All of the manufacturers sell mini ATVs aimed at kids 12 years and older. Only Arctic Cat and Polaris sell utility-styled kids machines. Offering quads to kids that may look like the ones their parents own is a great business idea. And not every parent rides a Suzuki LT-R450, Yamaha Raptor or a Polaris Outlaw, so Polaris was smart to be the first one in this market with their Sportsman 90 back in the year 2000.
Although it looks like it, the $2500, Polaris Sportsman 90 is not four-wheel drive. It does have front and rear racks, full fenders and floorboards just like dad’s hunting or work rig does.
The small Sportsman is powered by an 89cc, air-cooled, SOHC, two-valve, four-stroke engine. That electric starting motor is mated to a fully automatic, CVT transmission with a reverse gear. Not too many minis have a reverse gear. Beyond this, power is transferred to the solid rear axle through a chaindrive system. Rear suspension travel moves with a single-shock swingarm six full inches. Up front, single A-arms handle five full inches of movement.
Our riders, Ronnie Rhodes, and Brody Penner could control the little Sportsman as well as Daryl Rath does with his 850cc GNCC racer. It turns sharply and is stable with a little body English.
Braking is handled with drums front and rear, utilizing separate hand levers for each. That’s strange, because Polaris doesn’t even have separate levers on their full-sized machines. But we are glad they installed them on this machine.
What they do have in common is a pod-style headlight in the center of the bars. On the mini, there are two working, daytime running light for safety mounted in their front grill. Other safety features include a throttle limiter and a whip flag. Polaris also gives a free helmet with every new mini ATV purchase.
The utility-style bodywork does a great job protecting little legs and hands from touching hot engine parts. However, kids this age should start learning how to do some maintenance on their machines—or at least helping with those duties.
The underside of the Sportsman could use a little more protection. The oil drain plug is very vulnerable to rocks, although we have not damaged ours yet.
Just like a full-sized utility ATV, the Sportsman 90 has working front and rear racks. They both have tie-down points and capacities of 15 pounds (front) and 30 pounds (rear), so junior can carry pretty much whatever he or she wishes. There is also a small storage box under the seat, big enough for a PB&J and a juice box.
The overall weight for the machine is high for a mini at 305 pounds, but if junior keeps the rubber down, the weight should not be an issue. If he doesn’t, the smallest Sportsman may not be able to be uprighted. On the positive side, the reverse gear will allow kids to back out of tight situations that trap some riders, or at least give them the opportunity to ride not push the quad out of trouble.
To haul the mini, you need a little more than mom’s SUV. Overall measurements are over 61 inches long, almost 37 inches wide and 38.5 inches tall. A small pickup would transport this machine fine. Under the frame, four inches of ground clearance is offered, and the mini Ute has a large, two-gallon gas tank.
This mini has a keyed ignition controlling an electric starter and an automatic choke. Starting is easy, and a backup kickstarter will also get the mini fired up in case of a dead battery.
Real working racks have a 15-pound capacity up front and 30 pounds on the back. There are areas to hook tie-downs or ropes, if the chores turn heavy-duty.
Warm-up time is minimal, so your little riders won’t get bored and move on to something else. Revving the engine after initial warm-up can be done thanks to the neutral setting in the transmission. Some minis do not have a neutral or even a reverse gear.
The Sportsman is aimed at riders 12 and older, but we think younger, larger kids will be able to handle it just as well. All of the levers and controls are kid-sized and well-placed. The steering does not seem to be heavier because of the extra weight of the utility-styled bodywork.
Power from the little four-stroke engine is very peppy. It lugs around smoothly at about half throttle and will actually throw a little roost at full throttle. Our riders had no trouble riding through deep sand and up or down safe hills. Fully loaded, the engine still ran strong. The calibrations on the transmission were spot-on with this machine. Even the top speed was respectable at 25 mph on hard ground.
Handling is about average on this mini. It goes over the bumps well and can handle small ditches fine. It does find its limits over jumps with flat landings. The chassis does have a nice big, comfy saddle that helps soak up some of the larger hits. The provided five inches up front and six out back are generous for a mini. Numbers this big are usually reserved for race minis or larger machines.
Cornering characteristics are good if the speeds are low. The machine is not tippy, and it doesn’t two-wheel under normal circumstances, plus the steering is quick. If the rider gets too aggressive, again, the limits are found, but the ill-effects are minor. A slight push is felt under acceleration, but that’s the worst of it.
The Sportsman 90 is powered by an air-cooled, single overhead cam engine. It has a forward, neutral and reverse gear. We like when minis have reverse. Most of them don’t. You try telling a small kid to push a 200-plus-pound quad backwards out of a jam.
Polaris gets an A+ for effort with the Sportsman 90. Our test riders also give it an A for the enjoyment factor. We had zero complaints about lack of power or fitment issues. The huge two-gallon tank is a great asset that gives kids hours of enjoyment without bothering their parents for a fill-up. Parents will also like safety features such as the throttle limiter, safety flag and, of course, the free helmet. After weeks of testing, this little Ute is holding up great even after being thrashed by all of the neighborhood kids.
When the economy picks back up, expect to see more manufacturers jump into this segment of the market. Machines like this help build brand loyalty and keep customers coming back to the dealer. Polaris dealers have another kid-sized hit on their hands to go along with the Outlaw 90 and the two kid-sized RZRs already offered.