First Ride: Polaris Sportsman ACE
Derrek Sigler 01.27.14
I was recently asked to attend a new product launch from Polaris and after accepting, I asked what it was we’d be riding. The Polaris folks held a good poker face and didn’t let on any information. All I knew was it was an all-new machine and it was secret. Was Polaris bluffing, or did they truly have something new to show us? It turned out that their hole card was the Sportsman ACE.
When the bus carrying the load of ATV journalists pulled into to the Hidden Falls Adventure Park near Marble Falls, Texas, everyone was speculating about what the top-secret new machine from Polaris would be. There were at least 25 theories rolling around and not one of them was correct. It seems Polaris truly had an ace up its sleeve all along.
As we piled off the bus, some of those speculators guffed and guffawed thinking that Polaris wasn’t playing with a full deck. “What is that, a kid’s RzR?” some random rider asked. As we got closer, however, and got a good look at what we were there to ride, the tone changed dramatically.
Stacking the deck
The Polaris Sportsman ACE is a single-seat utility vehicle designed for entry-level to intermediate riders, or the rider not needing a massive engine. It features on-demand, all-wheel drive and just about any feature you’d find in a utility ATV.
Polaris played their cards tight to their chest when it came time to discuss the engine. Instead of discussing the displacement with us, they talked about the design. An all-new liquid-cooled, dual overhead cam, single-cylinder ProStar 32 engine powers the ACE. The engine produces, fittingly enough, 32 horsepower that is very peppy. I noticed during our rides that there is decent low-end power, a fun midrange hit, and some higher-end power as well. It is similar in design to the RzR 570 and Sportsman 570 engines Polaris released last year. In fact, the transmission and rear drivetrain are straight off the RzR 570. This also provides the ACE with high and low range, reverse, and a park mode. In the high range, the 850 dry-weight ACE will reach speeds around the 45 mph mark, more than enough for the target rider. Even the experienced riders on the trail all remarked that it was a fun machine.
The engine, fed by Polaris’ electronic fuel-injection system, gets decent fuel economy from the 5.25-gallon tank. When you step on the gas, the ACE moves. There is no pause in power, making it a very tight, snappy, and fun machine. Yeah, you’ll keep seeing that word pop up. While talking to the other riders, I kept hearing that over and over. “Man, that thing is fun!”
After all, it is a Sportsman model, right? There is a front composite rack, just like a Sportsman ATV. It will handle 120 pounds of gear and opens to provide 2.8 gallons of semi-dry storage.
The rear cargo box measures 18 inches by 35 inches and features a panel in the bottom for easy access to the engine and airbox. The rear box will handle 240 pounds of cargo and features tie-down points.
There is a 1.25-inch receiver hitch for towing and the ACE is rated to tow up to an amazing 1,500 pounds. If you need to haul in some firewood, or your buddy’s ATV, the ACE has you covered.
The cockpit is very rider-friendly. Polaris went with a flat floor, very similar to a Ranger, making it easy to step into the machine. The steering wheel and controls are another RzR borrow, as they are straight off that machine. The steering wheel has tilt adjust for different riders.
The real comfort factor is the seat, which is very nice. There is good support for both your butt and your back. It also slides forward, adjusting for a wide range of riders. The ROPS, Roll-Over Protection System, wraps the entire rider compartment in steel bars, along with added protection on the sides. There is a three-point safety belt that is very comfortable and adjustable. Cargo netting makes up the standard doors, although composite doors are available.
Altogether, the ACE offers a lot of comfort and options for the trail rider and sporting crowds. It really ups the ante with the target market. Get used to the card-game jokes, folks; I’m here all week. Try the veal!
Texas hold ‘em
As I said, we were in Marble Falls, Texas, just a short drive from Austin. The weather was in the 60s with a steady wind. The terrain we were riding was rocky and dusty with narrow, 50-inch trails. The ACE was designed for trail riding, and came in at a friendly 48-inch width.
The suspension is trail-friendly with 8.2 inches of travel in the front from a McPherson-Strut design, the same as the Sportsman ATV line. The rear suspension comes in the form of 9.5 inches of travel with a dual-A-arm design and an anti-sway bar. Combined with 25-inch front and rear tires, the ACE has 10.25 inches of ground clearance.
The suspension is pretty good. It is stiff enough to handle most terrain, yet forgiving so as not to pound the newbie rider into trail mush. The handling is pretty stellar, too. The ACE turns fairly well. While it doesn’t come with power steering yet, it steers pretty easily. The RzR 570 we had along on the ride turned sharper, but for most riders, the turning radius was just fine. The thing you need to take from the handling is that it is very confidence-inspiring. That is one of the major points Polaris was going for with the ACE—they wanted it to be fun, comfortable, and confidence-inspiring to riders of all levels.
The brakes help. The ACE comes with four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes with dual-bore front calipers. The brakes work very well and add to the confidence the rider will enjoy.
So what do you get when you have a bunch of ATV writers all trying to push a machine to its limits? I was sure that I’d hear a bunch of negative comments when we were chatting and the Polaris folks were absent. Nope. Not this time. Everyone liked it and thought Polaris hit the mark this time.
Polaris also brought in a few novice riders to get their impressions. My wife, Brandie, was among them. She doesn’t have much trail riding experience and found the ACE to be fun and confidence-building. She came back from her rides wanting to do more. Looks like I need to buy her a trail machine of her own!
For folks looking for more than a trail machine, the ACE fits that role, too. A full line of accessories, ranging from brush guards, cargo boxes, roof kits, and more, are available. The ACE accepts up to a 3,500-pound winch, and a snowplow will be on the market in a few months. Hunters will appreciate the available gun scabbard. There are also aggressive tire and wheel packages, as well as a cool MTX sound system for those who like to rock out on the trails. I can see a lot of hunters looking at the ACE as a great option. It is easy to use, very safe, and powerful enough to get back into anywhere you’d want to go. The narrow width means the tight spots we often look at are a snap.
So now you’re thinking, how many chips is the ACE going to cost me? How about a buy-in of $7,499? That’s not bad at all, as far as I’m concerned. You don’t need to be a high roller to get into the ACE.
Overall, the ACE is a winning hand for Polaris. It takes all the aspects of an ATV and a UTV and combines them into a special vehicle that may be perfect for the beginner- to intermediate-level rider, or the experienced rider looking for a casual ride. For the ATV marketplace, the ACE is definitely the wild card in the deck.
Check out a video of ACE first-rider reactions below.