CAN-AM OUTLANDER 500 XT-P, POLARIS SPORTSMAN 550 XP EPS, YAMAHA GRIZZLY 550 EPS
Power steering 500/550 4x4s give you everything big, top of the line machines do, with more manageable power and less intimidating prices.
If you’ve been studying the evolution of sport utility 4×4 ATVs, you’ve discovered that you get all the latest features and technology of the biggest, most expensive 4x4s in the far less expensive 500/550cc machines. You can pore over web sites and brochures all you want, but you’ll never know the difference between these impressive quads until you ride them yourself or learn what they’re like from someone you trust. That’s why we gathered three of the most different, best performing machines in the class and put them through everything trails could throw at you to find the best.
WHAT DO THEY COST?
At $9799, Can-Am’s option loaded Outlander 500 XT-P is the priciest machine in this shootout by far, but its many extras, including a winch, bumpers, handguards, special black bodywork and cast aluminum wheels with yellow accents make the price easier to take. If you can survive without the special XT-P styling, you’ll probably like the similarly well equipped Outlander 500 XT better. It’s available in black, too, as well as red and yellow, but it’s $500 less. The power steering equipped Polaris Sportsman 550 XP and Yamaha Grizzly 550 are even more affordable at $8499.
HOW DIFFERENT ARE THE ENGINES?
Very. Can-Am’s Outlander 500 is the only V-twin powered machine in the 500-550 class, and its two single overhead cam heads have four valves per cylinder. At 499.6 cc, the Can-Am is at a small size disadvantage compared to the larger 549cc Polaris and 558cc Yamaha, but its extra valve area helps make up for it. The Polaris and Yamaha both have single cylinder, single overhead cam, four valve per cylinder engines.
Unlike Can-Am and Yamaha, Polaris mounted its engine with the crank in line with the frame and driveshafts. This makes the machine’s midsection narrower and power transmission more efficient.
All the machines in this shootout are fuel injected, which makes for easy starts in any weather without the need to fiddle with a choke. Fuel injection also means clean running at extreme elevations without the difficulty (if you do it) or expense (if you have a shop do it) of carburetor rejetting.
ARE THE TRANSMISSIONS SIMILAR?
Yes, and they’re similarly simple to use. All of these machines have fully automatic, belt type, dual range, continuously variable transmissions (CVT) with reverse and engine braking.
Riding is as simple as driving the family car. Just select the range you want, ease on the gas and you’re on your way.
ARE THE 4WD SYSTEMS DIFFERENT?
Definitely. All have convenient, button selectable 2WD/4WD, but that’s where the similarity ends. Can-Am uses the unique Visco-Lok front differential. When you switch to 4WD, it finds the front wheel with more traction and puts the power to it.
Polaris has a system of its own, too. It remains in 2WD even when you select 4WD until the speed sensing front differential notices a loss of traction. In a fraction of a wheel rotation, it fully locks the front differential automatically. When the front and rear wheel speeds match, it returns to 2WD. Yamaha’s 4WD system engages the limited slip front differential when you switch to 4WD. If you need even more traction, you can lock the front differential with the flick of a lever.
IS POWER STEERING WORTH IT?
If you can swing it, go for it. Even though power steering sounds like an extravagant luxury, and it can add more than a grand to the price of a 500 or 550, we’re confident you’ll be happy you opted for it.
Power steering does much more than make the steering dramatically lighter. It acts as a steering damper that softens the jolts that come through the steering as the front wheels hit bumps, rocks and ruts, so it makes every mile of riding more pleasant. The reduction in steering effort really pays off when the front differential is locked. Can-Am’s power steering system even offers two modes, so you can select the just the amount of power assist you like.
ARE THE SUSPENSION SYSTEMS DIFFERENT?
Yes. Can-Am’s Outlander uses MacPherson struts up front and trailing arm independent rear suspension (IRS). The Polaris and Yamaha have dual A-arms front and rear, but the Sportsman’s rear end has an interesting twist. Its rear A-arms are rolled, angled slightly rearward to absorb bumps more smoothly.
ALRIGHT ALREADY, WHICH ONE’S QUICKEST?
The Yamaha. We used the same rider in the same lane for consistency in 100 yard timed drag runs, and the Grizzly came out on top again and again. The Polaris was close, though. The Sportsman was an average of one tenth of a second behind the Yamaha, and the Can-Am’s averaged time was two tenths of a second behind the Polaris. That put the Can-Am a good three tenths behind the Grizzly on most runs.
WHICH HAS THE BEST POWER FOR TRAILS?
The Grizzly, closely followed by the Sportsman. Both the Yamaha and Polaris are impressively strong and free revving, with the kind of solid throttle response that lets the rider have fun on any kind of trail. There’s plenty of muscle for hills or challenging sections, but when there’s nothing to wrestle with, both have enough snap to kick the rear end out to slide around turns or lift the front end while cresting a rise on the trail. The Yamaha feels a little quicker and more snappy because it’s much lighter than the Polaris.
We love the snarling sound, smoothness and power of the Outlander 500’s V-twin, but there’s just not as much oomph at the end of the throttle as the other two have. The Can-Am is a willing slider and it will wheelie, but the rider has to supply more effort than on the Polaris or Yamaha.
WHICH CORNERS BEST?
The Can-Am. Crisp, accurate cornering with a minimum of body roll earned the Outlander top marks in the turns, and made it tough to catch on twisty trails. On paper, the Outlander 500’s MacPherson strut front end may sound less sophisticated than Can-Am’s larger Outlanders and the Grizzly and Sportsman 550s, which have double A-arms up front, but the Outlander 500 works on the trail.
The Grizzly and Sportsman corner well, too. They’re fun and agile, even in aggressive cornering, just not quite a match for the Can-Am. The Yamaha has a slight edge on the Polaris because of its lighter, more willing feel, hardly a surprise since it’s more than 100 pounds lighter than the Sportsman.
WHICH RIDES SMOOTHEST?
The Polaris. Plush ride quality has been a welcome Polaris trait for years, and it’s along for the ride on the relatively new 550. In tough, low speed going and trail cruising speeds, the Polaris drinks up the abuse of rocks and roots amazingly well.
Yamaha engineered nearly as smooth a ride into the Grizzly without compromising its cornering performance or high speed handling too much. There’s some body roll to contend with in turns, as on most machines with independent rear suspension, but the Grizzly is a sporty handler for a fairly large 4×4.
The Can-Am is bit firmer than the other two, thanks to its sportier suspension settings, but it still delivers a compliant, comfortable ride. Like all these 4x4s, its comfort level makes all day rides easy.
No discussion of suspension smoothness is complete without saying how much power steering improves the feel of all these machines. At low or high speeds, power steering mutes sharp impacts that would otherwise reach the rider through the steering. It’s as much a bonus in rough terrain as the reduced steering effort power steering provides.
WHICH SUSPENSION RULES FOR SPORT RIDING?
The Can-Am’s. The Outlander operates with the least travel of the bunch, which adds stability, and it feels more predictable and in control than the other two when it’s being ridden hard.
In fast trail riding, the Yamaha’s suspension is a close second. It’s well matched with the machine’s performance and lets the Grizzly cover ground at an impressive pace.
The latest Sportsman platform provides much more athletic handling for aggressive riding than previous designs, but the machine’s weight and long travel aren’t as well suited for charging as the other machines.
WHICH ONE IS THE MUD MASTER?
The Sportsman. Polaris fitted its 550 with a healthy engine, the tallest suspension, big, aggressive 26 inch tires and a very effective 4WD system. With all that going for it, the Polaris is the last of the three to churn to a halt in deep mud or water.
Yamaha set the Grizzly up well for sloppy going, too. It has 11.8 inches of ground clearance, just shy of the Sportsman’s foot, and the engine always seems hungry for a challenge, whether it’s slogging through mud or pushing deep water.
The Can-Am is a very capable machine in mud and water, but with the least power and ground clearance in this group, it’s not quite a match for the other two when the trail turns to soup.
WHICH ONE ROCKS IN ROCKS?
They all do, but the Yamaha and Polaris have a slight edge because they have more ground clearance than the Can-Am. The footpeg supports that extend from the Can-Am’s single spar frame are more likely to snag than the undersides of the other two, also.
All the machines have good stability, controllable power and effective 4WD sytems that make quick work of tough rock sections, though we did hit a few precarious spots where we didn’t care for the rough way reverse engages on the Polaris. Power steering takes most of the punishment out of rock riding on all three.
WHICH ONE IS THE KING OF HILLS?
The Yamaha. Abundant, instantly accessible power, nimble, stable handling, predictable engine braking and the best brakes make the most intimidating hills seem least intimidating on the Grizzly. The Grizzly’s brakes have the most power and feel, and we prefer the extra control of its separate front and rear brakes to the linked brakes on the Polaris and Can-Am.
The Polaris is a great climber, but its engine braking is too strong for slick downhills. Even without touching the brakes, we had some rear wheel locking to contend with whether we used the Automatic Descent Control setting, which provides four wheel engine braking in 4WD, or not. The Yamaha and Can-Am have four wheel engine braking any time they’re in 4WD.
We easily made it up and down every hill on the Outlander that we did on the other machines, we just didn’t top the tallest, loosest climbs as quickly. The Can-Am’s engine braking works well, and its brakes offer good control, though they are noisy; most of the time, the machine squeals to a stop.
WHICH HAS THE BEST DETAILS?
These three 4x4s are as different as they come, and all have their appealing features–and a glitch or two.
The Can-Am comes loaded with nice extras like a winch, bumpers, hand guards and dual mode power steering. The V-twin engine is smooth running and sounds great, too, and the Outlander’s range selector is the slickest of the three. The Outlander also has the most useful storage box. The ingenious inboard disc brakes work well, but they’re noisy. We’re not fans of the Outlander’s old style oil filter that you have to remove an engine cover to replace. Replacing the spin-on filters on the Polaris and Yamaha is easier and cleaner.
Every test rider liked the slim midsection on the Polaris. Its painted finish is richer looking than the regular plastic bodywork on the other machines, and the big 14 inch alloy wheels and 26 inch tires give the machine a sharp, intimidating look. The Sportsman’s notchy, vague feeling range selector is a carry over from an earlier era of Polaris design that seems out of place on this otherwise modern feeling machine. The jerky way the transmission engages reverse isn’t very charming, either. The front rack/storage box looks something like the suitcase size rack/box on older Sportsmans, but doesn’t offer nearly as much storage.
Yamaha detailing is always a tough act to follow, and the Grizzly makes a strong showing, even though it’s not better than the Polaris and Can-Am in every respect. The Grizzly’s ergonomics are great for sitting or standing, and the range selector is good, once you get used to it. The Yamaha’s brakes are by far the best, and we prefer the extra control the separate front and rear brake levers provide. The Grizzly’s engine is smooth, but it’s busy sounding.
WHAT IS OUR FINAL ANSWER?
You’re looking at three of the top machines in a class with no losers, here. Even so, against each other, the Can-Am, Yamaha and Polaris settled into their respective positions by the end of the testing.
There’s a lot to like about the Can-Am Outlander 500 XT-P. It’s the best handling machine of the group, its V-twin engine is exciting to play with and listen to, even though it’s not as fast as the others, and most of its many extras come in handy on the trail. Set against the performance of the other machines in this shootout, the Can-Am’s strong points aren’t strong enough to make the Outlander worth its considerably higher price than the Polaris and Yamaha, so we have to rank it third in this group.
The Polaris Sportsman 550 XP EPS performs well in all the areas that really count, comfort, power and handling, and its price is reasonable for a machine in this class. The Sportsman is just a few rough edges away from the win in this shootout. If you don’t mind them, it’s nearly as good a choice as the Grizzly, not a distant second best.
Yamaha’s Grizzly 550 EPS is the best machine in this group, but it didn’t win by stomping the other quads in every category. It’s the quickest in a drag race, but only by a small margin. It handles extremely well, but it can’t corner like the Can-Am. It’s very comfortable, but we like the feel of the slim Sportsman better. Even in areas where it isn’t the best, it’s very close to the best, which makes Grizzly the top finisher in this shootout.
4-WHEEL ATV ACTION RATINGS
CAN-AM OUTLANDER XT-P…POLARIS SPORTSMAN 550 XP EPS…YAMAHA GRIZZLY 550 EPS
HANDLING AND CHASSIS
Low-speed ride plushness…4…5…5
High-speed bump control…5…4…4
RIDER COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE
Overall ease of use…5…4…5
Mud/water fender protection…5…5…5
Air filter access…4…4…4
Handlebar control ease…5…5…5
Range selection ease…5…4…4
Storage box size…5…4…4
Storage box access…5…4…5
Front rack space…5…5…4
Rear rack space…5…5…4
Fit and finish…4…4…5
Excellent = 5; Above Average = 4; Average = 3; Below Average = 2; Poor = 1
CAN-AM OUTLANDER 500 XT-P…POLARIS SPORTSMAN 550 XP EPS…YAMAHA GRIZZLY 550 EPS
Engine type…Liquid-cooled, OHC, 4-valve per-cylinder V-twin, 4-stroke…Liquid-cooled, OHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke…Liquid-cooled, OHC, 4-valve per-cylinder, 4-stroke
Bore x stroke…82mm x 47mm(x2)…96.6 x75mm…92mm x84mm
Lubrication system…Wet sump…Wet sump…Wet sump
Fuel metering…EFI,46mm throttle body…EFI, 42mm throttle body…EFI, 40mm throttle body
Starting procedure…In neutral or any gear with brake engaged…In neutral or any gear with brake engaged…In neutral or any gear with brake engaged
Air filter access…Remove seat, airbox cover and airbox lid…Remove seat, engine covers and airbox lid……Remove airbox cover and airbox lid
Transmission…Fully automatic dual range CVT w/engine braking and reverse…Fully automatic dual range CVT w/engine braking and reverse…Fully automatic dual range CVT w/engine braking and reverse
Reverse procedure…Move range selector to “R”…Move range selector to “R”
…Move range selector to “R”
…Move range selector to “R”
Drive system…Selectable 2WD/4WD…Selectable 2WD/4WD…Selectable 2WD/4WD w/speed sensitive locking front differential…Selectable 2WD/4WD with locking front differential
Final drives f/r…Shaft/shaft…Shaft/shaft…Shaft/shaft
Fuel capacity…4.3 gal…4.6 gal…5.3 gal
Wet weight…694 lb…762 lb…648 lb.
Rack weight limits f/r…100/200 lb…120/240 lb..99/187 lb.
Towing limit…1300 lb…1500 lb…1212 lb.
Frame…Rectangular steel tube…Box section tube…Round steel tube
Front…MacPherson struts/7″…Double A-arms/9″…Double A-arms/ 7.1″
Rear…Trailing arms/9″…Double A-arms/10.2″…Double A-arms/9.5″
Front…Hydraulic discs/left hand lever…Hydraulic discs/left hand lever…Hydraulic discs/right hand lever
Rear…Single disc, left hand lever, right foot pedal…Single disc, left hand lever, right foot pedal…Dual discs, left hand lever, right foot pedal
Parking brake…Lever lock on hand brake lever…Park position on range selector
…Park position on range selector
Front…Two 35W grille-mounted headlights …Two 50W grille-mounted headlights and one 50W handlebar mounted headlight…Two 35W grille-mounted headlights
Rear…Single tail/brake lights…Single…tail/brake light…Single tail/brake light
Instruments…Speedometer, odometer, tachometer, trip odometer, hour meter, fuel gauge, clock…Speedometer, odometer, trip odometer, tachometer, hour meter, fuel gauge, clock…Speedometer, odometer, trip odomete, hour meter, fuel gauge, clock
Base suggested retail price…$9799…$8499…$8499
Contact…Can-Am,(877)4MY-RIDE…Polaris, (763) 417-8650…Yamaha,(714) 761-7300