Shootout: Kymco Maxxer vs. Polaris Scrambler vs. Yamaha Wolverine

So you have an extra $6500 in your pocket and you are thinking of getting into ATVing or even buying a second quad. What machine do you choose: a sport quad or a 4×4? Why not both? No, you can’t get two good, new, ATVs for $6500, but you can get a four-wheel-drive quad with a sport quad feel, styling and more.

In this price range, there are three machines to choose from. At the bottom of the scale, Kymco’s brand-new Maxxer 375 retails for an even $6000. Next, at $6399, Polaris offers their re-styled Scrambler 500. Lastly, Yamaha’s Wolverine 450 will also pull $6399 out of your wallet.

Can-Am has two offerings in this chassis category: the Renegade 500 ($8049) and Renegade 800 ($9699). They are great machines, but they are both way out of the under-$7000 price league that we wanted to concentrate on in this test. In the future, we may pit the winner of this contest with the Renegade 500. You can see a recent test of the all-new, power steering-equipped Renegade 800 in the January 2010 issue.

We always like it when we get to test multiple machines in the same price range that have such different engine and suspension packages. You can clearly see what works well in certain terrain and what doesn’t. This info should help you figure out which machine would be better for you.

The biggest differences are found in the suspension department. The all-new Kymco Maxxer has the package most riders look for in a 4×4. It has dual A-arms up front highlighted by an independent rear suspension system on the other end. That rear end has a single A-arm on the bottom and a single beam up top, similar to what Suzuki uses on the KingQuad line. This setup gives the most ground clearance with an even ten inches all the way under the belly pan.

Polaris provided the venerable Scrambler 500 with a MacPherson strut front suspension system and a standard swingarm rear setup. This allows for great ground clearance up front, but that advantage is reduced when obstacles reach the rear disc guard, which hangs less than five inches off the ground.

Yamaha also supplied a swingarm rear suspension on the Wolverine, but they tucked the rear disc inside one rear wheel to allow for a middle-of-the-road 8.7 inches of rear ground clearance. Up front, dual A-arms are found on the Yamaha.

Travel numbers on those suspension systems are also different. The Polaris system provides the most by over an inch up front with eight inches, and over three inches in back with 10.5 inches. The other two machines have around seven inches of movement out back, and the Kymco Maxxer moves a bit more than the Yamaha Wolverine with 6.3 inches verses a full seven inches.

Yamaha tucked the rear hydraulic disc brake inside the left rear wheel to offer the most possible ground clearance. It worked.

We like the Scrambler’s heavy-duty rear end. The only thing we would change is adding a different rotor and sprocket guard to give it more ground clearance.

Kymco’s IRS system offered a plush ride, and the swaybar kept the machine stable around corners. The plastic A-arm guards could stand to be a little stronger.

True four-wheel drive only comes if you have a “live” (locked) rear axle along with a locking front differential. Out of the three machines in this contest, only the Polaris Scrambler has this feature. Their system senses when one front wheel stops moving as fast as the other, then magnetically locks the front differential and the two front wheels together for true four-wheel drive. There are actually no buttons to push. You can move a switch on the handlebars to full-time 2WD if you wish.

The other two machines have a push-button system that takes them from 2WD to a limited-slip 4WD system. We wonder why Yamaha has not added a locking front differential system on the Wolverine yet since the company promotes it so heavily on its Grizzly models. Kymco’s MXU 500 features a locking front diff, but the 375 (which this machine was based on) does not. What we did notice is that the front and rear differentials on the Kymco are made by Arctic Cat. Interesting!

Even more differences are found in the engine compartments. Kymco’s Maxxer has the smallest mill of the trio. It also has a very basic air-cooled, four-stroke design featuring one cam and four valves. On the positive side, this motor is mated to a transmission offering a low range. The other two machines only have high-range transmissions.

Yamaha has a slightly bigger powerplant. It is also a basic four-stroke design with a single overhead cam and two valves. On the plus side, it does have liquid cooling. The Polaris four-stroke powerplant is much larger than the other two with 499cc, a single overhead cam, four valves and liquid cooling.

All three engines are carbureted with electric starters. None of the contestants feature backup kick or recoil starters. When it comes to how far each machine can travel on a tank of gas, the larger Polaris has an even four-gallon capacity, while the other two hold about a quart less. Polaris supplies a mechanical fuel gauge, while the other two machines offer digital displays that also feature speed, mileage and more.

The Scrambler does not have a dash display of any kind. It also lacks storage space of any kind. It’s unfortunate that when Polaris redesigned the bodywork on the machine, they left out that important feature. The only Pure Polaris accessory storage system offered for the Scrambler is a rear rack. You could bolt on the sano, $48 storage canister that Kawasaki offers for the Brute Force models. It attaches under the rear fender opposite the exhaust system.

Polaris does offer $39 hand guards that would bring it up to par with the stock hand guards found on the Maxxer. The Maxxer is also very limited on storage. Under the seat, you could carry one small waterbottle and a granola bar if you are lucky. The storage space under the seat on the Wolverine held a tow strap, some extra fluids and a bag of beef jerky without a problem. Hand guards would also be very welcomed on the Wolverine but are only available through aftermarket companies like Rox (, not Yamaha.

Kymco’s Maxxer engine was surprisingly strong. It was only handicapped on the wide-open trails of this test. The engine was the best asset of the Maxxer. 

The Scrambler’s liquid-cooled, 499cc engine topped the field in every drag race test. It had a higher top speed. However, with out a low-range transmission, we heated up the belt trying to climb over a steep rock ledge.

At only 421cc, the liquid-cooled Wolverine engine worked great in all terrain except the long, open trails. Here it topped out at 60 mph, according to our Garmin GPS unit.

We took these three machines around our gnarly test loop. This area features fast trails, hill climbs, rocks, snow, mud and jumps. On the faster sections of the loop, the Scrambler was unbeatable. Its 499cc engine won every drag race and hill climb by several quad lengths over the Wolverine and Maxxer. The Scrambler tops out at 65 mph, while the Wolverine only hits 60, and the Kymco Maxxer is watching their dust settle at 50 mph. These numbers were gathered with a Garmin ( GPS unit. All three engines offer good acceleration, making you feel like you are on a sport quad, not a bulky utility machine.

Stopping the three machines is a different story. From 50 mph, you can slow the Wolverine down the most controllably. It has separate front and rear brakes, which are a good idea all the time and crucial if you are not on flat ground. The Scrambler stops quickly, but the single-lever system cannot be manipulated like you sometimes need, depending on the traction you have.

Kymco’s Maxxer also has separate front/rear hand/foot brakes that were preferred by all of our testers. Especially in gnarly, steep terrain, we found ourselves only being able to reach one side of the machine or the other, so having separate hand controls was a must. We do wish the Kymco’s brakes were a little softer and had adjustable levers, because they stick out a little far. Also, the right-side foot brake pedal was in the way of a proper riding position. It needs to be reduced in size, and the rear footwell could be moved back two inches to fix the problem.

When the trail turned off-camber and nasty, all of our riders noted how they were more comfortable on the lower-riding Maxxer and Wolverine. The Scrambler is not top-heavy, but you just feel too tall riding it at severe angles. The testers also noted that the plastic footpegs on the Scrambler were slippery when wet. The other two machines have steel pegs bolted to the plastic floorboards.

The IRS-equipped Maxxer was very smooth and comfortable in most situations. However, the steering was a bit jerky when it hit a rock or rut in the trail. This is a common issue on IRS-equipped quads. A nice Precision ( steering stabilizer would help remedy the problem.

There are two sections on our 50-mile test loop where a locking front differential comes into play every time. Other factors also help get you through this part of the trail. The approach angle, center of gravity, tire size and low-end torque can make or break you. The first section is a short, steep hill with no run and no room for error. The low-range gear in the Maxxer certainly helped make it up the obstacle. We did have to do a little pushing and shoving to clear the hill. The separate hand brakes helped the process for sure. Yamaha’s Wolverine had just enough grunt to clear the hill without a helping hand. The Scrambler also had the grunt, but the four-wheel drive would not kick in until halfway up the hill. At such a slow speed with no run, momentum is lost quickly. The tall Scrambler was also top-heavy, so helpers had to put weight on the front end to keep it from flipping over backward. We also got the too-tall Scrambler trapped several times going under low-hanging trees.
Our other major obstacle is a slick, two-foot rock ledge/waterfall with a series of three-foot boulders scattered about on top. The great approach angle on all three machines didn’t hinder them starting up the ledge. However, the light diff lock high-centered the Maxxer quickly.

With the Scrambler rider keeping his weight over the bars, he could clear the ledge on the first attempt. Our riders had to either stack rocks before the ledge or push each others’ machine to get the Maxxer over this test. The wolverine had  no setbacks on the day. The next set of boulders turned the tables by high-centering the Scrambler and allowing the other two to tip-toe past. Again, the high center of gravity turned a tricky trail on the Scrambler into a challenge. You can see extra photos from this test and helmet cam footage of our gnarly test loop at

For $6000, the Kymco Maxxer is a decent machine. It runs great for its engine size and weight, can climb most anything and offers a pretty plush ride. However, its twitchy steering, hard brakes and awkward right-side footing position make it tough to have more fun on when you have the other two machines to ride.

We like that Polaris put some effort into updating the decade-old Scrambler 500, but the effort was not funneled in the right direction. The machine needs to be lowered and the ergonomics need to be addressed. You still feel awkward riding the tall machine. We would like to see some storage added, along with a low-range transmission. On the positive side, it is the fastest of the group, and it does have a front differential that locks when it wants to.
At $6400, the Yamaha Wolverine is not what we would call the ultimate sport 4WD, but it’s the best available at the price. The ultimate machine has not been built yet. However, the Project Grizzly 727 (Dec 2007) and Polaris Sportsman 550 (Nov 2009) we built in the past are two good examples.

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