While immensely popular today, purpose-built all-terrain vehicles have only existed for half a century, beginning with the amphibious six-wheeled, balloon-tired Jiger (pronounced “Jigger“) in 1961, roughly a decade before the release of the first-ever mass-produced ATV with the Honda ATC90 (and ATC110). In the years that have followed, these rugged off-road machines have become even truer in name, gaining increasingly competent performance and giving way to vehicles with genuine go-anywhere capabilities.
Comprised of both four-wheelers, side-by-sides, and UTVs, today’s all-terrain vehicle market is absolutely enormous, offering a wider array of options than any previous point in the industry’s 50-year history. With such major advancements in the space, even budget-friendly offerings boast rather impressive performance relative to models from years past. While this has resulted in a slew of available choices, it can also make it difficult to sort through the oversaturated market to hone in on the handful of specimens that legitimately stand out from the crowd. And it’s this group of machines that we’ll be exploring today in this guide to the best all-terrain vehicles.
Traits For Any Terrain
The Factors To Consider When Buying An ATV Or SxS
Buying an all-terrain vehicle is a markedly different experience than buying any type of road-going machine, as they are built for drastically different uses. As such, the areas to take into account when shopping are largely unique. In an effort to help you get a better grasp on the market, below we’ll briefly be touching on the most pivotal areas to factor in before making your purchase.
Intended Use: Unlike the vast majority of cars that are largely intended to get passengers from point A to point B, all-terrain vehicles are manufactured for off-road thrills and excitement, utilitarian work purposes, or somewhere in between. As a result, you should start your search by asking yourself what your intended uses are, as this will help you determine which style of machine will best suit your specific wants and needs.
Engine & Power: The engine at the heart of any all-terrain vehicle will play a crucial role in its overall performance characteristics and capabilities. The important areas to explore here are engine displacement, engine configuration, and aspiration — as well as a few lesser-important finer points such as cooling system and cam setup. These elements will collectively determine an engine’s horsepower and torque output, and a machine’s power-to-weight ratio.
Transmission: The transmission paired with the engine powering an ATV has become an increasingly important element when designing a new machine, as features such as paddle-shifters and automatic transmissions are becoming increasingly commonplace in the all-terrain vehicle space. Semi-automatic and fully manual transmissions also remain common options on most vehicles, as well.
Suspension & Travel: Alongside its engine, an ATV’s suspension package plays a key role in determining performance and off-road prowess. The type of suspension setup and its manufacturer are both well worth looking into, as is a suspension package’s front and rear suspension travel (i.e. how much distance/play there is before the suspension bottoms out).
Ride Height & Ground Clearance: Determined by the suspension setup and chassis, the distance at which a vehicle sits up off the ground (or its “ride height”) will play a huge role in the machine’s ability to traverse obstacles and different types of terrain.
Approach, Clearance, & Departure Angles: An all-terrain vehicle’s suspension setup and ride height will also ultimately determine the machine’s ability to ascend and descend slopes and clear obstacles — or as it’s more commonly referred to, the machine’s approach, clearance, and departure angles. Because ATVs are purpose-built for hardcore off-road exploration, these four-wheeled beasts tend to boast markedly superior attack angles (and clearance and suspension travel) when compared to even off-road-focused trucks.
Style: Even a decade ago, many of the ATVs on the market sported a pretty similar appearance, though in more recent years, manufacturers have employed increasingly idiosyncratic aesthetic designs, making it more and more worthy of being factored into one’s purchase. This trait should obviously take a back seat to an ATV’s performance capabilities and intended use, though we’d argue it’s totally fine to take an ATV’s looks into consideration when shopping.
Amenities: For the lion’s share of the time that all-terrain vehicles have existed, they’ve largely been spartan, minimalistic creations, built solely to accomplish the task and hand and being almost entirely devoid of any supplementary amenities or creature comforts. In more recent years, however, this has massively changed, as manufacturers have increasingly bestowed models with features like plush seating, high-end stereos, HVAC systems, and GPS displays. Similarly, there’s also been a major trend that’s seen manufacturers outfit stock (albeit often upgraded or special edition) models with an array of standard items such as auxiliary lights and towing winches.
Go Anywhere Greatness
The Ten Best All-Terrain Vehicles Currently On The Market
Now that you’re all caught up on what to look for when shopping and how to find the right machine for you, let’s dive into our choices for the ten finest all-terrain vehicles currently available on showroom floors.
Yamaha Raptor 700R
First debuting in 2006 as the Raptor 660 before releasing the second and current generation, the Yamaha 700R is a relatively affordable sport-quad that offers razor-sharp performance in a rugged and reliable package. These traits have ultimately resulted in the Raptor becoming the best-selling sport ATV of all time – a trend that will likely continue thanks to the host of updates bestowed upon the 2021 model year. Powered by a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 686cc engine, the Raptor’s competition-winning performance is largely owed to its state-of-the-art suspension package — which affords 9.1” of suspension travel up front and 10.1” out back — that’s been derived from the Japanese brand’s world-class YZF dirt bikes. The latest Raptor 700R also comes standard with an electric starter and a reverse gear.
Suzuki KingQuad 750AXi Power Steering SE+ W/ Rugged Package
For those looking for an immensely versatile quad capable of delivering genuine utility along with some occasional thrills, it’s hard to do better than Suzuki’s KingQuad 750AXi — a machine made all the more impressive when fitted with the optional power steering SE+ and Rugged package which includes more hardwearing bumpers and a 2,700-lumen auxiliary LED light bar. At the heart of the KingQuad is a liquid-cooled, 722cc, DOHC single with fuel injection, an aluminum radiator and cylinders, and a sportbike-derived chain-and-gear camshaft drive system. The ATV offers selectable 2WD and 4WD modes, four liters of storage space, full floorboards with raised foot-pegs, a steel rube cargo rack, a receiver-style hitch mount, and a towing capacity of more than 1,322lbs. The KingQuad is also praised for being one of the easiest-to-operate quads currently in production and boasts Suzuki’s bulletproof reliability.
CFMoto ZFORCE 950 Sport
The CFMoto name admittedly may not carry the same weight as brands like Polaris, Honda, or Can-Am, though for off-roaders on a budget, it truly doesn’t get any better than the ZFORCE 950 Sport. Powered by a 79hp liquid-cooled V-Twin engine mated to a CVTech transmission, this affordable SxS model is built around a one-piece HSLA steel frame that’s been paired with AA arm front suspension with fully adjustable gas shocks and a QUADLINK rear suspension setup — affording more than 11” of travel fore and aft. Other highlights on this budget-friendly ride include a TFT display, a 3,000LB winch, LED lighting, USB ports, a 220lb cargo rack, 14” ally wheels shod in 27” all-terrain tires, a 2” hitch, full-coverage skid-plates, and an electronically-controlled throttle — all as standard amenities.
Christini AWD 450 Explorer
With their featherweight, nimble handling, and ample suspension travel, dirt bikes already represent some of the most capable go-anywhere vehicles on earth, though the off-road experts over at Christini have taken this concept to the next level, gifting a top-of-the-line 450cc four-stroke dirt bike with a proprietary all-wheel-drive system before decking the machine out in an array of upgraded hardware and componentry. Tipping the scales at less than 300lbs at the curb, the Christini AWD 450 Explorer also includes an additional array of parts developed in-house such as the Christin fuel-injection system and stainless steel exhaust that result in the 450cc thumper pumping out 42hp. Also entirely street legal, each bike comes standard with black-anodized rims and billet hubs, an extended range auxiliary tank, a billet rack, skid plate, hands-guards, a cooling can kit, and Christini’s patented black MOLLE saddlebag system.
Can-Am Renegade X MR 1000R
The most powerful quad currently made by Can-Am with a 91hp output, the Renegade X MR 1000R is a modern ATV with a unique, and at times divisive aesthetic design. What isn’t up for debate, however, is the 1000R’s immense performance capabilities, with a liquid-cooled 976cc Rotax-made V-Twin engine with Can-Am’s Intelligent Throttle Control (and multiple power modes), and recalibrated rear preload-adjustable FOX 1.5 PODIUM shocks, revised A-arms, sway-bar, and wheels that result in a wider stance with bolstered ground clearance, coming in at 12.5”. This model is also available with a host of optional items including a Visco-4Lok differential, a 3,500lb winch, and upgraded front and rear bumpers, just to name a few.
Polaris Scrambler XP 1000 S
Tougher, meaner, and more capable than its predecessor, the Polaris Scrambler XP 1000 S features a newly designed steel tube chassis that’s 31% larger and an 89hp ProStar engine mated to a revised transmission with 25% stronger components. Borrowing the race-proven half-shafts and front differential from Polaris’ mighty RZR XP 1000 SxS model, the Scrambler also packs an exclusive ProSteer Design linkage, a fully integrated 11″ Pro Armor lightbar, and premium Walker Evans shocks with a dual coil spring setup that offers both high and low-speed compression and rebound adjustment and a whopping 14” of rear suspension travel (and 12.5” of travel out in front). Riding on 27” Duro Powergrip all-terrain tires, this high-performance ATV also boasts 14.5″ of ground clearance, a 55” stance, True On-Demand AWD, and sealed high clearance arched dual A-arms.
Yamaha YXZ1000R SS XT-R
An absolute beast of a machine that looks as aggressive as it performs, Yamaha’s YXZ1000RR SS XT-R is an immensely capable high-performance side-by-side that’s made in America and comes standard with a WARN winch and FOX 2.5 Podium RC2 Dual Spring shocks front and aft. Riding on Beadlock rims shod Maxxis Carnage tires that are exclusive to Yamaha, the YXZ1KR boasts ample torque thanks to a potent inline-three engine that’s been paired with a paddle-shifted five-speed manual sequential transmission equipped with the Tuning Fork Company’s chip-controlled shift technology. On top of offering 16.2” of travel up front and a full 17” in back, the model also features on-demand 4WD with multiple modes, including 2WD, 4WD limited-slip, and 4WD full differential lock.
Polaris RZR PRO XP
Very seldom does one travel to an off-road park or trails without encountering a Polaris RZR, as these side-by-sides have become some of the most popular choices in the segment since the debut of the first Razor model in 2007. And while the truth is you really can’t go wrong with any of the variants in the current lineup, the RZR PRO XP is without a shadow of a doubt the most capable and powerful Razor Polaris has ever produced, with its liquid-cooled turbocharged 925cc twin-cylinder engine putting down 181hp. With a 300lb box capacity and a 740lb payload capacity, the RZR PRO XP is also an immensely versatile and utilitarian cargo or tow vehicle, as well as obviously being a class-leading thrill machine.
Kawasaki TERYX KRX 1000 eS
Kawasaki’s research and development program is one of the most competent and cutting-edge operations on the planet, as evidenced by Team Green’s winning of every single WSBK Championship since 2015. And while obviously very different from Kawasaki’s latest superbikes, the marque’s high-performance side-by-side nonetheless hugely benefit from its technological breakthroughs, in this case seeing the Teryx KRX 1000 eS and its standard FOX 2.5 Podium Live Valve Internal Bypass shocks and 4-link trailing-arm rear setup bestowed with Kawasaki’s Electronic Control Suspension technology. The Kawasaki’s spec sheet also tells an impressive story with a 20.3’ turning radius, at least 14” of ground clearance, a 781b load capacity coupled with a more than 350lb cargo bed cap, 76.7ft-lbs of torque, a sub-1,950lb curb weight, and a 98.8” wheel-base.
Honda Talon 1000R Special Edition
The Honda Talon 10000R Special Edition is one of the most well-appointed and thoroughly optioned stock SxS models currently in production, consisting of Big Red’s already wildly-capable R-spec Talon 1K and loading it up with practically every element from every up-specced variant. On top of a unique digital camo colorway, the 10000R Special Edition also features FOX Live Valve suspension, a full-length LED lightbar, a winch, and a launch control mode, all as standard fare. Powered by one of Honda’s liter-sized liquid-cooled UNICAM parallel-twin engines, the Special Edition model’s front independent double-wishbone suspension setup affords 17.7” of travel while out in back a 4-link trailing-arm configuration allows for just over 20” of up and down movement.
The 12 Best Adventure Motorcycles
Interested in checking out an array of genuinely off-road-capable vehicles that also boast street-legal status? Then be sure to cruise on over to our guide to the best adventure motorcycles for a dozen on- and off-road-friendly touring and off-road-capable two-wheelers.
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