The Polaris Sportsman XP 550 is a worthy contender in the middle-weight utility ATV division. A bigger motor, EFI and improved suspension provide its "Extreme Performance."
has a well-known monster on its hands with the Sportsman XP 850, but as our friendly testing crew at ATV on Demand recently discovered, there isn’t always a need, or desire, for a utility quad with overabundant power. That’s why Polaris Industries created a scaled-down version to prove that sometimes less is more. Be sure to watch the 2009 Polaris Sportsman XP 550 Review Video
to get a better visual of this multi-use ATV.
The XP 550 is all-new in 2009 and builds off the Sportsman 500 model. With 549cc displacement, the XP (extreme performance) makes a claimed 40 horsepower from its SOHC single-cylinder motor. Aside from the slightly larger motor, the XP differentiates itself from the older model with the use of electronic fuel injection. A 42mm throttle body feeds the liquid-cooled mill with precision and trustworthy efficiency. Our testers had possession of the machine during colder months and they never had an issue with sluggish starting. Just a push of the button was all it took to get things moving. The smaller XP model doesn’t have the massive power of its big sibling, but it served all our work purposes and was adequate for what the testers described as a brisk trail pace.
“Although we ran it wide open up some of the steeper hills we encountered, the 550 never felt as though it was going to run out of power,” they said.
The AWD works exceptionally well as does the Active Descent Control which activates the brakes to work in conjunction with the engine braking to control downhill speed.
Polaris uses a fully automatic transmission with a hand selector for park, reverse, neutral and high/low range. A new roller-driven clutch is designed to operate with less friction for better response. Riders can choose between 2WD and AWD performance. The AWD setting is an “on-demand” configuration which means it operates in two-wheel mode until they slip, at which point it transfers power to the front. Our testers found it very useful and generally left it in AWD at all times. The XP 550 also has Active Descent Control which provides four-wheel braking when in AWD and with the Engine Braking System keeps a very slow and controlled pace when traveling downhill.
Rolled independent rear suspension with 10.25 inches of travel keeps things sorted out and comfortable out back, while dual A-Arms with nine inches of movement take care of the front. There was little to complain about in the suspension department other than some front-end push, but that was attributed mostly to the stock Carlisle Tarathon tires being mismatched for the terrain.
“The machine feels comfy couch-plush cruising over small rocks, roots and bumps. Hitting small jumps and G-outs you almost forget you are on 700 plus-pound machine until you find the limits of the suspension, which isn’t that easy to accomplish,” our riders said.
“It feels very stable on off camber trails and you can attack corners like you are on a solid axle machine, it really handles that well. The only time you actually realize you are on a machine with IRS is when you start hitting a lot of uneven bumps where the Rolled IRS keeps the rear end planted and tracking straight. The suspension on the XP 550 is so good we would be nervous switching out these shocks for anything from the aftermarket until they wear out!”
Polaris sells the XP 550 with a $7499 base price and offers optional electronic power steering for an extra 700 bucks. Our test ride was not equipped with the EPS but we liked the handling package anyway. At 732 lbs, the bike is heavy compared to similar mid-size utilities but the XP hides its weight very well.
“As advertised, the Anti Kickback Steering made feedback to the bars seem light but it doesn’t replace a steering stabilizer or power steering,” they remarked.
We like the high fenders and plastic racks. The durable polymer is good for 120 lbs of carrying capacity up front and 240 on the rear. The hitch receiver, which we found exceptionally useful for getting trailers free from icy snow, is rated for 1500 lbs of towing capacity. Rider interface is positive with a digital instrument panel that has a speedometer, odometer, tachometer, tripmeter, hourmeter, clock, gear indicator, fuel gauge for the 5.25-gallon tank and temperature and battery lights. It also has a DC outlet and a third headlight, which is mounted on the handlebar to help illuminate turns. The 14-inch cast aluminum spoke wheels are also a nice addition.
Considering the want-versus-need equation for high-power quads, the 2009 Polaris XP 550 is a better real-world utility ATV for many potential customers. It has good manners, ample power, excellent suspension and it cleans up nicely when it comes time to switch from work to play. Our testers weren’t all too happy about giving it up after the winter months. During its stay, the XP managed to warm their icy souls by providing dependable performance.
“Over the past few months we have put around 500 miles on the XP 550 and the more we’ve ridden it the more we have grown to love this machine.”
Be sure to watch the 2009 Polaris Sportsman XP 550 Review Video
from ATV on Demand for more information.