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ATV – Polaris Takes A New Approach

Don’t tell anyone this, but Polaris may be on to something. According to Polaris, the Polaris Phoenix is the company’s No. 2 ATV in North-American sales — behind the Sportsman 500 — for the month of January 2005. The most plausible explanation for this may be the unit’s price. At $2,999 for its introductory price, it was and still is the lowest-priced ATV in the entry-level sport quad class. We write “introductory” price because Polaris announced the Phoenix’s price will rise in March to $3,199 due to rising commodity prices like steel, aluminum, plastic resin, oil and fuel.
How does Polaris maintain such a low price? Simple, the unit is manufactured in Taiwan by Aeon. Polaris tells us it was involved in the design at every step of the way, however. Polaris engineers gave specifications and guidelines, and Aeon manufactures the unit.
Polaris says it believes the Phoenix is currently successful in dealerships due to its overall package and durability, and says the Phoenix is best suited for novice riders.
The company says, because of the Phoenix’s price, the unit falls in the same category as the entry-level Yamaha Grizzly 125, not with the 250 four-stroke sport quads like the Suzuki Z250 and Honda 250EX.
According to Polaris’ ATV PR person, Mollie Wulff, the company expects the Phoenix to get a “fair share” of the estimated 50,000 units in the entry-level sport quad market that will be sold this year. Recently, we had a chance to test the Polaris Phoenix near Bakersfield, Calif., and we left impressed by this entry-level sport machine.
RIDING
When seated on the Phoenix, we immediately noticed its large format and overall size. It accommodated our 6-foot, 200-pound frame with ease. Size 13 motocross boots had no trouble fitting on the stair-stepped floorboards and we liked the seat-to-handlebar ergonomics.
On the engine is a back-up kick-start, but Polaris says riders should use the electric start. The kicker is there for back up purposes only. The Phoenix also has shaft drive, a far more maintenance-free design than chain drive. We welcome that, as we’ve never liked the chain drive found on the Trail Blazer 250.
A no-tools airbox can be found under the seat. Four spring clips hold the lid on. When removed, the airbox is deep and wide and uses a foam air filter. Aftermarket companies should love this design.
The front end could be considered this quad’s ultimate strength. The Phoenix shares some parts with its big-bore brother the Predator. It borrowed the hubs, complete front hydraulic disc brake system and steel-braided brake lines from the Polaris Predator. The Phoenix also offers two upper shock mount locations to achieve specific handling features (more on that later).
Polaris says the A-arm design is essentially engineered to respond like those on the Predator, only it doesn’t have the same PRO steering system. The front and rear shocks have five-way preload adjustability as well.
The trails we rode consisted of rolling hills, switchback ditches with high-banked berms, a small motocross track and something similar to fire roads. Aside from offering limited traction, thanks to the dusty conditions, the trails were diverse and ideally suited for the Phoenix.
Powerwise, the Phoenix was no Predator. However, the top-end speed — Polaris estimates at 42 mph — produced by the 196cc, air-cooled thumper salvaged an otherwise lackluster powerband.
When we did top out the engine, we were annoyed by continually hitting the rev limiter. And we were always left wanting more speed when the quad had none to give. However, we wouldn’t expect anything else from an entry-level model.
We rode the Phoenix with the front shocks in both mounting locations and found the outer position to be the best suited for our experience and for the handling it produced. Polaris says the outer upper mount was designed for aggressive riding and to produce the least amount of body roll. It also lets a novice rider progress with the machine. As riders gain confidence and hone their skills, they can quickly switch from the inner mount to the outer mount.
The outer position also worked best in combination with the low-profile, 20-inch Duro tires. We had the most success powersliding with the shocks positioned in the outer slot.
This quad didn’t produce a soft ride, but it did surprise a few times, especially the front end.
Unlike the Trail Blazer, the Phoenix is blessed with individual front and rear brake levers. An additional foot-operated rear brake is located on the right floorboard. This braking configuration is more in line with sport riding and made cornering the Phoenix fun. While the front hydraulic disc brakes work exceptionally well, the rear drum brake was far less responsive.
The Phoenix lacks engine braking, however, so we had to be aware of this while descending hills.
Another noticeable trait was an obnoxious noise from the transmission. Polaris attributes the “clanking” sound to the spike load dampener on the driven clutch. This mandatory device protects the drive train from sudden bursts of torque loads. We encountered this sound when we rode aggressively, during jumps, or when the rear suspension and terrain force the rear tires to loose contact with the ground. Polaris says it needs to address the noise created by the spike load damper by making it less “harsh.”
FINAL THOUGHTS
For a machine of its caliber and for the audience it targets, the Phoenix should be a hit. The mild power, but surprising top speed makes it a good fit for beginners.
Another ideal fit for the Phoenix — besides novice riders — are service-based businesses within the industry that cater to those riders. We see great potential for the Phoenix as a training model, a tour-ride vehicle and beach rental. This quad should have an impact on the market because it is affordable and fun.

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