Amid rumors of it's existence, the Polaris Sportsman ACE has remained in the shadows of the Polaris compound until now! The birth of a whole new segment has now been unleashed thanks to a company that, almost singlehandedly, reinvented the off-road vehicle. After they all but created the UTV segment years ago, they have done it again. Combining the usability of a quad with the driving mechanics and safety of a UTV, they have shaken up the the off-road market yet again with the Sportsman ACE.
The Sportsman ACE (hereforto referred to as ACE, as I think they will drop the Sportsman part soon) is an industry first. You have what is essentially a UTV, but on a miniature scale. Polaris took all that they have learned over the years of making some of the most reliable ATV's on the planet, and took them a step further.
We were loaded up in the truck and on the way to the adventure park just North of Austin to see what Polaris had in store for us this time! It was genuinely exciting as we were given nothing more than, "It is all new, and you are going to love it!" All of our contacts at Polaris were so very tightlipped this go 'round.
As we rounded the corner at Hidden Falls Adventure Park, we see the two lines of ACEs all ripe for the picking! A boisterous exclamation was belted out as the three of us were in disbelief. We spent a rather restless night trying to pick apart any of the engineer's statements, and see if they had inadvertently revealed any details about the new machine. No such luck. All of our contacts had been very diligent about their word choices. The diminutive roll cages glistened in the mid-morning sun. The chill of the morning finally giving way to the mid-day sun. Dan could barely bring the truck to a stop before we had piled out and rushed the lines of machines, standing at attention, like the men and women of the color guard in our armed forces, waiting for action.
The ACE takes the same basic shape of the Sportsman quad, and drops the saddle in favor of a single seat situated much lower than the saddle would traditionally ride. The all new ProStar 32 engine finds a home mounted further back in the frame to make room for the new, lower seating position, resulting in a surprisingly planted feeling around corners at speed. You are in a seat, so you don't get to administer the same sort of body english that is necessary to get a quad to have a little nicer manners around corners, but this english is not necessary with the ACE.
The planted feeling comes out of the planning and forethought that went into the placement of the weight of this great little machine! If you were to draw a line connecting all four tire contact patches, creating a box, every significant weight contributing pieces of the ACE are contained within that box. The fuel tank, motor, drivetrain, and most importantly, the driver are all centered within the contact patches, and situated as low as possible while still maintaining a very decent ground clearance of 10.25 inches and 9.5 inches of travel.
I was lucky enough to be the first one to hop in this machine, and take it for a spin! The first thing that I noticed was how incredibly easy the entrance to the seating position is! It is easier than getting into a car. The floor height is a small step up, and you pivot your bum right into the seat! There are loads of anchors for holding on to if you need a hand hold to scootch your bum into the seat. There is an infinitely adjustable tilt wheel with a stut assisted pivot. With the wheel all the way up and out of the way, the path of your butt to the seat is clear blue sky, making it ideal for those that might have a bit less mobility but still love the thrill of the trail!
Once seated in the ACE, and ready to roll with the seatbelt fastened and single cylinder thumping away, I shifted the buggy from park to high, and took off! Oh man does this thumper of a 327cc motor have some torque down low! You punch the gas, and you get up and go, but in no way feels like it is going to run away from you or get out from under you. I attribute this to the 32 horsepowers and the clutching that seems to be spot on! Good job Polaris. Tearing out of the parking lot and on to the long, straight roads that lead to the many diverse trailheads at Hidden Falls Adventure Park, I decided to give this little guy the beans to see what she had in her, and she definitely did not disappoint! While my face was not ripped off of my face with power like in the XP 1000 machines, the ACE gathered speed in a very smooth and controllable manner. It had the manners of one of those finishing school teachers, that also happened to do a little backyard wrestling on the weekends to blow off steam. I was able to see the speedo tip over the line from the 40's into the 50's. Not too shabby for an entry level machine that costs about as much as a set of braces for your child with the crooked teeth.
I spied a rocky ledge just off the main road and figured that this would be the perfect first test for the torque of the ACE. I turned the wheel and pointed the front tires directly at the ledges and put my right foot down. With the knobby tires gripping at the dusty limestone ledges, the ACE rolled right up the hill without even a second thought by me, or a huff or a puff from the engine bay. Okay, not too bad at all. As I continued along the trail, it tightened up and got real twisty. This was no problem for the nimble ACE. The ACE does not have power steering, but the steering felt very precise and easy to flick around the corners at a decent clip. Never did the ACE feel like it was getting away from me, even in the blind, diminishing radius corners. The seat hugged me and I had to put very little effort into the cornering like is necessary on a traditional ATV. It was a blast!
The trail opened up to some rocky assents, and with the confidence that the ACE gave me as it marched up the limestone ledges, I had no problem pointing the ACE to the summit and pressing the gas. Once I hit the top, a sharp left hander met me and the ACE. A quick shuffle of the steering wheel negotiated this corner with ease and finesse.
This machine was really starting to grow on me. The more time the seat of my pants was in the seat of the ACE, the more I started to feel like I could get it to do whatever I wanted. The feeling of security that the roll cage in the corners of my field of vision made me feel confident in the machine that I was piloting in this very unfamiliar Adventure Park. Once I was out in the open again I decided to test the braking system to see if I could unsettle the machine. I get her up to speed, and stand on the brakes. The front and rear stay right in line with each other and pull me down to a stop in a VERY controlled manner. Inspiring, simply confidence inspiring. Even under panicked braking situations, the ACE will bring you to a stop in a calm manner.
As my test drive came to an end and I had to trade it off to my compadre, I am nothing but smiles literally stepping out of the easy in, easy out cockpit. I am asked by Doug and Dan how the ride was, and all I can say is, "Wow." The ACE has not only set the industry on it's head by releasing something that consumers have never seen before, but they have simultaneously set a whole new benchmark for what the "entry-level" machine is capable of.
In summation, the Polaris Sportsman ACE is an incredible machine, that will be the cause of many owner's giggles and smiles. A great compliment to any garage, no matter what is already in that garage. A compliment as it is the perfect machine to load up no matter if you are taking a load of people out for their first off-road experience, or are just getting out with the family and want everyone to have a chance behind the wheel. If I was a parent, I would be hard pressed to hand the keys of my 107hp X P1000 to my 17 year old son and let him have an unsupervised rip with his buddies. With a pair of ACEs, I can load up 2 of them and send them on their way without a lot of worry. It is perfect for the wife, girlfriend, son, daughter, neighbor, or anyone that wants to go out, but doesn't want to ride, and would rather drive regardless of their experience level.
As for the negatives, I had to look pretty hard, and get very nit picky. For the initial offering in a whole new vehicle, the ACE is very well refined and put together. The panels fit well and vibrations were at a minimum. The roll cage was a little awkwardly shaped. I understand why they shaped it as they did to give taller riders enough head room, but I feel like the roof could have been little lower, and the uprights on the cage could have been set a little wider. In the power department, it was all you really need in a vehicle of this size, but Polaris has spoiled us so much with huge power in their other vehicles, that I was left wanting for a bit more power to keep the rear end out a little longer. I have to remember that this ACE is brand new and most importantly, it is an "entry-level" machine that comes in well under $8000. So, like I said, "nit picky." I am excited to see what they do with this platform, and how the general public receives it.