Keen viewers will remember me making some rash promises about a full-beans no-holds-barred test on the Polaris Sportsman 570 EPS SP the other month.
I’d been a bit poorly and had some troubles with my legs, so getting on board either my dirt-rapier Honda CR250 or the latest widowmaker 450 MX machine was out for a while. My brain still needs regular terrifying stimulation (apart from the monthly DBR company credit card statements obvs) though, so a tasty quad seemed like the perfect solution.
Enter the Polaris. Not unlike its namesake 1970s-spec submarine-launched ballistic missile, it has a no-nonsense air of menace about it. There are lots of bits on there and they all look very serious, dedicated to launching you at the horizon as quickly as possible, with no regard for what’s in front of you.
Whether it’s a rutted field, a swampy MX track or a poorly-driven Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Sting, the Sportsman 570 looks like it will trample over it like a Sherman tank trampling the Normandy hedgerows en route to the Eifel Tower. Much of that is down to the flashy new suspension setup, furnished by the good guys at Öhlins for the first time on a Polaris. Enormous yellow and gold spring dampers provide nearly a foot of travel on the rear, and the 34cm ground clearance is enough for a small child to limbo under (whether they were planning to or not).
The engine is a grunty-as-hell 567cc single which makes a solid 44bhp, but with masses of torque, and an idiot-proof CVT auto transmission. So no gear or clutch levers – just twist and go.
The nice people at Polaris who dropped it off and gave me some rough instructions have gone now, so it’s time to have a bit of a go. Jumping on a quad is a bit weird if you’re used to bikes of course – you find yourself getting ready to hold the thing upright, and it’s very strange when it just sits there, resolutely not falling over on its four massive wheels. It has a parking brake of course, and the only movement is the plush rise and fall of the gorgeously-damped suspension as you move about on the seat to settle in.
The view is weird on a quad too. You have handlebars – good – and a chunky big central LCD display. There are brake levers, like on a scooter for front and rear, and the seat feels like a big ADV bike plank. But there are loads of mad things too. A big yellow switch where the start button should be has ‘4×4’ and 2×4’ markings. And the ‘throttle’ doesn’t turn – but there’s a big thumb lever underneath, which is yer gas matey of course. And what’s this by my leg? An effing gear lever begad, with Park, Reverse, Drive, Low and High modes. Wild.
Turn the key to start – like a funny old car – and the big single thrums into life under the seat. It’s pretty quiet of course – working vehicles like this need to be fairly civilised and not annoy the neighbours too much when you’re out rustling sheep at 4am on the farm. Fuel injection and all the eco-shizzle means it only emits the most beautiful of exhaust gases, and while we’d obviously prefer a fire-breathing two-stroke, there’s something nice and friendly about this powerplant.
I reach for the sidestand, duh, pull the brake in like on a scooter and finagle the gear lever into ‘D’. A tickle of the thumb lever, and we’re under way, like a stately Rolls-Royce, crunching over the gravel drive.
I’ve got a big field out the back which is fairly smooth and just the job to get my eye in. The last time I rode anything like this was the mythical killer Honda ATC trike as a kid in the 1980s, but that was a long long time ago – and a long long way off this serious big quad. A little bit of thumb-gas goes a long way at first, but I soon adapt to the utterly bonkers quad life. No leaning into corners of course, but you can’t help yourself trying, and it seems to help a bit to put your weight onto the inside footboards a bit.
A few laps, and I’m getting right into this. I’m able to stand up a bit over the bumpier sections, which helps go a bit quicker, and before long I get all brave and start to give it more gas through the bends, trying to get the back end sliding out. There’s a little bit of movement, then more, then more – then I get too clever, a massive scary slide ensues and I crap myself with visions of ending up underneath the thing. I’ve read about Ozzy Osbourne and Rik Mayall smacking themselves up on quads, and am keen to avoid just that fate, so retire to consolidate my learnings and have a cool beer…
I need a more structured plan for my next ride though, so I head out onto one of the routes I use for gentle dirt antics. It’s not quite a green lane, but it takes in a bit of my field, and goes round by where some mates live, so I’ll not be bothered by mountain bikers, horses, dog walkers or effing ramblers, hopefully. I’m basically an expert now after my afternoon in the field, so jumping onto the Polaris, getting started, into gear and off is a breeze. The cavernous storage spaces are packed out with cold drinks and snacks, and my phone is charging away plugged into the super-useful charging socket on the dash.
I start off with a bit of aggression, and imagine I’m charging down the path at some of DBR’s more recalcitrant creditors. I’m soon at the limits of my talent, but the chunky Polaris feels utterly capable. The big thing with a quad like this is the chassis – like any proper off-road vehicle, it’s more important than the power output. Having a long, low frame like on the Sportsman 570 makes it much more stable, so a clown like me is far less likely to flip it over on top of themselves. And the all-new suspension setup, with double-A frames up front gives even more capability, with that huge range of wheel movement. The Öhlins kit does what it always does, whether on a MX bike or a Ducati V4S – superb damping control, plush feel and loads of communication.
There’s a cunning electronic power steering assist system tucked under the plastic as well, and it makes life much easier for novice arms. I imagine a veteran pro quad racer would poo-poo the notion of such a setup, but for me it was an extra little help when gingerly manhandling my way through some sticky stuff alongside a river. The tyres are relentless in their grip on the ground, and together with the smart transmission tech, you feel like there’s nothing that would stop you making good progress, whatever the conditions. The engine just plugs away too. Auto transmission, four-wheel-drive and shaft final drive all give it a load of work to do in theory, but it gets on with the job without any fuss. Heading up a bit of an incline away from the river bank there’s no hesitation at all, just oodles of drive, with what seems like plenty in reserve.
The brakes are fine, though lacking a bit in precise feedback like you get on a modern dirt bike. That’s fine though, because there’s little in the way of precision in my learner-quad antics today, and I’m just happy that when I hammer on the levers in a panic, the thing stops underneath me quick-fast.
I park up under a glade of trees, and pull out my lunch. The Sportsman is a great base for a picnic of course – with loads of space on the bodywork to hang your jacket and lid, put down a bottle of water, and generally set up a small shanty-town settlement for a while. It’s a good-looking beast as well, the June sun glinting off the fancy Öhlins decals and purposeful engine bars.
I saddle up again, with only a hint of regret that Polaris hasn’t fitted this Sportsman with the optional gun scabbard I spotted on the press info PDF. A go-anywhere off-roader, with accommodation for a Holland & Holland 12-bore? Would be a massive hit in Croydon as well as Cambridgeshire.
Back home, and as I pull in, I have another lap of the field to celebrate my new-found quad skillage. A quick click into 2wd mode, and I’m soon hanging the back of the thing out like a cheeky scouser in a 1995 BMW 328i round a damp DFS carpark. The Sportsman is transformed from a sensible, hard-working arable farmer into a pissed-up labourer having a laugh at the local barn dance…
So there you have it. The Polaris Sportsman 570 EPS SP is like a cross between a New Holland tractor and a big adventure bike. Supremely easy to just get on and ride, with loads of practical touches and features that would make it an amazing working machine. But it’s also great fun when not doing proper work, with lively performance, strong engine, and super-trick, agile chassis. Thinking of a new quad for work? Then the Sportsman 570 is definitely worth a look I reckon.