For every golden age there is an ice age. In sport ATV history, we know that well. Our golden ages have left behind treasures that still populate the dunes and forests to this day, starting with the era of high-performance two-strokes and continuing with modern fuel-injected 450s. But between these technological storms there have been long stretches of icy stasis, where advancement is frozen for extended periods. For obvious example, very few new sport ATVs were released through most of ‘90s.

So what’s happening right now? We’ll probably look back on this as sort of a frosty period. Economic conditions have slowed the development of new quads. The good news is that there are still truly great sport ATVs readily available, both new and used. The tremendous development of the 2000s gave us some great machines that will stand tall for a very long time. Here we’ve gathered the 10 machines that stand the tallest of all.


As of right now, the Yamaha YFZ450R is the best new sport 450 you can buy. While other manufacturers have migrated away from sport quads, Yamaha has remained committed to the sport. The YZF450 continues to evolve and change, getting more refined every year. There isn’t just one Yamaha 450; there are several very different versions that have been sold since 2004. All of them have the five-valve, DOHC, liquid-cooled, motocross-bred motor, but in different packages. The original YFZ450 had a steel frame and a carburetor and was only available in a 46-inch width. The YFZ450R and YFZ450X followed and were more specialized. The X was aimed at cross-country, and the R was 49 inches wide for track riding and racing. In 2008 Yamaha came out with a new chassis that had both aluminum and steel members, as well as Mikuni fuel injection. Two years ago, Yamaha brought back the steel-frame model and priced it to compete with the 400s from Suzuki and Honda. That model isn’t in the line for 2014, but dealers are said to have them still.


When Yamaha came out with the 2004 YFZ, it changed everything. It was the first sport ATV with a real racing engine since the old days of two-strokes. In performance, it surpassed everything on the market, and it had such luxuries as an electric starter. Every year since then it has received attention—some years more than others. That’s why it currently wears the crown of the best 450 sport quad in 2014.

Today, the Yamaha YFZ450 is the king of the sport 450s. Yamaha keeps refining it year after year.


There’s nothing that the Yamaha needs before it can be ridden hard and fast. But, depending on the version, it can reach higher levels yet. The carbureted versions benefited greatly from being unplugged. An aftermarket exhaust is number one on the wish list. If you do that, then some other easy modifications will bring out more power. A 170 main jet and a 48 pilot with the airbox lid removed would allow more fuel in. Depending on the year and the state where it was originally sold, the Keihin carb can have several needles. On the later-model fixed needles, you can move the washer below the clip to allow more fuel.

For the R fuel-injected model, there are several piggyback EFI modifiers available. Most are made by the same company (Dobeck Performance) but sold under different names with proprietary programming. We’ve had very good luck with Trinity, JD Jetting and Wiseco. They sell for around $230. Yoshimura and Dynojet make their own fuel modifiers.

At the most elite racing levels, some riders modify the Yamaha’s steering geometry with front spindles transplanted from the Suzuki LTR450. Another common competition accessory is the Hinson BTL (slipper) clutch, which limits engine braking.


You can still buy the Yamaha new, which, oddly enough, raises the value of the machine on the used market. A brand new one sells for $8799. An Internet search in the Phoenix area came up with three carbureted versions in the $3000 range and one 2013 R model for $7699.


There’s no question that Suzuki got it right back in 2006. The Quadracer 450R arrived late and left early, but its five-year production run made a huge impact on our sport that continues to be felt today. Five-time GNCC champion Chris Borich remains on top of the racing world with an apparently inexhaustible supply of Suzukis and parts. The 450 was dropped from Suzuki’s line in 2011 because of pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. They determined that the EFI system was too easily modified by the end user, and in a soft market, Suzuki simply chose to quit rather than conform. The good news is that there was a very large production run in 2008 that remained on dealer floors for a long time. There’s still a good supply of Suzukis to be found on the used market.


Suzuki designed the 450R as a racer, and it has a chassis that is still considered the best in the sport. The 450 is 49 inches wide in its one and only configuration—virtually all other sport ATVs have a narrower version for trails. In 2009, Suzuki made some slight caster changes to arrive at what many consider the best steering geometry in the business.

The motor is stunningly good. It was the first fuel-injected sport 450 on the market, and it ran very well in stock form, with more performance easily available. For years, the 450R dominated professional ATV racing.

Suzuki dominated ATV racing for a very long time with the Quadracer 450R. Chris Borich continues to do so in GNCC racing, despite the fact that his quad is no longer made.


Because it was so race-oriented, the Suzuki was compromised as a weekend fun machine. It lacked ground clearance and was too wide for some trails. Taller tires made for an easy improvement on the trail. Some riders went so far as to install narrower A-arms and an adjustable-width rear axle, but this is an expensive change with limited results. Most like the full-width configuration better. The Suzuki’s stock shocks were never up to the same standards as the rest of the chassis. Fox Shox and Elka are the most popular replacements.

The motor was designed with hidden power that was easy to unlock. As it turned out, this was what got Suzuki into trouble with the government. The CPU had a competition fuel map that could be accessed by plugging a resistor into a slot. Yoshimura sold the resistor separately, calling it the “Cherry Bomb.” All that was shut down by the Feds. You can still modify your own Suzuki with a little ingenuity, and there are a number of piggyback EFI modifiers available that can do the same thing (e.g., Yoshimura, Trinity, Dynojet and others). They just cost a little more than the original Cherry Bomb. To get the full benefit, you have to also install a more open exhaust and make slight airbox modifications.


There are no new Suzukis available—that supply dried up long ago. But, a Craigslist search turns up two or three at any given time; we saw four ranging from $2200 to $4000. Our advice is to get a Suzuki and hoard it for the next ice age. You never know when it’s coming.


The Yamaha Raptor 700 is the king of the big sport quads and everyone knows it. The Honda 700XX, the Kawasaki KFX700 and others have invaded Raptor island from time to time, but they didn’t last long. The Yamaha has a lock on the class for good reasons. It’s fun to ride, it’s reliable, it’s affordable and it looks good. The first Raptor 660 came out in 2001 as a kind of overreaction to the Honda TRX400EX. Yamaha had been all alone in the sport world with the aging Banshee and Blaster, so the Honda must have been a shock. The early 660 had an oddball engine based on a European motorcycle, with two carburetors, five valves and a slightly under-designed gearbox. In 2006, the entire machine was redesigned from top to bottom. The new 686cc motor was a liquid-cooled four-valver with fuel injection, which was outrageously advanced at the time. The chassis was even more spacey, using both aluminum and steel frame members.


Power! The Raptor 700 has power coming out of its ears. It isn’t the same type of power that you get from a 450cc racer, which is built mostly around revs. The Raptor is all about torque. In other words, you don’t have to ask for acceleration; the Raptor just gives it to you, gift-wrapped and ready to go any time, anywhere. It’s not set up for riding on a track, but that’s actually somewhat liberating. The Raptor is narrow enough for woods riding and has good ground clearance.

Yamaha’s big Raptor is just as much fun as it was 10 years ago.


There’s something a little twisted about adding horsepower to a Raptor, but that’s exactly what most people do. Trinity makes big-bore kits in both 734cc and 770cc configurations. Duncan Racing has 715cc and 727cc kits that include a pipe, cam, valve train and more parts that add around 17 horsepower—the 727cc kit has more on the bottom than the 715cc kit. Figure on spending about $150 for each additional horsepower.

Our preference is to concentrate on handling. A steering stabilizer from GPR, Scotts or Precision makes you feel like you have power steering. The stock shocks aren’t bad, but Elka has affordable shocks that can make a big difference, starting around $600 a pair for the front. In most other ways, the Raptor is a machine that you can ride hard as it comes from the dealership.


Those early 660 Raptors were good in their day, but that was a long time ago. Their performance is a little disappointing by today’s standards, plus they’re getting old now. A 2006 700, on the other hand, is just getting into its prime. Don’t expect to find one dirt cheap. People generally know that they have something special, so you rarely see a 700 for less than $4000. The 2014 version sells for $8199.


Honda’s 450R is a staple of the sport quad community. By today’s standards, the Honda might seem somewhat dated, without fuel injection, an aluminum frame or even a double overhead cam. But racers love the Honda, especially if they buy their own parts and do their own work. The 450R is simple, and everyone knows how to get the most from them. The first 450 from Honda came out in 2004 as a kickstart-only model. The motor was strikingly similar to that of the CRF450R motocross motorcycle that arrived two years earlier. It was in 2006 that it got an electric starter—that was the same year that Honda came out with the electric-start CRF450X off-road motorcycle, and the two machines shared many engine parts.


Honda is brilliant at getting the most for the least. The TRX is simple, light, fast and dependable, and it’s the most affordable of all the 450 sport quads. Even the parts tend to be less expensive. A Honda 450R head can be found online for $260, whereas a Yamaha head is around $450. Honda still offered a kickstart-only model until last year, which endeared it even more to racers who want lightweight and simplicity above all. That’s why you see so many riders like Beau Baron and John Natalie racing Honda without factory support.

Honda’s carbureted, steel-framed, SOHC TRX450R might seem old, but it just won another WORCS championship.


Performance modifications are less expensive on the Honda too. A cheap power boost can be attained from a slip-on pipe (around $250), the removal of the airbox lid and a larger main jet (about a 160). There’s also more rpm that can be attained by cutting the green wire that comes out of the ignition box under the hood. Unfortunately, this modification yields very little return unless you install a performance cam from a company like Hot Cams, Web or Yoshimura. The stock motor doesn’t rev out high enough.

Racers claim that the pre-2006 motor has a stronger gearbox. This might be true, but under normal use, the later model is nearly bulletproof. It takes pro-level speed to push the gearbox to the point that you have to do something about it. Baldwin Motorsports actually did that for Josh Upperman, but has never included the product in its catalog.


There are Hondas everywhere, including at dealerships. There are only three versions: the pre-2006 model, the late electric-start one and the late kickstart-only version. On Craigslist, they show up more often out West and carry pricing that vary by thousands. A good 2008 version is in the high $3000 range. We’re still expecting a fuel-injected version to come from Honda, but that project has been on hold until the economy recovers more fully.


Suzuki’s LTZ-400 had a very short period in the sun when it reigned as the best sport quad in the country. It was back in 2003, just before the dawn of the 450 age. The LTZ was the first four-stroke that actually outperformed the two-strokes from the previous decade, and it did so with luxuries like electric starting and reverse. In 2004, the Suzuki actually beat the new crop of 450s in national MX competition, but it took the talents of rider Doug Gust and crew chief Wayne Hinson to do it. Suzuki’s own 450 soon eclipsed the 400 as a racer, but the 400 lives on to this day as a high-performance sport quad that offers a high degree of comfort and reliability.


Since its introduction, the 400 has undergone one serious revamp. In 2009 it received fuel injection. Prior to that, there were minor changes year to year, but all of the Suzuki 400s are similar on the trail. The motor is just powerful enough in stock form to please beginners and experts alike. The geometry is excellent, too, giving away nothing to narrow cross-country 450s that cost much more. Unlike most of those machines, the Suzuki has reverse. It’s also very soft and cushy, making it one of the most comfortable sport quads on the market.

Suzuki’s LTZ-400 was the first four-stroke to beat the old-world two-strokes. It’s still good today, more than 10 years after its release.


Let’s be clear: there’s virtually no end to the performance potential of the Z400. Yoshimura proved that back in 2004 by making engine kits that allowed it to beat the best 450s. In this day and age, that’s overkill. Spending $2000 for 10 horsepower is a little silly when 450s are everywhere. After you remove the airbox lid and install an aftermarket exhaust, you reach diminishing returns with the Suzuki motor. It’s better to spend your money on the chassis. The shocks, in particular, aren’t up to the standards of the rest of the bike. The rear shock has some potential. It can be modified by companies like Race Tech. It’s not terribly expensive to replace the front shocks. Works Performance has excellent Z400 front shocks for around $500 a pair.


A brand-new Suzuki sells for $7149. To be frank, that’s a little high considering there are so many used 400s readily available in the $3000 range. Suzuki 400s tend to be in good shape simply because they’re tough and never raced. Here’s a forgotten fact: back in 2005, the Suzuki 400 was sold by Kawasaki under the KFX400 designation. In that period, the two companies had a partnership. Now, those Suzuki/Kawasaki models are inexpensive if you find them.


Once upon a time this was the most fearsome sport quad in the world. Now it’s considered more of a family ride, suitable for beginners, teens, moms and friends. That’s a testimony to the brilliance of the original design. The Honda reinvented itself as technology swept past. It first arrived in 1999 at the end of the last great sport quad ice age and heralded better times. Its success was responsible for its own demise as a high-end racer. High-performance liquid-cooled four-strokes arrived and outperformed the air-cooled 400. In 2005, its redefinition was helped with the addition of reverse and new suspension. Now its new mission is clear and its price is excellent


When the Honda came out, it was the product of 10 years of pent-up design frustration. It had been a very long time since Honda management had given the green light for a production sport quad, so the design team had a lot of good ideas ready to go. The layout and geometry proved to be the prototype for all the sport quads that followed, so the chassis and suspension can stand up to the time that has passed. The motor seems dated, but it actually is a sweetheart. The low-end torque is good, it starts easily and it has a good, old-fashion carburetor, which warms the hearts of many traditionalists. We might consider the Honda an entry-level sport quad by today’s standards, but experts can sneak out and have a great time.

The Honda 400X reinvented itself as a play quad when more advanced ATVs appeared. That’s versatility.


It’s tempting to address the X’s old-school motor with performance mods, but that’s not really the quad’s weak point. For its target rider, the motor output is fine, and you don’t want to damage its sterling reliability. A slip-on exhaust and an open airbox with rejetting (170 mail, 42 pilot) are all you need.


If you come across a used Honda 400, the closer to stock, the better. If someone tried to make it a 450-beater, it probably just became a beater. A new 2014 version is just over $6000, but we have noticed that they hold their value surprisingly well.


After ignoring the sport four-wheel market for years, Kawasaki jumped in with both feet and a technologically sophisticated marvel in 2008. The KFX450 arrived with an aluminum frame, a 450cc double overhead cam, fuel-injected motor and a race team fixed on national motocross competition. The Kawasaki appeared just as the sport ATV market softened, so it never achieved the big sales numbers that Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki experienced. It remains one of the very few high-performance sport quads to have a reverse gear. The KFX was quietly dropped from the lineup in 2012.


Kawasaki poured substantial resources into this project, and it shows. The KFX is high tech, fast and capable. It clearly was designed with racing in mind, but Kawasaki stopped short of making it a full 49 inches wide, like the Suzuki and Yamaha R. That means it’s excellent as a go-fast trail bike for woods and narrow trails. That reverse gear is a huge bonus.

Kawasaki went all out with the development of the KFX450. It remains the only 450 sport quad with reverse.


The biggest subject of criticism for the Kawasaki was its steering geometry. The KFX450 was nervous, particularly when the front suspension was compressed. Walsh produced A-arms for the race team that completely cured this, as did many aftermarket A-arms. Fuel Customs made an excellent airbox that increased airflow and power, and was particularly effective when teamed up with other power mods, like an exhaust and an EFI modifier.


There simply aren’t many used KFX450s out there. When they show up, the price is usually typical for any 450 sport quad of similar age and condition. If you find a good one that’s been modified for a wider track, that’s a good thing, as doing this is expensive. The bad news is that such a modified Kawasaki will probably have been raced. So it goes.


In 2008, Polaris held stock in KTM and influenced the Austrian motorcycle company to enter the ATV market. KTM produced four models between 2008 and 2010, aiming at the very highest segment of the sport market. KTM’s philosophy was to cut the aftermarket out of the picture by offering quads with every accessory in the book. Unfortunately, that drove the price up in a period when the economy couldn’t handle it. A few years later, Polaris ended its relationship with KTM, and these quads disappeared into history.


KTM had two motocross versions (450 and 505) and two cross-country versions (450 and 525). None were fuel injected. The last of the 450 MXers was an incredible machine with suspension that still hasn’t been surpassed for racing. But, it was the 525 cross-country that we liked best. It had a SOHC engine that was sweet and incredibly powerful. It had reverse, Fox suspension, a hydraulic clutch and was bulletproof. There’s nothing quite like it on today’s market.

Some riders believe that the KTM was the highest-quality sport quad ever made. The Austrian company priced itself out of the market.


KTM fully achieved its goal of making a quad that came out of the dealership with every modification you could ever want. The suspension was the best available, and the power was without peer. If you find a used KTM that’s modified, ask for the stock parts.


There are very few used KTMs available. The MX versions didn’t sell well because the price was over $11,000. The XCs were less expensive, and that should be reflected on the used market.


For a time, Polaris and KTM were joined at the hip, and in that period the Polaris Outlaws were powered by KTM engines. The motors were the older design, with single overhead cams and carburetors. But one model in particular was truly special. The Outlaw 525 IRS proved that independent rear suspension was a workable concept for a cross-country quad. Others tried it, but only Polaris made it really work.


Independent suspension was only part of the story. The Polaris had the same incredibly powerful motor that KTM used in its own straight-axle 525XC. It was a beast and would leave a Raptor 700 in the dust. Between the plush suspension, great power, reverse and high-quality parts, the Polaris 525 IRS was capable of winning the Baja 1000 right out of the box. As far as we know, no one ever tried.

Who says you can’t have independent rear suspension in a sport quad? Not Polaris.


The Polaris is another one of those machines where most modifications were probably dis-improvements. The exception was the airbox, which was very restrictive. For this reason, the KTM with the same motor was considerably faster. Modification was fairly easy. Actually, the biggest complaint was the styling. The Polaris was one funky-looking quad.


If you want a 525 IRS, you had better make it a hobby. Check the classified ads every morning. Eventually, you will come up with one, and chances are the price will be good. It’s enough of a cult quad that many owners won’t know what they have.


In its glory days, Can-Am’s Racing program was only slightly smaller than NASA. Eventually, it landed a man on the moon. John Natalie won the 2011 National Motocross Championship on a Motoworks Can-Am DS450, riding with a broken arm in the last round. It was the climax of a vision that began 10 years earlier when management at BRP committed itself to the concept of high-performance sport quads. The DS450 was a huge project, and it yielded one of the most sophisticated and innovative sport quads on the market in 2008. The aluminum/steel frame is the lightest on the market, and the Rotax motor has incredible potential. Can-Am offers the quad in three versions: a standard model, a cross-country racer (X xc) and a motocrosser (X mx). The idea behind the latter two was to offer a machine that was fully accessorized and ready to race.


Can-Am wasn’t afraid to go after the Japanese quad makers on their own turf. The DS can compete with Yamaha, Honda and the rest in stock performance. The X xc and X mx versions push the bar a little higher. They have features that no one else offers, like the strongest axle available on any production quad. The Fox suspension components are the best made, as are the wheels and tires.

Can-Am is still deeply committed to the sport quad, with three models of the DS450 in the current lineup.


Despite its technology, the Rotax motor is a little behind the times and has several weak spots that show up when horsepower is increased. The clutch, in particular, is a sore point. Hinson and Motoworks have excellent alternatives. Motoworks also knows exactly how to bring the motor up to national-championship levels with exhausts and hop-up kits.


Today, a new DS450X mx sells for just under $10,000. Keep an eye open for that particular version on the used-quad market. It’s worth at least $1000 more than the standard version. The Can-Am hasn’t changed dramatically since its introduction, so don’t hesitate to pick up a 2008 model that’s in good shape. ο

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