2012 Polaris Sportsman X2 550 Review Hot

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Polaris Sportsman X2People use their ATVs for several different things. Many of us simply use our ATVs for the purpose of FUN, which is the greatest reason. ATVs can take us on adventures like no other vehicle on the planet, and allow us the ability to see and experience things we cannot experience any other way. Whether we hit the trail for adventure or hit the mud hole for adventure, fun is the end result. Others use ATVs for work around a farm, ranch, or job site in order to get the job done. In some cases we expect our ATVs to carry along a second person, an expectation which the manufacturers cater to with the two-seat ATVs. With all of these reasons people use ATVs, the question becomes “Can there be an ATV out there, which does all of these things? Can there be one ultimate ATV?”

I have given this search for an “ultimate ATV” quite a bit of thought over the last couple of years. For what I use an ATV for, I have thought a two-seat model where the rear seat can be removed to provide a flat load bed, could be a contender for the ultimate ATV. The other that has come to mind is the Polaris X2 as it comes with a dump-bed that converts to a second seat. The Sportsman X2 is the only ATV on the market which does this, and from the first time I saw this I knew it was special. So, in my quest to find an ultimate ATV, I asked Polaris for one to put through the paces to see if the Sportsman X2 could qualify for the title!


Polaris Sportsman X2This is not my first time on a Sportsman X2. A buddy of mine bought one in 2007 when they first came out, and the engine in it was a 500cc. On a trip or two, we put many many miles on it, and we fell in love with the dump-bed bed along with the added stability. The Sportsman X2 has a 4 inch longer wheelbase than the Sportsman XP series, and the same wheelbase as the XP Touring editions.  The added wheelbase added stability to the ATV, particularly when you carry a passenger or up to 400 lbs of cargo. The dump-bed solved the problem of where to put the ice chest, and we all have been there trying to solve that problem. The added benefit that was barely used was the ability to transform it into a seat for a passenger. 

Since its release, the Sportsman X2 has become a staple on the list of machines from Polaris. They updated the X2 to the XP series frame, suspension, steering geometry, and body work. All of these things translate to a better machine, which in summary is an outstanding ride. Some of the other upgrades include Active Descent Control (ADC) along with a cargo box up front as standard items. Today the Sportsman X2 comes with the 550 engine found in the Sportsman lineup, providing 549cc of power. Of course the Polaris fully-automatic transmission and On-Demand All Wheel Drive are in tow, providing for all the traction and ease of use you expect from a Polaris. As a package the Sportsman X2 has almost everything you could want. Still, what sets this machine apart from all, literally all, the rest is the dump-bed which goes from a dump-bed to a second seat for a passenger, all in about 10 to 15 seconds. This feature is the shining star of the X2 among several wonderful features. The X2 really does play dual roles as a trail/work ATV, and then a passenger carrier when called upon to do so. Not only does the X2 play both roles, but it plays both of these roles rather well.

Engine- Plenty Of Power

Polaris Sportsman X2In order to win the title of “Ultimate ATV”, you must have plenty of power to do whatever the ATV is designed to do, and the Polaris receives  high marks here. The 550 engine offers plenty of power for trail riding, hauling, towing, and general all around work. The 550 engine is a fuel injected, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder, single overhead cam motor, and it delivers power across the speed range right up to its top-end. In English this means that despite the speed you are going, when you hit the throttle the 550 engine responds with noticeable power pushing you forward. We found this to be true at high altitudes as well. The X2 never lacks power. We found it topped out at about 55 MPH, but probably has a little more in it with much lighter stock tires. Despite the much heaver tires we ran on the X2, it handled that extra weight without any complaints. It didn’t ever lack power. The 550 motor is not going to set any speed records, but it has plenty of power to do whatever you want to do with the exception of setting speed records. This includes hauling 400lbs of cargo, or a passenger down the trail. We used it to pull a side-by-side 15 miles back to camp that had broken down, and it did the job with power to spare.  Another thing to note is the engine is smooth as it works to take you where you want to go.

I have to include the fact the X2 may not be as fast as the big bore twins out there, but it is still fun to ride. It has plenty of power to power slide if you want it too, or to spin around corners. The engine produces solid torque, which means you have plenty of power on tap to break the rear tires loose, and we all like to do that now and then!

Transmission & Drivetrain

Polaris Sportsman X2The next on the list of “musts” for the “Ultimate ATV” title is a solid transmission with the right gearing and clutching in order to put all the power from the engine to the ground. The Polaris Sportsman X2 receives high marks here as well, and to us it was not a surprise. The transmission on the X2 is the tried-and-true Polaris PVT fully automatic transmission, the very same one as on all the Sportsman lineup. The transmission consists of Park, Reverse, Neutral, Low, and High gears. Simply select your gear and go, which is exactly what I want in an ATV. In the last few years Polaris made two changes to the transmission on the Sportsman. They changed the clutching making the transmission engage more smoothly along with making it more responsive. This is the most significant change. The second is the gear shifter. When you move the transmission into the gear you want, it sets into the gear with a solid feel that was lacking in older models. With these changes the Polaris Sportsman transmission is a pleasure to use out on the trail or around the farm. 

Despite having two forward gears, high has ample power to do most anything you want to do. Most of our testing was done in the Rocky Mountains, and high allowed us to ascend and descend hills with ease. Only on the steepest of hills, did I drop it into Low gear for that added insurance. I also used Low in some boulder fields requiring some rock crawling to get through. The transmission’s engagement in those situations really shows how well the clutching is set. 

Next up would be the drivetrain on the Sportsman, and how it lends itself to the “Ultimate ATV” title. To get right to the point, the drive train box can be checked in the win column. The X2 uses the On-Demand All Wheel Drive(AWD) system put on all Polaris ATVs and UTVs, with the addition of Turf Mode. We have found this is the simplest AWD system to use. You set the drive mode on a thumb-switch on the right handlebar. You can choose Turf Mode, 2WD, 4WD, or 4WD with Active Descent Control. Turf mode is unique to the X2, and allows you to unlock the rear differential for tighter turning but, more significantly, keeps you from tearing up sensitive areas of your lawn. The

Polaris Sportsman X2

 2WD mode is no doubt what you will use most and sends power equally to both rear wheels. Next is 4WD, which operates in 2WD mode until a rear wheel slips, and then the front wheels engage automatically with equal power to both front wheels. This gives you a true “diff lock” in the front. Finally, you can choose 4WD with Active Descent Control, which works the same as 4WD, but helps you descend steep declines with all four wheels working to slow you down, when you are under 15 MPH. Think of ADC as a really heavy engine braking. 

Now take a breath, and I will tell you why I am a fan of Polaris’ AWD system. It just works. I know I have said that before, and I am sure I will say it many times again. When the rear wheels slip, the front wheels engage to give you the extra traction you need. You can run the X2 or any Sportsman in 4WD all the time, but it only will send power to the front wheels when the rear wheels slip. Set it and forget about it. We have used this AWD from Polaris in every situation imaginable, and it always works to pull you through. We have used it beside all of the other “diff lock” systems, and it performs just as well with less work. We played with Turf mode just to see if it made any difference, and it really does as far as tearing the ground up. We also used 4WD with Active Descent Control, and it works as expected. Rarely did we need the added help of descending steep declines, because the engine braking on the newer Sportsmans including the X2, is so good.  To us the ADC is an added bonus, and gave us warm fuzzes to know it would help us if needed.


Polaris Sportsman X2The ride has to be good in order to earn the title of “Ultimate ATV”. So “how did the Sportsman X2 fair” you might ask? The X2 offers a plush and predictable ride as you would expect from a Polaris. The suspension set up uses dual A-Arms in the front with 9-inches of travel, and dual A-Arms in the back with 10.25-inches of travel. The item to note on the rear is the the Rolled IRS, which angles the shocks rewarded to allow for a smoother ride and less squat under hard acceleration. Anything making the already comfortable ride better, works for me. 

When I first jumped head-first into the fun and adventure of ATVing, I visited with several ATV owners to determine which one to buy. Everyone I talked to said the Polaris Sportsman was the most comfortable ATV to ride. I bought one and found that to be true. Much of the riding I do covers miles of trails and lasts a full day, and covering ground while offering a comfortable ride for the rider is where the Sportsman excels. A few years later, along with some added improvements, the Sportsman continues to offer the “Standard” for a comfortable ride. The Sportsman X2 can be ridden all day long on rough terrain, and return you home with little rider fatigue. The X2 has plenty of travel to soak up bumps, and allows the rider to adjust the shocks to the stiffness he or she wants. There is also the anti-kickback steering, which uses geometry in the steering setup to minimize the amount of rider input required to turn the wheels. This is the first ATV we have had in a while without power steering (more on that later), and that offered us the opportunity to see how the steering has improved without power steering in the mix. The X2’s steering requires less effort than in years past, even without power steering. Even more impressive is the many miles put on the X2 with heavier tires and without as much steering effort needed on order to go where you want to go. One thing to be clear on however, is that the improved  steering geometry does not compare to having power steering. The difference between the two is still night and day.

Polaris Sportsman X2So how does it ride as a whole after going through all the suspension and steering setup? The ride is comfortable, predictable, and everything you would expect from a Polaris Sportsman. Whether you are riding aggressively, or just taking your time enjoying the adventure the X2 makes it a comfortable journey. Even with a passenger on the back,or weight in the dump-bed,  the suspension offers up a solid ride. In hard corners the Sportsman X2 stays flat with some but not much body roll, offering confidence in cornering. The overall ride can be summed up in one word: solid. The way the X2 ‘s suspension is designed (and for that matter the entire machine) gives you a solid feel as you are riding it. The only way to describe it would be to say the suspension and steering working together underneath you seem to perform seamlessly together. The X2 helps you enjoy the ride as it is a fun ATV to ride, responding well to whatever your riding desire is at that time. 


The Ultimate ATV must have all of its controls and instruments where they are easy to reach and in the place the rider would expect them to be. The Sportsman X2 again scores well in this department. Everything is where you as an ATV rider expect it to be. The left handlebar holds the light and single brake lever. The right handlebar holds the throttle and drive mode selector switch.   The analog and digital instrument cluster in front of the rider keeps the rider informed of everything that is going on with the machine, including speed, trip meters, RPM, AWD mode, temp, fuel gauge, and more. If it is happening to the X2, the X2 lets you know. The transmission shifter is on the right side of the rider, and there is a hydraulic rear foot brake pedal on the right floorboard. 

The Sportsman X2 offers creature comforts that make your ride enjoyable and offering little fatigue even after a day on the trail. The X2 has a comfortable seat, good splash protection, and large floorboards with plenty of room to put even the largest feet with room to spare. No matter the adventure or terrain, the X2 makes the ride comfortable. 

Other Items

Polaris Sportsman X2What other items might the Ultimate ATV need? We will start with good brakes...check that box. The X2 has four hydraulic disc brakes, all operated with a single-lever on the left handlebar. We know some like the front and rear brakes controlled separately, but it is hard to beat the ease of use of a single lever, and that is what we prefer. If you REALLY want to control just the rear brakes separately, you can use the foot-pedal for that. Next item for an Ultimate ATV would be good lighting. “Check” in that box as well. The lighting consists of two headlights in the grill and one in the instrument pod, all of which can be turned on at the same time. Finally, there are the tires and wheels. The stock tires on the X2 are a Maxxis tire, which we have tested on machines in the past. They are remarkably durable for a stock tire, and offer a nice ride. In our photos you will notice we put a set of ITP Black Water Evolution tires and SS216 wheels on the X2. You can read the review of those here. The stock stamped steel wheels on the X2 are nothing to write home about. They serve their purpose and are durable. 

Passenger Comfort 

So is the Sportsman X2 as comfortable as the Touring series Sportsman? The X2 is designed with several items to offer the passenger a secure and comfortable ride, all of which come on the Touring models. The X2 has raised rear footrests, grab bars, the elevated passenger seat with four inches of padding, and last but not at all least, the seat-back expands vertically for plenty of back support.  The passenger is provided all the comforts of home on the X2, and riding back there for the day is not a bad ride. The X2 is “not quite” as comfortable to ride on as a passenger as a Touring edition, or other dedicated 2-up model on the market. The rear seat-back and seat are not as contoured to your backside or your back as the dedicated 2-up ATVs are, making the X2  just shy of that level of comfort. However, since the X2 can transform into a single rider ATV with a dump-bed, the slightly less passenger comfort issue is not a real issue. Take that dedicated 2-up machine! I don’t know of one of those models that can haul rocks and transform to carry a passenger comfortably in about 10 seconds....or at all!

Transforming To Passenger Mode

Polaris Sportsman X2Polaris Sportsman X2

In order to be the “Ultimate ATV” transforming from dump bed to 2-up ATV has to happen quickly and easily. “So how does the Sportsman X2 score on that?” It scores quite well. The transformation takes about 10 seconds to accomplish. You slide two tabs on the front of the dump-bed, allowing for the front of the dump-bed to move. Next, you pull up on a loop in the dump-bed, resulting in the piece of the dump-bed floor pulling up with the backrest underneath it. Next the seat behind the rider on the front of the dump-bed falls backward, forming the seat cushion for the passenger. The final step is to pull up on the backrest for the passenger, to fully extend it. That is the entire process, and that takes about 10 seconds. Obviously, reversing the process puts everything away, and creates the dump-bed again.

We stepped through this process multiple times to see what we thought, and overall it worked flawlessly. We had a couple of times where the tabs holding the front of the dump-bed that folds down to the passenger seat cushion got stuck and required a little “adjustment” to get them moving again. Other than that we had no problems with the back-and-forth transition from dump-bed to 2-up ATV.


Polaris Sportsman X2Polaris Sportsman X2

The dump-bed is a fantastic feature that needs a little tweaking to either get it working flawlessly, or it just needs to be broken in with use. Let’s start with the positives. The dump-bed’s size is outstanding. It is not the biggest dump-bed on an ATV, but it is plenty big to give you space for a full-size ice-chest, a pile of wood or rocks, or all the gear you would ever need out on the trail. There are also rails on three sides on the dump-bed for hooking regular size ratchet straps, so securing cargo is not a problem. Having a “bed” on an ATV lends itself to all sorts of uses one never thought they would use an ATV for. The dump-bed did give us issues when using the “dumping” part of the bed, and then returning it back to its upright position. The first step to dump the bed is to pull on a loop behind the rider on the seat. Next, simply pull forward on the seat-back, and that releases the dump-bed. All of this worked perfect every time. The trouble we had came at getting dump-bed back into locked position. Despite using some force, the plastic levers under the dump-bed that lock underneath the frame rails didn’t want to lock into their final seated position under the frame rails. The only way we found to get them to lock correctly was to reach underneath the bed, and pop the plastic pieces into their final locked position. That took some real focus on the one side as to not burn your hand on the exhaust pipe.  We are certain either these pieces would break-in over time, or they needed to be adjusted. Either way, we believe there is an easy fix to our problems having had experience with another X2 that didn’t have any problems at all. Working out this one issue for us would cause us to give the dump-bed all smiles. Despite these issues, the dump-bed is a favorite of ours, and we wish we had an X2 on all our ATV trips so we can easily carry all the important items that make for a great trail ride.  

The Ultimate ATV?

Polaris Sportsman X2So with all of the positive things we have pointed out about the Sportsman X2, you would think we would undoubtedly crown the Sportsman X2 the Ultimate ATV. The X2 has a comfortable and predictable ride, has plenty of power, is fun to ride, has tons of capacity with the dump-bed, provides outstanding passenger comfort, is very capable with the AWD and ADC system, and most of all can transform from 1-up to a 2-up ATV in seconds.  However if you think we will crown it as the ultimate ATV, you would be wrong. We will not be crowning the Sportsman X2 as the ultimate ATV despite the fact WE REALLY WANT TO! It is not what the Sportsman X2 has that keeps us from crowning it the ultimate ATV, but what the X2 doesn’t have which keeps it from a shoe-in for the title. Here it is.....are you ready? The X2 is not available with power steering. In a world of power steering, the X2 is power steering-less, and I must say we are extremely puzzled by this. The Sportsman 550 has power steering, along with the Touring Editions and XP series, all of which are the X2’s brothers. So why not make it available as an option? Well, the fact is power steering is not an option, which is a shame because that would put the X2 over the top as a must-have ATV. There are so many things to like about the X2 and which set the X2 apart from anything and everything, but no power steering is a problem. Some of you might say “you don’t need that”, and we used to think that also. We know better now, having ridden most all ATV brands with power steering, and knowing the difference is night and day compared to not having it. Hopefully, Polaris will rectify this ASAP, and we are certain they will sell more of the X2, as it is such a great machine. Besides the lack of power steering the only other item we would improve on would be to offer a bigger engine choice as well, for those who want everything the X2 can do, but with the ability to win drag races with their friends. This issue is not a big one really, because the 550 engine in the X2 will take you anywhere a big bore twin will, which to us is all that matters.

Our Thoughts- Summary

Polaris Sportsman X2The Polaris Sportsman X2 is a package by which others could certainly be measured. The X2 is an outstanding ATV, and we would love to have one in our stable of ATVs all the time. The X2 is in a class of its own, and quite frankly it is puzzling other manufacturers have not made an attempt to develop a “hybrid” ATV themselves. The X2 can pull double duty going from a 1-up ATV with a dump-bed which can carry 400lbs, to a comfortable 2-up ATV having the ability to carry a passenger safely. What more can you possibly ask of an ATV? The X2 is a “solid” ATV, which I personally could depend on  one as my main ATV, if it only had power steering! The X2 has plenty of power, offers a comfortable ride, is capable on the trail, and is fun to ride. When I think of a single ATV I would buy as my main ATV, two units come to mind. The first is a 2-up ATV where you can take the rear seat off and add storage. The other is the Sportsman X2, and the only reason I would choose the 2-up ATV would be the lack of power steering on the Sportsman. Having said that, I still would love to have an X2 in my collection of ATVs because it is a do-all ATV in a class of its own! We will see you on the trail.


Polaris Sportsman X2 550 Website- http://www.polaris.com/en-us/atv-quad/2-up/sportsman-x2-550-indy-red/features

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