After ignoring the serious sport side of the ATV market for the last couple of decades, Polaris introduced its first A-arm-clad model to intense media scrutiny last summer. The Predator was a 499cc liquid-cooled single with a five-speed transmission (no reverse). Polaris, unencumbered by '80s sport-chassis design (unlike everyone else), started with a clean sheet to make a sporting quad in its image. Polaris noted that many modified sport quads end up with a wider stance, aggressive tires and increased horsepower from the stock machines, and built these traits into this freshman effort. The company also identified two other problems, which were the subject of some debate: excessive wheelies and bump-steer. To remedy these, it built fixes into the suspension and chassis geometry to keep the quad flat to the ground, and these met with mixed results from our testers.
During our honeymoon in the dunes with the new machine, one thing was clear: We knew why Polaris was offering dune kits from the factory--the stock tires were garbage in the sand. To be fair, the reason most manufacturers' tires are so mediocre is they are designed for all terrains, including sand, whereas the stock Maxxis doughnuts on the Predator are specifically for trail/motocross usage.
Despite the tires' sand woes (much digging and little traction), several of our testers had a blast on the machine. Special care had to be taken to avoid digging in; you needed precise throttle control and could never, ever attempt to start on any sort of uphill grade. Once moving, the Polaris' ground-hugging manners made it the mount of choice for sand surfers, if not the dune hoppers. Lateral stability was supreme, allowing long sideways slides from the top to bottom of the big dunes abundant at Dumont and throwing prodigious amounts of sand into the sky in the process. Wheelie fiends were less than impressed with the chassis' tendency to put the power to the ground instead of launching the front end skyward, as they would invariably be stuck soon after.
On the motocross track, things worked differently. With the best stock moto meat in the test and a wide stance, the Predator simply ate up the corners. The tires could easily and predictably slide and spin the Predator in as tight a circle as you'd like. The P.R.O. steering obviously did its job, as the Polaris stayed flat and rode out even the most rutted corner. Its broad spread of power, while not race-tuned like the Cannibal, made for plentiful power at all corners of the track. Jumping was a joy as well (airing out the Predator was one of the more pleasurable experiences we had), but it didn't like whoops. Under the constant pounding of a whoop section, the shocks tended to blow through their stroke instead of damping controllably as they did everywhere else. The transmission also missed shifts and hit false neutrals when ridden at race pace, though it was merely notchy elsewhere. In spite of these problems, though, the Predator was consistently among the fastest on the track.
One might not think trail riding a wide quad without reverse would be a pleasure, but it was. The tires, again, had a lot to do with it, but they were aided by the chassis to create a very controlled and entertaining ride. Reverse became a nonissue, as the Polaris could reverse itself on a trail barely wider than it is by whipping the back end around. Our recreational riders were split on the Predator, as some liked the loose feel, its confidence-inspiring handling that let it all hang loose, while others preferred a more planted machine like the Raptor or QuadSport Z/KFX.
In rough sections, it was merely OK, as even nonaggressive riders could get the suspension to start bouncing around in choppy terrain. The rear shock's tendency to "put the power to the ground" also made lofting the front end over an obstacle difficult. Soft, thin seat foam took a toll on long rides, and an awkward thumb throttle tired some hands.
In the end, the Predator's unconventional approach won it die-hard fans while leaving others shaking their heads. For some, its inclination to keep all the wheels on the ground was a godsend; for others, that was a curse. All present loved its very zippy motor. However, everyone concurred that a glitchy transmission is not something to take lightly as, unlike some of the other machines' shortcomings (tires, suspension and motor), it's not something for which there's an easy fix. Still, a solid first effort by the Minnesota company.
Polaris Predator 500 notes
Retail Price: $5999
Carburetion: Mikuni BSR 42mm
Lubrication: Dry sump
Drive System: Chain, 2x4
Transmission: 5-speed manual clutch
Front: Dual A-arms/10.0 in.
Rear: Swingarm/11.0 in.
Front: 21x7/10; rear: 20x11/10
Front: Dual discs; rear: disc
Wheelbase: 51.0 in.
Claimed Dry Weight: 415 lb
Ground Clearance: 4.5 in.
Length/Width/Height: 71.5/47.5/45.0 in.
Seat Height: 32.0 in.
Fuel Capacity: 3.25 gal.
Headlight: Two single-beam 27-watt low quartz halogen
Instrumentation: Neutral, high-temperature indicators
Color: Silver Vapor metallic