The completely redesigned Polaris Sportsman 850 XP EPS is a power producing ATV with a refined ride, a solid power steering unit, and a fun factor of eleven on a one to ten scale. With its release in 2009 the Polaris Sportsman marks the first complete redesign since its original release. Polaris says the only item on the Sportsman that is the same as the previous model is the gearshift. Going over the new Sportsman from top to bottom proves this statement to be true, and oh what changes have been made to this machine. Highlights include a new 850cc longitudinally mounted engine, more wheel travel, power steering, and more aggressive styling. Being absolute ATV nuts here at ATVESCAPE, we had read many articles about this new ATV and desperately wanted to get behind the handlebars of this beast. Polaris was kind enough to provide a brand new 2009 Polaris Sportsman 850 XP EPS for our Expedition To Taylor Park, Colorado to give the new Sportsman a good “test”. After 562 miles we can say without a doubt we can give you the low-down on this machine, and in summary this is an ATV which sets a new standard in the industry…again.
Getting behind a brand new ATV never gets old no matter how many times you do it. Let me tell you I dreamed about this machine for weeks before picking it up, and had been to my local dealership to stare at their Sportsman 850 XP EPS model a plethora of times just to check it out. As our expedition party arrived at the dealership in Colorado to pick it up and saw the new Sportsman glimmering in the light outside, I got that really excited feeling as I knew I was going to put the miles on this Sportsman. All of the tags were on this sage brush green metallic model, and as I put the key in the ignition to pull it onto the trailer I was immediately impressed. Not only did the engine start right up (I expected that much), but the power steering made steering ridiculously effortless. I put it on the trailer, cinched it down, and off we went for 9 days to put it through its paces over all sorts of terrain.
From the moment you crawl onto the seat of the new Sportsman XP you notice the seat is not nearly as wide as previous Sportsman models (or other full size utility ATVs for that matter). This can be attributed to the longitudinally mounted 850cc engine. Now we were aware of this fact before ever getting on a new Sportsman XP, but we had no idea what a difference this change would make. The seat is so much thinner at the knees it feels like a sport quad rather than a utility quad. The thinner seat makes the entire ATV feel much smaller than it really is. I own a Sportsman 800 EFI and the difference in “feel” between that model and the 850 XP is staggering.
Next we noticed the power steering, and all we can say is “WOW”. Having spent some seat time on a Yamaha 700 with power steering, I knew I would be a fan of power steering. I had no idea, however, how much of an impact power steering would have on the rider. You could take a single finger and move the handlebars with the Sportsman 850 XP stationary. This ease of steering still had a “WOW” factor for the first 300 miles or so, and long after returning the machine to Polaris.
Power delivery is significantly smoother in the new Sportsman XP’s. Whether you lean or slam into the throttle the familiar “jerk” as the belt catches is all but gone. This is due to the roller-driven clutch system Polaris took from their snowmobile line and optimized it for use in the XP series ATVs. We were able to get a little “jerk” in reverse, but none in the forward gears.
The stability of the Sportsman XP line is outstanding and really caught our attention. We have always felt the Sportsman had a solid and stable “feel” in off-camber situations and higher speed turns, but Sportsman XP model takes that to another level.
The new inline 850cc, twin cylinder EFI, Polaris built engine pulls out 70 horsepower, and is a mountain of power. The amazing thing is that the power is refined power, with the way it is mated with the transmission and clutch setup. Power delivery is exceptionally smooth from a standing stop all the way to top speed. This machine pulls from start to finish with its long torque and power curve. After hours spent riding this beast, we came to the conclusion the Sportsman 850 XP is like a Mercedes more than a Corvette. This motor has more power than you know what to do with, and it is delivered in a refined way.
The 850 engine is fed by a two 40 mm throttle body, EFI system, which proved itself in the mountain environment we rode in. Our camp was at an altitude of about 10,000 feet with temperatures in the morning of around 20 to 30 degrees, and our rides took us to just over 13,000 feet. The EFI performed flawlessly delivering consistent, reliable power in every situation as you would expect from fuel injection. Fuel injection has become the standard in the industry in recent years, but there is something to be said to be able to start your ATV and be ready to ride no matter what the temperature or altitude.
Another item of note is the 850 engine is longitudinally mounted. By doing this, engineers where able lessen vibration and maximize power, while decreasing the seat width and the width between the rider’s knees and feet. What is the result? The result is more legroom and a more sport-like feel.
The new 850cc engine is mated to an improved transmission, which sports a roller-driven clutch, similar to a high-performance snowmobile. This provides smoother, faster clutch response and back shifting. Another improvement is a higher “low” gear which allows for speeds up to 39 mph rather than the recommended 7 mph on previous Sportsman models. This makes the low gear much more usable in riding situations particularly when towing a trailer or heavy load. With such an amazing amount of power from the 850cc engine, we had to purposely use low gear in order to put the transmission through its paces. Even on steep hill climbs we did not have to use low as the 850 engine had power to spare. We used low for rock crawling or extremely steep hill descents, and even those situations did not warrant a need for low gear.
The transmission performed perfectly during our rides, and we were pleased with how gently it operated. The clutching changes are noticeable to anyone who has ridden a Polaris for any length of time. We noticed a change particularly when you start moving from a stop, that the motion is more fluid with no noticeable “jerk” as you begin to move. This transmission is exceptionally (you guessed it) smooth, no matter whether you are riding aggressively or just meandering your way along a trail.
The Sportsman XP’s fully automatic PVT transmission has park, reverse, neutral, high, and low settings operated by a gearshift on the driver’s right side. The shifter operates more smoothly and sets into gear more distinctly than on previous models, and we welcome the improvement.
The transmission also performed much better in engine braking situations than on previous models. We will get into Active Descent Control (ADC) in a moment, but we only used the ADC to test its working ability. The engine breaking seemed more capable of slowing the Sportsman XP down on steep declines without locking up the rear wheels. From a rider control point of view this is a huge improvement over years past. It didn’t seem to matter much whether we were in high or low range, when we let off the throttle or started down a steep hill (I do mean steep), the Sportsman XP didn’t try to “run away” with us or lock the rear tires.
All Wheel Drive
The Polaris Sportsman XP has the tried and true On-Demand All Wheel Drive system, which offers true four-wheel drive. The selector switch on the handlebar has three settings, 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD with ADC (Active Descent Control). When in 2WD, only the rear wheels have power to them. When 4WD is selected, the rear wheels have power to them until one of them slips a quarter turn, and then the system automatically engages both front wheels for true four-wheel drive. The front axle is a “locker” so both front wheels receive equal power until the system senses 4WD is no longer needed, and reverts back to sending power to the rear wheels only. The thing you want to remember is the On Demand All Wheel Drive system works in the background with the rider never having to do anything at all. Just select 4WD or 4WD with ADC (we will get to this in a minute), and know the 4WD will kick in when needed.
So in the real world how does this system work? After many years of owning and riding Polaris ATVs, and comparing this 4WD system to other four-wheel drive systems in all different terrain, we can tell you without hesitation the system works flawlessly. We use the word flawlessly on purpose. On Demand All Wheel Drive engages when you need it and disengages when you don’t, without the rider ever being aware of it. Just set it to 4WD and let it work. It took some time to sell us on the fact the machine is smarter than we are as to when we need four-wheel drive, and when we don’t. We have tested this system in rock crawling, deep mud, aggressive trail riding, trail riding, and every other terrain you can tackle, and the 4WD system on Polaris machines just work. Just set the thumb-switch and forget about it. If you can get through it or over it, On Demand All Wheel Drive will get it done.
Active Descent Control
One of the single biggest concerns we had in years past about Polaris machines in general was the lack of good engine breaking on really steep declines. When you went down a steep decline the RPM would have to reach a certain point before the engine breaking would kick in, and it only worked on the rear wheels. When it did kick in you would have gained momentum, and it tended to lock up the rear wheels putting you into a skid as you built speed going downhill. This was not good. Many times I had to “ski” my way down a steep incline against my will. Polaris solved this problem with Active Descent Control (ADC). ADC automatically provides four-wheel braking when the vehicle is in the 4WD, is running below 15 mph, and no throttle is being applied.
So, how does it perform in real riding? It works exceptionally well. We can say we had confidence that when we came to the top of a steep hill, we would wind up at the bottom in a completely controlled manner and in one piece. We put the ADC to the test on several really steep hills (really steep), and it kept the Sportsman XP at an absolute crawl. The ADC system on the Sportsman XP is “heavy” engine type breaking. We would rate it a 10 on a 1 to 10 scale, and is as good as any of the best engine breaking offered from the manufacturers in the industry. The great news is you can turn ADC off, if you do not want to use it for whatever the reason. The decision to make ADC a choice was a great one by the engineers. We only used ADC to test it, and a couple of times because of the incredible steepness of the decline we were descending. The majority of the time the engine breaking was more than enough to handle our descents. Just put the Sportsman XP into the 4WD-ADC thumb-switch setting, start down the hill, and all you have to do is steer.
Suspension & Steering
The suspension in the front and rear has been completely redesigned in every respect. Gone is the MacPherson strut setup in the front. It has been replaced by a dual A-arm setup with 9 inches of travel. In the rear, the Sportsman XP has what is called a Rolled Independent Rear Suspension made up of A-arms and two-stage springs which are angled 4 degrees. This results in the wheels moving up and back, which helps the rear-end from “squatting” with hard acceleration, and helps provide better rear bump absorption. The Rolled Independent Rear Suspension has 10.25 inches of travel, and the Sportsman XP has a grand total of 12 inches of ground clearance. The chassis, now made of primarily tubular steel, has also been redesigned to provide for all the changes to the suspension and engine setup.
On the trail, we were amazed at how the front and rear suspension soaked up the rocks and bumps at low and high speeds. On whoops, the Sportsman XP’s suspension performed beautifully. With the travel on the front wheels and the Rolled IRS on the rear, the ride was exceptional despite how rough the terrain was. Body roll was almost non-existent even when we tried to push hard through corners. Another thing we noted was the fact the Sportsman XP rode smoothly at different speeds. Some ATVs we have ridden seem to have a "sweet spot" where the suspension performs well, and provides a smooth ride. If you ride slower or faster than that level of speed, the ride becomes rough. The problem comes when you are riding with others, and that speed threshold is not the same on your ATV as the other ATVs you are riding with. With the Sportsman XP this is just not a problem. The ride is smooth at whatever speed you choose to ride. We were also impressed at how stable this machine was. Several of the trails we rode had steep spots and places we had to cross-hill at angles we would prefer not to have to traverse. A couple of places required our expedition crew to cross large boulders with steep drop-offs on one side (the kind that kill you). The Sportsman 850 XP was put in off-camber positions and still felt very stable and solid. We nicknamed it the Mountain Goat as we felt very confident in its stability. As we crawled it through a large boulder field, the Sportsman 850 XP with its long wheel travel, tackled it with ease. We had to purposely choose lines to put the Sportsman XP off-camber with a wheel up in the air. The stability of the Sportsman XP gave us great confidence in tackling tricky spots.
Next, let’s look at the new steering setup minus the power steering. The Sportsman XP anti-kickback steering setup is accomplished by pushing the steering pivot of each axle as close to the center of the wheel as possible. All of that said, there is less kickback to the rider than ever before. Does it work? It absolutely works. As we road many rough trails with lots of good size rocks, we could hardly feel the front wheels go over them. More times than not the way we knew we were going over big rocks was when the rear wheel went over them. Believe me when I tell you we tried to find big rocks (which were in almost every trail we rode) and ruts to hit to try to get bump steer or a strong kickback, but we couldn’t do it. The Sportsman XP just kept asking for more. The other machines we had on this trip didn’t even compare to the ride of the Sportsman XP. The difference was simply night and day. When you combine the anti-kickback steering with the power steering, you have an unbelievably easy-to-control ATV.
Power Steering = WOW
Power steering has truly changed ATV riding and Polaris has developed a great unit. We cannot imagine purchasing another ATV without power steering again...ever. When we first heard about power steering on an ATV we thought “why would anyone need that?”, but we could see some situations where it would be nice to have. Slow rock crawling, tight maneuvering on a heavy ATV, and riding with the front differential “locked”, being a few times power steering would be particularly applicable. After using it for almost 600 miles in many different riding situations, we are believers in it. Power steering simply changes the riding experience, and is an item we would choose to have every time.
The power steering unit on the Sportsman XP is simply amazing. Polaris states their power steering system offers more steering assistance than any other unit on the market. We can tell you it just works really well. It is a variable assist system which applies more assistance at slower speeds and less as you increase in speed. We found the system seemed to apply a lot of assistance to about 25 or 30 mph, and then back off the assistance quite a bit. After all these years of riding big heavy ATVs without power steering, it took a little time to get used to it. Under the 30 mph mark it was completely effortless to turn the handlebars. You could literally turn them with a finger. We ask other riders we met on the trails to use a finger to turn the handlebars while the Sportsman XP was standing still, and everyone was simply speechless with the performance of the power steering. Our riding took us across some extreme trails which were nothing more than boulder fields as you can see from the picture. Our crew loves to ride off-camber boulder fields, and in our experience riding gets tough on heavy ATVs, when you are trying to shift your weight in order to allow the front wheels to make a sharp turn. In this style of riding you can pick a line to get through the rocks, and find the front wheels hit a rock at an odd angle, and your line has changed. This was eliminated or easily corrected by the power steering. Crawling over the boulders was substantially less fatiguing, but don’t worry, it was still a lot of fun.
Rider feedback may be an issue with some people as they want a real “feel” for the terrain as they are riding. As the power steering also is designed to minimize bump steer, at times it is difficult to “feel” the terrain. Having said this, once we got used to the system, we felt very confident in both easy trail riding and more aggressive riding at higher speeds. The power steering is predictable once you are used to it. In summary we love power steering, and will want it on our future ATVs.
Tires and Wheels
Our Polaris Sportsman 850 XP EPS came with 14 inch aluminum wheels, with Carlisle 26 inch Terrathon Tires. Not only did the wheels look good, but the tires performed exceptionally well. They were smooth on the trail despite the rough terrain, and they provided good traction all around including a spot with some deeper mud. We were most impressed by the durability of these tires. In fact we were “wowed” by the durability of these tires. The trails in Taylor Park Colorado are very rough with lots of rocks including sharp ones. We fully expected to have to plug a tire or two on the Polaris Sportsman, but doing so was never needed. The tread appeared to have little wear after 600 miles, which leads us to believe these tires should last for quite a while. For stock wheels and tires, the Polaris Sportsman XP has a good set up.
The Sportsman 850 XP comes with disc brakes on all four wheels, and are controlled with a single break lever on the left handlebar. There is also the rear break foot pedal on the right footboard for those who just want to use the rear brakes. Over the years we hear many complaints about a single lever to control all four breaks rather than the front and rear brakes controlled by separate levers. In our experience we like the single lever as it provides a single action to bring this beast to a stop as quickly as possible. The brakes work better than any other Sportsman we have ridden, and they bring the Sportsman XP to stop very quickly with good control. The brakes bite hard or gently when the rider applies pressure to the lever, and the lever provides good rider feedback. Simply put, these brakes work well.
The most notable ergonomic change is the change in the width of the seat and floorboards. With the 850 engine being turned longitudinally and chassis changes your knees are 3.25 inches closer together, and your feet are 5 inches closer together. There is simply no way for anyone to appreciate this change until you climb onto the Sportsman XP, and feel it for yourself. No picture can represent the significance in feel. The Sportsman feels more like a sport ATV than a utility ATV. Though it is almost 48 inches wide, 83.25 inches long, and weighs in at 784lbs dry, the Sportsman XP feels far less large than it is.
The controls and rider information center in the cockpit of this jet airplane with four wheels is laid out well. Everything is easy to reach and in the proper place as you would expect on a Sportsman. The thumb throttle is well positioned and adjusted just right. After twelve hours on the trail, we experienced no thumb fatigue. The fuel tank cap has been moved to the left side fender. On the right handlebar is the throttle and the 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD w/ ADC thumb selector. On the left handlebar is the light selector, kill switch, reverse-override button, and the single break lever. The pod in the middle of the handlebars has been redesigned on the Sportsman XP’s. It is all digital and includes a speedometer, odometer, tachometer, two trip meters, hour meter, clock, gear indicator, 4WD indicator, fuel gauge, hi temp/low battery lights, and has a DC outlet. We found it to be easy to read and understand, and we liked having more than one trip meter. The rear of the Sportsman XP has a storage compartment as on previous models, but the front storage compartment has been replaced with a front rack. This is due to the moving of the radiator up to the top of the front chassis (and out of the mud), and we will, without a doubt, take the trade-off. Both front and rear racks have a plethora of Pure Polaris Lock and Ride accessories, which include storage boxes for your gear.
An item we always want to remember is the ease at which you can get to the service points of your ATV to keep it running for years to come. This includes air filter, engine oil, transmission and differential fluids, spark plugs, fuses, grease fittings and more. The Sportsman XP makes this easy by engineering the ATV to be easily serviceable. Though we didn’t have to service our Sportsman XP on our trip, we did check out the service points, and how easy it would be to get to them. Overall we think these points will be easy to access. The air filter is accessed under the seat along with the battery, and the fluid drain plugs are easy to access, with holes in the steel skid plates where these drain plugs are located. There is a hole in the skid plate where the oil filter is located, which will be easy to remove. One area of concern that caught our attention was getting to the belt in the PVT housing. It is mounted on the rear of the engine to aid in providing a straight driveline. According to Polaris the belt life should now be about 5000 miles, which means you shouldn’t have to change it very often. After talking to a certified service technician, he indicated the CVT housing is just as easy to get off as in previous models. He always knows what he is talking about, and I am sure this is no exception.
Other Items To Note
- Radiator Placement- For several years the Sportsman’s design included the radiator placement at the bottom on the front of the ATV. This made it susceptible to debris getting into the radiator fins, particularly if you rode through deep water or liked to do any mud riding. This led to a common problem of engine overheating, which required you to take the front end off and the radiator out of the ATV to clean it well. Polaris listened to its customers and changed the radiator placement to the top of the front of the ATV, and angled it for easy cleaning. It is also 20% larger than in previous models. The radiator can be easily accessed by taking off the front rack. This is a huge improvement we are grateful for.
- Skid Plates- Polaris always provides a skid plate made of steel not plastic.On the XP models, all of the components in the chassis are surrounded or placed on top of the tubular steel frame. Where there are critical components such as the engine or differentials, there are steel plates underneith them to protect those critical components. A plastic underbelly is then placed on the outside of the frame, and runs the length of the ATV. We would imagine it was done this way to allow the Sportsman XP to "slide" obstructions on the trail. Because Polaris comes with a protection system like this, you will not need to spend $400 after buying your new ATV.
- Lights- Polaris has all three lights (two in the grill and one in the pod on the handlebars) now working at the same time from the factory! For years people have bought aftermarket kits to allow all three lights to work together. Now you can select them to work together when you select “high” on the light control. This is a small but great improvement.
- Receiver Hitch- Another item we appreciate coming from the factory is a standard receiver hitch. This allows for adding aftermarket accessories or towing a trailer without having to buy a hitch.
What We Think Could Be Improved
Being there is so much to love about the Sportsman XP models, it was difficult to find things we didn’t love about it. Below are a few things we would love to see improved. We realize they are small items and very specific, but we at ATVESCAPE are committed to giving riders to full picture.
- Splash Protection- The Sportsman XP has good splash protection, but we wish it could be better. Along the many miles we rode, there was a lot of water puddles along the trail, which would throw water onto my jeans and boots. Now I am not talking about fording a river, but small, shallow water puddles hit at a responsible amount of speed. It seemed every time we hit one, I was splashing water onto my boots or having to lift my feet to keep from getting wet. I tried finding a “sweet spot” which would keep the water from hitting me, but it wasn’t happening. We would love to see a little better splash protection.
- Air Intakes- One thing which caught our attention is the location of the air intake for the engine, CVT, and transmission. On the Sportsman XP models, the air intakes are under the front of seat. This is lower than on the previous Sportsman models. If you get into water which gets up to the seat then you have got serious problems. I am sure some aftermarket companies will develop snorkels to deal with this, but until then be aware where the air intakes are located. We wish they were a little higher in the chassis.
The new Sportsman XP models and specifically our 850 XP EPS performed to all the hype we heard about, and then some. The Sportsman XP changes the standard that utility ATVs aspire too. Our Sportsman 850 XP EPS was an incredible ride in every respect, and it was a blast to ride. The 850 engine provides mountains of power and the transmission works without notice. The suspension keeps the Sportsman XP firmly planted on the ground in off camber riding, with almost no roll in hard corners and turns. The anti-kickback steering keeps the Sportsman XP going in the direction you point it, and the power steering makes steering effortless. The AWD and ADC gives you confidence you can not only tackle terrain and climb hills, but you can descend hills with great control and confidence. The Sportsman 850 XP EPS simply rides like we have wished a utility ATV would.
Throughout our 9 days with our Sportsman 850 XP EPS, this machine continued to impress us, and I did not want to give it back. Of our riders, whoever had the Sportsman XP for the day had no fatigue despite the rough terrain we were tackling. This Sportsman just has an amazing ride all around, and it feels so much smaller and lighter than it is. With its refined power, we knew we could tackle anything (or almost anything). It is not possible to appreciate all the improvements on a Sportsman until you go to a dealer, and sit on one. We know there are several great big bore ATVs on the market, and we know if you are a die-hard fan of another brand, you will probably dismiss this review as being “pro-Sportsman”. So this is what we ask of anyone. Go out to a Polaris dealer and sit on a Sportsman XP model. You will be amazed at the feel of this redesigned ATV.
- Power To Spare
- Transmission Setup
- Seat Width
- Power Steering
We want to thank Polaris for allowing ATVESCAPE an opportunity to ride and review an Sportsman 850 XP EPS. You can find more information and specs about the Sportsman 850 XP on the Polaris Website.
We also would like to thank J Adee, owner of Back 2 Productions for joining us and for contributing photos for this article. For more information about Back 2 Productions check out their Back 2 Productions Website.
Click on any of the pics below to view a gallery of the Sportsman 850 XP EPS, and then you can choose "View Slideshow" to play through all of the pics.
Please leave comments below about your thoughts on the new Polaris Sportsman XP!
|Sportsman™ XP 850|
|Engine Type||4-stroke SOHC|
|Displacement, cc||850 twin|
|Carburetion||40 mm Throttle Body, EFI|
|Drive System||Automatic PVT, 2WD/AWD/AWD with ADC|
|Engine Braking System||Standard|
|Active Decent Control||Standard|
|Front Suspension||Short Long Arm (SLA) - 9" / 22.9 cm travel|
|Rear Suspension||Short Long Arm (SLA) - 10.25" / 26.0 cm travel|
|Front Brakes||Single Lever Hydraulic 4 wheel disc|
|Rear Brake||Hydraulic rear foot brake|
|Tires & Wheels|
|Front Tires||26 x 8R14; Terrathon|
|Rear Tires||26 x 10R14; Terrathon|
|Wheels||Cast Aluminum or Stamped Steel|
|Wheelbase||53" / 134.6 cm|
|Dry Weight||784 lb. / 355.6 kg|
|Length/Width/Height||83.25" / 211.4 cm, 47.6" / 120.9 cm, 50.75" / 128.9 cm|
|Seat Height||37" / 94.0 cm|
|Fuel Capacity||XP: 5.25 gal / 19.9 ltr XPS: 4.5 gal / 17 ltr|
|Front Rack/Box Capacity||120 lb. / 55kg|
|Rear Rack Capacity||240 lb. / 110 kg|
|Hitch Towing Capacity||1500 lb. / 680.4 kg|
|Ground Clearance||12" / 30.5 cm|
|Hitch / Type||Std / Receiver|
|Instrumentation||Digital Gauge, Speedometer, Odometer, Tachometer, Tripmeter, Hourmeter, Clock, Gear Indicator, Fuel Gauge, Hi Temp/Low Batt lights, DC Outlet.|
|Mossy Oak Camo|
|Standard Paint or Camo|