear suspension system and preload-adjustable shocks. The rear travel numbers are 10.25—more or equivalent travel than a number of solid-axle sport quads!
The rear end soaks up rough chop that a straight-axle and swingarm setup can’t handle, which provides less fatigue on long rides. Due to the weight of the 850, it doesn’t handle whoop sections as well as the 450 that is half the weight. Also, jumping a hefty 4×4 machine isn’t as confidence-inspiring but it has the capability.
The machine corners quite well for its size, and the bar isn’t difficult to turn. Our biggest gripe is that the 850 doesn’t come with power steering. We thoroughly enjoyed the smooth and light feeling of our 2017 Scrambler 1000’s EPS. However, the 850 isn’t difficult to pilot. You only notice a lack of power steering in tight trail sections with lots of corners.
The 850 cockpit is roomy and slender from the gas tank to the running boards, at least in 4×4 terms. The handlebar position is tall enough for gangly riders, and the hand controls are comfortable for small or large hands. We wouldn’t mind a little bit of more floorboard traction for our feet, but we feel comfortable sitting or standing while riding.
The braking system employs a single brake lever on the left handlebar that actuates the hydraulic disc brakes on all four wheels, while a foot-controlled lever applies to the rear wheels only. The multi-brake lever is where a clutch lever is on manual-shift quads. The brakes are strong on the Scrambler, and it’s surprising how quickly you get used to the single lever on the handlebar to slow you down.
GET TO WORK
Sport 4×4 quads are becoming advanced enough to outperform solid-axle sport quads, but the 4x4s still reach back to their roots as work machines. The Scrambler 850 comes with a front storage rack that holds up to 25 pounds and a rear storage rack that can hold up to 50 pounds. Sitting directly below the rear rack is a 1-gallon cargo bin. A rear hitch receiver comes stock and can handle the Polaris’ towing capacity of 1500 pounds.
The Scrambler sips from the 5.25-gallon gas tank when you aren’t heavy on the throttle. Use all 78 ponies and the gas goes away fairly quickly, but not nearly as fast as the XP 1000.
Polaris included dual 50-watt headlights that have high- and low-beam modes for riding at night. There is a single taillight. The gauge has many features, including a speedometer, digital odometer, hour meter, tachometer, trip meters, fuel gauge and more.
Riding the Scrambler is a treat. The power of the 850 comes on strong in the mid- to top-end range, and it is perky down low but could use a little more torque. That could simply be a clutching alteration. Low range on the Scrambler is strong and works quite well on inclines and if you are scrawling over boulders, but we mainly run in high range.
The ProStar engine doesn’t have Active Descent Control or an Engine Braking System, but we don’t mind. We like to maintain momentum down hills when riding fast, and the lack of ADC and EBS lets the rider rely on the brakes to slow them down.
We have grown to enjoy the four-wheel braking. The brakes on the Scrambler are strong, but we wouldn’t mind even stronger brakes when we are coming into sections a little hot. The 850 weighs over 700 pounds, and slowing that down is no easy task.
Polaris designed their suspension on this machine quite well. It doesn’t come with the plush and adjustable upgraded shocks that the XP 1000 has, but they fare pretty well. We wouldn’t mind a smoother ride hitting larger whoops or chop, but the suspension soaks up the small chop fine.
The Scrambler has a high center-of-gravity feeling in corners, but it is generally easy to manage with added body language on the quad. The seat is easy to move around on and the plastics don’t get in the way.
The 2018 Scrambler 850 is priced at $9799 and comes in a Velocity Blue color scheme that incorporates Hi-Vis Yellow. Its bigger counterpart, the Scrambler XP 1000, comes with aluminum wheels, electronic power steering, a more powerful engine, dual exhausts and better shocks for a much heftier price tag of $13,299, which may be worth it to some. This machine will never provide the same feeling as the light, nimble solid-axle sport quads we love. There isn’t much like shredding a 450 or slinging roost on a 700, but the sport 4x4s thrive in the chop, rocks and roots that are the bane of solid-axle machines. That is why sport 4x4s are chipping away at the market and advancing every year.
You don’t have to be up in years to switch to a Polaris Scrambler. We can’t wait to see what improvements they make on it in the future. Maybe they can find a way to have it shed 100 pounds and handle even better! Go to www.polaris.com to check out the rest of their lineup of ATVs and UTVs.
2018 POLARIS SCRAMBLER 850
Engine Twin-cylinder, SOHC, liquid-cooled 4-stroke
Fuel system EFI
Fuel capacity 5.25 gal.
Transmission Automatic CVT
Final drive Shaft
Front Dual A-arms w/ 9.0″
Rear Dual A-arms w/ 10.25″
Front Dual hydraulic discs
Rear Dual hydraulic discs
Ground clearance 11.5″
Curb weight 735 lb.
Payload capacity 290 lb.
Towing capacity 1500 lb.
Colors ..Velocity Blue