2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO
Travis Smola

Test Ride: Putting the 2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 H.O. ATV Through Its Paces in Northern Michigan


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We absolutely loved the new Polaris Sportsman 450 H.O.

In the world of powersports it never ceases to amaze me how far offroad vehicles have come since I was a kid. Especially ATVs like the 2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 H.O. EPS. I recently had the opportunity to borrow one for three months and was able to give it a thorough workout on a variety of terrain.

Polaris really has perfected the four-wheeler with this offering. I ended up giving this versatile machine a real workout on one of northern Michigan's roughest ATV trails, and it is still one of the smoothest riding machines I've ever gotten the chance to test.

It was sad and truly tough for me to take the Sportsman 450 H.O. back to the dealership at the end of my test run. Read on to find out why.

Specs of the Sportsman 450 H.O.

2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO

Travis Smola

This machine is one of Polaris' best sellers and it is not hard to see why. You get a lot of premium features for an MSRP that starts right around $6,599, making it one of the more affordable ATVs on the market today. The H.O. stands for "high output," allowing the 499cc, liquid-cooled Prostar 4-stroke SOHC twin cylinder engine pump out a little extra horsepower. Polaris' specs place it at about 33 ponies helping to drive the one touch on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD)/ two wheel-drive (2WD) system.

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The Sportsman 450 is not quite as powerful as some of the company's other machines like the Sportsman 570 EPS which I have driven in the past, but honestly, the power of this machine feels perfect to me. You can easily get this ATV up to 40 or 50 miles per hour on a flat straightaway, which feels like more than enough for the majority of scenarios the typical user will need. The throttle is extremely smooth and responds well no matter the terrain. I especially like the way it powers out of tight corners. The automatic PVT transmission shifts easily, although it is easy to shift the single lever past reverse and put it in neutral. Pay close attention to the dash's digital gauges when changing the gears.

The big thing I love about Polaris the last few years has been their suspension systems and the Sportsman is no exception. They gave the rear suspension sealed dual A-arms offering about 9.5 inches of travel, and sealed MacPherson Struts with 8.2 inches of travel in the front suspension. Both give the machine such a buttery smooth ride. It never ceased to amaze me how it soaked up some bumps in and around my yard that always jar my teeth out if I hit them with my golf cart. More on the suspension later.

The Sportsman has 25x8-12 and 25x8-10, 6-ply tires sitting on steel wheels on the front and rear. They help give this ATV about 11.5 inches of ground clearance. I just love how they gripped everything I threw at them, from rocks to sand, to gravel, these tires gobble them all up. The 50.5-inch wheelbase and 48-inch width combined with a 33.25-inch seat height made this machine feel the perfect size for my 6' 1" frame. For stopping, Polaris gave the Sportsman single lever 3-wheel hydraulic disc brakes and a hydraulic rear foot brake. They do an excellent job slowing and stopping the machine on a dime, even on rough terrain like sand.

2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO

Travis Smola

I did more trail riding than anything else with this machine, but the Polaris has a payload capacity of 485 pounds and a towing capacity on the rear hitch of 1,350 pounds, which is nothing to sneeze at. The largest thing I hauled on the machine was a 60-pound heavy-duty cooler which rode nicely on the back thanks to a rear rack capacity of 180 pounds. I think it would handle a big, field-dressed Michigan buck from my hunting area nicely.

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Polaris offers a front rack extender, and their popular Lock & Ride front dry storage system standard for even more hauling capability. I was seriously surprised how much stuff I was able to stuff into the front storage area including the camera bag for my Sony A6400 camera.

About the only thing I did not get to test with this Sportsman was the plow since my test period was in the middle of summer. Still, I was surprised at how easy it was to use the plow mount to quickly detatch and remove it. My previous experience with a plow on an ATV was a manual system with a hand-held handle to raise and lower the plow. If you get the utility package like this Sportsman had, you use the winch to raise and lower the plow, making clearing your driveway or barnyard easier than ever. I wish I had that feature on my old ATV!

That same utility package also sees the machine pre-wired for nifty features like hand and thumb warmers. That should make farm and ranch chores a lot more tolerable in the colder months! Oh, I should lastly mention the halogen lights. They have 50w high beams and dual 50w low beams. They are nice and bright and are great for safety on busy trails during daylight, as is the single led bake and taillight.

Hitting the St. Helen ORV trail

2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO

Travis Smola

I could not resist the opportunity to put the Sportsman through its paces and I ended up hauling it up to St. Helen, Michigan near Houghton Lake for a weekend of trail riding. St. Helen ORV trails are some of the most popular in the state and they take a real beating. There is no shortage of whoops and moguls in the sandy trails. Most of these are rough enough that no machine's suspension can possibly tame them, including the Sportsman. However, I will say the 450's suspension made it a lot easier to power through them consistently.

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The electronic power steering of this machine is also perfect for some of the more winding and twisting sections of the trail. If you are planning on any sort of trail riding at all, the EPS is practically a must. I drove one of Polaris' models without EPS a couple years back during a press event and the difference really is night and day when it comes to handling.

2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO

Travis Smola

As I already mentioned, most of St. Helen's trails are sand, which is rough on any machine. I ended up riding the Sportsman back into an area the locals call Sand Hill or the St. Helen Dunes. I found out it was exactly as the name described, a series of huge dunes isolated far back in the forest where people were ripping around on dirt bikes and UTVs. I saw several Polaris RZRs making the rounds around the largest part of the dunes when I arrived.

2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO

Travis Smola

After waiting for a lull in the traffic, I went ahead and opened the throttle a bit on the Sportsman through these same areas. While it may not have ripped through the sand as quickly as some of the more powerful machines out there, it still handled the difficult terrain extremely well. I was surprised at how well those 6-ply tires gripped the sand, especially into the corners.

Just off the main dune area was a series of twisting trails that were a combination of packed dirt and sand. Unlike the dunes, which were mostly wet, these had a tiny bit of dampness to them. Still, the Sportsman transitioned perfectly between these two areas without much noticeable difference in the smoothness of the ride. Consider me impressed.

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This was one of those rough days on the trail. One of the ones where you usually still feel like you're on the machine later in the evening as you're trying to go to sleep. I was expecting that feeling after a couple of rough days on the St. Helen trails and was pleasantly surprised when it didn't happen. I think you can chalk that up to the suspension and the overall ergonomic design of this machine. Polaris knocked it out of the park on riding comfort with this one.

The Bottom Line

2021 Polaris Sportsman 450 HO

Travis Smola

Most of my testing with this machine involved play out on the trails, but I saw enough of the power of this machine to know it's going to be a workhorse for the household chores too. We just love the versatility and accessibility of this latest Sportsman. It is the perfect compromise for someone who wants a tough machine that can both play and work hard.

The great thing about this Sportsman is it feels like the perfect starter ATV if you have never owned one before. It is powerful without the engine feeling too overwhelming and offers some of the best handling I've seen in a long time. I like this one with the EPS for the older farmers and ranchers with pain or arthritis problems who want something that is going to be comfortable for long periods of time checking fence lines and hauling feed to animals.

I also think this would be the perfect transitional vehicle for teens who are graduating from youth machines to an adult-sized model. The enclosed panels over all the major engine components will keep them accidentally burning themselves on hot parts. At the same time, it keeps all that stuff clean from the dust and debris making for less maintenance for a new rider.

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As I said, it was hard to say goodbye to the test model after those three months. From tires to engine, to front bumper, the Polaris Sportsman 450 H.O. is a winner worth checking out. See the Polaris website for more information, and keep it here at Wide Open Spaces for coverage on all the latest in the powersports world.

Products featured on Wide Open Spaces are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels

NEXT: THE AXIS DEER AND HOW THEY'RE IMPACTING PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES

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