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ATVs have become essential for outdoor enthusiasts, farmers, hunters, and recreational riders. As luck would have it, two prominent manufacturers offer a range of models with unique features and capabilities. In this article, let’s delve into the Can-Am Outlander and Polaris Sportsman, comparing their pros and cons to help riders like you make an informed decision.
When comparing the Can-Am Outlander and Polaris Sportsman, it is important to consider your needs and preferences. The Outlander offers an impressive lineup if you prioritize power, handling, and versatility. But if you seek ingenuity and adaptability, the Sportsman may be more to your liking.
A good test ride of same-class models from both brands should give you a feel for how they handle and whether they align with your riding style. Doing so will also make dissimilarities more apparent. But if you think these measures wouldn’t suffice, stick around to learn more about the nuances contributing to the uniqueness of each of these four-wheelers.
The North American Big Shots
Polaris and Can-Am are the alpha and omega of what I’d call the “North American Trio.” Polaris was the earliest to enter the ATV landscape, just right at Suzuki’s tail. Meanwhile, Can-Am only began producing ATVs in the last 25 years.
It’s only fitting to compare two of their most decorated ATV models in this guide — the Can-Am Outlander and Polaris Sportsman.
In case you weren’t aware of how top-tier these machines are, here are but some of their accolades:
- ATV.com’s ATV of the Year
- Best-in-Class Awards
- Rider’s Choice Awards
- Field & Stream’s Best of the Best Award
- North American Hunting Club’s Seal of Approval
- ATV.com’s Utility ATV of the Year
- Outdoor Life’s Great Buy Award
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s jump right into the gist of this guide — determining which is better between these two tested-and-proven four-wheelers.
Can-Am Outlander vs. Polaris Sportsman — Pros & Cons
Can-Am Outlanders have a reputation for being reliable ATVs with durable components. Their power mills are known for their performance and longevity. Similarly, Polaris Sportsmans have a good track record for durability, especially in their higher-end models. That said, their engines are generally dependable.
However, certain model years of the Sportsman have stock components prone to premature wear and tear or requiring frequent adjustment or replacement. Among them are front springs and nuts, rear lower control arm bolts, the AWD system, and other wear-prone parts specified in my 2004 Polaris Sportsman 700 article. In like manner, pre-2001 500cc Sportsmans reportedly have weak clutches, U-joints, and drive belts.
The same can be said for Can-Am Outties (as they are fondly called). In 2017, BRP recalled specific Outlander EFI and Max ATVs due to a defective DPS™ shaft that may break (posing a crash risk), although no injuries have been reported. Approximately eight models were part of this recall, including the XT 570 EFI, MAX XT 570 EFI, and Hunter Edition 570 EFI trims. Other known issues that could potentially impact the quad’s reliability have been briefly detailed in my post on the 2017 Can-Am Outlander 570 not too long ago.
The fuel efficiency of Can-Am Outlander and Polaris Sportsman ATVs can vary depending on several factors, including the specific trim, engine size, riding conditions, and how the quad is ridden. There is no definitive answer as to which of the two is universally better in fuel efficiency because it can vary from one incarnation to another within each brand’s lineup.
What is certain, however, is that fuel-injected models have better fuel economy than carbureted ones. To add, smaller power mills typically consume less fuel than larger ones. If fuel efficiency is a primary concern, consider models with smaller engine displacements. (unless you need a near-liter-class, high-performance machine). Mind you, larger models are relatively fuel-hungry compared to mid or smaller-displacement ones.
Can-Am Outlander and Polaris Sportsman models are on even playing fields in this regard and for several reasons. Although both are considered sporty, they’re actually ‘oranges to apples’ when compared. According to Kemimoto, “the Can-Am Outlander stands out more for its exceptional performance capabilities, making it an ideal choice for those prioritizing speed and power, while the Polaris Sportsman impresses with its stability and maneuverability.”
That’s only one of many conflicted opinions on the overall handling of these machines. Another take is that Can-Am Outlanders are generally less forgiving to neophytes than Sportsmans are.
Tech-wise, the Outty and the Sportsman offer All-Wheel Drive capabilities — even IRS (Independent Rear Suspension) and EBS (Engine Braking System) — for select classes and incarnations. They also boast enhanced traction control and capable suspension systems that can traverse rough, fluctuating terrain.
The key difference, according to their respective patrons, lies in handling precision, drive engagement, and the sophistication of the suspension system. Apparently, Outlanders have motion-control damping complementing adjustable shocks, whereas Sportsmans do not provide this feature, even as an option. Conversely, the latter’s On-Demand AWD system is superior in automatic engagement and traction.
Versatility & Application
Both North American models have a wide range of applications, and the choice between the two depends on your needs and preferences. Nevertheless, these ATVs are versatile and can be used for various activities, including:
- Recreational trail riding
- Utility or ranch work
- Challenging tracks and off-road racing
- Snow plowing
- Two-up recreation riding
But the flexibility of these machines doesn’t end here. In fact, it extends to their range of engine sizes and ‘upgradability.’ From modular attachments to aftermarket accessories, the compatibility of the Sportsman and Outty with these add-ons enables enthusiasts to customize their four-wheelers for specific tasks.
When it comes to hauling duties, however, the Can-Am Outlander takes the cake. Its mid-size iteration has a towing capacity of 748 Kg (1,650 lbs.) — a pulling power that’s 150 lbs. greater than the Sportsman’s. This isn’t to say that the latter isn’t up to the task. After all, Polaris Sportsmans feature a more robust front brush guard and are a favorite among hunters.
Safety & Comfort
The Can-Am Outlander and Polaris Sportsman more or less are on par with each other in safety features. Most factors that lend to their overall handling — cutting-edge suspension and braking systems — are the same elements rendering these machines safe. These are in addition to small but crucial details like anti-slip two-up seats and integrated passenger handholds (view on Amazon).
Comfort, however, is an entirely different story. While it’s easy to conclude all ATVs look the same, they don’t. Especially during frequent, long rides, even the slightest differences in build, saddle material, handlebar grips, and peg/lever placement become apparent. When this happens, the clincher to choosing one quad over the other boils down to whether the ergos and design of the ATV jive with its intended use.
As established earlier, the Polaris Sportsman and Can-Am Outlander stand out for their customizable accessories. Polaris ATVs, for one, are well-known for their ‘Lock & Ride’ cargo system. Meanwhile, Can-Am ATVs sport special features like the Visco-Lok QE front differential — found only in select labels.
Outside these factory modular systems, both name brands have huge aftermarket support and professional outfitters who custom-build WORX-replica add-ons.
Naturally, there’s a flip side to the upgradability of these machines if it’s this extensive — and it’s cost. Customizing either ATV can be a significant expense, further aggravated by the complexity of modifications, the quality of aftermarket parts chosen, and the need for professional installation.
Design & Storage
The Outlander and Sportsman have ample storage (including cargo racks and compartments), allowing outdoor enthusiasts to carry gear and essentials with no fuss. These machines can also be outfitted with additional features like a Kemimoto 76L Large ATV Rear Rack Bag (view on Amazon), handlebar-mounted storage solutions, etc. Hence, it’s a tie for both in this aspect.
When it comes to styling, however, some folks prefer the stance and overall look of the Sportsman. Compared to the Outlander, its handlebars are raised slightly higher than its counterpart, creating the illusion that it has a narrower profile. Its exterior also looks more robust and well-put together — a design suitable for work and play.
This isn’t to say that the Outty has an inferior look and stance — it’s actually quite the opposite. However, its polished visage and shiny body paint may be too tame for its intended purpose, unlike the rugged charm of the Polaris Sportsman.
Apart from affecting long-term reliability, the need for frequent upkeep can be a letdown for some owners and prospective buyers. And it’s only worsened by accessibility and servicing difficulties. Take a 2017 Outlander 570, for instance. What should have been a straightforward fluid change easily becomes a chore since performing the task requires removing the ATV’s floorboard and body panel.
Moderate driving habits can help reduce the likelihood of frequent maintenance. But this best practice can only get you so far. Depending on the year, displacement, and trim, your Outty or Sportsman could have bushings that are quick to become loose or organic brake pads that prematurely fail.
These two ATV models are pricier than their East Asian counterparts, even in the used market. While that may be understandable due to their added perks and advanced tech, it’s also a considerable drawback for many budget-conscious off-roaders. The Outty’s MSRP typically ranges from $6,000—$17,000+ (same as the Sportsman) — with their higher-end models at least $5,000 more expensive than a Kawasaki Brute Force or Honda FourTrax Rancher.
If you’re looking for a good pricing guide per Outlander and Sportsman trim, check out this Kemimoto article. For specific year models, however, you’ll need to do your research.
Shared Benefits & Drawbacks
- Can-Am Outlander vs. Polaris Sportsman ATVs are known for their strong performance. They often have powerful engines and capable suspension systems, allowing them to handle various terrain and riding conditions effectively.
- Both offer a variety of models with different engine sizes and configurations, enabling riders to choose one that meets their needs (and also their suitability for various types of applications, from recreational trail riding to utility work).
- Models from both name brands come with comfortable seating and ergonomic designs, making long rides more enjoyable. Features like raised footpegs and adjustable handlebars enhance the overall riding experience for many enthusiasts.
- Can-Am and Polaris incorporate advanced technology into their quads. Said perks include features like digital displays, electronic power steering, selectable drive modes, and advanced suspension systems (to name a few).
- Both ATVs boast a wide range of aftermarket accessories and attachments, allowing customization for specific tasks or activities, such as hunting, plowing, or recreational riding.
- These high-performance ATVs can be relatively expensive. Their initial purchase price, alongside maintenance and repair costs, can add up over time. Additionally, optional accessories and project builds can significantly increase their overall cost.
- Generally, the powerful engines found in Can-Am Outlanders and Polaris Sportsmans can consume more fuel compared to smaller, less powerful models.
- Regular maintenance is crucial for keeping these machines in good working condition. These tasks include oil changes, filter replacements, and suspension maintenance and can lead to performance issues and costly repairs when neglected.
- Some larger Can-Am Outlander vs. Polaris Sportsman models can be cumbersome, making them less suitable for tight trails or transporting to remote riding locations. In such situations, maneuverability may become a concern.
- Like all other off-road vehicles, ATVs can be noisy and emit emissions. Depending on the state, these machines may not meet noise regulations and other environmental legislation.
Conclusion — Can-Am Outlander vs. Polaris Sportsman
In the Can-Am Outlander vs. Polaris Sportsman showdown, there’s no clear winner — just two formidable machines in the realm of ATVs. Can-Am’s power and precision match Polaris’ innovation and adaptability quite nicely, inadvertently competing for your budget and attention.
Whether conquering rough trails, tackling utility tasks, or exploring the great outdoors, your decision depends on what you value most in an off-road companion. Are you all for spirited rides? Or are you just traversing casually until you’re confident for more technical trails off the beaten path? Whichever journey and four-wheeled machine you fancy, the final say is yours.