TEST: CUB CADET CHALLENGER 550

— Cub Cadet’s new Challenger 750 (tested in UTV Action’s June, 2017 issue) offers more power, better suspension and more comfort and refinement than any previous Cub Cadet UTV. If you don’t need 750-class power but you want all the benefits of Cab Cadet’s newest UTV platform, you need to know about the new Challenger 550.

 

Fully adjustable piggyback reservoir shocks make the Challenger 550 comfortable at speeds and on rugged terrain that’s out of the question for some machines.

WHO IS CUB CADET?

Cub Cadet is an American company that was established in 1961. The brand is best known for power equipment and has 1400 dealers.

WHAT’S NEW?

Challenger 550 and 750 recreation utility UTVs are built on an entirely new platform that’s more recreation-focused than previous Cub Cadet machines. The 550’s engine is an enlarged version of the Challenger 500 powerplant, but the 550’s chassis is entirely different from the 500’s. It has a longer wheelbase and is 60 inches wide rather than 64 inches. More suspension travel and fully adjustable piggyback reservoir shocks handle rougher terrain and higher speeds than the 500. 

Like the new Challenger 750, the 550 has a formed cab frame over the ROPS cage that makes it simple to weather-seal the vehicle. A quick-release full windshield is standard, and optional upper sections for the full doors and a rear window can be added in minutes. Sculpted seats, car-like instruments directly in front of the tilt wheel and side mirrors give the Challenger an automotive feel. The 550 comes with the same impressive list of extras as the 750—a 3500-pound winch, aluminum wheels, LED headlights and turn signals are all standard. The Challenger 550 doesn’t have power steering, but it is available as an option. A power-steering version is on the way.

 

The Cub Cadet comes with a winch, aluminum wheels, and other extras like doors and a full windshield at the price of some manufacturers’ plain base models.

HOW DOES COST COMPARE?

The Challenger 550 is $9999 or $10,299 in camo. The full-size Polaris Ranger 570 starts at $8999. Can-Am’s Defender HD5 starts at $9999. Hisun’s Sector 550 is $8999.

WHAT POWERS IT?

A  single-cylinder, 546cc, fuel-injected, single-overhead-cam, four-valve engine. The Challenger 550 has a 6.5mm-larger bore than the 500 with the same 84mm stroke.

WHAT KIND OF TRANSMISSION DOES IT HAVE?

A fully automatic, belt-type, continuously variable, dual-range transmission with engine braking. A centrifugal clutch on the drive clutch protects the belt from abuse.

 

With its tilting bed and 2-inch hitch receiver, the Challenger is ready for work. Compression, rebound and spring preload-adjustable piggyback reservoir shocks make it ready for play.

WHAT KIND OF 4WD SYSTEM HAS IT GOT?

Selectable 2WD/4WD, and the front and rear differentials are lockable. Leaving both differentials unlocked allows the Challenger to cruise delicate turf without hurting it and allows for tighter turns. Locking one or both differentials provides extra traction for slippery surfaces and challenging terrain.

HOW FAST IS IT?

Top speed is a respectable 45 mph. Acceleration is pretty mild compared to sport UTVs, but it’s much faster and more responsive than pure utility models.

 

Front and rear sway bars keep the Cub Cadet flat and stable in corners.

HOW IS THE POWER DELIVERY?

The 550’s power is very smooth and controllable, and it has enough guts for technical terrain and tough climbs. We could keep up with Cub Cadet’s Challenger 750 in deep, soft sand and on steep, twisty trails that don’t let you maintain much momentum. We spent more time with the throttle wide open in the 550 than with the larger machines, but we got where we were going.

WHAT KIND OF SUSPENSION DOES IT COME WITH?

The Challenger 550 has double A-arms front and rear with fully adjustable piggyback reservoir shocks. There are 9 inches of travel up front and 8.1 inches in the rear. Front and rear sway bars resist body roll.

 

The single-overhead-cam, four-valve engine’s power delivery is smooth and easy to control.

HOW DOES THE SUSPENSION WORK?

It’s outstanding for this type of UTV. Rather than the basic, non-reservoir, spring preload-adjustable shocks many recreation utility UTVs have, the Cub Cadet comes with fully adjustable, piggyback reservoir shocks. Being a recreation utility machine, the Challenger 550 doesn’t have the big travel numbers sport UTVs do, but the high-capacity, high-pressure gas shocks give the machine a very comfortable, refined ride. Bottoming resistance is very good too. Compression, rebound and spring preload adjustments let you tune the suspension to suit your preferences and riding conditions, which isn’t possible with most recreation utility machines. The ring-type spring preload adjusters aren’t as convenient as stepped adjusters for quick ride-height adjustments.

HOW IS THE HANDLING?

Easy, predictable and stable. The Cub Cadet’s sure, flat cornering feel pays off when you’re turning quickly on unfamiliar trails and terrain that’s steep or off-camber. The 550 is calm and relaxed at speed on straight stretches too, even on bumpy surfaces. The Challenger 550 we tested didn’t have power steering, but steering effort isn’t excessive until you lock the front differential. Without power steering, there is some kickback through the wheel on bumps that we could do without.

 

Lockable front and rear differentials let the Cub Cadet travel from turf to the toughest terrain.

HOW DOES IT HANDLE HILLS?

Big, steep climbs call for all the power the 550 can muster, but we topped every hill that looked makable for a machine this size. Having the option to lock both differentials gave us all the grip we could ask for. Thanks to strong brakes and engine braking that works on all four wheels in four-wheel drive, the Challenger is easy to control on challenging downhills.

HOW IS IT IN ROCKS AND MUD?

Rocky washes send a fair amount of feedback through the steering on this non-power-steering machine, but with 12 inches of ground clearance and lockable front and rear differentials, rocks and mud never slowed our progress. The air intake is under the hood to keep water out of the engine, and the bodywork and full doors do a great job of keeping mud off the riders.

 

The sturdy doors open and close easily and securely. Optional window sections install in minutes to fully weather-seal the cab.

IS IT A HARD WORKER?

Yes. The 550 can tow up to 1200 pounds from its 2-inch hitch receiver, and it can carry 500 pounds in its tilting bed. A 3500-pound winch is standard.

HOW ARE THE DETAILS?

Very impressive, especially considering the Challenger 550’s price. The Cub Cadet comes with doors, a roof, windshield, mirrors, aluminum wheels, winch, and even a horn and turn signals. The automotive-like instruments are excellent, and the seats are comfortably shaped and well padded. The range selector could be more positive, but the Cub Cadet’s fit, finish and feel are very good overall.

WHAT IS OUR FINAL ANSWER?

The Challenger 550 comes with adjustable suspension and a long list of useful standard features, and it’s priced like the plain base models from some other manufacturers. 

 

CUB CADET CHALLENGER 550

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION

Engine type Liquid-cooled, 4-valve, SOHC 4-stroke

Displacement 546cc

Bore x stroke 91mm x 84mm

Compression ratio 9.5:1

Lubrication system Wet sump

Additional cooling Auto fan

Induction Delphi EFI w/ 41mm body

Starting/back-up Electric/none

Starting procedure Turn ignition key

Choke location N/A

Air filter:

  Type Washable foam

  Access Tool-less, lift seat and undo clips

Transmission Dual-range CVT w/ reverse

Reverse procedure Move range selector to “R”

Drive system Selectable 2WD/4WD w/diff lock & EBS

Final drives Shafts

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES/WEIGHTS

Fuel capacity 7.6 gal.

Wheelbase 76.8”

Overall length/width/height 118”/61.4”/79.7”

Ground clearance 12”

Wet weight 1,648 lb.

Bed weight limit 500 lb.

Hitch 2” receiver

Towing limit 1,200 lb.

ROLLING CHASSIS

Frame Steel tube

Suspension/wheel travel:

  Front Dual A-arms w/ prel./comp./reb. adj. shocks/9”

  Rear Dual A-arms w/ prel./comp./reb. adj. shocks/8.1”

Brakes/actuation:

  Front Hydraulic discs

  Rear Hydraulic discs

Parking Lever on console

Tires:

  Front AT26x9-14 Wanda

Rear AT26x11-14 Wanda

ELECTRICAL

DC outlet Console

Lighting:

  Front LED headlights

  Rear LED brake/tail lights

DETAILS

Instrumentation Speedometer, tachometer, coolant

temp, clock, fuel level, drive mode indicators

Colors Yellow, red, camo

Minimum recommended operator age 16

Suggested retail price $9999; Camo, $10,299

Contact www.cubcadet.com, (877) 428-2349