2014 Polaris Sportsman ACE First Ride 1
Polaris Industries celebrated another banner year in 2013. The Minnesota-based manufacturer introduced nine new models and wrapped up many sales records before the year was even over. So, how is Polaris going to top things in 2014? Well, it’s starting off the calendar year in a big way by re-inventing the traditional market segments with its hybrid Sportsman ACE.
Readers familiar with the Polaris line of vehicles instantly notice the Sportsman name as the company’s sport utility quad, not a vehicle that has a steering wheel in it. The Sportsman ACE is a crossover between a sport utility quad and UTV. It has a single seat, is 48 inches wide and sports a peppy 32-horsepower engine. It rides on a chassis that mimics a quad but has a UTV look to it.
Polaris’ Sportsman ACE aims to combine the step-in ease and comfort of a UTV with the ultimate rideability of a quad. To see if it measures up, 4WDirt paid a visit to the Marble Falls, Texas – where we tested the all-new design on some Lone Star trails for our first ride impression.
With this vehicle, Polaris says it asked the public what they were looking for in an off-road vehicle. Based on the response, they created the ACE to not only satisfy diehard off-road vehicle riders, but to also, and more importantly, attract new riders of all walks of life into the sport. OHV enthusiasts who have ridden motorcycles, quads and UTVs for the majority of their lives don’t think about the questions that “newbie’s” have when they walk into a dealership for the first time. For most of them, the notion of taking a RZR or Sportsman into the woods can be intimidating! So, Polaris decided to create a vehicle that bridges the gap between the two, from someone who has never ridden or driven a 4-wheel dirt machine to the seasoned veteran looking to keep another vehicle in their stable.
The Polaris Sportsman ACE’s 48-inch wide chassis makes it legal on almost any ATV trail in the US. The single-seater is powered by a new engine, dubbed the Prostar 32 for its 32 horsepower and 325cc displacement. Those familiar with the RZR line of Side-X-Side vehicles will instantly recognize the seating position and overall ergonomics of the ACE. It includes the latest Polaris gauges, 4-wheel drive switch, adjustable steering wheel and adjustable seat, which accommodates drivers of all shapes and sizes. The gear shifter is also familiar, sourcing the standard P-R-N-L-H selections of the RZR line. The ACE also utilizes the RZR Polaris PVT transmission that delivers power to the ground effectively and immediately upon takeoff. As we have mentioned in the past, Polaris has definitely found the best clutching combination in their vehicles. Takeoff is smooth and effortless.
So, the real question is… Has Polaris created a new vehicle segment with real demand, or a hybrid that really shouldn’t exist? In our estimation, we think this vehicle deserves a place in the off-road market for one simple reason – it’s FUN TO DRIVE!
Weighing less than 900 pounds wet and sourcing a peppy motor, the ACE delivers on the performance aspect. It drives like a little slot car in the dirt, allowing the pilot to drift sideways and not feel “tippy” when doing so because the driver’s center of gravity is directed over the middle of the vehicle, just like a quad. It also traverses up and over rocky areas with ease, especially when in 4-wheel drive and the transmission set in Low gear. With its short wheelbase and 25-inch tires, it has ample ground clearance to forge over water holes, traverse steep rock walls and clear a fairly large obstacle when the going gets tough.
The ACE’s front end is light, and we like that when driving over obstacles. However, it also makes the vehicle push into the outside of corners when the driver doesn’t want it to, especially in 2-wheel-drive. Even so, the driver can get the vehicle to slide, and we appreciate that fact because it makes the ACE thrilling to fling around. Just don’t get it into too tight of S-turns, if you’re not in the mood to do a lot of work turning the wheel. The steering requires effort, as it lacks power steering, and the pedals are more difficult to depress.
Okay, so it is fun to drive, but isn’t it meant for the “newbie” of the group or the person who just wants to relax on the ride? The answer is, yes, as the ACE isn’t particularly meant for the guy or gal who wants to go full-bore in the sand dunes or local mountain road, but Polaris has plenty of existing offerings for that. The ACE doesn’t have an abundance of power, but it has enough. Granted the lack of EPS makes the steering is heavy at times and riders do feel the feedback from rocks, but it’s perfectly tuned for the newbie trying to learn what feedback feels like and how the machine traverses over various terrain. The ACE also doesn’t offer a whole lot of suspension to soak up huge hits and bumps on the trail, but this is a entry-level machine with lower-spec components. This is less a criticism than an observation, and we’d say the new Polaris is matched perfectly for the intended user.
So, do we like it? We definitely like it. Actually, we like it quite a bit more than we expected too! We can imagine gathering five or six of these in a group and racing our buddies around on a mini track. And, it’s feasible to have this Sportsman ACE as an extra vehicle in the stable because it can be ridden by anyone, beginners to experts, and it is offered at a price-point that makes it accessible to do just that. With an MSRP of $7499, consumers get a ton of machine for a much smaller outlay of cash than an RZR. Plus, the ACE comes with the all-day comfort of a Side-X-Side vehicle and some of the ride/handling characteristics of an ATV.
Small enough to fit in the back of a pickup, this new Polaris packs a whole lot of entertainment and value into a neat, little package. The Sportsman ACE is new, different and fun. Polaris has successfully melded two distinct market segments into one cohesive machine.