UTILITY TEST: 2006 POLARIS HAWKEYE 300 4×4, IRS on a budget
For 2006, Polaris has more ATV models than any other single company. The most unique machine in their lineup is the brand new Hawkeye 300. What makes this machine so special is that it is categorized as a smaller mid size ATV but has features only previously found on more expensive full size models. The most notable of those features is true independent rear suspension. Sure, older Suzuki models had versions of IRS, but those machines handled poorly and were very slow.
The Hawkeye has a peppy 299cc, two-valve, SOHC, air-cooled, four stroke engine operating a fully automatic CVT tranny. It has four independent shafts turning on all four corners. Fuel is supplied through a fairly large 34 mm Mikuni carburetor, and spent exhaust gases are kept quiet coming out of the back of the machine.
In the rear of the Hawkeye is where the magic happens. Here lie single A-arms per side with an upper single spar arm (per side) controlling eight inches of straight up and down travel. There is a total of eight inches of ground clearance as well, which is the best offering in its class by far. The next machine even close is the Yamaha Kodiak 450 or Polaris own Sportsman 450.
Up front, a locking differential offers selectable two and four-wheel drive options between a pair of McPherson Struts. Travel up here is a bit lower at seven inches. Ground clearance remains linear at eight inches from front to back.
Towing and rack capacities on the Hawkeye can also be compared to that of a full size machine. You can haul up to 100 pound of cargo on the rear rack and at least 70 pounds up front. You can easily tow 750 pounds with this thing.
Like the Hawkeye’s Sportsman cousins, there is a closeable front storage box, making stowing smaller items very handy and convenient. In fact, the watertight storage box on the Hawkeye is actually deeper than the compartments found on the Sportsman models. And the Hawkeye’s racks will except Polaris Lock and Ride rack accessories.
Overall, the size of the Hawkeye is a bit smaller than a full-size machine. It’s more on par with a Honda Rancher ($5299), Kawasaki Prairie 360 ($5199) or Yamaha Bruin ($5099). Its measurements read like this; 72 inches long by 42 inches wide and 45.5 inches tall with a seat height of 32 inches. The claimed dry weight is 550 pounds, which is much lighter than any Sportsman and will be hardly noticeable in the back of a pickup.
Braking duties are handled with hydraulic discs at both ends. They are operated with the usual Polaris single lever left hand brake and one foot brake.
The Hawkeye is equipped with twenty-two-inch tires and has a forty-six-inch wheelbase, giving it a rather tight turning radius of 105 inches.
With the use of a standard sway bar, the Hawkeye cornered very well for a machine with independent rear suspension. The steering was easy in two or four-wheel drive.
IT COMES AT A PRICE POINT
At a $4699 manufacturer suggested retail price, the Hawkeye isn’t left featureless by any means. In the center of the handlebars you will find a complete instrument gauge featuring a speedometer, odometer, trip meter and hour meter. Plus the fuel tank has a mechanical gauge standard.
You might ask how Polaris can afford to offer this feature-laden machine for such a reasonable price? To save money, the Hawkeye will be built on a modified Sportsman assembly line in Rosaue, Minnesota. The only part of the new Hawkeye that is made overseas will be the Fuji-built engine just like the rest of the Polaris engines.
We were happy to hear that, as Polaris’ other low cost machines, the Sawtooth and Phoenix, are made in Taiwan by the Aeon Company along with their minis.
That being true, the Hawkeye is of solid construction and made to Polaris’ exact specifications. The nationwide Polaris dealer network will completely stock spare parts and have the know-how to make repairs if needed.
Just like its larger cousin, the Sportsman, this machine has a closeable, water-resistant storage area under the front rack. It will also accept the Polaris Lock and Ride accessories.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
After a day of riding the new Polaris Outlaw sport quad (see the October issue) at a Polaris sponsored event, we had a chance to ride the new Hawkeye for a couple of hours. Our test machines were prototypes and had a couple of small problems right off of the bat. One was that the green paint on the Sportsman looking bodywork was covering red bodywork. You may see in a couple of pictures where the paint was chipping and exposing the red color. Not being a big deal, we went ahead with the testing. The Hawkeye 4×4 will be available in black/silver or green/black, not in red. However, the 2WD version will have mostly red bodywork.
The other issue we had with the prototype is that the seat kept popping off as we rode. Even the seat from the Suzuki Z400 pops off from time to time on the racetrack. Polaris assures us that the seat is secured on the production models. If you are looking at a Hawkeye in your dealer, just give the seat a good yank straight up and make sure it doesn’t come off and you will know that it was fixed. We always do the yank test anyway, because if you have a loose seat it may fly off as you are towing your quad down the highway on a trailer and that would definitely ruin someone’s day for sure.
Other than those two issues, the machine ran flawlessly.
It has a keyed ignition just like on the Sportsman that fires it up easily. Step on the rear brake lever and select forward or reverse; there is no low range or park setting.
The quiet motor is very peppy for a 300. It is way more powerful than the old Expedition 325’s. Gearing is set to get you up to speed quickly. Top speed was just under 50 mph. Knowing what this machine was designed for, we weren’t dissatisfied with the power one bit. You could literally pin the throttle from a dead stop and hold it wide open most of the time.
There was enough bottom end to climb any hill and keep you cruising at a good clip in the tight woods. Stopping was handled just as easily with the single-lever braking system. Polaris has all three discs linked up with steel-braided lines to provide superb stopping power. The Hawkeye has just that.
This smaller machine isn’t quite as comfortable as the larger Sportsman quads but it isn’t cramped either. We rode it aggressively and never had a problem with hitting our knees on fenders or handlebars. The seat was a bit harder than on the Sportsman but Polaris claims the foam will be softened before production.
Handling was very impressive on the Hawkeye, as it is equipped with the same type of anti-roll bar that is found on most IRS quads. It helps the machine stay stabile in the corners yet soak up bumps and other trail obstacles independently. Ground clearance is another feature that we enjoyed, especially when we navigated some rocky streambeds and creek crossings. At nearly eight inches off of the ground, we never got the Hawkeye stuck or high-centered.
For $4699, the Hawkeye is $400 less than its closest competition. That $400 will buy a lot of gas. It offers more features, better suspension and, by far, more ground clearance. As a stand-alone it would be a great utility machine for someone who can’t afford or doesn’t want all of the power and weight that a full-size Ute offers. In a future issue we will be putting the Polaris Hawkeye 300 head to head with the aforementioned competition for a comprehensive trail shootout. Stay tuned for that.
If you can’t wait that long and want to try the new Hawkeye out for yourself, they are sitting at Polaris dealers now. Contact Polaris at (763) 417-8650.
2006 POLARIS HAWKEYE 300 4×4
Engine type: Single cylinder, SOHC, 2-valve, air-cooled, 4-stroke
Carburetion: 34mm Mikuni
Starting: Electric w/ recoil backup
Transmission: Automatic CVT
Final drive: Shaft
Suspension/ wheel travel:
Rear: Independent A-arms w/8″
Front: McPherson Struts w/7″
Front: Dual Hydraulic discs
Rear: Hydraulic disc
Overall length/width/height: 72″/42″/45.5″
Seat height: 32″
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal
Ground clearance: 8″
Color: Green/Black, Black/Silver
Manufacturer: Polaris Industries (763) 417-8650