Part of our job requires testing the latest and greatest products on the market-what's hot, what's new and what's exciting. In the sport ATV class, this boils down to 450cc machines. However, these machines aren't for everyone. They're more expensive, with high-strung engines that require more maintenance and powerbands that aren't very beginner-friendly. We felt it was time to come back to the real world and test some midsize 300-400cc sport models-the kind that most of you are riding. They may not have electronic fuel injection, the baddest suspension or fire-breathing engines, but for maximum sport ATVing with a minimum of hassles, any of these are worth a look. To sort out this displacement group we rounded up an Arctic Cat, a Honda and a Suzuki to represent the 400s and a Honda, a Kymco and a Yamaha for the 300-350 range.
All six of these scoots offer something that many riders (us included) find important: reliability, simplicity and, most especially, fun. Sacrificing some horsepower that you're unlikely to use to its fullest capacity in exchange for gas 'n' go capability sure beats spending your weekends tearing down your engine to do a valve job or replace a top end. Change the oil regularly and keep the air filter clean, and engine problems are likely to be few and far between. Like Dirty Harry used to say: "A man's got to know his limitations." What are yours? Judging by the sheer number of 300 to 400cc sports that we see on the trails, people have no problem setting their egos aside and eschewing the higher running costs of a 450 to enjoy themselves. That's never a bad thing in our book. If you're in the market for a new (or used) midsize sport ATV, read on to get the lowdown.
Honda TRX400EXIn its day, the 400EX was the quad everyone wanted to race, and a plethora of aftermarket components are still available for it. Powered by an air-and-oil-cooled 397cc engine derived from the now-extinct XR400R, the 400EX made quite a splash when it debuted back in 1999. This ATV still has a legion of loyal fans, and there's a reason why you see so many of these out on the trails. In typical Honda fashion, the 400EX does everything pretty well but nothing outstanding. New bodywork and a reverse gear (finally!) were added to the '05 model. Other than that, the 400EX thumps along mile after mile, its torquey engine producing adequate power for Eastern woods, Western deserts, a motocross track or sand dunes. If you're looking for an ATV that you can downshift and pin the throttle in order to loft the front wheels, the 400EX is your ride. The ability to run a gear taller and still have torque on tap to accelerate quickly was a big hit with some of our test crew, but those seeking high-rpm horsepower will be disappointed. The Honda TRX400EX is a solid ATV but feels about a decade old. Our other gripe was that the parking brake took two hands to operate.
Arctic Cat DVX 400With an engine, frame and suspension that are pretty much identical, the Arctic Cat DVX 400 and the Suzuki QuadSport Z400 are practically one and the same. Like choosing a Chevy Silverado versus a GMC Sierra pickup, your selection mainly comes down to bodywork and subtle styling differences. Everyone liked the Arctic Cat's bright red plastic. The Cat's tight, clean shape gave it an edge in the appearance department, but some riders noted that their boots caught on gaps in the sidepanels. The suspensions on both of these ATVs are confidence-inspiring, but the Arctic Cat's seat had us playing "hot potato" as we passed it around among ourselves at every rest stop, each of us growing tired of getting his backside hammered by the DVX 400's very firm saddle. The rest of the ATV is fine, but you'll need to introduce yourself to an upholstery shop to get the seat foam replaced if you want to spend hours in the saddle on the trails.