Who has the best sport-performance ATV?
Over the course of my life, I’ve seen some epic rivalries. Tyson versus Holyfield, Chargers versus the Raiders, Spy versus Spy. The list could go on and on, but when Polaris unleashed the Scrambler 850 H.O. XP LE earlier this year, I knew there would soon be one more to add to the list. Until this machine was released, Can-Am had the sport-performance utility ATV market cornered since 2008 when it first introduced us to its Renegade 800 X xc. No other company had produced a utility ATV that was ready for racing competition straight off of the showroom floor. The fact it came with Fox Racing shocks, beadlock wheels and sport pack- age graphics was almost unheard of, but it made an impact in the racing community and people loved it. Now five years later, that machine boasts a 1,000cc engine and still is a favorite among woods and off-road racers.
Not a company to stand on the sidelines, Polaris went to the drawing board to produce an ATV that would not only give the Renegade some competition in the ever-growing sport-performance utility market, but even knock it off of its pedestal. The 2013 Scrambler 850 H.O. XP LE is a brand-new machine from the ground up that features a powerful 850cc twin-cylinder EFI engine mated to a sport-tuned exhaust, electronic power steering (EPS), Fox Podium X compression-adjustable front and rear shocks and 14-inch wheels wrapped with tough Carlisle tires. We had the opportunity to test this machine last August and weremexetlyremely impressed with its overaollrpmearfnocremandcehan-d han- dling, which instantly had our team thinkfitnhgeof the potential shootout between the two beasts.
Our battlefield was Glen Helen Raceway, where we had access to miles of GP- style trails, tight wooded technical sections, rocky whooped-out sand sections and a motocross track where we could put these high performance beasts through a true torture test. To ensure that each machine got a fair evaluation, I enlisted the help of multiple test riders whose experience ranged from novice to intermediate ATV enthusiasts to former pro and A class WORCS racers.
When you see these two machines side by side, one word comes to mind and that is massive. These machines are huge and have a very intimidating appearance. When asked for opinions on the looks of each machine, the Can-Am got the nod for best looking since the body styling was far more sporty than the compacted front end body of the Polaris. Looks were a bit deceiving, though, because while the Renegade visually appears to be heavier than the Scrambler, it is actually lighter by almost 100 pounds. Everyone took a seat on both machines just to get a feel for the controls, and right off the bat they noticed the difference in ability to view the instrument cluster. The cluster on the Polaris sits in the middle of the handlebar and is staring right at you, but on the Renegade the cluster is built into the front bodywork and is obstructed by the handlebar pad. “Although you need to be concentrating on what’s ahead of you when riding machines like this, you should be able to quickly glance at your instrument cluster with minimal effort, and that’s just not possible on the Renegade” is what we got from one tester who raced a Can-Am all of last year.
With everyone geared up, I gave them free reign to hit our course and start burning in some laps aboard both machines. I figured what better way to get good feedback than let them go wild and see what these things could do. After a full day of riding, these guys were ready to spill their guts and surprise me with their overall preference.
When it came to the ergonomics of the two machines, it was almost dead even. They all felt that overall both machines were extremely comfortable. The Scrambler did get the slight nod for having the sportier feel because of its low-profile hump-style seat compared to the couch-like feel of the Renegade’s seat that gives a top-heavy feeling when riding.
The brake controls are where the Renegade shined when compared to the Scrambler. Everyone felt that the rear brake pedal was too small and oddly placed forward making it difficult to find quickly. They also didn’t care for the single brake lever on the left side of the bar when compared to the independent brake levers on the Renegade. The Scrambler did have the favorite thumb throttle of the two, with all riders saying, “This is the softest, most comfortable we’ve felt in a long time.” The Scrambler lost points for its transmission shifter when compared to the Renegade, though. Everyone agreed it took a lot of initial force to move, and once it did move everyone seemed to be searching for the proper range. The Renegade shift lever was easy to move when you wanted, and finding the right position was simple since the cowling had cutouts for each gear position.
As with any test riders I’ve ever dealt with, the first thing they do is romp on the throttle to get a feel for the power, and everyone was impressed with both of these machines. The 1,000cc heart of the Renegade pumps out 82hp, and you feel every bit of it as soon as you crack the throttle. There is no lack of torque, but that much power and how the CVT engages from the factory is very abrupt which requires the riders to be much more alert. The Scrambler is obviously at a displacement disadvantage since it only has 850cc, but it puts out only 5hp less than the Renegade. The CVT engagement is significantly smoother on the Polaris, so it was less tiring on the riders and seemed to be much more rider-friendly. In acceleration test it seemed to rev into the powerband faster than the Renegade, but eventually the displacement advantage kicked in and allowed the Renegade to take over on the top-end.
When you have that much power on tap, you must have a braking system that is equally as good to safely stop, and our testers had a clear prefer- ence for the Can-Am Renegade. When it came to the braking performance of the Polaris Scrambler, every single rider felt as if they had to stand on the rear brake pedal in order to stop and that the brakes were quick to overheat and fade. Additionally, nobody liked the single brake lever on the left side of the bar. The consensus was that if you’re building a sport- performance utility machine, build a braking system that complements it. The single handlebar brake lever and single rear disc brake just don’t meet the demands of this machine under extreme use. When it came to the Can-Am Renegade’s brake system, testers loved the performance and wished they had the same on its competitor. “This thing has serious boat anchors for brakes at your disposal” was heard from one rider. Independent front and rear brake levers on the bar were comforting, and having four-wheel disc brakes allows you to stop on a dime consistently.
When it came time to compare the handling of the two machines, the Polaris Scrambler was the hands-down favorite. Before making any adjustments to the suspension on either machine, every rider felt that the Scrambler handled very predictably. “With the Renegade, I felt like you suggested where you wanted it to go and it went, but with the Scrambler it did what you told it to do” was the descrip- tion from one rider. We found the factory preload settings to be excessively stiff on the Renegade, so we took 10 turns of preload out of the front and four out of the rear, which actually allowed the suspension to move at that point. From there we made some adjustments to the compression and rebound of the fully adjustable Fox shocks, but still couldn’t get the handling up to par with that of the Scrambler.
One thing that the riders felt gave the Scrambler a significant advantage was the use of a 14-inch wheel instead of the 12-inch wheel found on the Renegade. The lower-profile tire and less sidewall made the suspension do most of the work as compared to the squishy feel of the tires on the Renegade, which also had more sidewall flex when diving into hard corners. Both machines featured EPS, and nobody seemed to care for the performance of one over the other, but a few of the riders did like the ability to adjust the assist power on the Renegade.
CUT TO THE CHASE
At the end of the day, I posed this question to all of the riders, “If you were to spend your hard-earned money on one of these two machines, which would it be?” It was a unanimous decision for the Polaris Scrambler 850 H.O. XP LE. The suspension performance of this machine allowed everyone to aggressively ride with confidence rather than give the feeling of being strapped to a 700-pound bull. It would be nice if the Scrambler came with the fully adjustable shocks like the Renegade, but for the recreational user, the current Fox shocks are fine. Everyone also agreed that while it was the machine of choice, it was far from being perfect and could benefit from some revisions. They all felt that the brake system needed to be improved with a four-wheel disc brake system and individual brake levers on the bar. I revealed to our test team that the MSRP on the Scram- bler is $11,999, which is $1,550 less than the Can-Am Renegade 1000 X xc at $13,549; they all agreed it was a no-brainer to pick the Scrambler.
Looking at this review you see that each machine has its strong and weak points, but overall our riders had a definite preference. Is the Can-Am Renegade 1000 X xc a bad machine? Absolutely not. It is still a formidable sport- performance utility ATV that some may prefer for their style of riding, but for this shootout the Polaris Scrambler 850 H.O. XP LE is clearly the winner and, it’s safe to say, the best sport-performance utility ATV on the market to date. We can’t wait until next year to see if either of these companies takes this feedback into consideration to make improvements, or perhaps we’ll see another company venture into this market. Only time will tell. EDITOR'S NOTE: Polaris has recently launched a 1000cc version of their Scrambler 4x4. Read the First Ride Review HERE. ATVR