2016 POLARIS SPORTSMAN ACE 900

Why is Polaris pushing so hard with the all-new, ACE concept? Clearly this question needs an answer. In three short model years the company has expanded this groundbreaking vehicle’s profile from one low powered version to three, each with increasing power levels.

Here’s what we think. It’s no secret something is going on with ATV (4 wheeler) sales and it’s not good. The past five years North American sales of traditional ATVs has continued to slump. At the same time this traceable decline has been playing out, the sale of SxS vehicles has continued to grow. Perhaps skyrocket would be a better word. It’s clear, herds of ATV buyers are converting to side-x-sides.

We wonder if the ACE a result of Polaris’ careful analysis of the stratospheric rise in the popularity of side-x-sides? Is the popularity of the ACE rooted in its SxS ergonomic package? Do ATV riders want off-road vehicles that are sit in, not sit on?

Okay, don’t panic just yet. However, we’re beginning to believe the off-road market is going to end up looking more like the SxS market than the ATV market in the future. The ATV as we know it is likely going to continue to plateau in sales and popularity, however, we think off-road buyers as a whole will not decline in number. Simply put, their purchase preferences are changing to vehicles that are easier to operate, more comfortable, require less physical effort, less skill and are inherently safer.

Read that last sentence again and ask yourself if any OEM wouldn’t be thinking about an ACE-type vehicle with all of these attributes entrenched in the “one-by-side” ACE. The truth is, if any ATV manufacturer isn’t playing in the SxS biz, the writing may be on the wall. In the future it’s possible the ACE archetype may become the new Polaris ATV. Hence, the ACE is actually labeled the “Sportsman ACE”.

Polaris is notorious for responding to the market with lightning speed. Once the first ACE 330 hit the ground and off-roaders and Polaris dealers got an understanding of the vehicle’s capability, Polaris landed the 570 ACE.

This ACE variant immediately rang the bell here at Dirt Trax World HQ. The ACE platform loved the extra jam from the 45-hp 570cc ProStar single and the chassis was fully able to take advantage of more power. Trail riding (driving?) immediately made sense in comparison to the original 30-hp, 330cc ACE, which was light on power, and a little sedentary on a trail ride, though still fun.

Now, the more powerful 570 could be throttle steered, wheelied over logs and powerslides were just plain fun. It all made sense. The ACE could deliver ATV-caliber fun in an almost SxS package that was easier to drive, safer for the occupant and just as capable as an ATV in off-road terrain.

The Pro Star 900cc, 8-valve DOHC mill out back is a twin. That means the entire experience is smoother, the throttle more responsive and the power more linear. If powersliding the 570 is fun (and it is) getting sideways with the 900 is ridiculously more so.

Polaris has wisely chosen to equip the 900 ACE with a front anti-sway bar. The other two ACE models use only rear sway bars. However, the 900’s wheel spinning potential means the chassis regularly gets full-lock-sideways when you’re goofing around. The anti-sway bar brings a dose of understeer – or push – to the front end as it limits roll onto the outside front wheel in turns. This leveling makes the vehicle easier to control in a powerslide as the outside front wheel produces less bite while you saw at the wheel.

Will you sense the understeer? Sometimes. When turning the 900 off-throttle it feels a little soft on initial turn-in. However taking the edge off the 900 ACE front end is a good idea. It keeps the vehicle more stable when you get too sideways.

The 900’s extra jam makes navigating gnarly trails easy. Rocks, logs and stuff requiring body-english and deft throttle control on an ATV come down to a simple stab at the accelerator peddle. The nose lifts, the ACE carries its front end as the rear wheels pop over the obstacle.

Maybe you’ve never ridden your ATV like that. With the ACE, you will. Polaris’ proven AWD system works precisely the way it always has on a jillion Sportsman ATVs. For the most part, it’s transparent when engaged but highly effective when all four wheels are needed to pull you through deep chocolate or up a slippery slope.

We’ve found few limitations riding an ACE compared to a regular ATV – save one. Because you’re seated very low in the chassis, fording streams can leave your butt wet. The secret to the ACE’s predictable handling and stability lies in its radically lowered center of gravity (lower engine, lower rider).

Compared to a conventional Sportsman ATV the driving position is lowered by feet, not inches. Thus the low seating position will leave you more vulnerable to water and mud intrusion. Polaris has identified an answer to this issue but leaves it up to buyers to add (unless they buy a premium upgraded ACE model). It’s the inclusion of complete doors. With the full door package installed gripes with water and mud intrusion pretty much go away.

In the future, the question most prospective ATV buyers will ultimately ask themselves is whether they’re an ACE buyer, an ATV buyer or a SxS buyer. All three offer a unique off-road experience and all three have distinct advantages. Our advice, after going through this exact mind-meld ourselves is this: Make sure you get a test ride in an ACE before you make your next off-road vehicle purchase.

Mark Lester
Mark Lester
Mark Lester is Co-Publisher of SUPERTRAX Magazine and a regular Host on Dirt Trax TV.

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