Power Couples by:Tom Kaiser
Excluding cobra bites, speeding tickets and root canals, many things are best experienced in combinations of two. Think margaritas with salt, beer brats and sauerkraut or a day off in the outdoors with your spouse, children or a good friend. Duality is one of life's enduring themes. Let's be bold and add riding ATVs to that list. Some might say 2-up ATVs have been made obsolete by two-person side-by-sides, but we strongly beg to differ. UTVs have their advantages, and are very fun, but two-passenger ATVs are allowed on more trails, take up less space, usually cost less and can provide a more physically engaging ride, which is important to enthusiasts like us.
It's worth noting that 2-ups account for about 6.7 percent of the ATV industry a profitable segment that's grown in recent years, hence the expanding proliferation of choices now available.
We recently honored the Polaris Sportsman Touring 800 EFI as our 2008 ATV of the Year, but some new competition from Can-Am's freshened Outlander Max and Arctic Cat's innovative Cruiser models set the stage for a full-on 2-up comparison test.
Our test team included three couples one set of friends, some soon-to-be relatives (marriage pending) and a wedded couple that's logged many miles aboard their 2-up over the past three and a half years. It was a wide array of ATV experience the perfect crew to dissect and review three unique machines.
We loaded up and drove to the shores of Minnesota's huge Lake Mille Lacs to ride the Red Top ATV Trail a typical, wooded public riding area with varied terrain. With a long washboard former rail bed, wide connector trails that wind through the woods and a technical "High Adventure" section, Red Top had the variety needed for a comprehensive investigation.
3rd Place - Polaris Sportsman Touring 800 EFI
With four distinct models, Polaris has a wide selection of 2-up variants serving different audiences. Its X2s have a folding rear seat that transforms into a cargo bed, while the more comfortable Touring models are designed for couples looking to put on serious miles with a larger, plusher fixed rear seat that's a dramatic improvement in passenger accommodation over the compromising X2.
Based on the old Sportsman chassis, as opposed to the superb, new XP introduced last summer, the Sportsman Touring is available as a 500 or an 800. We wanted to test the best 2-ups available, so we went for the Touring 800, with its powerful twin-cylinder 760cc mill.
As its chassis has been on the market for years, but constantly updated, the Sportsman Touring holds few surprises. That doesn't mean it's without great features, though, like a one-wheel drive Versatrac Turf Mode for inconspicuously traversing your yard, abundant storage bins and the Polaris-exclusive Active Descent Control, which provides four-wheel engine braking strong enough to stop a fully loaded quad heading down a mountain trail without using the brakes.
Passenger-centric features include a rear seat that's reclined back more than the competitors from Arctic Cat and Can-Am, two built-in cup holders, angular "vibration-isolating" handholds and rubber-and-plastic height-adjustable foot rests that also seek to minimize vibration.
Other goodies include on-demand all-wheel drive, a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front and dual A-arms in the rear, a one-inch rear receiver, an attractive painted finish that Polaris says is nine times more scratch resistant than regular plastics and sharp cast aluminum rims. With a price of $9,699, the Sporty was the least expensive machine in the test by a mere $230 vs. the Arctic Cat but it's the only machine here without a winch.
From The Backseat
As mentioned, our group was a motley crew of testers some riding 2-up for the first time, others very familiar riding quads in pairs. Each documented their impressions, rating various aspects of comfort, perceived quality, features and performance. All ratings placed a strong emphasis on passenger comfort and accommodations.
What was the latest and greatest 2-up in 2008 has lost its luster according to our six-person team. Each of our testers unanimously rated the Sportsman Touring as the least comfortable rig for passengers.
All riders cited a cheap feeling backrest that's reclined too far back and offers little lumbar support. The passenger seat bottom is satisfyingly cushy but its relatively flat shape made it hard to stay put over rough terrain, occasionally bouncing the rear rider forward into the driver's back no fun for anyone. The square-edged handholds do the trick, but were singled out for being too close to thighs and too sturdy, transmitting more bumps to the passenger's arms and shoulders than other, more forgiving hand grips.
The passenger footrests were also the targets of some griping. The beef? They're too short, with boots hanging off the front, and they lack the metallic serrated pegs that the driver gets. While the rubber reduces vibration, it doesn't have the much-needed grip to keep the backseat driver properly in place.
Speaking of shaking, our passengers said the rear position of the Polaris was far too bumpy over rough trails - even in the softest spring settings, the rear suspension proved to be too stiff. It's a roomy platform, though, and better suited to slower-paced or shorter jaunts, which might be all some users are looking for.
For The Driver
From the driver's seat, it's hard to tell there's even a passenger on-board as the Sportsman easily has enough power and suspension capabilities to handle the added load with full composure.
From a driver's perspective, the Sportsman is fun to drive and utterly predictable. Active Descent Control makes it especially easy to judiciously regulate speed for the passenger's comfort, which is a great quality in hilly terrain or on tight woods trails with constant changes in vehicle speed. One tester said the engine braking was too strong for his liking, but it can be turned off with the flip of a switch. A roomy platform allowed plenty of room for both riders to stretch out without being too close for comfort.
Like most Sportsman models, the Touring is smooth riding, offers low-effort steering, a pillow-soft seat and is all sorts of fun once you start exploring the burly engine's abilities enough though it was hard to tell the passenger wasn't sharing in the fun. A quick slap to the back of the helmet made things crystal clear.
One passenger eager to switch rides summed the Touring's rear-seat experience clearest: "I didn't enjoy it. I was struggling to stay on the entire ride." As any parent who reluctantly drives a grocery getter knows, passenger comfort and safety is your highest priority when carrying human cargo. We anxiously await an improved 2-up from Polaris based on the XP chassis.
2nd Place - Arctic Cat TRV 700 H1 EFI Cruiser
Everyone was excited to test out the fancy Arctic Cat 700 Cruiser, with its upmarket steel blue metallic paint, attractive aluminum rims, capacious and color-matched rear storage trunk, heated driver and passenger grips and windshield with integrated side-view mirrors that gave it the semblance of a high-class touring motorcycle. In fact, with its standard winch, this may be one of the most luxurious ATVs on the market.
We had hoped to test the 1000 Cruiser model, powered by the Thundercat's rip-roaring 951cc H2 engine, but we had to take what was available the 700, with a potent single-cylinder engine we've previously commended for its smooth, progressive power. The 700 Cruiser also costs $2,500 less than the 1000 model, so it will likely appeal to a wider audience.
Based on Arctic Cat's largest TRV (two-rider vehicle) chassis, the lengthened Cruisers have a wheelbase that's been stretched 8 inches over their single-passenger comrades. This imparts the Cruisers with better handling characteristics and a sense of stability around corners or over uneven terrain which you'll undoubtedly encounter on any trail. Cat's "ride-in" suspension lowers the center of gravity over previous models, while maintaining 11 inches of ground clearance, second to the Can-Am's foot of clearance.
In addition to the aforementioned niceties, key features include durable automotive-style paint, an electronically locking differential, a built-in 2-inch receiver, a driver's cup holder and four-wheel dual A-arm independent suspension.
From The Backseat
Curvy handholds and a deluxe rear seat made the Arctic Cat a popular choice for passengers, with one tester calling it the best seat in the test. The grips are less rigid than the others, a nice quality that allows the seat and handholds to absorb some of the shock for a less tiring ride.
One problem noted by all was that the curvaceous handholds arc in toward the passenger too far in the front, leaving some with bruised thighs. A simple design fix would make the Cat's backseat nearly flawless. The rear seat bottom is curved up just slightly, enough to keep everybody in place. Also good, the footrests were large and grippy, crucial for allowing the passenger to stay in place and avoid being jolted into the driver's back.
For The Driver
Hauling around a passenger is of little consequence for the mighty Cruiser. There's more body roll than the other machines in turns, but high ground clearance, a stable platform and smooth engine braking make this an easy machine for drivers to supply a tranquil ride. With peppier engines, the Can-Am and Polaris are a bit more fun to aggressively pilot through the woods and on long straight stretches, but the Arctic Cat hits the intended mark: two-person comfort. The Cruiser 1000 undoubtedly has plenty of power for all conditions.
At the first trail break, everybody wanted to check out the smart-looking lockable rear cargo box that's cavernous by ATV storage standards. Its operation wasn't up to expectations, with one calling it "flimsy." Mastering its proper closure and locking was a team effort, but we figured it out and utilized the space for hauling drinks, pens, notebooks, a tire repair kit and extra layers of clothing. All gave Arctic Cat high marks for providing such abundant storage, useful on almost any ride, but the box could use some refinement.
The cool looks of the windshield and side mirrors were also betrayed by poor execution. The plastic windshield vibrated loose several times throughout our test, while the mirrors also came loose and were generally hard to adjust into a useful position. Mostly, we looked at a vibrating reflection of ourselves.
Lastly, the Cruiser's speedometer also indicated an EFI diagnostic issue, and the machine failed to start briefly. It may be a one-time glitch, but it wasn't received well by the peanut gallery. We're still awaiting dealer word on what that was all about.
One could always save some cash with the TRV 700 H1 that comes without the windshield, heated grips and trades the storage box for an optional plastic cargo bed, but the Cruiser would be better in cold weather riding conditions, with its big shield and heated grips. For summer riding, we removed the rattling, dirt-collecting windshield and mirrors.
Even with a few disconcerting bits like the EFI/speedo issue, the clunky cargo box and the removable, annoying windshield, the Arctic Cat TRV 700 H1 EFI Cruiser is a pleasant machine that's comfortable for the driver and the passenger, has photogenic good looks and enough storage to really travel off the beaten path.
1st Place - Can-Am Outlander Max 800R EFI XT
From the turn of the theft deterring key to the fancy digital gauges, the comfy seats to the superior handholds, the rumbling exhaust note to the intoxicating power that planted everybody back in their seats, the Can-Am Outlander Max 800R exudes quality and fun. It's motivated by the most powerful engine in the test, and one of the strongest in the ATV marketplace, and all but one member of our six-person test team voted the Can-Am the most appealing rig in the group drivers and passengers.
Its as-tested price just below 11 grand is highest in the group, but ours was a mid-level XT model (as opposed to the opulent LTDs) that's still decked-out by most anyone's standards. Less generously equipped models are available for less; they just come without the winch and the fancy wheels. But we like the snazzy aluminum wheels and always want a winch on a machine that's far too heavy for manhandling.
Most of what's good about the Can-Am also makes it unique a "surrounding spar" frame that helps the Outlander weigh a bit less than the others, a TTI rear suspension that reduces wheel scrub yet provides a sporty and soft ride, a no-brainer automatic locking front differential, a digital security system and that wild, explosive V-twin engine.
The inboard hydraulic discs, while unique, are the machine's greatest flaws with cheap sounding creaking when pulling hard on the brakes. Previous experience with Can-Am's four-wheelers of similar design have shown these brakes to be highly susceptible to water a questionable design call on an all-terrain vehicle, we'd say.
The 2010 model with dual-mode power steering wasn't available for our test, but would only sweeten the deal in our eyes, as low handlebars and high steering effort are slight Outlander demerits.
From The Backseat
For passengers, the Can-Am has few glaring faults. The grips aren't heated like the luxuriant Arctic Cat, but they're curved away from the driver, causing no black-and-blue marks on our passengers' legs. The rear seat bottom is curved up to keep the passenger in place, which works great, but one female tester said this seat hump was a bit intrusive. This makes the rear seat an uncomfortable place for men.
A full foot of ground clearance on this machine proves you can have the best of both worlds: a chassis that avoids boulders plus sporty handling with minimal body roll. For one couple, at least, the Can-Am seemed to encourage the occasional power slide on wide-open, smooth trails. In the rougher, rockier sections, the Can-Am provided a smooth ride for both riders, if slightly less forgiving than the Arctic Cat. "I could ride on this machine all day on smooth trails or the rough terrain," said one happy camper. "As the passenger, I enjoyed this machine the most."
For The Driver
Behind the bars of the Outlander, it's hard to tell there's even a passenger hanging on back there. Off-camber sections, fast braking, rough trails, steep hills and sharp turns all failed to upset the stable chassis, and the suspension and power were easily up to the task. If you're looking to scare the bejesus out of a passenger, this machine has the speed to do it. It also has the poise and polish to bring any passenger on a casual, pleasant ride, though the quick-hitting powerband does make the machine a bit jumpy.
As we know many 2-up owners only ride with a passenger a portion of the time, we like that the Can-Am's rear seat is removable, and can be replaced with a small storage box. Making the swap couldn't be easier or faster, in contrast to the Cat's fussy accessories. They both lock in with a reassuring click, so you can be sure everything is properly secured.
At the end of the day, all but one rated the Can-Am Outlander Max 800R as their favorite ride. Looking at the facts it's easy to see why: evident quality, a composed chassis, an overachieving engine, a comfortable seat, proper hand and foot grips and the ability to quickly transfigure between a one- and two-person machine.
If you're riding solo or with a co-pilot, the Can-Am over delivers on expectations, and looks great while doing it. We suspect the addition of power steering and slightly toned down graphics will only improve the Max for 2010 our new favorite, no-compromises 2-up ATV.
About the author
Tom Kaiser is an editor for ATV Magazine.