Topping the 400-cc big-bore powerhouses of the day, the Polaris Scrambler 500 screams compact performance. Its powerful engine could ride over logs and rocks, and sprint down sandy trails. Its top-caliber technology and high throughput is no stranger to both the casual driver and discerning speedster who enjoy extreme fun with this vehicle.
Set to conquer the most unwelcoming terrain, the Polaris Scrambler 500 was a crossover between sport and utility all-terrain vehicles introduced in 1997. It allowed riders fun explorations in the wild while taking on the most difficult of outdoor tasks.
The Polaris Scrambler 500 is considered one of the best quads Polaris has ever made. But despite this reputation, it has remained unchanged with little to no improvement over the years since its inception. Has the Scrambler been left behind by competition? Find out the answer to this, and more, in this article.
About Polaris Scrambler 500
The Polaris Scrambler originally came out as a sport-oriented, 400-cc, two-stroke ATV and almost immediately became a massive hit with the public in 1995. The Scrambler was a response to the consumers’ need for flexibility of four-wheel drive that utility machines offered, as there were a growing number of riders in the ’90s who were buying utility vehicles but weren’t necessarily using them for work.
Two years later, Polaris released its second sport 4×4 machine, the Polaris Scrambler 500, which became one of the fastest four-strokes available at the time.
Many years later, the Scrambler 400 got phased out due to stringent emissions standards. Then on May 3, 2005, 14,882 combined units of the 2005 Polaris Scrambler 500 and some 2004 and 2005 Sportsman models were recalled due to possibly defective Electronic Control Modules (ECM). Polaris Inc. voluntarily did a product recall to prevent accidents that could result in grave injury or death associated with the faulty, overheating ECM.
Despite this recall, the Polaris Scrambler 500 was still embraced by the media and loved by consumers during its time. It remained part of Polaris’ lineup from 1997 until 2011, and its aftermarket and OEM parts still get manufactured today.
Polaris Scrambler 500 Specs & Features
- Engine – Power comes from a four-valve, liquid-cooled SOHC engine (2004 models and up had DOHC). It has a bore of 92 millimeters and a stroke of 75 millimeters. The engine displacement is 499 cubic centimeters. A 40-millimeter Mikuni CV carburetor handles the air-fuel mixture, and its compression ratio is 10:8:1. Fuel tank capacity is 3.5 gallons/13.2 liters (4 gallons/15 liters for the 4×4).
- Drivetrain – The engine has an automatic CVT type with F/N/R and On-Demand True AWD/2WD drive system. It also comes with an eccentric chain adjustment system – a front shaft and a concentric rear setup.
- Ignition – It is brought to life by electric starting with an automotive turnkey style switch or an auxiliary recoil mechanical backup.
- Tires – The Polaris Scrambler 500 rides on Carlisle® AT489 23 X 7-10 front tires with heavy stamped steel wheels and a Carlisle® AT489 22 x 11-10 rear tires. You can buy same-size replacement tires like Carlisle Trail Wolf ATV Tire (view on Amazon) or go for 23 X 8-12 front tires.
- Brakes – It uses single-lever hydraulic front discs and rear hydraulic disc foot brake.
- Suspension – The front suspension features a MacPherson Strut with 8.2 inches (20.8 cm) of travel and a rear progressive-rate swing arm with single shocks and 10.5 inches (26.7 cm) of travel.
- Dimensions – The quad’s overall length is 75 inches, and the width is 45-46 inches. Its height is 47-49 inches; ground clearance is 4.75-5.5 inches. The vehicle wheelbase is 48 inches; the seat height is 34-35 inches. The turning radius is 6.9 feet. Dry weight is 542-571 lbs.; GVWR can go up to 845 lbs.
- Towing Capacity – The quad has an accessory hitch towing rating of 850 lbs. (385.6 kg.); Cargo system is Lock & Ride; Instrumentation is N/R light, fuel gauge, high temp light. An accessory rack comes handy for loading in your tent and other camping gear.
- Exterior – It is composed of a steel frame and plastic body material (comes in Indy red and white). It also has full floorboards (driver side and a good-sized bumper that effectively protects front end components and provides excellent handholds. You can also get a Weatherproof ATV Cover (view on Amazon).
- On-Demand™ AWD/2WD Drive System – this feature allows the front axles to automatically engage when the rear wheels lose traction. The reverse happens once rear wheels regain traction.
Polaris Scrambler 500 Price
The price of a 1999 Polaris Scrambler 500 4×4 was initially at $5,899 MSRP. Currently, value ranges between $585 and $770 as the model is already old – there are some units sold from $1,899 to $2,999 in Idaho and Pennsylvania. For the ’01 Polaris Scrambler 500 4×4, original and reselling price is slightly higher than that of the ’99 model – MSRP was at $6,099 and used quads cost between $975 and $1,285.
For 2009 and up models, they are valued at above $3,000 and would sometimes require a trade-in. Prices without trade-in could range from $4,800 to $5,700. Usually, these units are very well-maintained, always serviced at the dealership, and would have minimal hours.
Polaris Scrambler 500 Top Speed
Polaris Scrambler 500 top speed is said to be between 63 to 70 mph. It is quite understandable considering it is a much heftier machine than the Polaris Predator 500 (covered in another article). In most situations, a stock Scrambler can pass a Grizzly, although the speed difference is not that wide of a gap. However, other riders feel that this top speed is a bit second-rate compared to its counterparts in the same class.
When gauging top speed for the Scrammy (a nickname given to the Scrambler 500 by enthusiasts), you need to consider the quad’s condition and the rider weight that can affect the machine’s ability to hit optimal speed in a shorter period. You may also want to check on modifications that your quad or your competition already has before you start feeling a little too disappointed.
How Jimmy Did It
Jimmy “The Greek” Anagnoustopolous took home three first-place trophies and convincing wins in the 500-cc and 700-cc four-wheel-drive classes at the Portage “Canal Days” Dirt Drags in May 2003 using a Polaris Scrambler 500 4×4. He went against 700 Polaris Sportsman, DS 650 Bombardiers, Yamaha Raptors, and 700 Kawasaki.
So how did he do it? Jimmy and his Dyno team equipped the Scrambler 500 with a stage 5 kit and a 42-millimeter carburetor. This modification had five stages where the RPM, max torque, and max horsepower gradually increased each time. These stages improved cylinder efficiency and kept the RPM close to stock levels to maintain reliability and prevent crank problems.
Your Turn to Speed Up
If we are to learn anything from Jimmy’s team, that is to make minor modifications that aim for better cylinder efficiency rather than quick power gains. Even without a professional team conducting engineering evaluations, the average rider can still increase stock top speed by 3 to 4 mph given proper mods and decent mechanical skills. Below are changes that you can do on your quad to satisfy your need for speed.
To help increase your top speed, install a new muffler like the JFG RACING Slip-on Exhaust Muffler (view on Amazon) that would help improve the power performance of your quad. You can also change your stock carb into a slightly bigger one. It will improve airflow and make throttle response instant instead of waiting for the airbox vacuum to build up.
Test out different cams and get the ones that will enhance mid-range torque and top-end power at lower RPM. Porting the head to get rid of any hindrance to airflow is another thing you can do on your Scrammy to increase your motor performance.
Increase Compression Ratio
You may also increase the compression ratio of your Scrambler but pay attention not to overdo this, as higher ratios come with disadvantages if not done correctly. One, it leads to excessive combustion noise, ultimately resulting in engine wear. Two, if the compression ratio goes beyond 10, the heat transfer of the engine would increase, and engine performance would decrease.
You would need to make sure that your desired compression ratio matches the fuel your ATV is using. The practical limit using regular fuel is up to 10.5. RON (Research Octane Number) 110 fuel allows up to 12; Methanol fuel will allow you up to 14. Since the Polaris Scrambler 500 uses gasoline, the maximum compression ratio you can have is 11:1 – this will still allow you to use 92-Octane pump gas.
Polaris Scrambler 500 – Pros and Cons
The Polaris Scrambler 500 comes equipped with a powerplant built for trail fun and Carlisle tires that ride well in most conditions. It has an engine that readily comes to life with a bit of help from the choke (for cold starts) and a twist of the key and is paired with a CVT transmission offering forward, reverse, and neutral.
Its On-Demand AWD mode makes it easy to cross water holes on the trails even if they are nearly up to the seat. There is also a drain plug to keep your CVT belt dry if the intake cannot handle it.
Controls on the Scrambler are easy to use with the headlight switches, ignition, and single brake lever found on the left handlebar. On the right handlebar end is the over-sized thumb throttle, and the 4WD/2WD button.
Full floorboards with a footpeg molded into the plastic securely anchor your foot. Engine braking is noticeable but very controllable when gliding into corners or downhills. Top all this with a very sporty look, and a plush seat that promises comfort for day-long trail rides.
Another significant plus is that maintenance tasks are easy as pie on the Polaris Scrambler 500 4×4. For one, the paper air filter quickly detaches as it is just right under the seat, and a nylon filter skin keeps it from clogging.
Oil filter access is also strategically placed on the left side of the engine, and a good-sized oil fill hole makes oil changes a breeze. Plus, several online retailers and dealers sell Polaris Scrambler 500 parts for your inside other garage modifications.
Like other utility ATVs, the Polaris Scrambler 500 does have its drawbacks too. One is the transmission which does not feature a low working gear. It takes the CVT a moment or two to catch up when you crack the throttle open and makes the motor feel a little sluggish. Most owners blame this setback to the quad’s outdated CVT transmission more than to its engine.
Design flaws are also noticeable and left uncorrected with more recent year models of the Scrambler. One of these is the absence of racks on either end of the bodywork for hauling gear, although you can purchase accessory racks for utility work purposes.
Another is its seating position, which is like nothing else. Its big seat pairs with old-school handlebars do not allow the rider to be in a more aggressive stance, and its seating ergonomics is very much similar to that of a snowmobile.
Setting the idle limit too high makes shifting very notchy and going back to a lower idling range quite problematic. Its stock wheels are also an issue. The rims are so butter-soft, they can practically be deformed by kicking the tires and are not that durable for riding on rocks.
Tires are prone to cuts. The braking system doesn’t afford skilled riders that extra level of control provided by separate front and rear brakes despite helping slow the machine on steep declines.
Polaris Scrambler 500 vs. Yamaha Wolverine 450
During its time, people often compared the Scrambler 500 to the Yamaha Wolverine 350. Later on, the Yamaha evolved into a Wolverine 450, but this was compared more to a Scrambler 850 than a Scrambler 500.
- Is the Polaris Scrambler 500 automatic? The Scrambler has a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which is not quite the same as automatic transmission. An automatic transmission connects to the engine via a hydraulic torque converter that helps to shift the gear lever without driver intervention; a CVT relies on a pulley and belt system that allows it to provide infinite numbers of ratios.
- Is the Polaris Scrambler 500 a 2 or 4 stroke? The 400-cc version of the Polaris Scrambler was a two-stroke machine, but the Polaris Scrambler 500 and 500 4×4 have four-stroke engines.
- Is the Polaris Scrambler 4×4? “4×4” in a 4WD vehicle means four wheels total and four wheels used to drive. Utility quads are typically 4×4. Not to mention that the Scrambler has the On-Demand™ True AWD/2WD Drive System. So by definition, it is 4×4.
Polaris Inc. was formerly known as Polaris Industries and is the maker of Polaris Scrambler 500. The company is world-renowned for its production of top-end snowmobiles, motorcycles, and utility vehicles. Their vision “to fuel the passion of riders, workers, and outdoor enthusiasts around the world” continues to reflect their products and services.
Conclusion – Polaris Scrambler 500
Whether you fancy a quick race with your friends along wooded trails or need a mule that will help you carry loads across open grounds, the Polaris Scrambler 500 is sure to answer to your whim.
As a pioneer of sport-utility ATVs, it did not fail. As a sport-oriented machine, it still has room for improvement. The Scrambler 500 lives up to its promise of trail fun and reliable performance. But we can only hope that its design and functionality keep abreast of its intended purpose.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.