4 Sport ATVs For the Common Man Who Needs to Let Loose

Hard work has its rewards. It puts food on the table, beer in the fridge and gives you the ability to buy cool things you can store in that newly added third garage stall. Mountain bikes, campers, fishing boats and ATVs are just some of the toys you may own for recreating outdoors. The last thing you need to do on a Saturday is find more work to do.

While we enjoy using 4×4 ATVs to plow snow and tackle mud bogs, we also love to let loose and just ride for fun. And there’s nothing like carving the dunes or dicing through the trees on a lighter weight sport quad or the freedom they provide.

Here are four sport quads between 330 and 400cc that are capable of providing a great joyride or day escape. Each packs more punch than the small entry-level models and is less intimidating than the larger displacement speedsters and race-specific quads.

Honda TRX400X

This sport quad was the talk of the industry a decade ago, but that was a different time and 450cc sport quads didn’t exist! Despite its age, the 400X (the artist formerly known as 400EX) has proven itself to be fun, reliable and affordable! Its 2005 upgrades included a sportier look and reverse to make it more convenient. Then in ’08, it received a sleeker fender package and new seat.

Powered by an air-cooled single-cylinder 397cc four-stroke, the 400X doesn’t quite pack the hit or zip as Suzuki’s Z400, but it’s darn close and every bit as enjoyable. While the 400X could benefit from the addition of electronic fuel injection, the 38mm piston-valve carburetor has proven to be reliable and provides a smooth throttle pull.

Its narrower 45.5-inch width and 32.5-inch seat height make runs through heavily forested trails quick and controllable. Aggressive cornering and big jumps can overmatch the front preload-adjustable Showa shocks. However, while we’d love to see better front shocks, complete with piggyback reservoirs, we understand this machine’s affordability would diminish. The fully adjustable rear shock offers 9.1 inches of travel and does an admirable job of soaking up hard hits.

At 408 pounds wet, the steel-framed 400X is considered “heavy” for motocross racing, but it’s capable of tackling milder tracks in stock form. Aluminum wheels and an aluminum swingarm reduce the weight somewhat. The 20-inch rear Ohtsu tires are decent at supplying traction and work well in muddier and sandy conditions, but could be stronger.

The 400X has one of the industry’s best chain adjustment systems. Triple disc brakes are standard and provide ample stopping power, yet aren’t as instant as some sport quads we’ve ridden. The newer seat is less plush but

is also more refined – with a slender front section and wider rear edges – for sport riders. Since its ’05 redesign, the 400X has continued to rise in price (up $500).

With the current state of the economy, model saturation and sport quad sales figures continuing to decline, we wonder if the 400X will remain in the lineup or follow the 250R into Honda heaven.

Polaris Trail Blazer 330

Polaris categorizes the Trail Blazer 330 as an entry-level ATV and we agree. Although, its weight, displacement and overall size may be too much for some first-time riders, its automatic transmission, power, full floorboards and single-lever braking make it easier to ride than the other three quads in this group. Plus, a host of 2010 upgrades have improved this machine.

Updates were made to the plastic, seat, lighting, suspension, chassis, disc brakes, master cylinder and fuel gauge. Visually, it’s easiest to see the changes to the modern plastic, taller seat and the brighter front headlight, which was borrowed from the Outlaw and has 28 percent more power. Owners should also notice the more convenient remote fuel gauge even if they fail to realize the fuel tank’s capacity grew .75 gallons.

It’s also easy to spot the Trail Blazer’s new stance. New floorboards are fashionable and functional and contribute to its improved ergonomics. The seat is more contoured and longer and its height increased an inch, up to 35 inches, due to thicker seat foam and a new suspension. It could be the most comfortable seat in the sport quad market. The ground clearance declined from 5.5 inches to 4.75 because Polaris added a beefier eccentric protection skid plate, which it calls “much improved.”

On paper, the 330 is also three inches taller. That’s partly due to the incorporation of the half-inch taller Sportsman handlebars that are designed to better accept a windshield and other accessories.

Beneath the plastic, the suspension and chassis also went under the knife. Sportsman front struts (castings), with separate front spindles for mounting the wheels, replace the old front-end setup. Also, the shocks have new springs to improve the ride. Polaris engineers made the chassis stronger, improved the engine mounting and alignment and increased the skid protection. Braking action was altered by using the Sportsman calipers, larger brake discs and new master cylinder, which upped the bleeding capacity. The machine is also an inch wider, but retains the same A-arms.

The 329cc four-stroke engine does OK for lighter riders, but feels sluggish for heavy riders, especially when the quad’s 492-pound dry weight is factored in. However, the Trail Blazer better accommodates larger riders due to its overall dimensions. But then again, Polaris didn’t design this ATV to break any speed records or contend for honors on an MX track. It was built for convenience, ease of use and cruising terrain and other moderately challenging trails. The Trail Blazer has always produces stable cornering and can be fun to wheelie if the Carlisle tires find enough traction.

Suzuki QuadSport Z400

Although the Z400 is the most expensive 400-class sport quad, it’s the most comfortable and loaded with features. Electronic fuel injection was added last year giving the Suzuki improved throttle control and stronger, more efficient acceleration. There’s nothing wrong with a quicker 400, right? For anyone not looking to compete in a motocross race, this is the Suzuki sport quad for you. Even if you do want to race it, the removable headlight, suspension and stronger steel-alloy chassis should appease you.

The resilient 398cc single-cylinder four-stroke has the most thrilling power and is the lone liquid-cooled mill in this quartet. It fires electronically and is outfitted with a nearly bulletproof five-speed transmission with reverse. I’ve ridden the Z400 with a group of 450 machines and, although underpowered, its abilities, speed, controllable powerband and comfort levels all made me forget about its power disadvantage.

At 46.9 inches, the Z400 is the widest of these four ATVs and has the best stock suspension. Despite its advantageous width, the four-stroke remains a stable stalwart in the dense woods and can carve through trees like a love-hungry 10-point buck. A 31.9-inch seat height helps it rail corners.

Fully adjustable piggyback shocks supply excellent suspension travel figures and superb tuning capabilities. The linkage-type rear end, with it’s lightweight aluminum swingarm and single shock, offers 9.1 inches of wheel travel. Up front, the fully independent A-arm suspension offers 8.5 inches of travel and tracks very well – point and shoot! In addition, this machine feels lighter on the trail than its 425-pound curb weight would suggest.

Ergonomically, the Z can appeal to riders of various sizes and shapes. The Z400’s signature T-shaped seat may be the best platform in the business and is definitely the most copied. The larger 46mm foot pegs aid in supporting

boots for aggressive racers and weekend warriors alike. The 20-inch rear tires are great for casual woods riders and admirably supply a good balance between straight-line traction and sliding.

For those who enjoy a custom look, Suzuki offers a limited edition Z400 with special graphics and black wheels, for an additional $200. The Z400 is in a similar predicament as the Honda 400X, seeing huge sales figures early on in

its history and market saturation more recently. However, the Z400 is Suzuki’s trail machine not the QuadRacer 450, which targets MX racers. Plus, the addition of EFI gives it a technological edge over the other guys.

Yamaha Raptor 350

The Raptor 350 dates back to 1987 and the Warrior nameplate, yet it’s still living off a 2004 redesign and its new name. And the fact that it shares a lot of parts with its big-bore brothers, the Raptor 700R and YFZ450, and has a unique package also help. Yamaha has confirmed the 350 Raptor will return to its lineup for 2010.

The hearty, two-valve, 348cc, air-cooled four-stroke has just enough muscle to put a smile on your face, but can eventually leave you wanting more. Reverse gear has also been a strong selling point for the Raptor, even though it has the trickiest reverse lever to operate in this group. The Raptor’s six-speed transmission is also unique to the industry.

Surprisingly, at 396 pounds (wet), the Raptor is the lightest quad in this group. Even so, it can feel heavy and slightly underpowered when the trails require all-out speed. On the forest trails, however, the 350 is better than average partly due to its thin 43.1-inch width.

That skinny design and a dated suspension can also make it more challenging to control for inexperienced riders. And the five-way preload-adjustable shocks can only do so much to slow body roll. Some of the handling quirks are also due to the Raptor’s tires; especially the rear treads which have a more rounded profile and are often slide happy. The hydraulic discs do the job and I’ve always enjoyed the flip-type parking brake.

Unfortunately the Raptor’s size may be its biggest detractor. It’s the shortest (length-and height-wise) and the narrowest machine in this group and has the shortest wheelbase. This ergonomic configuration can make some riders taller than 6 feet feel cramped.