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A year after Polaris reached record-high sales, it released the Polaris Xpress 300 to the public. This four-wheeler enjoyed a four-year production run, and while doing so, earned a considerable following. It may not have grown in popularity like its bigger-displacement siblings, but it was able to leave a mark on riders who used the quad for their everyday work and thrilling weekend adventures.
The Polaris Xpress 300 is a two-stroke all-terrain vehicle produced by Polaris from 1996 to 1999. It is known for its tough components, powerful engine, and simplistic design. It was a favorite build project by experienced mechanics and enthusiasts and was an excellent vehicle for beginners.
The Xpress 300 was a small yet powerful ATV. It could haul wood and cargo like its big-bore counterparts and carried off-roaders through wooded trails, dirt roads, and farms. Read on to learn more about this ’90s vehicle and what it offers.
About the Polaris Xpress 300
The timing could not have been more unusual with the launch of the Polaris Xpress 300 in 1996. It was a time of struggle for the ATV industry following the 1988 Consent Decree. Conversely, Polaris emerged with 25% of ATV sales in North America during the ’90s, and the Xpress 300 was instrumental in making it happen.
Had it not been for the flaws that the small quad had (along with its older-model siblings), current Polaris all-terrain vehicles would not be the world-renowned behemoths that they are today.
Produced from 1996 to 1999, the concept of this four-wheeler was quite simple. It had a two-cycle engine with Polaris Variable Transmission that required no shifting. It also had fuel injection, a minimalist exterior, and knobby tires. The 300 did not have EPS or differential lock, nor did it have fancy instrumentation and a racy bodywork. It merely had a powerful engine, blue-colored plastics, and utility racks for cargo.
Polaris Xpress 300 Specs & Features
- Engine – Power comes from a two-stroke, air-cooled, single-cylinder SOHC engine with a bore-stroke ratio of 74.5 × 65 millimeters (2.93 × 2.56 inches). The engine has a displacement of 283 cubic centimeters, a VM30SS Mikuni carburetor handling air-fuel mixture, and has a compression ratio of 6.1:1. Fuel tank capacity is 4 US gallons/15 liters. An 87 non-oxygenated or 89 oxygenated fuel Octane rating is recommended.
- Lubrication – Recommended engine oil is Polaris Premium Synthetic TC-W3 2 Stroke Oil SAE 5W-30 or equivalent, with an API classification of SH or higher. Approximately 2 quarts/1.9 liters are needed, paired with a PN 3084963 filter and Snap-On PN YA997 or equivalent filter wrench. The standard oil pressure specification is 20 psi at 5500 RPM.
- Drivetrain – Power comes from a dual-range, automatic Polaris Variable Transmission with reverse and a 520 O-ring chain drive. High gear reduction is 3.29, and final drive ratio is 13/38 86P.
- Ignition – A CDI ignition with an electric start system and an auxiliary recoil mechanical backup brings it to life. A 150-watt alternator powers up electronic accessories. The spark plug is NGK BR8ES. It requires a 12V 12Ah Polaris Xpress 300 battery with assembled dimensions of 5.20 x 3.50 x 6.40 inches (L x W x H). A NOCO Genius G26000 12V/24V 26 Amp Pro-Series Battery Charger and Maintainer (view on Amazon) will help keep your 12V battery in tip-top shape.
- Tires – The Xpress 300 tires consist of 23 x 7 – 10 front tires and 24 x 11 – 10 rear tires with steel rims. Recommended tire pressure for front tires is 4 psi/27.58 kPa (0.28 kgf/cm²) and 3 psi/20.68 kPa (0.21 kgf/cm²). Replace stock rubber with Carlisle All Trail II ATV Tires (view on Amazon) if it gets worn out.
- Brakes – It has hand-operated, front hydraulic disc brakes with a single lever and a foot-operated mechanical auxiliary rear brake. The Polaris Xpress 300 was among the models without the Engine Braking System. The helix rides against secondary clutch buttons in its stead.
- Suspension – The quad features MacPherson Strut for front and a single-shock, progressive rate swing arm for rear suspension. It allows 6.25 and 8.5 inches of wheel travel, respectively.
- Dimensions – The quad’s overall dimensions are 79.5 x 46 x 45.5 inches (2,019 x 1,168 x 1,155 millimeters – L x W x H). The minimum ground clearance is 6.5 inches (no-load). The vehicle wheelbase is 49.75 inches. Dry weight is 224.73 Kg/512 lbs. The towing capacity is 850 lbs, while the combined rack capacity is 270 lbs (90 lbs for the front and 180 lbs for the rear). Tongue weight is 30 lbs. The front and rear racks have a lot of tie-down areas for cargo.
- Exterior – The Xpress has a tubular steel frame and a plastic body. The left handlebar has most of the controls, and the 4WD button is on the right handlebar with the shifter. Full floorboards allow for a more aggressive riding position. Unlike some of its counterparts, the Xpress 300 does not have under-seat storage (the under-seat contains the air cleaner). Twin 30-watt Halogen headlights, an 8.26-watt taillight, and a 26.9-watt brake light provide the vehicle superior light distribution.
Polaris Xpress 300 Pros & Cons
Despite being one of the older Polaris quad models, the 1996 Polaris Xpress 300 only had a couple of TSBs released for it. They related to a cooling fan motor issue and an oil pump bleeding procedure for the 1997 Polaris Xpress 300. Performance-wise, you can take it for a ride over dried leaves and fallen branches or shallow streams and water crossings.
With the wheeler’s Lock & Ride cargo system, accessories are easy to buy and install. It allows Polaris owners to purchase original add-ons that bolt onto their four-wheelers without the need for drilling. Overall, the vehicle is perfect for wooded trails, open grasslands, straightaways, and dirt roads.
On the downside, the Xpress 300 makes clunky noises when carrying too much weight. Some users tend to overload it or convert it into a two-seater by customizing a passenger seat in place of the rear utility rack. The stock tires can tolerate shallow mud crossings but can’t handle serious mudding. Hence, you will need to change your rubber to more suitable alternatives like ITP Mud tires or equivalent.
Because it has MacPherson struts without the dual A-arms, the Xpress lacks spring motion control, which leads to wheel scrubbing. The handlebars feel awkward for drivers who prefer more aggressive riding, as they seem designed for long trail rides and cruising speeds in mind.
The quad feels underpowered when traversing bumpy or rough terrain or very sticky surfaces. Additionally, the vehicle severely lacks instrumentation, with only a couple of analog gauges on the dash.
How Much Does It Cost?
The base model of the Polaris Xpress 300 was valued at $3,999 and only increased by $100 for the 1998 Polaris Xpress 300 until its last production run in 1999. For an extra $2,200, you can have a high-performance exhaust, power blades, snow blower, winch, and a CB radio included in your package. You can save at least $500 if you source these Polaris Xpress 300 parts from aftermarket parts dealers.
Secondhand Xpress 300s sell between $800 and $1,200 in auction listings. These units are usually in good working condition but with no title. The low retail price for Xpress 300 models is from $400 to $705. Make sure to inspect the vehicle when buying within this price range thoroughly.
Known Issues & Fixes
Many Polaris Xpress 300 owners say that the quad is reliable but has a tad too many problems – ironic for a vehicle with only two TSBs released during its entire production period. But we will take it from the experts and acquaint ourselves with potential problems before they even happen. Here are a few of them:
The engine starts on the first pull – warm or hot. The fuel injector spews fuel into the carburetor, and the compression seems to run well with no spitting or sputtering. But you may notice the quad smoking like crazy. You can try and take the air filter out or check that the throttle cable moves the metering arm. However, these do not commonly cause the problem. Owners who have encountered the issue point the cause to oil buildup (quite typical for pre-loved Xpress 300s) or a faulty oiler resulting from a premix.
Other than the engine being double dosed (premix and oil pump together), worn-out carb needle and seat are likewise potential causes, as too much gas getting into the cylinder can cause excessive smoking. If your findings point more to this, dump the tank of old fuel, and replace it with a fresh one. Also, be sure to check the pump operation. Get a good filter and airbox as 2-stroke machines are especially squeamish when it comes to dirt.
Sometimes, the Xpress will keep on revving without speeding up the way that it should. It starts to feel tedious, pushing it to get to 25-30 mph when it should be topping out at 53 mph. Plus, the engine is screaming. Experienced mechanics may have already guessed the root problem right – that is, the clutch needs a bit of work or could be worn out. To confirm if this is the case for your quads, do the following steps:
- Firstly, make sure you have a service manual before doing any of these steps.
- Check that the oil pump is working by having the machine idle, raising the pump arm, and pulling the carburetor’s injector line. If the machine RPMs rise, but power remains low, inspect the clutches and belt.
- Examine both front and rear button wear (although the main culprit is usually the rear ramp buttons).
- Worn-down buttons usually happen along with a worn-out belt.
- Place a straight edge over the top of the clutches and pull down on the belt. If you have over 1 ½ inches slack from the top of the belt to the straight edge, that means the belt is worn down. Belts wear down on the width along with stretching.
- Replace your stock clutch cover with a 2000 or later version. Older clutch covers could warp and hit the drive clutch. This is due to bad form that is too close to the shape of the clutches, causing insufficient room for air circulation.
- You may need to improvise on the air exhaust duct or get one that goes with the recent-model clutch cover to match the exhaust tube’s size.
If you have covered all these steps and still can’t get at least 40 mph top speed, then you may need to do a clutch rebuild.
Grinding noise is an expectation that comes with buying a non-working Xpress. But contrary to popular belief, a top-end job would not fix the problem. How you approach this issue also depends if you have a standard or automatic quad. For standard, you need to check if the clutch is grabbing or dragging and then decided to either adjust or replace it.
If automatic, either your idle is set too high, or your shift linkage length is too short. If so, both would need adjustment. A tight belt is also a probable culprit – if the rear pully on the belt system is turning while idle, then the engine will grind when you try to put it in gear.
Other issues may be 4WD not engaging, front brakes not working, failing tie rod ends, and carburetor problems. For the 4WD problem, one cause of this is a bad chain tensioner and 4WD design (three chains but five sprockets).
Another thing to note is that the 4WD will not work without a battery. If none of these are at fault, then make sure that your shifter is in high, low, or reverse and that you have pressed on the 4WD button. When using 4WD in reverse, you need to push the override button.
Polaris Inc. is the maker of Polaris Xpress 300 – an American manufacturer of ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, and other electric vehicles. The company’s portfolio has grown to include Moto-Roadsters, commercial vehicles, tactical vehicle parts, garments, and accessories, making the firm a trusted name in motorsports, automotive, and defense industries.
The majority of the company’s powertrain and off-road vehicles are made and assembled in Osceola, Wisconsin, and Roseau, Minnesota.
Conclusion – The Polaris Xpress 300
The Polaris Xpress 300 may be small and dated compared to today’s standards, but it is second to none in functionality and performance. Expect some quirks here and there. After all, it is customary for riders to take extra care of vehicles that they constantly work to the ground.
Although it can sometimes put your mechanical skills to the test, what is excellent about this four-wheeler is that it is not complicated and runs like a champ. All in all, the Polaris Xplorer 300 is a splendid four-wheeler worth trying out.