POLARIS vs. HONDA –Two best-selling 4x4s battle head to head! 

By the staff of Dirt Wheels:


When you think of 4×4 quads, what companies come to mind? For a lot of us, Honda and Polaris immediately pop in our heads. Honda and Polaris are both staples in the 4×4 ATV world and have some of the best quads on the market with some of the best technology and comfort you can ask for. Particularly, the Polaris Sportsman line and Honda Foreman Rubicon are two of the best-selling machines available, and they have been for close to 20 years.


There is a big horsepower difference between these two. The Polaris’ 567cc, ProStar, single-cylinder engine produces 44 horsepower, while Honda’s 475cc, longitudinally mounted, single-cylinder engine produces 28 horsepower. It’s noticeable when you drive back to back that the Polaris is more powerful.


At one time there were distinct buyers for these quads. Most Rubicon riders loved Honda’s bulletproof engine design, strong five-speed transmission and polished ergonomics. At the same time, Honda was known for a stiffer ride coming from a solid-axle rear end. Polaris riders were enthralled with the ride quality, engine braking and power of the Sportsman lineup. With its MacPherson struts and IRS rear end, the Sportsmen have always had an unforgettable suspension feel. Known issues with the older Sportsmen were the top-heavy feeling, breaking belts and a tall seat position.


Polaris’s tried-and-true automatic PVT transmission is the hallmark of the Sportsman lineup. The gear selector is simple to switch between all gears (P/R/N/L/H), and while riding, there is no shifting required.



Flash-forward to present time and things have changed in a big way for both machines! The 2017 Honda Foreman Rubicon 500 EPS Deluxe now comes standard with independent double-wishbone front suspension that has 7.28 inches of travel in the front. The rear is now equipped with independent dual A-arms that have 8.46 inches of travel. This is a huge improvement over the old solid-axle design. The Rubicon boasts 9.4 inches of ground clearance, and with no straight axle, it hits fewer trail obstacles while traversing rough terrain. Honda’s much-needed electronic power steering comes standard on the EPS Deluxe version.


Honda’s Rubicon model comes with a subtransmission that offers a low-range option. By moving this lever, you can switch to high or low gearing, and it still allows you shift through all five standard gears or reverse. The Honda has the option to switch between full automatic or the five-speed shifting option through use of its dual-clutch transmission.


The 2017 Polaris Sportsman 570 SP now has a more refined suspension with front dual A-arms that offers 8.2 inches of travel, while the rear also has a dual-A-arm IRS suspension that offers 9.5 inches of travel. This suspension is a huge improvement over the MacPherson-strut front end that the cheaper Sportsman 450 and 570 models are still using. The ground clearance on the Sportsman is a whopping 11.5 inches, which helps it clear rocks and stumps easily. The Polaris also has EPS, but their steering is a variable assist. It automatically adjusts based on the riding conditions with no manual adjustment required.


The Honda, unfortunately, has a very small storage area compared to the Polaris. It’s located on the left side of the fender, and it can fit smaller items like a water bottle, your wallet or keys.


The Rubicon’s unique dual-clutch transmission switches from thumb-select manual shifting mode to completely automatic at the flip of a switch. This is the same dual-clutch transmission that Honda’s Pioneer UTV models have. Along with that, Honda also added a subtransmission that allows you to shift from a high-gear to low-gear setting. The cool thing about this is, you still have the option to use either the thumb shifter, located on the right side of the handlebar, or in automatic mode. Whether you’re in high or low on the Honda, when you get close to idle, it will automatically shift down to a lower gear. It will obviously do this in automatic mode, but it will also do it while manually shifting. Honda is still using their tried-and-true reverse lever on the rear brake lever, which is found on the left side of the handlebar. You pull it in and hit the down shifter on the handlebar to engage reverse. The Rubicon has a simple 4WD switch that includes another switch to lock in the front differential.


The Polaris offers a whopping 6 gallons of storage with its integrated front rack design. Like its rear storage, a locking knob keeps your items securely in the storage area.


The Sportsman 570 SP offers the somewhat new, automatic PVT transmission that offers park, reverse, neutral, low and high settings. You can change through the gears effortlessly by moving the gear shifter back and forth. The Sportsman has their ingenious engine braking system that they’ve been known for, along with a new system called Active Descent Control (ADC). The ADC works with the EBS system to provide four-wheel braking for optimum, even deceleration during descents. The Sportsman offers Polaris’ high-performance on-demand all-wheel drive, which will engage all four tires to gain traction and then the system reverts to 2WD when you’re back on solid ground.


The Rubicon also offers a handlebar bend that is comfortable for sitting or standing. Its electronic shifter on the left side of the handlebar offers a lot of shifting control. You have the option to shift or flip the switch to automatic mode. The gauge offers a speedo, gear indicator, fuel gauge, odometer and trip meter.



Both machines offer great standard options for the rider. The Honda lacks a bit on storage compared to the Polaris. The Honda has a small storage compartment on the left-side front fender that won’t be able to hold much but maybe a water bottle, keys or your wallet. It’s much of the same in the rear with the small drop-down door storage area where the toolkit resides. The Sportsman has a total of 8 gallons of storage—6 gallons in the front and 2 gallons in the rear. These storage areas are integrated into the front rack, and rear glove box of the Polaris and are held in securely by locking latches on either side. When it comes to carrying our gear, the Honda hauls more weight. The steel front rack holds 99 pounds and the rear steel rack holds 187 pounds. The Sportsman isn’t far behind at 90 pounds of weight in the front rack and 180 pounds of weight on the rear rack.


The ergonomics are comfortable on the Sportsman. The great handlebar bend feels good sitting or standing. The dash cluster is easy to use and offers a speedo, tach, fuel gauge, two trip meters, gear indicator and much more.


Both machines come with digital dashes. Honda’s dash shows a gear indicator, 4WD/diff-lock indicator, hour meter, odometer, maintenance interval, speedometer, hour meter, trip meter, fuel gauge, coolant level and clock. The Polaris’ dash has more offerings, such as a speedometer, odometer, tachometer, two trip meters, hour meter, gear indicator, fuel gauge, AWD indicator, volt meter, coolant temp, hi-temp light and clock. Both quads have a DC outlet standard. Each machine has three headlights at 50 watts apiece, but the Honda has one brake light, whereas the Polaris has two brake lights.


Rear storage on the Honda is around the same size as the Polaris, and it latches in with a rubber strap, a system that Honda has used for many years with success.


Ergonomics feel great on both machines. Most of our test riders liked the feel of the Honda in the leg area, as it’s narrower than the Polaris. However, the Polaris has a more comfortable handlebar area even while standing. Both have very plush seats and large footwells that have great peg placement.




The Sportsman 570 SP has a 567cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, dual-overhead-cam, single-cylinder engine that is fed by an electronic fuel-injection system. This Prostar engine produces 44 horsepower with the help of four valves per cylinder. The Rubicon has a 475cc, liquid-cooled, OHV longitudinally mounted, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine that is fed by Honda’s Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) system. The Honda engine produces 28 horsepower.


The Polaris has 11 inches of ground clearance, while the Honda has 9.4 inches of ground clearance. Honda’s front suspension has 7.28 inches of travel, while the Polaris has 8.2 inches of travel. It’s great to see this version of the Sportsman going to an A-arm setup.


The Polaris has a smooth powerband and has plenty of low-end grunt. When we were traversing up a long, fast fire road with plenty of turns, the Polaris stayed in a balanced rpm range throughout the climb. While climbing on a fire road, the highest speed it could hit was 45 mph. The Honda comes on strong off the bottom but tends to fall flat on top. We found ourselves shifting up and down a lot on the Rubicon on fast and tall inclines as it dropped the rpm significantly. The highest speed it reached on the way to the top was 34 mph. However, being that the Honda is lighter, has the ability to shift and the responsive power steering, it was more nimble and playful than the Polaris. Obviously, much of the power difference is made up from the 92 extra cubic centimeters of displacement and the dual-overhead-cam engine design the Polaris has.


The similarities continue in the rear. The Sportsman has dual A-arms with 9.5 inches of travel, and the Rubicon dual A-arms have 8.46 inches of travel. Seat height is close as well: Honda 35.8 inches and Polaris 34.25 inches tall.


Both have great hydraulic brake systems. With the Honda, the two front calipers are operated by a lever on the right side of the handlebars. The two rear calipers are actuated by a lever on the left side of the handlebars and a foot lever on the right side; this is a more traditional setup. But, the Polaris utilizes one master cylinder for all three of its calipers. You read that correctly; the Polaris has a single rear caliper in the rear opposed to two like the Honda. The Polaris also has a foot pedal that actuates only the rear brake caliper. However, even with a single brake caliper in the rear, we felt the Polaris had a better braking design and required less effort to stop.


Rocky sections were no match for either quad. The Sportsman’s engine braking and its active descent control slow it significantly on downhills. The Rubicon doesn’t have EBS, but it does have a lower-gear subtransmission, and its ability to downshift makes it easy to go downhill safely.


In corners, it felt like the Polaris had the disadvantage. The Honda cut much tighter corners and was more of a point-and-shoot feeling than the Polaris. The Polaris felt more stable and balanced on fast corners, whereas the Honda’s front end likes to dip under braking, which causes it to get a little out of shape. When traversing rocky, wooded areas, the Honda shined brightly, making quick routes in and out of the terrain. The Polaris bulled effectively through these sections but couldn’t make turns as quickly.

In the suspension department both shine, but the clear winner was the Sportsman. The Polaris has a more balanced demeanor on faster obstacles like whoops or off-camber ruts. The Honda was more of a challenge to keep the front end up and liked to get out of shape on whooped areas. The Polaris takes command over larger terrain like boulders or rock fields by soaking up the rough sections. We felt comfortable the entire time. With the Rubicon, it could do the same sections, but it did tend to bounce through them instead of being plush like the Sportsman. Both machines have ample ground clearance, and we didn’t have any high-centering issues with either of them.


The Sportsman’s rear-end design is like years past and offers one of the plushest rides on the market and enough ground clearance to scale the toughest terrain on the mountain. The Sportsman has a more traditional 1.25-inch hitch receiver and has a towing capacity of 1500 pounds. The rear storage area has a locking twist knob and offers 2 gallons of storage area.


The 4WD on the Honda and the AWD system on the Polaris both worked extremely well. Both were easy to switch on demand when we needed the extra driving force of the front tires. Honda’s locking differential was a great feature that we wish the Polaris had, but it did make the steering feel heavy when it’s engaged. When crawling in the lower gear, the Honda was fantastic. It made a big difference in how much you must shift yourself, and the automatic feature didn’t search for gears like it does in high gear. The Honda just seems happier in the low range. Now the Polaris is no slouch when it comes to low range. We feel the 44 horsepower came through like a tidal wave with all the low end it has. It’s a bit more to handle in technical low-speed sections because of that, but in the end, it did everything the Honda could do and with more grunt. Each quad has great aluminum wheels and good tires. A while back, we changed the stock Maxxis tires to the same-size tire but went with a BKT AT-108 tire. The Polaris has an advantage with its 14-inch aluminum wheels and 26-inch CST tires, while the Honda has 12-inch aluminum wheels and 25-inch BKT tires. The larger wheel/tire combo on the Polaris assisted it to climb over obstacles with its larger contact patch compared to the Honda. But, the CST, stock Honda Maxxis and our replacement BKT tires proved to have great traction.


It was a great thing when Honda introduced IRS to their lineup of 4×4 quads. The Honda has a smooth ride and plenty of clearance. The Rubicon has a hitch to attach a ball for towing up to 1,322 pounds.


Polaris’ new Active Descent Control takes some getting used to. With the help of the EBS, it came on very strong and forced us to ride over the bars more than normal, and we were using less and less brakes. But, that’s what it’s designed to do—stop this 4×4 quad in its tracks quickly and efficiently. You just have to be ready for it. Being able to shift the Honda down into lower gears acts much like having EBS, so in retrospect, the Honda didn’t need it, especially when we have it in low gear. It descends very slowly and keeps the tires moving instead of locking up.


Both the Honda Rubicon 500 and the Polaris Sportsman 570 are amazing quads, and there are plenty of reasons why they’re two of the best-selling quads in the 500cc-range bracket. The Honda is known for its reliability, simplicity to work on, a great ride, comfort for the rider and its ability to be nimble. The Polaris is smoother than glass across rough terrain, it has great power, the EBS works great, is very comfortable to ride and the power steering is top-notch. But, we do have to pick a winner, and all of us agreed that the 2017 Polaris Sportsman 570 SP wins this shootout. It was a hard choice, but the Polaris has generally more performance at a lower price. The Honda Foreman Rubicon 500 EPS Deluxe retails for $9799, while the Polaris Sportsman 570 SP retails for $8699.


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