2010 Polaris Scrambler 500 ATV Review 0

There are just some things in this life you can’t seem to categorize. I mean, what is a powered parachute, a parachute or an airplane? Or how about wind surfing? Are those things sailboats or surf boards? There are just some things that don’t fit on the shelf with the other books. The Polaris Scrambler is one of those. From a distance the Scrambler looks kind of like a sport quad with its sharp-angled and trimmed fenders sitting high above the small diameter tires. But as you get closer, rather than being a small and lightweight 2WD machine with a low center of gravity, you discover it’s actually a big machine that’s also quite tall and woefully heavy. Although there’s a swingarm at the rear for suspension, as well as a chain drive and disc brake, up front you’ll find struts rather than the anticipated A-arms. Plus it has floorboards rather than footpegs, and 4WD. And unlike sport quads, it has a single-lever braking system.

Just what exactly is the Scrambler 500? Soft ergos and 4WD indicate utility, but aggressive bodywork and suspension lean toward the sport side of ATV performance.

Just what exactly is the Scrambler 500? Soft ergos and 4WD indicate utility, but aggressive bodywork and suspension lean toward the sport side of ATV performance.

Okay so it’s not a sport quad. But it’s not really any kind of a utility machine either. First of all, there’re no front and rear racks and the fenders are so small they couldn’t even keep the dust from those little girl tires off of the rider, let alone mud or snow! Plus there’s no low range. And it has a chain drive. And it has those silly little 23-inch tires.

So here’s where we give up trying to figure out exactly what the Scrambler is or the purpose for its very existence, and just hop on and take it for a spin.

Quit thinking about it and swing a leg over the new 500 to enjoy its capabilities..

Quit thinking about it and swing a leg over the new 500 to enjoy its capabilities.

Swing a leg over the Scrambler and either put the CVT transmission in neutral or hold the brake while it’s in gear and twist the key to start the big 498cc 4-stroke Single. Whoops, did we mention that it’s carbureted? If it’s cold outside you might also need to pull the choke lever. Once started all you need to do is give the thumb throttle a push to get the Scrambler moving. And once moving you’ll again be wondering what this machine is for. It’s quick, but not really any quicker than the latest Sportsman 550XP. It seems to handle pretty well, but not really noticeably better than the XP. It’s also very comfortable, but again, not any more plush than the XP.

Confused? So are we, so let’s look back at some Scrambler history and maybe that’ll help. The Scrambler was introduced back in 1995 as a 400cc 2-stroke. It was such a hit that in 1997 Polaris released a big bore 4-stroke version, the Scrambler 500. At that time (in case you weren’t born yet) sport quads were nothing like they are now, with the big news being the Honda 300EX having reverse and the Yamaha Banshee still king of the sand dunes. And in those days utility ATVs were, well, very utility. So when Polaris introduced the 2-stroke Scrambler 400 and later the big-bore 4-stroke Scrambler 500, they were really big news! Here was a big-bore sport quad with 4WD. It was no Banshee that’s for sure, but it also definitely wasn’t anything like a 1997 utility quad either!

Obviously times have changed. Sport quads have become very specialized, high-strung race-oriented machines that we could only have dreamed of in ‘97. Today’s utility ATVs can probably outrun and out-handle the sport quads from a decade ago. Where does that leave the Scrambler? Basically unchanged since its introduction and more than ready for an update.

For 2010 Polaris finally gave the Scrambler that much needed update. Walking up to the Scrambler, it’s easy to spot the visual changes for 2010. You quickly notice the new plastic with a bit edgier look and more creases ironed in. The floorboards are now a more integral part of the fenders. Also part of the facelift is the new headlight now molded into the nose rather than up on the bars like a Baja racer. The front bumper has been modified, now being a bit larger, the seat has been fluffed up for added comfort, and a gas gauge has been added to the top of the now four-gallon tank.

Less noticeable, but perhaps more important, are the modifications to strengthen the frame and add thicker skid protection to the underside. The front struts have been modified to allow for separate front spindles and the springs have been changed front and rear to soften the ride and lower the Scrambler a little over half an inch. That suspension sag has the added benefit of increasing the wheelbase a half-inch to 48.5. More than just longer and lower, the new Scrambler is also wider, thanks to a quarter-inch more offset in each wheel. Amazingly enough, even with this list of revisions, the 2010 Scrambler is still remarkably similar to the old model it replaces. But that’s not necessarily bad.

The riding position is comfortable and feels much more like a utility machine than a sport quad, with the thickly padded seat and the tall bars allowing an upright seating position compared to the typical crouched sport position. The weight and height of the Scrambler does require a lot of body movement when cornering aggressively, and of course the added traction provided by the option of running in 4WD adds to the ability to rail though corners faster than you dare. Six hundred pounds can hurt when it falls on you!

 

Having fun is what ATV riding is all about, and the Scrambler is plenty good at that.

Having fun is what ATV riding is all about, and the Scrambler is plenty good at that.

Out on the trails, the CVT transmission hooks up pretty well. Although the big 4-stroke has ample power for everyone but the most power-hungry riders, its delivery could be more responsive at throttle tip-in. The lazy power delivery is most likely due more to the CVT transmission settings and the carbureted fuel delivery than the weight of the machine. The weight does show itself when the trail turns though, as once you need to change direction, it requires a lot of effort on the rider’s part. So although the Scrambler has the comfort and grunt of a Trophy truck on the more open trails, it also has the same lazy handling and lack of desire to change direction when the turns approach.

When the throttle is chopped, the engine braking is darn near perfect in its application. It is far less noticeable than the artificially induced braking that’s so prevalent on many of the CVT-equipped utility ATVs including other Polaris’. That means it works well for aggressive riding. Letting off of the throttle results in a decreasing coast down rather than the abrupt, throw-you-forward-with-rear-tires-skidding that’s too often dialed into CVT transmissions; an effort to keep you from having to use the brakes themselves. The braking downfall is the combination of a single lever brake system that doesn’t allow full control when entering corners hard, and the rear brake pedal that’s raised so high above the floorboards that your boot fits underneath it more comfortably than operating it!

The addition of 4WD gives added traction in rough corners, but 600 pounds is a lot of weight to handle regardless.

The addition of 4WD gives added traction in rough corners, but 600 pounds is a lot of weight to handle regardless.

So although we headed into this test more than a little perplexed at what exactly what purpose the Scrambler served, after just a few hours on the trails we didn’t really care about where it fit. The Scrambler is a blast to ride, and while we were riding, that’s all that mattered. Once we got back to the shop we realized that, like the Kawasaki KFX700 or the Can-Am Renegade, the Scrambler blends and blurs the distinction between sport and utility in an effort to provide a comfortable and capable machine for the recreational rider. Comfortable due to its soft, upright seating and pliable suspension even at slower speeds, and capable due to its 4WD traction! Add in the fact that Polaris offers accessories like trailer hitches and racks for the Scrambler and it only makes the purpose more obscure. And perhaps that is the bottom line! Perhaps the Scrambler’s true mission is to completely obliterate the line between sport quad performance and a utility quad’s capability.

Whatever the case, it’s fun! And that, my friends, is what it’s all about!

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