First Ride – The Single Life

First Ride – The Single Life

2016.polaris.ace900sp.silver.left_.jumping.in-air_0.jpg When Polaris introduced the ACE platform a year and a half ago, we knew it was only a matter of time before they would follow it up with additional single seat models. It wasn’t a long wait. Later in the year came the ACE 570, and most recently they’ve unleashed the new ACE 900 SP.

A WALK AROUND

A quick walk around any of the ACE models will reveal the single seat platform is a bit of a marriage between the Sportsman ATV and the RZR 570. It’s almost like the front half of the Sportsman 570 is married to the rear half of a RZR 570, with a seat and steering wheel stuck between, and a roll cage overhead. Overall size is barely bigger than a Sportsman ATV, with the MacPherson struts and bodywork as the biggest similarity. Because ACE seating position requires foot room down below, tie rods are found ahead of the lower control arms, and the rider’s feet are basically ahead of the front axle. At the rear the components are very much like the RZR 570, with similar suspension and a rear cargo deck. Suspension is listed at 8.2 inches of front wheel travel, with 9.5 at the rear, and both ends get dual-piston hydraulic disc brakes at every wheel. There is even a receiver hitch rate for 1500 pounds! From any angle, there is no denying it is unique!

The latest model in the ACE family – the 900 SP – gets a long list of premium features such as electronic power steering, nifty half doors, a high-performance, close ratio AWD system, dual rate rear springs, an exhaust tuned for performance, and front and rear sway bars. It’s built for speed and that’s exactly what it delivers.2016.polaris.ace900sp.silver.front-left.jumping.in-air.jpg

TIME TO FLY

We were ready for a test ride of the new 900 SP and Tennessee’s Brimstone ride area would be the perfect place. Brimstone offers plenty of trail diversity, and there are tight trails, steep hills, mud, rocks, but also wide open areas. It was a great place for testing!

We quickly scrambled into the ACE 900 SP, buckled in, and closed the door. In the center of the steering wheel is Polaris’ standard gauge package with info on speed, RPMs, fuel, and all kinds of diagnostic info. To the dash right are the 4wd/2wd switch, a couple accessory switch knockouts, and a 12V outlet, and to the right of the seat is the shift lever. A quick turn of the key brought a healthy growl from the engine, and we coaxed the shift lever into High gear. As with many Side x Sides, shifting can sometimes be a little notchy due to all the linkages, but it was acceptable.

A step on the throttle is all it takes to realize the ACE 900 SP has a whole lot more power than any ACE before. We kind of expected that from the 900 motor and it doesn’t take long for everything on the side of the trail to get blurry. Acceleration is impressive but part of the thrill comes from the very short, compact chassis, and you don’t want to get lazy while driving the 900 SP. Corners come up in a hurry, and thankfully the disc brakes do a good job of slowing the vehicle down just about as fast as the engine does at speeding it up. On open trails it’s a blast, but be ready for any deep whoops that can get the chassis hopping. One thing Polaris should consider on this model is seats with better bolters to help hold you in place well.

Since Brimstone is covered in trees, we were also able to test the ACE 900 SP in tight woods, and here the short chassis is definitely an advantage. It was easy to dart between the trees, although the 900 engine is almost a little too much in the woods. Careful throttle control is needed to make sure you don’t pop out of the trail and into the sticks, but hill climbs were another matter. The 900 ACE is fearless when faced with any hill climb, and you can stand on the gas and rocket yourself to the top. You’ll want to pick your line carefully, however, because with 25” tires and a short chassis, getting hung up on a hillside rut or any type of wheelie could end in a cartwheeling disaster. It’s got plenty of power, but it needs an experienced hand at the wheel. The ACE 900 SP can do one thing no other Side x Side can do, though; it can wheelie!2016.polaris.ace900sp.close-up.frame.jpg

One of the joys of ATVs is being able to wheelie either for the fun of it, or to clear a trail obstacle. With even the slightest bump in the trail and a little throttle control, the ACE 900 SP can do the same thing. Mash the throttle and the front end gets light. Just be sure of what is ahead before you do it because you’re going to be blind to the trail ahead. Overall it’s a blast to drive, but with acceleration and handling, it’s probably not for beginners.

HERE’S THE THING…..

We like the concept of a single seat performance machine, however, remember when we said the ACE platform is a marriage between the Sportsman ATV and the RZR 570? Sadly, it’s not all bliss. The trouble is, the Sportsman ATV is meant for the single life with one rider, and since it’s equipped with struts, that means it’s the older Sportsman platform and not the newer dual A-Arm version. That choice was purely for extra foot room despite the better handling of the new Sportsman ATV geometry, and there are other shortcomings as well.

ATVs allow and even count on the rider to change body position to help control the vehicle, and you’re not going to do that when strapped into the seat of the ACE. Press the throttle and you’re essentially just along for the ride. This isn’t so bad in the smaller 300cc version, but as power goes up, so does the need for complete and quick control. Polaris also gives both the 570cc and new 900cc ACE models a relatively slow steering response. We asked the engineers about this and the reasoning was that you would get into trouble less easily with a slower steering ratio. This is undoubtedly true, but conversely since the ACE is now equipped with higher performance engines – especially the 900 – you’re going to get into trouble much quicker, and unless you’ve got the hand speed of boxer Manny Pacquiao, you won’t be able to steer out of it. There is no middle ground on performance, and if you’ve got a high performance motor behind, you had better have a high performance chassis to match it. The new 900 SP and even 570 engines easily outdrive the chassis.2016.polaris.ace900sp.silver.left.riding.on-dirt.jpg

Finally, the sight line over the hood and front storage box is terrible with the ACE, and it all comes back to it being based on an ATV chassis. A seated ATV rider can see over the hood MUCH better than a rider strapped into the ACE. As much as we like the concept of a single seat performance machine, Polaris would do well to revisit this chassis, with a long, good look at the late 80’s Honda Pilot.

THE SINGLE LIFE

We like the concept of a single seat chassis and we’re glad Polaris decided to introduce the ACE. As with any new vehicle, there are improvements to be made, and you can bet Polaris is already working on the next generation chassis. No doubt they’ll have plenty of upgrades just as they’ve done with their ATV, RZR and RANGER models, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with. There is also no doubt we’ll see the introduction of competing models (all but guaranteed from Can-Am) and as the segment begins to evolve, it’s guaranteed to be a fun ride.

2016 POLARIS ACE 900SP specifications

Engine: Pro-Star 60 HP, EFI, 875cc, 4-valve, 4-stroke Twin, DOHC

Transmission/Final Drive: Automatic PVT P/R/N/L/H; Shaft with On-Demand AWD/2WD

Front Suspension: MacPherson Strut With 8.2″ (20.8 cm) Travel,

Rear Suspension: Dual A-Arm, Anti-Sway Bar 9.5″ (24 cm) Travel

Front Tires: 25 x 8-12; Cast Aluminum wheels

Rear Tires: 25 x 10-12; Cast Aluminum wheels2016.polaris.ace900sp.close-up.steering-column.jpg

Wheelbase: 61.5 inches

Dry Weight: 966 lb

Overall Size (L x W x H): 90″ x 48″ x 68″ (229 cm x 122 cm x 173 cm)

Ground Clearance: 10″

Fuel Capacity: 5.25 gallons

Front/Rear Rack Capacity: 120 lb (55 kg)/240 lb (110 kg)

Hitch Towing Rating: 1,500 lb, Standard/1.25″ Receiver

Lighting: Dual 50 Watt Low Beam, Dual Brake Lights/ Taillights

Instrumentation: Digital Gauge with Analog Speedometer, Odometer, Tachometer, Tripmeter, Gear Indicator, Fuel Gauge, AWD Indicator, Hi-Temp/Low-Batt Lights, DC Outlet

Colors: Stealth Black

MSRP: $ 11,499 U.S.

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December 15, 2015

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