Testing on track, trail, sand and high-speed runs

This was the epic Sport Shootout between the Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R and Bombardier’s DS 650.


Not since the halcyon days of the late eighties has there been as much excitement in the high-performance ATV ranks as there is right now. Honda got the ball rolling just a few years ago with the introduction of their excellent-handling and ex­tremely nimble FourTrax 400EX. The Honda set new standards with its sporty ride characteristics and impressive reliability record. Only Yamaha’s twin-cylinder two-stroke powered 350 Banshee beat it out in in drag racing and dune riding situations.


As you can see from this top-down view, the DS is clearly bigger, longer and wider than the other two machines. The 400EX (middle) puts the operator slightly further forward than the Raptor operator. Note how narrow the seat/tank junction is on the Raptor. It makes moving around on the machine very easy.

While the 400EX reigned supreme, there was little in the way of competition for it until the French/Canadian firm of Bombardier launched its ground-breaking DS650 in 1999. The DS had more of everything. More horsepower, more suspension, bigger, longer and wider; however, it was also considerably heavier and it also cost more. About the only thing the DS didn’t have was the ability to handle tight, woods-like trails where the quicker-handling and decidedly shorter and narrower 400EX still held a distinct advantage. But put both machines on a fast, whooped-out trail and the DS would walk away from the Honda.


Now there is a new challenger to both the mighty DS650 and Honda’s newly renamed 2001 model Sportrax 400EX. The Yamaha 660R Raptor is the latest wonder quad to debut in the big bore high-performance wars. It represents Yamaha’s top-of-the line performance quad for the 2001 season, besting the Banshee (see our comparison test in the November issue) as a better all-around track and trail quad. The question everyone wants to know is how well does it stack up against the other two?

Skid plate protection on the three quads was minimal except on the Raptor. It comes with engine, frame and swingarm skids.

The Dirt Wheels test crew and staff gathered up a new 660R Raptor, a 2001 model DS650, and a brand new Honda Sportrax 400EX to see how these top guns of the high performance quad division would fare in a no-holds-barred shootout.


The Raptor has the largest displacement, measuring out to 660cc vs. the Bombardier’s 653cc. The Sportrax comes in at 397cc. While comparing a 660 and 650 to a 400 might not seem fair, until Honda releases their new big bore sport ATV, the Sportrax 400 remains their top-of-the line high performance quad.

Honda’s newly renamed Sportrax 400EX uses a Single Overhead Cam (SOHC), four valves, and is air-cooled. It comes with an oil cooler and puts out around 28 h.p.

All three powerplants are single cylinder, four-stroke designs, with the Honda and Bombardier using four-valve heads while the Yamaha comes with a trick five-valve engine design. The extra valve on the Raptor engine enhances the revability of the engine and helps make it much quicker revving than a conventional four-valve design.

Yamaha’s 660R Raptor engine uses Single Overhead Cams (SOHC), five valves, and is liquid-cooled. On the dyno it put out 38h.p. The Raptor’s power comes on lower in the rpm spread and lasts longer than the DS’s higher peak power.

While the DS and Raptor feature liquid-cooled engines, the Sportrax simply relies on air-cooling with an added oil cooler. All three use dry sump lubrication systems and come with counter-balanced engines to lessen engine vibration. While the Honda and Yamaha use Single OverHead Cams (SOHC) the Bombardier has a Double OverHead Cam (DOHC).

The DS650 four-stroke engine uses Double Overhead Cams (DOHC), four valves and is liquid-cooled. It showed the most horsepower of any of the competitors with 43 h.p.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor and Bombardier’s DS 650.

The Sportrax comes with a 35mm Keihin CV carb while the DS uses a 42mm Mikuni. The Raptor actually uses two 33mm Mikuni carbs to get the fuel to the combustion chamber, which maximizes the five-valve design. Fuel tank capacities range from 3.5 gallons on the DS to 3.2 gallons on the Raptor and 2.6 gallons on the 400EX.

All three quads come with manual-clutch, manual shift, five-speed transmissions. However, the Raptor has a reverse gear while the other two do not. Electric start is standard equipment on each machine but there are no provisions for any backup pull or kick starters on any of them. While the handlebar mounted choke is easy to reach on the Raptor, the DS and EX chokes are much more awkward to find in their somewhat hidden location under the gas tank.


When we lined the machines up and took out our tape measures, the similarities and differences between the three high performance quads readily stood out. The DS clearly is the king of weights and measures. It has a huge 52-inch wheelbase while the Raptor comes in at 49 and the Honda measures 48.5. It is also clear that the DS is much wider than its other two competitors. It came in at a sizable 50 inches while the EX measured 45.3 and the Raptor was the narrowest of the bunch at 43.25. The Raptor is actually wider at the front than the rear, which also was unique among the three test machines. With a three-inch longer wheelbase than either the Raptor or the EX and at almost five inches wider than the other two machines, the DS650 clearly is the biggest quad in this shootout.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor and Bombardier’s DS 650.

Not surprisingly, it is also the heaviest at 460 pounds dry, versus the Raptor’s 399-pound dry weight and the EX’s feathery 375 pounds. That is almost an 85-pound dry weight difference between the DS and the Sportrax!

Sitting on each machine, we found the ergonomics, or fit, of all three to be quite good. The relationship between the seat, tank, handlebars, and footpegs felt right for all our test riders. Larger riders, anyone six feet tall and over, felt most comfortable on the bigger and wider DS650. Seat height on the Raptor and DS are almost identical. The fit and feel of the Honda 400EX and Yamaha Raptor were remarkably alike. Smaller riders (5’ 10” and under) ranked the Yamaha and Honda ahead of the DS650 in ergonomics.

The DS has the edge in ground clearance with 11.5 inches up front and 4.75 inches at the rear axle. This compares with the Honda Sportrax’s 11.1 inches up front and 4.1 on the back end. The Raptor offers the least amount of ground clearance with 9.75 up front and 3.75 at the rear axle. For rolling over logs, rocks or trail obstacles, the DS will have a slight edge over the Honda with a more decided advantage over the Raptor.

The chassis on all three vehicles are steel construction with removable aluminum rear subframes. Just in case you crash and wad the rear of the quad, you will not have to buy a completely new frame. Each quad also has a full complement of disc brakes with twin hydraulic discs up front and a single hydraulic disc brake located on the rear. Separate foot and hand controls operate the front and rear brakes.


The mighty DS also sports the most suspension travel. It comes with dual shocks mounted on dual A-arms offering 12 inches of travel up front. A single shock swingarm rear suspension offers 11.5 inches of travel on the back end.

The Raptor and Sportrax also use dual A-arm front suspension with a single shock rear swingarm on the back end. The Raptor measures out to 9.1 inches of travel up front and 8.7 on the back. The 400EX suspension came in at 8.2 up front and 9.1 on the back. The front shocks on all three machines come with five-way pre-load adjustments while the rear shocks all have pre-load, compression and rebound adjustments.


We pitted the DS650, Raptor 660R and Honda 400EX against each other on a motocross track, a trail ride, and in the sand.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R and Bombardier’s DS 650.

To see how well the machines performed against each other, we took them out to three different locations. First, a local motocross track to determine which quad is the better all-around racer. Next, we set up a trail loop that wound through the woods, hills, and dales adjoining the track. Finally, a sand test track would help our test crew find out which high performance quad was the better all-around duner in our shootout.

Our test crew consisted of highly experienced racers, trail riders and long-time dune riding fanatics. We also brought along several newer riders who did not have a lot of time on high-performance machines. That way we could get the widest range of input to help us determine a winner in out testing.

In a straight line drag race, we found that the DS650 and 660R Raptor blow away the Sportrax 400EX easily. Among the DS and Raptor, though, the contest was much closer. While the DS has a slight horsepower advantage on the top end, the Raptor tends to hook up better through the low and mid-range of their respective powerbands. In repeated drag races, the Raptor would jump out to an early lead only to have the DS stay right with it all the way to top speed.

Power-wise, dyno readings on the DS650 and Raptor confirmed our seat-of-the-pants testing. We found that the DS does indeed have more horsepower on the top end. It came in at a maximum of 43 h.p. while the Raptor puts out around 38 h.p. Dyno figures for the 400EX range between 28-30 h.p.

On the track, however, the DS and Raptor are much closer, with the Raptor’s power coming on earlier and harder than the DS’s. Only when you have a long run-out does the higher power output of the DS give it an edge in acceleration. The Honda Sportrax, by comparison gets left in the dust in the muscle category in this shootout. If just has too little to be competitive with these monster-motored performance vehicles.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor  660R and Bombardier's DS 650.
The front end of the DS650 is distinctive and stylish. It boasts the strongest headlight of the three machines.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R and Bombardier’s DS 650.

We proceeded to the motocross track to see which machine handled the jumps, bumps and corners best. The course was typical for So-Cal with hardpack, long smooth straights and lots of jumps. The Raptor consistently turned in the fastest lap times with the Bombardier and Honda following. When it comes to jumping and turning, the Sportrax 400’s nimbleness and overall smooth handling make up for some of its horsepower deficit. It carves turns nicely and was the lightest and easiest to handle off of jumps. Everyone liked how the Honda felt on the track and how easy it was to ride it at full throttle.

We could sail the 400EX and the Raptor off of jumps a bit easier than the DS, even though the suspension on the Bombardier is extremely plush. The DS tends to have a bit of a quirky feel off of big air jumps.

The extra suspension travel on the DS and its wider and longer stance give it the edge when riding through long, roller-type whoops at high speeds. In rougher, choppier terrain, the 400EX and Raptor’s suspension, even though they have less travel, seem to work better. We felt this was due more to their quicker and more predictable handling characteristics than any suspension advantage.

Most of our test crew preferred the quicker accelerating, more nimble feel of the Raptor over the DS on the motocross track. The heavier, wider, and longer DS made it somewhat harder to maneuver through a typical motocross-style track. The Honda was fun, nimble and responsive on the MX course but out of the contest when it came to power.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor  660R and Bombardier's DS 650.
Yamaha’s 660R Raptor gets our vote for the most unique front end. The sleek design makes it easy to recognize almost anywhere.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R and Bombardier’s DS 650.

We then ran all three machines on a much tighter, smaller motocross course with some small jumps and technical sections. To everyone’s surprise, the Sportrax 400EX was the clear winner! The Raptor took second followed by the DS in third. One complaint about the Raptor is that the gear spacing from first, second and third is too wide for small motocross tracks and tight trails. It was hard at times to keep it in the right gear.


When it came to riding our trail loop, the contest changed again. On a tight, twisty trail, the Honda Sportrax is much more competitive with these high horsepower haulers. The Raptor has similar dimensions to the Sportrax, giving it a light and quick feel on narrow trails. You can rail it around turns and even though it is heavier than the Honda (by a little more than 20 pounds.) you can’t really tell it on the trails.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor  660R and Bombardier's DS 650.
In a hillclimb battle royale between the 660R Raptor and the DS650, the Yamaha Raptor usually was able to nip the mighty Bombardier DS650 to the top of our test hill.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R and Bombardier’s DS 650.

The acceleration is so good on the Raptor that it outpulls the 400EX easily and stays ahead of the DS on fast, winding trails. Here the DS’s extra girth, width, and length hinder its performance. The quicker hitting and stronger low and mid range power on the Raptor also gave it a clear edge on the trail. The DS worked well when you shifted it early and let the massive torque help it accelerate out of turns, but the wide front end made it much harder to navigate through tricky ledge-type hillclimbs and narrow trails.

Our verdict for best overall trail quad was the Raptor, followed by the Sportrax and Bombardier in a close tie for second. Surprised? Well, most of our test crew felt the extra power and suspension on the DS made up for its excess weight and width on the trail.


After completing our track and trail testing, we loaded up and headed out for the nearest sand riding area. We ran the stock tires on all three machines and found that in the sand drags the DS hooked up and pulled out a slight lead over our Raptor in repeated drag runs. Even though the Raptor revs out quicker, the sand’s ability to suck up horsepower meant that the DS could sacrifice some low-end hook and take full advantage of the extra five h.p. on the top end.

Our DS pulled hard and quick through the gears with the Raptor close behind. Only when the DS hit its rev limiter at 7300 rpm did it stop building power on the top end. The Raptor, by comparison, came on early in the powerband, but since the sand absorbed the extra low-end power, you did not feel it as much. In the sand, the Honda 400EX was at its most severe disadvantage and was repeatedly mauled in our drag race comparisons. Even so, when it came to jumping and turning, the Honda still was nimble and easy to fly around on—just decidedly slower by comparison.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor  660R and Bombardier's DS 650.
All three of our shootout competitors jump well. We like the feathery lightweight feel of the Sportrax in the air. Our Raptor felt responsive and predictable off of jumps. The DS650 also had good jumping manners and the extra travel suspension gave it plenty of cush when landing.

Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R  and Bombardier’s DS 650.

The wide track and long suspension on the DS were also a great advantage in the sand. The DS is much more at home in this environment and it shows (it was actually designed as a duner). Our only complaint with it was a slight tendency of the front end to wander at high speed. Our Raptor, by comparison, felt absolutely stable at high and low speeds in the dunes. It flys straight and jumps extremely well. You do feel the excess girth on the DS when riding it aggressively in the sand. It steers well, but not as predictably as the Raptor or Sportrax.

For high-speed whoops, the extra suspension travel on the DS gives it a much more plush ride than either the Raptor or Sportrax. Our test crew felt that the slightly better top end of the DS, along with its wider stance and longer suspension travel, made it the better all-around dune-meister. But not by much. The Raptor is still a fun machine to ride in the dunes as it is responsive, quick revving, and agile. Wider A-arms, a high rev exhaust and longer travel shocks would make it a clear threat to the DS in the dunes.


Some of the other items that are important in a shootout are the overall reliability and detail features found on the participating machines. For the first time in a long while we encountered a mechanical failure with our Honda 400EX. Normally known for outstanding reliability, our test unit had the rear bearings go out after only a couple of rides. This could be due to an over-tight assembly at the factory or perhaps from a slightly bent axle incurred during jumping.

Another early problem we had was with our Yamaha Raptor when we bent the axle severely after several admittedly high jumps. We were surprised that this happened with a high-performance machine.

Our Bombardier DS650 held up remarkably well during our shootout and had no major failures whatsoever. However, the stock aluminum rims got bent up pretty quickly.

Another area we did not care for on the DS were the rear tires. The 20×11-9 Kenda Dominator knobby rear tires do not hook up the power as well as they could and wear out quickly. We feel a bigger knobby on the back end would help the overall acceleration on the DS and we plan on putting on different size and type knobbies in the near future.


At the end of our testing, we asked the $64,000 question: what machine would each test rider personally purchase in this shootout? There were some riders who said they preferred the extra suspension, power, and big-quad feel of the DS650 over the Raptor for pure dune riding. Almost everyone liked the light and nimble feel of the Sportrax 400EX for tight, technical woods riding. The fact that it is $800 less than the Raptor and $1500 less than the DS made it an attractive choice. But when it came time to decide on one final choice, virtually every test rider said they would purchase the Raptor. They all felt it had the best combination of power, agility, responsiveness, and handling to make it our choice for the best all-around high-performance quad.

The Raptor’s suggested retail price of $6499 versus the DS650’s $7199 and the Honda 400EX’s $5699 puts it right about in the middle. While it may not be perfect, it does perform admirably at almost any type of ATV riding you can imagine. It’s sleek looking, fast, fun-to-ride, and highly capable. That doesn’t mean that Bombardier DS650 owners have anything to be sorry about. The DS actually has more top-end power than the Raptor and its big quad feel is an advantage in the dunes and on wide open tracks and trails. If you like riding the dunes more than anything else, it could very well be the best machine for you.

Even the mellow Honda Sportrax 400EX is a winner. Up until this year, it was our perennial sport and high performance favorite. It is, after all, the fastest of the three on tight, twisty trails. Sure, it is down in power compared to the DS650 and Raptor 660 but with anywhere from $1500 to $800 to play with, you could add a big bore 440 kit and other performance items to make it somewhat more competitive with these monster quads.


SPECS: Honda 400EX the Yamaha Raptor 660R and Bombardier’s DS 650.

Liquid-cooled, four-valve,
DOHC, 4-stroke
100mm x 83mm
530 O-ring chain
Manual clutch, 5-speed
no reverse

460 lb.
3.5 gal.
Twin shock, double
A-arm w/12” travel Single shock
swingarm w/11.5” travel

Dual hydraulic disc
Single hydraulic disc
Bombardier Rec. Products


Air-cooled, 4-valve,
SOHC, 4-stroke
85mm x 70mm
520 O-ring chain
Manual clutch, 5-speed,
no reverse

375 lb.
2.6 gal.
Twin shock, double
A-arm, w/8.2” travel Single shock
swingarm w/9.1” travel

Dual hydraulic discs
Single hydraulic disc
American Honda

Liquid-cooled, 5-valve,
SOHC, 4-stroke
100mm x 84mm
520 O-ring chain
Manual clutch, 5-speed,
no reverse

399 lb.
3.1 gal.
Twin shock, dual A-arm,
w/9.1” travel
Single shock swingarm,
w/8.5” travel
Dual hydraulic discs
Single hydraulic disc
Yamaha Motor Corp.


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