Today’s 4×4 quads are getting so fun, they rival that of pure sport quads. Some have 1000cc engines and nearly a foot of wheel travel. Using CVT transmissions and full floorboards, they are easy to control and a blast to ride. In many situations, we like to ride a modern 4×4 as much as we do a pure sport trail machine. To find out which machine was actually more fun to ride, we put the hottest sport 4×4, the Polaris Scrambler, against the king of trail and dunes, the Yamaha Raptor, in a grudge match. We took the two on several long trail rides to see just how much fun they can provide.

Price-wise, the two are quite different. The Polaris is quite expensive at $12,000. But for that money, you do get a bigger engine, four-wheel drive, floorboards and power steering. The Raptor is not cheap, either. Starting at $7700, it’s one of the most expensive sport quads you can buy. It has a strong single-cylinder engine, lightweight aluminum frame and a 300-pound weight advantage.

What is very comparable is the wheel-travel numbers. Polaris gives the Scrambler dual A-arms up front with 9 inches of wheel travel. Dual A-arms are also used at the rear end with an incredible 10.25 inches of travel. The Raptor, too, uses dual A-arms up front and is supplied with 9 inches of wheel travel. Out back, a standard, solid-axle swingarm is used with 10.1 inches of movement.  Our test mule actually has another $1000 invested in it in the form of more aggressive tires and a Barker’s slip-on exhaust system.


Although these two powerplants are significantly different, their power-to-weight ratio is similar. Both have smooth, torquey four-stroke mills that are exciting to ride. The Scrambler and many other 4x4s use a twin-cylinder engine. In this case, it’s a parallel design with 850cc and 70 horsepower. Factor in the 745-pound (dry) weight reading and the machine pushes just over 10 pounds per horsepower.

Yamaha powers this Raptor with a single-cylinder, manual-shifting, five-speed, chain-driven mill that produces 45 horsepower. Measuring 422 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio is nearly identical at just over 10 pounds to each horsepower.


We could talk about numbers all day, but that’s not very fun. For this story we want to concentrate more on seat-of-the-pants feel. To do this, we took the two machines on several trail loops and small tracks and came up with some surprising conclusions. We didn’t race around the loops, we actually ran at a comfortable speed more typical of a fast paced trail ride. We didn’t abuse the machines for all-out speed. Our pace was consistent and comfortable on both machines. We left out the obvious dune and mud/4×4 areas. While the Scrambler could handle the dunes pretty well, the Raptor is way more fun and easier to slide around and jump in the dunes than any 4×4. We know 2WD sport quads can navigate some mud bogs and sloppy trails, but there’s is no match for full-coverage fenders and 4WD through the stuff.

Our first loop was a 10-mile run with a mix of fast trails, smooth sand washes and a few whoops. The second loop was shorter and a bit tougher, with steep climbs, slippery descents and brutal rock gardens that could destroy tries or the undercarriage of any quad.

We lapped trail number one 12 seconds faster on the Raptor. It excelled in the sandy turns where you could control rpm with the clutch. It was easy to pull away from the CVT-equipped Scrambler out of every corner. In the whoops, you could keep it pinned and get the front end light and not worry about bottoming out or taking a bad hop.

In the sections of loose hardpack or rutted trails, it was evident the Raptor needed a steering stabilizer. Even without trying to, you are forced to saw back and forth on the handlebars just to keep the machine going straight. You also feel like you are going much faster on the Raptor just by the amount of input the rider has to give the machine.

On trail number two, the Scrambler found its advantage and finished this lap 13 seconds faster than the Raptor. The first two miles of rocky trail were easily navigated on the big IRS-equipped machine. The rider barely had to stand up or turn to avoid rocks. Line selection on the Scrambler was not nearly as important as it is on any sport quad. If you heard a rock hit the skid plate of the Scrambler, it was nice knowing the rock was just sliding off the plastic rather than smacking a chain or brake rotor of a sport quad.

The only time the straight-axle sport quad held an advantage was over the off-camber trails. Its more stable footprint gave the rider much more confidence than you had on the taller IRS-equipped quad, as it tended to lean downhill. This is one of those areas where separate front and rear brakes would come in handy. On the other hand, when our riders got tired, they loved the ease of use of the CVT transmission instead of having to reach for a clutch or bother with shifting. The bigger, softer seat on the Scrambler and full floorboards were definitely a nice luxury in some of the rougher situations as well.

On even longer rides, we would definitely choose to upgrade the suspension on any sport quad. No matter if you used top-of-the-line OEM products or aftermarket equipment, you would still shell out less money than you have to for the Scrambler. But our Scrambler comes with great Fox shocks as standard equipment, giving you what you pay for. However, we wish that $1200 price tag came with more than a small storage box.


No matter what, getting out and exploring the world behind the bars of an ATV is a blast. A sport quad is still the vehicle of choice if you are into sliding it sideways around every turn and is number one for thrill seekers wanting to pop the clutch and ride with the front tires pointing straight up at the sky. Jumps, whoops and off-camber trails are also easily tackled on a lighter, more stable sport quad. If you see yourself as an aggressive rider like this, the Raptor 700 or any one of the modern-day 450s would be a great fit. Just stay out of the mud. And remember, for sand-dune riding, it’s hard to find anything better than a Yamaha Raptor.

We have always liked sport 4x4s for trail riding. The nastier the terrain, the better. One thing that bugs us is that manufacturers like Polaris and Can-Am just throw more power at the class lately rather than refine their machines. Polaris did make huge leaps when they went from the Scrambler 500 to the 850. However, we would rather see a motor like the 570 in a little more compact chassis, with added features like onboard air, GPS units and storage before bigger powerplants.

The Scrambler 850 is great, though. Both of our test riders (young and old) during this shoot were much happier riding the Scrambler than the Raptor. It’s a lot easier to ride, more comfortable and just as fast in just about every situation. It’s still not our dream trail machine. That one does not yet exist. But until it does, we are more than happy to put many more miles on the Polaris Scrambler 850.


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