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ATVs on test: Versatility, fuel economy and comfort are key

Insights

With more makes of quad bikes to choose from than you can shake stick at, James Rickard put several of the top manufacturers’ machines to the test to find the best performers for the variety of tasks carried out on-farm.

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The five ATVs in our group test.
The five ATVs in our group test.

The quad bike represents many things to many people. For some it is a leg saver, for others it is their main workhorse. Whatever its task, there is inevitably one on just about every farm in the UK.

 

But with so many makes of ATVs on the market, including plenty of newcomers from the likes of Kymco and Kazuma, which one should you go for?

 

To give you some idea before you buy, we wanted to find out with a group test which one was best. Our selection consists of ATVs from the top-selling agricultural manufacturers; Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Polaris and Yamaha.

 

The five ATVs

To try to achieve a relatively fair comparison, each manufacturer was asked to supply a four-wheel drive bike as close to 400cc (most popular size of model) as possible, with an automatic transmission.

 

We were particularly interested in finding out how the transmissions compared, especially as most have gone down the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) route, while others, such as Honda, have stuck with more a traditional sequential ‘box’. Would this have a big impact on fuel and general usability?

 

To get an all-round evaluation of the machines, each bike would be put through its paces on a busy dairy farm carrying out various duties such as moving, transporting and feeding stock, and fencing – not to mention a gruelling agility course which would test even a mountain goat’s sure footedness.

 

Fuel consumption, on a 5km tarmac course consisting of hills, twisting corners and long straights, was also taken into account.

 

ATV fuel economy over a 5km tarmac course

PolarisSuzukiYamahaHondaKawasaki
Bike only 480ml 400ml 300ml 320ml 230ml
With a laden trailer (250kg) 680ml 600ml 520ml 400ml 400ml
*Please note: These results are for guidance purposes only.

 

FG's verdict

The scores from our group test reflect the varied results from this wide range of bikes.

 

Not surprisingly, the Polaris rated highly – it spoilt us with its power, acceleration, traction and features. Considering it is a large bike, its manoeuvrability and handling was not too bad either.

 

However, unfortunately you are locked into buying the manufacturer’s own attachments for the load racks.

 

It is pretty decent value for money, but you would need the heavy workload to justify having one, at which point you may entertain the idea of a diesel-powered UTV.

 

At the other end of the scale was the Kawasaki with its petit proportions. It is a shame we could have not had a larger four-wheel drive version, as we reckon it would have given the others a run for their money. But what we got did not do a bad job, especially in terms of agility and handling. It was also a pleasant surprise to see it do so well in the fuel economy test.

 

Although it lacked in the traction and pulling power departments compared to its bigger rivals, it would certainly find itself at home chasing stock with the odd bit of light trailer work.

 

Refinements

As for the Yamaha, just a bit of refinement to a few key areas would do it the world of good. However, it did ride well across most terrain and it could certainly pull, but its flaws meant it was up against it from the off.

 

The Suzuki was the pleasant surprise of the group. Once you get past its boxy looks, its performance in-field and on-road soon became apparent. Its easy-to-handle nature and light steering provided a confident ride, along with some sure-footed towing ability.

 

However, it was a little thirsty, which probably accounted for a lot of its get-up-and-go and some vital storage space was lacking.

 

For us though, even though it did not come top of the score table, we would take home the Honda. That said, we would probably plump for the simpler, manual, foot-change version – just in case those electrics are not up to the job (and it is cheaper without too).

 

The CVT machines are convenient and simple to operate, but you cannot help thinking when you are driving one, and it is revving away, that you would have changed up a gear by now.

 

In all, the Honda is a great all-rounder and happy carrying out most tasks – as long as you are not hooking trailers on and off a lot.

Scores out of 5

 PolarisSuzukiYamahaHondaKawasaki
Engine 5 4 2 5 4
Transmission 5 4 2 4 4
Suspension 4 4 1 5 4
Braking 4 3 4 5 3
Handling 3 4 2 4 4
Traction 5 4 4 4 3
Load racks 3 3 4 3 3
Towing 5 4 3 4 3
Controls 4 4 4 4 4
Storage 5 1 4 2 3
Total out 50 43 35 30 40 35

 

 

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