There is no denying the fact that ATVs have become a necessity in many hunting camps. The major manufacturers are improving their offerings every year to meet hunting needs from food plot maintenance to hauling out downed critters. For model year 2008 "power" is the prevailing theme, with most of the major builders adding engine and steering power to their flagship models. Here is a rundown of some of the best new ATVs from each brand.
Arctic Cat sets a new standard for power with the Thundercat 1000 H2 EFI. Designed and manufactured by Arctic Cat, the brand new "H2" engine is a V-Twin Hemi, SOHC, liquid cooled, 950cc, Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) four stroke. The motor is built to deliver massive torque and serious, arm-stretching power. Arctic Cat announced that their intent with the Thundercat is to build an ATV that is the fastest corner-to-corner, period. The extra horsepower also means that it should be more than capable of handling food plot chores. Arctic's EFI is designed to deliver consistent performance in all conditions and temperatures automatically. Instant cold starting, optimized performance regardless of elevation or temperature and better fuel mileage are the biggest benefits applied to the Thundercat. Cat upgraded their Duramatic cvt transmission so it would stay cool while transmitting all of the added power. The suspension is race-bred with additional "ride-in". This means that the Thundercat H2 will squat approximately 2 inches when the rider sits on it, while maintaining a class leading 12" of ground clearance and 10" of suspension travel. The package inspires confidence when cornering aggressively. The wheelbase has been lengthened by 2" from their flagship 700 EFI for optimized cornering and handling. Push-button four-wheel-drive, a locking front differential, and re-designed Speedracks are all standard. To cap off the entire package, the new Thundercat rolls on 12" aluminum wheels wrapped with 25" Maxxis tires specifically designed for the ATV.
At the other end of the cost spectrum from the folks in Thief River Falls, Minnesota is a redesigned 400 4x4. Their new 400 has an oil-cooled, 366cc power plant that they designed and build in-house. This bike has all the features of premium-priced models with a cvt transmission, 25" tires, double-wishbone independent suspension front and rear and their trademark 12" of ground clearance that permits about 10" of suspension travel. The 400 also has a surprising 6.5 gallon fuel tank and a 1,050 Lb. towing rating. Arctic's sport-utility lineup is filled out with big IRS 4x4s juiced by 500cc, 650cc and 700cc engines.
Arctic developed their TRV lineup for those who want to ride their ATV 2-up, saddle-style or have hauling duties that require a cargo box. The TRVs can come with 493cc, 641 or a 695cc power plant. All three models have a folding passenger seat that can be tipped down to make use of the rear rack or to add on a cargo box. The TRVs have comfortable passenger foot rests that keeps the passenger's feet away from the driver. A big 6.5 gallon gas tank holds enough petrol to work or play all day. Visit your local dealer or log on to www.arcticcat.com  to learn more about Arctic Cat's ATVs.
Can-Am's innovative, high-performing ATVs are turning a lot of heads. A good case in point is the 2008 650 Outlander XT. The XT's Rotax 4-stroke is the strongest engine in its class, driving a rubber-belt cvt that cranks out white-knuckle acceleration. The XT also has Can-Am's Visco-Lok front end providing extra traction automatically. Big 26" tires contribute to the twelve inches of rated ground clearance. The super ground clearance will be appreciated by nimrods who need to clear rocks and ruts while riding. Can-Am ATVs have an industry-leading D.E.S.S. anti-theft system that is one of their trademark technologies. Their unique trailing-arm suspensions are a close relative to the ones found on their #1-selling snowmobiles. Other potent engine packages in the Outlander lineup are in their 400 and 650 models. The XT versions of these machines have a 3,000-pound winch and hand guards as standard equipment.
2008 Outlander 650 XT Camo
Can-Am has a smooth-riding 2-passenger ATV called the Outlander 800 Max. The Max is powered by a very strong 800cc fuel-injected 4-stroke. Can-Am's Renegade models couple great engine power and a sporty attitude with four-wheel drive for maximum trail domination. If you like your fresh air at 50mph and up, a Can-Am ATV may be right for you. Visit www.can-am.brp.com  to learn more.
ATV sales leader Honda continues to do a very good job of providing advanced technology on their sport-utility models that is useful and reliable. The updated Foreman lineup is an example. Honda's Foreman 4x4 ES with Power Steering has a carbureted 475cc 4-stroke, air-cooled engine. Of course the engine is mounted longitudinally, one of Honda's hallmark features. This flagship Foreman comes with Electric Shifting for operating the manual transmission and also with Electric Power Steering (EPS). The EPS' dramatic reduction in steering effort is most noticeable when hauling heavy loads with the four-wheel-drive engaged. EPS provides extra steering torque via an electric motor and geartrain. Honda keeps the Foreman package compact and simple with a 4.1 gallon fuel tank and dual-shock swing arm rear suspension and the steel-tube racks are adaptable for many uses.
2008 Foreman EPS Green
The Rincon is positioned at the top of Big Red's sport-utility lineup. The Rincon has a PGM fuel-injected 675cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder ponying up a three-speed automatic torque-converter transmission that does not use a rubber belt. Honda is still the only ATV manufacturer that has integral GPS and the Rincon can be purchased with the manually-operated GPScape trail-marking system. Disk brakes and double-wishbone suspension are standard in both the front and rear. The Rincon has 10" of ground clearance and comes in red or camouflage color options. Completing Honda's extensive sport-utility lineup are their Recons with 229ccs, Ranchers in the 400 and 450cc classes, and a 500-class Rubicon. Honda's home on the web is www.powersports.honda.com .
Getting an elk out of a valley requires an ATV with plenty of grunt. Kawasaki feeds the addiction of power junkies with their Brute Force sport-utility models. Brute Forces can be purchased with a v-twin 633cc or a 749cc v-twin four-stroke engine. Some of the Brute Force models can still be purchased with a rear swing arm suspension as an alternative to the independent rear suspension (IRS) found on most big-bore quads. A rubber-belt cvt and low-high transmission puts power to the ground via shaft drive. Four-wheel drive controlled with a handlebar switch is standard, so is a manually-operated locking differential. The towing capacity is rated at a hefty 1250 pounds. Brute Forces are ready for winch wiring with plastic conduit already installed. Team Green kept mud runners in mind by locating their air intakes as high as possible. Kawasaki equips these machines with their innovative fluid-shear rear brake, disk brakes are in the front, and there is full-body skid protection underneath. The digital instrumentation is easy to read.
2008 Kawasaki Brute Force Olive
Kawasaki also offers the 360 Prairie for off-roaders who want ease of operation with a lower price tag. Visit www.kawasaki.com  or see your local dealer to see all the 2008 models that Kawasaki has to offer.
Kymco is a large Asian manufacturer of scooters, motorbikes and ATVs. They have the hunting market squarely in their crosshairs, and the MXU 500 is the ammunition in their chamber. The 500 is powered by a liquid-cooled, 499cc Dual Overhead Cam four-stroke engine. It has a 4.5 Gallon gas tank, and runs on 25" tires. Disk brakes apply binder action to both the front and rear wheels. The solid-axle rear end helps to contribute to reliability and the double A-Arm front end helps add ride comfort. Push-button four-wheel-drive with a locking front differential is standard. The MXU has a very good 10.2" of ground clearance and an impressive towing capacity of 1,000 Lbs. Kymco's rig has a cvt transmission with low and high gear available. The quad comes with shaft drive.
MXU 500 Camo
Kymco also offers MXU 300, 250 and 150 sport-utility models. Kymco has youth models, too. Visit www.kymcousa.com  or your area dealer to learn more.
The 300 to 400cc class of ATV has always been very popular with outdoorsmen who want a quad that can get them and their gear from "point A to point B". Polaris stood this segment on its ear two years ago with the release of the well-equipped and low-priced Hawkeye 300. Polaris decided to do away with the Hawkeye name for 2008, but they are continuing their march into the 300-400cc class with a Sportsman 400 HO that is built on the original Hawkeye platform. The 400 HO has all the advantages of the Hawkeye including a low retail cost, Independent Rear Suspension, full instrumentation, true All-Wheel-Drive and watertight storage-but the 400 HO has a much stronger engine. The liquid-cooled, 455cc single-cylinder power plant draws in air through a 34mm Mikuni carburetor. The plush suspension allows seven inches of travel in the front and eight inches of travel in the back. The wide-band, rubber-belt, continuously variable transmission (cvt) has forward, reverse and neutral gears. The cvt also couples engine braking to the rear two wheels to make downhill riding safer. A simple handlebar switch lets the rider easily engage the drive shafts to the front wheels for true all-wheel-drive when the going gets tough. The Sportsman allows optimal winch mounting and there is enough room under the fenders to up-size the 24" tires to more trophy-sized meats. Red, green and Mossy Oak color options are available. Polaris has smooth-riding, fuel injected 4x4 Sportsman ATVs in the 800cc, 700cc, 600 and 500cc classes too.
2008 Sportsman 400 HO Camo
Polaris has an extensive offering of two-up models. Their 500 and 800 EFI Touring models have a back seat that carries a passenger in style, or the seat can be folded down to maximize rear rack space. Their 700 and 500 X2 rigs also have a back seat, but come with a cargo box that is enabled when the seat is folded down. Polaris has lots of youth and entry-level models, as well. To learn more about Polaris' Sportsman ATVs visit www.polarisind.com .
Suzuki-the company that was "first on four wheels"-is capitalizing on the success of their King Quad name by adding two more ATVs with this moniker. The two new models for 2008 are the King Quad 400 and the King Quad 750. The new 750 (actually 722ccs) is the largest ATV engine Suzuki has ever produced. This new fire breather is a bored-out version of their award-winning 700 motor, and the quad is aimed squarely at the hunting and food plot maintenance crowd. The latest, biggest "King" retains and refines the features that have made other King Quads well accepted. There is a well-calibrated Independent Rear Suspension, a locking front differential, and an innovative maintenance-free fluid-shear wet brake on the back end. Aggressive-tread 25" tires provide traction for a wide range of terrain. The highly functional steel-tube racks have a heavy black powder coating for extra durability. There is a spot in the back for a ball hitch to pull implements. Suzuki's King Quad models have earned a reputation for having bulletproof, exceptionally smooth engines and the 750 is no exception. Suzuki plasma-spray coats the engine cylinder to help dissipate heat and prolong engine life. The engine is counter-balanced to reduce vibration, and canted at 48 degrees to lower the seat height and improve the ATV's stability. The 750 exhales through a stainless steel exhaust pipe and the exhaust cadence is so sweet it could actually attract game. Okay--maybe that's a slight exaggeration.
King Quad 750 Camo
The award-winning King Quad 450, the King Quad 700, Eiger 400 and the Ozark 250 make up the rest of Suzuki's sport-utility lineup. To find out more about this or any other of Suzuki's solid hunting rigs, visit your local dealer or www.suzukicycles.com .
The new TGB Outback™ 425 4x4 Adventure Series™ all-terrain vehicles are distributed in the United States by Cobra Powersports. The Outback™ 425 is designed for hunters, farmers, ranchers, campers and adventure seekers and they are very competitively priced. The experienced ATV rider will appreciate the Outback™ 425 because of its automatic transmission, high ground clearance, and exceptional turning radius. The Outback 425 has a standard high and low range with a locking front differential to assist in getting through deep mud and climbing mountains. The Outback has other innovative features that are standard equipment including turn signals, three high-beam and two low-beam headlamps, hand guards, an integral winch mount, a locking steering column and two watertight storage compartments that can be locked using the ignition key. There are heavy-duty steel tube cargo racks front and rear, and the 403cc 4-stroke engine is coupled to a twin-pipe exhaust system. The ATVs are available in red, green, and Realtree camouflage color patterns.
To learn more about the Outback series of ATVs ask for them at your local ATV dealer or visit www.cobrasales.com .
Yamaha added Electric Power Steering (YEPS) to several of their Grizzly 700 FI models for 2008. When rugged hunting terrain demands all the traction an ATV can provide, YEPS reduces steering effort so much that riders will be doing double-takes to see if their front differential is actually engaged. Speaking of locking front differentials, Yamaha ATVs are the only ATVs with a push-button locking front differential-other brands have systems that are mechanically engaged. The fuel-injected 700 twin in the Grizzly 700 has a compression ratio of 9.2:1 and has proven itself as a strong workhorse on both their Grizzly ATVs and their Rhino UTVs. The Grizzly has an easy to use high-low-reverse cvt transmission that keeps constant belt tension to prevent a burnt belt. Double-wishbone independent suspension at all four corners provides a smooth ride. Hydraulic disk brakes put stopping power to the 25" tires.
2008 Grizzly 700 FI EPS
The Grizzly 450 is now tricked out with most of the same premium features as its big brother. The 450 has a couple of goodies all to itself though including a 2" rear receiver hitch for true utility applications and a wet brake in back to eliminate the need for maintenance in this area. As with the bigger Grizzly there is nice digital instrumentation and 10.8" of ground clearance. The Grizzly 660 survives another year in the Yamaha lineup; there is also a Grizzly 350 and 400, a Big Bear 250 and a Big Bear 400 that is aimed at the mud crowd with a manual transmission and deep-lug ITP tires. Yamaha has models for the young'uns as well. Find out more about Yamaha's ATVs at www.yamaha-motor.com .
Gary Gustafson was formerly employed in the engineering departments of Polaris and Arctic Cat. An avid hunter and outdoorsman, he is now President of G-Force Consulting and lives with his wife and 5 kids in Northern Minnesota.