2003 Polaris Predator 500 ATV - Tested by Off-Road.com

Feb. 01, 2003 By ORC STAFF
The ATV market has been exploding with new performance quads, and Polaris Industries was not to be left out. While Polaris is better known in the ATV world for their utility ATV's, Polaris has been a dominant force in the Snowmobile racing scene for the last 12 years. Back in July 2002, we brought you a sneak preview when we captured info on a Polaris test unit. In August we brought you our first look at the Predator 500 when we were able to ride a pre-production unit. Since then we have been itching to get our hands on a production unit for a more extended test. We are finally able to bring that to you. With a new Predator 500 in our hands and some time to look at it up close, one of the things that becomes apparent is that this is not just the normal production sport quad. The Predator 500 is a performance machine with many features you generally only find on a race-preped quad.
This swingarm skid is the best we have seen from any of the OEM's
  • Stainless steel brake lines
  • Fully Adjustable rear shock
  • Douglas Ultimate reinforced wheels
  • Maxxis Razr tires
  • High quality chromly axle
  • Heavy Duty swingarm skid
Just add up what those extras would cost you on most OEM sport quads. Very impressive! Another thing we noticed is the Predator emergency brake setup. Most sport quads have a bulky mechanical contraption that runs back to the rear brake. Sport quad owners end up removing it and putting a brake block off in place. Instead Polaris installed a setup on the front brake lever to enable you to pull in the brake lever and lock the front brakes hydraulically. Very nice. Seat time Enough looking. It was time to see how the package worked. Our test riding took place in the sand dunes and the desert. Most all of our test riders liked the general ergonomics of the handlebars, but the seat takes some getting used to. It seems to have a hole in the middle so you tend to slide forward and down into the hole. It is comfortable in that postion but hard to shift and control the quad in the rougher terrain. When you are riding agressively you find yourself standing most of the time and the seat is not much of an issue. For long trail rides the Z400 or Raptor has a much more comfortable seating postion than the Predator 500. Power The Predator 500 has plenty of it. All of our riders liked the power that it provided. The Predator easily smoked Z400s, beat stock Raptors, and would beat many piped and jetted Raptors depending on the weight of the rider. In the lower RPMs, the Predator does not have quite the torque that the Raptor 660 provides and does not lug around as well. But get after it and the dual overhead cam Fuji motor revs nicely and the power really comes on in the higher RPMs. The 42-mm BSR carb and the pulse fuel pump worked flawlessly during all of our testing. At 42 HP on the Dyno the Predator has the Raptor easily beat, but on the track the Predator loses some of that advantage since it carries an extra 40 lbs.
Suspension When we first rode the Predator we were not sure we liked the suspension very well. There was a number of things that did not feel quite right. But thanks to the fully adjustable rear shock we were able to take care of that. With the adjustable spring preload, adjustable rebound, and 36 clicks of compression adjustment we were able to get it tuned to our liking. The downside? It is so adjustable that a novice rider could easily get it so out of whack that they could create a very ill-handling quad. The Predator jumps great and the suspension soaks up the landings in supreme fashion. On the desert whoops we had mixed reactions. The Polaris engineers created an anti-squat suspension by design, while this helps the Predator get good starts and get off the corners very well, it causes a problem when you are trying to get the front to lift and skip through the whoops. The other oddity about the suspension design was a tendency for the rear of the quad to step out - sometimes when you least expect it. At other times this same feature seemed to be a benefit to getting around corners easier and quicker.
The Predator can throw some knarly roosts in the sand dunes and turn on a dime when you ask it to.
For the sand dunes we mounted some Sand Skate II's on Douglas red label wheels from Rocky Mountain ATV
Top Speed With our hand-held GPS we set out to test the top speed of the Predator. Our test area had a very slight incline to it so we took readings in both directions with a smaller 139 lb rider and with a heavier 185 lb rider. The lighter rider was able to reach a top speed of 73 MPH in the uphill direction and 74 MPH in the downhill direction. The heavier rider was only able to coax 72 MPH out of the Predator uphill and 73 MPH downhill. One thing that both riders immediately noticed when doing top speed testing is that the Predator 500 becomes very twitchy at 70+ MPH and feels much less stable than our highly modified Project Desert Raptor. We think some more caster is needed in the front suspension if you plan on spending much time at these speeds. Steering The Polaris PRO steering works very well. The unique design puts the tie rod ends out where they have the same pivot point as the A-arms, thus creating a design with virtually no bump steer. The downside is you have a number of extra parts and joints to maintain in the steering system. When on the trail the steering provides very quick and precise control. Each time we rode it were were amazed at how easily we could maneuver around obstacles. (Out here in the desert those obstacles were mostly rocks, but we suspect this steering system will make the Polaris an excellent woods machine.) Transmission We found the transmission to be a little on the notchy side, but the ratios seemed to work good. It was nearly impossible to powershift without the clutch in the lower gears. We found it annoying, but then could that be by design? Maybe the Polaris engineers were trying to avoid all the second gear failures that have plagued the Yamaha Raptor.
The Predator accelerates with the best of them.
You won't see many pictures of people doing wheelies on the Predator. The front end likes to stay on the ground.
Other You won't notice them unless you ride the Predator at night, but it has some nifty lights on the switches to tell you when you are in the "run" position and when your lights are on bright. The Maxxis Razr tires work very well. Reviewer # 2 (Cliff) - Intermediate adult
Use: desert trail and dunes
Things I liked: The first thing that really stood out was the awesome look and wide stance. It fires right up, warming up in no time at all, and then it's all power from there.
The quad seemed to pull hard from the bottom all the way to the top, reving out nicely and easily staying up with the piped and jetted raptors on either side of me, and putting a major hurtin' on the stock Suzuki LTZ400. I was very impressed to be riding a stock quad with such awesome power. All I could think about was I cant wait to ride it again after a few aftermarket mods. Then it was off the dry lake bed and into a desert-filled whoop section. Once again the Predator was impressive, soaking them up with no problems and easily staying with the Raptors (equiped with expensive after market A-arms, axles and shocks).
The no-bump-steer engineering really seemed to do its job, as I felt no bump steer at all. And once again the stock Suzuki seemed to fall short in the power category in trying to stay with the larger displacement quads. After about an hour an a half of up hills, down hills, rocks, whoops, off-cambers and every thing else the Nevada desert can throw at you, there were two humbled Raptor owners and a new Suzuki owner wishing he would have held off on his quad purchase. And one very impressed 2-stroke rider (me) who had been given the opprotunity to ride what I feel is probably going to be the best overall new sport quad of this year. Then it was off to Dumont Dunes, where the Predator did equally as well, considering it wasn't even fitted with a set of paddle tires. It had no problems ripping up Competition Hill, or anywhere else I wanted it to go. There were several people in disbelief at how quick the machine was without the paddles. It was just another great day riding the Predator! Polaris has done a great job. The Predator would definately be my choice if I were looking to buy a high performance
4 stroke.
Things I didn't like: Not so much that I didn't like these things, but they were concerns I might have for long term reliability - I didn't care for the attachment of the upper A-arms at the ball joints. The arms go from a traditional wishbone and tie together as one unit before attaching the ball joint. It just looked weak to me. Another concearn was the lack of protection for the radiator and its overflow bottle. They seemed to be exposed to flying objects from other quads. But perhaps with all that power they wouldn't expect you to be following. grin~ The only other concern I had was plastic molded belly skid and swingarm skid. Though Polaris is offering protection (as a lot of manufactuers offer nothing or little at all) I don't see why alumnium skid plates couldn't replace the cheesie plastic ones. After all they don't seem to have cut corners any where else. Overall Impression: I think it's a great quad,,,,with very fun to ride manageable power. Reviewer # 3 (Mark) - Intermediate Adult

Things I liked: The POWER! This thing out of the crate has exceptional power. Definitely faster than a stock Raptor. The ride on the sand was GREAT. The no-bump-steer works great, along with the suspension. It had a great feel of control, except the rear end seemed to be a little light and would come around a bit too easily in sharp turns. I would think that some adjustments to the suspension would help with that. The controls are all in the right places. The lighted controls were also nice for night riding.
Things I didn't like: Although the bike great power, one thing I did notice riding in the sand is that on the low rpm side the bike seemed to have much less torque than the Raptor. So when the RPM's dropped, I found myself having to down-shift sooner. Overall Impression / Comments: I would say this bike has a lot over the Raptor when comparing the two, stock to stock. We were able to run the bikes side by side on some uphill climbs in the sand. The Predator left the Raptor from the start and towards the end of the run the Predator was just walking away from the Raptor. The overall feel of the bike seemed much more stable than the Raptor as well. If I had the choice between a stock Predator or stock Raptor, I would pick the Predator easily.
REVIEW TEAM SUMMARY The Polaris engineers have created a very impressive machine for their entry into the high performance sport ATV segment. We think the Predator 500 is an excellent buy at $5,999 and is closer to race ready than most of its competitors. It is too bad they could not have added a reverse gear. Only time will tell how well the Predator holds up. We did not ride the Predator on the motocross track, yet this may be one of the best applications for the Predator with its anti-dive and anti-squat suspension.
  • Contact Information

Polaris Industries

Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!