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Outlander “vs.” Sportsman, A Clear Unbiased Report

2006 promises to be another exciting year as it brings plenty of news about new models on the market.  Two new machines that have hit the market, as early release 2006 models, are the Bombardier Outlander 800 and the Polaris Sportsman 800.  Both of these machines are at the top of the food-chain, portraying the largest ATVs in the big-bore class.  Features, such as large 800cc Twin Cylinder, EFI engines, independent suspension, great ergonomics, and true four wheel-drive are what they have in-common.  Our testing will go beyond the common grounds and give you, the reader, our unbiased findings.

A Quick Overview Of Technical Info:
Basically, the Outlander was a new concept machine for Bombardier three years ago when they released the Outlander 400cc machine.  This ATV was new at the time and created quite a buzz with several new features, such as placing the engine in an oblong square channel frame and building all the suspension components off this new “SST” (Surround Spar Technology) frame.  When we tested the Outlander three years ago, we found positive results with the new style frame, such as reduced weight and less underbelly drag in deep mud or snow.  Since then, we have seen a few machines in dealer repair shops.  Interestingly enough, the frames don’t hold up to collisions very well.  The square channel can bend quite easily in an accident and the durability is lost.  The frame must be replaced and this can lead to an expensive incident.  The new Outlander 800 has the same frame but due to the new larger V-twin engine, the frame is slightly longer and that worries us about it's durability.  We would like to see the frame made stronger because of its increased length.  The SST frame is still a technologically advanced addition to the Bombardier ATV line.  The older units were outdated and Bombardier needed to make an improvement fast.  The market and main-stream manufacturers have been making impressive improvements and Bombardier was falling behind with their past line-up, example, the Quest and Traxter models.  Both of these have been plagued with problems since their release.

The Sportsman 800 is not a newly designed engine or ATV design.  This is the same base Sportsman and engine that Polaris has been working with.  Originally, the twin Polaris ATV engine came from the snowmobile segment.  Polaris first used this progressive twin engine in their first four-stroke powered snowmobile, the Frontier.  This was a low emissions answer to the green thumb activists that wanted two-stroke snowmobiles banned from US parks, such as Yellowstone.  The Sportsman 800 is a progressive ATV engine which transformed well into an ATV application, supplying a broad powerful twin engine design.

Engine:
The best feature the new Outlander has to offer is its 800cc V-twin, 4-valve, DOHC engine.  This new engine doubles up on the older Outlander 400cc cylinders and places them at an 80 degree angle forming a well mannered V-twin engine.  Each cylinder has its own electronically activated fuel injector, which supplies the optimum amount of fuel as required by throttle activation.  We’ve noticed little vibration with the V-twin and great amounts of powerful torque.  Bombardier has produced a winning engine combination, V-twin power and smooth EFI operation.  Foresight has us wondering about the added weight of the larger engine and the longer SST frame.  Could time prove the combination a problem?

The Sportsman is powered by a 760cc side by side twin engine.  The new powerplant uses a new crankshaft with a 7.6 mm longer stroke, now 80 x 75.6 mm.  This increased stroke and the resulting increase in displacement provides 25% more horsepower and torque than the 700 EFI.  Enlarged intake ports in the cylinder head as well as the throttle body and advancing the cam timing by 6 degrees allow this monster to breath.

The Sportsman twin engine is of parallel twin design, both cylinders are directly in-line with each other vertically.  The secret behind the "even-firing-parallel twin" is the positioning of the pistons on the crankshaft.  Both pistons travel side by side in parallel cylinders and are centered at the same time; but when one is on the ignition stroke, the other is on the intake stroke.  The main idea of this concept is both pistons are always in the same position whether it is up or down in the four-stroke cycle; but working in different cycles.  For example, one piston will be on the firing stroke as the other will be on the exhaust stroke.  This makes for good power and an interesting sounding engine.  We noticed a great comparison to the sound of an old Willies Jeep.

When increasing the engine size, Polaris also increased the cooling system to handle the larger engine.  The radiator fan has been upgraded to a fan blade with more pitch for increased CFM through the radiator, along with larger radiator hoses.  You're probably thinking, this workhorse must have some heavy vibrations; but to our surprise, there were no unusual noises or any over bearing vibrations.  The acceleration was nice leaving no flat spots in the throttle range.

Transmission:
Seems any manufacturer can make a powerful engine.  The challenge has been more of a question on how can engine power be best put to the wheels?  Durability and performance have been issues since day one.  Quality speed progression as well as speed reduction has always been a sought after feature for the ATV transmission.  However, few are proficient at all the necessary tasks, such as pulling power, acceleration, deceleration, and down-hill engine braking.

Both the Outlander and the Sportsman use CVT (Constant Velocity Transmission) transmissions with high, low, park, neutral, and reverse.  Both machines are belt driven with a sub-transmission for reduced gearing or low-range.

Polaris was the first to produce an automatic transmission, mostly because of their snowmobile background but any background in a new industry would be a headstart on finding the right combination.  Many feel that Polaris now produces one of the best ATV transmissions on the market, producing a smooth, durable, easy to use powertrain.

We found that the Outlander was sufficient, with good acceleration and throttle response and the Sportsman worked like an animal, producing great pulling power and traction.  We felt excellent acceleration and good downhill engine braking.  The Polaris transmission may still be one of the best ATV transmissions, especially when it comes to ease of use.

Suspension/Braking:
Both the Outlander and the Sportsman are produced with different suspensions and braking features.  Each has been equipped with a fully independent suspension, only the Outlander uses a TTI (Trailing Torsional Independent) suspension in the rear.  What this consists of is two arms attached to a frame mounted torsion bar placed just in front of the rear wheels.  The suspension arms are connected to the torsion bar and move up and down in a longitudinal plane instead of an inward arc as with A-arm and spring suspensions.  This system is quite similar to the early Volkswagen rear suspension design, spring over shocks are also part of the rear suspension offering 9.0 in. (228.6mm) of travel.  The Outlander uses a new double A-arm suspension up front with adjustable spring preload shocks.  The front offers aluminum top A-arm for reduced weight and offers 8.0 in (203mm) of suspension travel.

Braking is done by front and rear hydraulic disc brakes that are positioned inboard next to the differential replacing the traditional wheel-hub installment.  The inboard rear disc-brake is located at the ‘output’ shaft protected above the frame and is part of the ‘sprung’ weight of the chassis, not unsprung’ on the hub.  Yes, the braking on the Outlander is quite good but in many cases too good.  We felt an uncomfortable jumping feeling when using the brakes as they have a touchy feeling.  Even with little pressure applied, the brakes make unusual noises and chatter to an uncomfortable stop.

Now, the Sportsman uses an already proven McPherson strut up front with 8.2 in, 20.8cm of travel, and a fully independent, progressive rate shock.  The rear suspension has a anti-roll bar and 9.5 in, 24.1 cm of suspension travel.

We really don’t find anything to complain about with the Sportsman’s suspension.  The unit has plenty of travel and rides nice.  Good underbelly protection.  Polaris has been producing the Sportsman for over ten years and independent suspension has been part of this model for quite a few of those years; another case of a good design made better with practice.  The Polaris Sportsman boasts long suspension travel and high ground clearance.  We found the suspension to be quite comfortable and the unit’s stump/rock-crawling capabilities to be more than adequate.

Braking is done by a single handle bar mounted hand lever that operates all wheel disc braking.  Rear braking is done alone with the use of a foot operated rear disc brake.  The Polaris Sportsman has very confident braking action.  We have not had any problems and in-fact this may still be the best feel in a braking system yet.  Our only objection is all wheel braking as we like to see independent controls when it comes to front and rear braking.  This is actually the opposite of the first and sounds better when combined into one sentence.

4-Wheel Drive:
Interestingly enough, both units are all-wheel-drive, use a push button to engage the 4-wheel drive, and have its own system for true 4-wheel drive.  The Outlander uses the Visco-Lok front differential.  This is a locking front differential that uses hydraulic pressure to lock both front wheels.  As one wheel starts to slip or spin, this action creates the inner working of the differential to act as a hydraulic pump and puts pressure against the inner clutch pack making a self contained, hydraulic front locking differential.  This unit can sense and control the needs mechanically as the vehicle needs more traction, steering effort is not an issue.

Now, the Sportsman uses a more conventional true 4-wheel drive unit, just push the handlebar mounted push button and you’ll have all the traction a machine can produce.  The push button electric locking mechanism works well, engaging the front differential and producing positive traction.  You can feel the true-locking action as the Sportsman is engaged.  Stump-pulling traction is evident and the tires claw at the ground with an uncompromising effect.

Ergonomics:
Today’s rider is not only about performance.  Consumers are paying more attention than ever before as they look at color, styling, and comfort.  Sure, everyone wants the most for their money.  Extra features play a large roll in which machine to buy.  Comfortable seating, easy to use controls, and body styling are good to compare.  The Outlander uses adequate controls, ok seating, and large floorboards.  Actually, the floorboards may be a bit too wide as the mud protection on each foot area has a tendency to get caught on trees and rocks.  Also, the machine has styling that might appeal to some, although I’m not sure who.  The Body is wide and designed with high fenders, maybe Bombardier is trying to become a trend-setter.

The Outlander has OK styling and is functional.  We have seen a transition to steel racks verses the plastic racks of past Outlanders.  Mud and water protection is good as the fenders and floorboards do an adequate job.  We noticed that the front section of the inner body, where the conventional gas tank would be, was large and made for your knees to be pitched outward.  This position is not our favorite for comfortable riding.  We noticed an uncomfortable stance with complaints of knee position as our testers like to use their knees to grip the machine in adverse conditions.

The Polaris Sportsman is another good at everything ATV.  The controls are in good locations and every item works well.  We like the large seat and comfortable ride, and the floorboards are quite good in the mud protection and styling department.  The Sportsman 800 looks aggressive and sounds mean with new style lighting and a new stainless steel exhaust system.  The Polaris 800 is a mainstream ATV with all the features and the power to back up its reputation.

Final Thoughts:
Our testing provided us with a great respect for big-bore top of the line ATV units.  Both of these machines are powerful but there are more important features than just having a fast, powerful machine.  The rider needs to feel comfortable and be able to control the power, especially when machines are hitting the 800cc level.

The Outlander turned out to be a good machine with power being the main focus on design.  Yes, the machine is adequate in comfort and ride but some might want more than adequate.  The frame is really the steel backbone of this ATV and we feel a slight problem.  The frame should be built just a bit thicker producing a more durable backbone.  Especially, since the engine is now larger and the frame has been lengthened.  Also, each component is attached to the slim frame.  Outward supporting structures, such as, the fender and floorboard supports are made of aluminum and are strong but bolted directly to the main frame.  Positive points are the unit’s low resistance to under belly obstacles but we have dented the channel style frame on many trail obstacles.  Our question is one of durability.

We have to pick the Polaris Sportsman 800 EFI as the winner of this test.  The tried and tested durability of years of use put this design out in front.

The basic frame design goes back to the Sportsman 400, 500, 600, 700 and now the 800.  A comfortable rider position, suspension, and a great power level all make the machine a superior unit.  We’ll give the Outlander more power, with faster acceleration but that’s all.  The Polaris Sportsman is a complete package and delivers in many capacities.  The power is more effectively put to the wheels in many situations.  We liked the rider position and the great Polaris styling.  The 800 EFI twin has a sound like no other due to the twin cylinders and the dual exhaust.  All the controls and gauges are easy to use and read.  The suspension, braking, and four-wheel drive kept us coming back for more.  Just remember, these machines have different personalities, just as riders do.  Take one for a test ride and make the decision for yourself.  We compare and give our findings to you, the reader, so your decision can be more confident and informed.


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