What Is an ATV?
In the power sports segment, it’s easy to see why there is sometimes confusion between different types of vehicles. All-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, are often lumped together with utility terrain vehicles, or UTVs. They tend to be made by the same brands, sold at the same retailers, and can look alike from a distance.
However, according to the ATV Safety Institute, an ATV is “...a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires, having a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.” They are also sometimes called 4x4s or quads. They are distinct from UTVs, which are more task-oriented. Furthermore, the ATV Safety Institute notes there are two main types of ATVs. The first type is designed for a single operator, and the second type accommodates a passenger seated behind the operator. In UTV design, the operator and passenger are seated side-by-side (which is why they're sometimes called side-by-sides), and the UTV can also accommodate more payload (weight) and gear.
If you’re interested in shopping for an ATV, you may have also considered UTVs. They’re distinctly different types of vehicles, but their purposes and benefits may overlap for some potential buyers. This guide will help you figure out if an ATV is the right recreational vehicle for you. To learn more about UTVs, check out our guide here.
Most brands that manufacture ATVs are well-known for offering motorcycles and other types of power sports equipment in addition to ATVs. The major, best-known ATV manufacturers include Honda, Polaris, Can-Am, and Yamaha. These four brands offer a range of models and price points – as well as both youth and adult models – to appeal to a wide variety of customers.
Other notable brands in this segment include Kawasaki, Kymco, and Suzuki, all of which have experience in two-wheeled vehicles along with various utility vehicles and power sports equipment. For more information, see our guides to each major power sports and ATV brand.
Experts disagree on when and where the first ATV was created. We do know that motorcycles existed for nearly 100 years before the first ATVs were designed and developed, and that ATVs came about as a way to take advantage of some of a motorcycle’s versatility but with more utility. Motorcycle manufacturers also wanted to sell more vehicles, particularly in areas where motorcycles aren’t ridden year-round.
Some sources point to Honda as the manufacturer of the first ATV, thanks to the development of a three-wheeled ATV precursor in 1967. However, a prototype of an ATV called the Jiger was created in Canada by John Gower in 1960 or 1961, depending on who you ask. The Jiger was actually an AATV, or amphibious all-terrain vehicle, meaning it could traverse water as well as ground on its six wheels. The company, Versatrek, achieved mass production of the Jiger by 1965, but went out of business in 1968; according to some sources, the company actually failed because it couldn’t keep up with demand.
In the early 1970s, Honda experimented with three-wheeled ATV designs, which were largely abandoned by the late 1980s in favor of more stable four-wheeled designs. The FourTrax line, which Honda introduced during this time, is still on the market today. Suzuki joined the fray in 1982 and quickly became one of the most popular ATV manufacturers, along with Yamaha. Polaris, which introduced its first model in 1985, became the first North American company to enter the segment since the Jiger was discontinued. In the late 1990s, a number of manufacturers, including Bombardier and Arctic Cat, began offering models with much higher horsepower and torque figures, making the segment as much about performance as utility.
Should I Buy an ATV?
Adding an ATV to your garage is an exciting prospect, but first, you should ensure that it’s the right type of power sports vehicle for you. Whether you’re comparing a potential ATV purchase to another type of vehicle, like a UTV, or whether you’re considering an ATV on its own merits, you should keep the following factors in mind.
An ATV is a good choice if you anticipate that you’ll primarily be riding by yourself, or with one passenger. An ATV seats the passenger behind the operator, so if you’d prefer to sit alongside each other, an ATV might not be the best choice for you, and you should consider a UTV instead.
Cost is another factor in choosing an ATV. ATVs are typically less expensive than UTVs, though that varies, of course, based on factors such as brand, model, and specifications. UTVs also tend to cost more because they have safety features such as roll cages and seat belts. So in that sense, if safety is a priority, an ATV might not be right for you. Furthermore, if you want to modify your recreational vehicle with features such as specialized lighting or higher-performance suspension, an ATV might not be right for you, since UTVs tend to have better options in this area.
If you want a nimble and quick vehicle that’s fun to ride, available at relatively low price points, and doesn’t need to do much heavy-duty towing or hauling, an ATV may be the right choice.
ATV Pros and Cons
Plenty of brands and models to choose from
Youth and adult models are readily available
Prices tend to be more affordable than similar kinds of power sport vehicles, such as UTVs
Good for solo users
Good for recreation or light duty utility (hauling or towing)
Lots of fun to ride
Fewer features than UTVs
Less safe than UTVs, with fewer safety measures built in
Few options for customization or modification
Cannot ride with a passenger side-by-side
Not ideal for heavy-duty work
Most of the major ATV brands offer models that start at around $5,000 or less, though the more you’re willing to spend, the more options you’ll have. There’s a bigger range of models and trim levels at $8,000-$9,000 and up, with brands tending to top out around $11,000 or so. That said, those more expensive models provide more power and features than most riders will need; if you’re an inexperienced rider or don’t plan to use your ATV for utility work, you won’t need those capabilities and features.
Paying more for an ATV primarily gets you bigger engines with more horsepower, which, in turn, increases payload and towing capacities, as well as riding excitement. More expensive models may also include features such as more comfortable seats with more padding, heavy-duty cargo racks, and high-end front and rear lighting. If you’re fine with a basic model and moderate horsepower, you can easily get a new ATV from a reputable brand for around $5,000 or $6,000, though experienced riders will probably want to budget a couple thousand more to get a model with more power.
Key ATV Specs
Though there may be some outliers on both ends of the range, ATVs currently on the market generally feature single- or two-cylinder engines, with displacement measured in cubic centimeters, or ccs. As you’ll see in the ATV models highlighted in this guide, most adult models are at least 500 cc, but typically less than 1000 cc, unless the model is marketed specifically for high performance or specifically for entry-level or beginner riders. Not all manufacturers provide official horsepower ratings for their ATVs, but when provided, expect to see them in the double-digits, in the 30-50 horsepower range for most models. Transmissions may be manual or automatic; this is definitely a point that potential buyers will want to consider carefully and consider both current and desired skill levels. Regardless of which transmission type you prefer, you’ll have plenty of options from a variety of major brands. Fuel capacity is another factor that varies from model to model, but generally, an ATV’s tank measures between 3-5 gallons.
If you’re interested in using your new ATV for any type of work, pay attention to the payload and towing capacities, since these can vary widely. Some manufacturers, such as Yamaha, even subdivide their ATV model lineup into sport and utility sub-categories. This is done to help potential buyers narrow down the field.
Features vary widely and increase as your budget increases. More expensive models tend to offer benefits such as heavy-duty cargo racks, performance or specialty suspension systems, and halogen or LED lighting.
The Top 10 ATVs
Polaris Sportsman 570
The Polaris Sportsman 570 is redesigned for the 2021 model year, and starts at $6,899. For that price, you get a liquid-cooled 567-cc engine rated for 44 horsepower. Other specs include a 4.5-gallon fuel tank and a 485-pound payload capacity. For brakes, the Sportsman 570 features single-lever three-wheel hydraulic disc brakes with a hydraulic rear foot brake, and for the parking brake, there is a park in-transmission with a lockable hand lever. Polaris also offers the Ultimate Trail and Utility HD special editions, as well as a number of optional packages and features.
Standard features include on-demand four-wheel drive, class-leading ground clearance of 11.5 inches, and a new in-pod battery charging port.
Yamaha Raptor 700R
The Yamaha Raptor 700R has a base price of $8,799 and comes powered by a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 686-cc engine, paired with a five-speed transmission and a wet multiplate clutch. The Raptor 700R’s brakes are dual hydraulic discs in front and single hydraulic discs in the rear. The fuel capacity is 2.9 gallons.
Features of the Raptor 700R include lightweight aluminum wheels and push-button electric start.
Yamaha Raptor 700
Next up is the Yamaha Raptor, which starts at $8,199. The Raptor comes with an SOHC 686-cc engine and a five-speed transmission and a wet multiplate clutch – the same engine and transmission combination that powers the aforementioned Raptor 700R. The Raptor also has a 2.9-gallon fuel tank and front dual hydraulic disc brakes with rear hydraulic disc brakes. The primary difference between the Raptor 700 and Raptor 700R is the latter model's more advanced suspension system.
The Raptor 700’s features include Krypton headlights and LED taillights.
Polaris Sportsman 850
With a starting price of $8,899, the Polaris Sportsman 850 provides 78 horsepower from its SOHC, two-cylinder, 850-cc engine. It has a one-touch, on-demand all-wheel-drive/two-wheel-drive system and an automatic transmission. Its fuel capacity is 5.25 gallons, its payload is 575 pounds, and its towing capacity is 1,500 pounds. For braking, this Polaris features single-lever three-wheel hydraulic disc brakes with a hydraulic rear foot brake, and for the parking brake, there is a park-in transmission with a lockable hand lever. Polaris offers the Sportsman 850 in a High Lifter edition, as well.
Standard features of the Sportsman 850 include an independent rear suspension system for a smooth ride, electronic fuel injection for quick and easy starts, and steel-reinforced cargo racks.
Yamaha Kodiak 700
The utility-focused Yamaha Kodiak, which starts at $7,199, is powered by an SOHC 686-cc engine like that found in the previously mentioned Raptor 700 and Raptor 700R. This engine comes paired with an Ultramatic V-belt transmission with all-wheel engine braking and a lever-operated two-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive system. The Kodiak 700 also features an independent double-wishbone suspension system in both the front and rear, along with dual hydraulic front disc brakes and rear multidisc wet brakes. The fuel tank has a 4.8-gallon capacity, and the Kodiak 700 boasts a maximum towing capacity of 1,322 pounds when properly equipped.
The Kodiak 700 also features full-body skid plates for enhanced off-road protection and heavy-duty steel cargo racks.
Can-Am Outlander 570
With a starting price of $6,999, the Can-Am Outlander 570 is primarily designed for work, though it’s also capable of trail and recreational use. The Outlander 570 features a 570-cc V-twin liquid-cooled engine rated for 48 horsepower. It’s paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is a type of automatic. The Outlander 570 also comes standard with engine braking and a selectable two-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive system with a locking front differential. The suspension system is a double A-arm setup in front and a torsional trailing arm independent (TTI) setup in back, and the brakes are ventilated disc brakes with hydraulic twin-piston calipers, dual in front and single in rear. This ATV has a 5.4-gallon fuel tank, and maximum towing capacity checks in at 1,300 pounds.
The Can-Am Outlander features a digital display with a speedometer, tachometer, odometer, clock, trip computer, temperature gauge, fuel gauge, and engine lights.
Polaris Outlaw 70
The Polaris Outlaw 70 is a youth ATV. It has a base price of $2,299, and features a 70-cc air-cooled single-cylinder engine, electronic fuel injection, two-wheel drive, an automatic transmission, a 1.5-gallon fuel tank, and hydraulic disc brakes in the front and rear.
The Outlaw 70 also comes equipped with a speed limiter to be set by the rider’s guardian, a color-matched helmet, a safety tether, a safety flag, and an instructional DVD.
Yamaha Kodiak 450
Like the aforementioned Yamaha Kodiak 700, the Kodiak 450 focuses on utility. Its base price of $6,199 yields an SOHC 421-cc engine, an Ultramatic V-belt transmission, all-wheel engine braking, and a selectable two-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive system. The Kodiak 450 also features an independent double wishbone suspension system in the front and rear, with dual hydraulic front disc brakes and rear multidisc wet brakes. This Yamaha has a 3.7-gallon fuel capacity and a 1,322-pound towing capacity.
The Kodiak 450 also features full-length skid plates for durable off-road underbody protection.
Yamaha Raptor 90
The Yamaha Raptor 90 is a sport ATV for youth riders aged 10 and up. It starts at $3,099. This Yamaha ATV features an air-cooled SOHC engine rated for 90 cc with electric start that's paired with a CVT automatic transmission. Dual drum brakes provide stopping power up front, with single drum brakes in the rear. The fuel tank has a 1.7-gallon capacity.
Features are minimal, considering this is an affordable youth ATV, but Yamaha emphasizes that it is a reliable, low-maintenance model.
Polaris Phoenix 200
The Polaris Phoenix 200 is a youth ATV designed for riders aged 14 and up with parental supervision. It has a starting price of $4,199. It features a 196-cc air-cooled single-cylinder engine, two-wheel drive, an automatic transmission, a 2.5-gallon fuel tank, and front hydraulic-disc and rear mechanical-drum brakes.
The Phoenix 200 features a speed limiter to be set by the rider’s parent or guardian, a Polaris youth helmet, a safety flag, and an instructional DVD.
Best ATVs for Beginners
Safety should be the top priority for new ATV riders. That means choosing a quad you can handle, rather than testing your limits right out of the gate. Look for 600-cc engines or, preferably, even smaller. Then, consider how you plan to use your new ATV and make sure you’re looking at models suitable for the terrain you plan to ride on.
Younger riders should start with youth-sized ATVs, which are offered by most major ATV manufacturers. Consider models with modest-sized engines and automatic transmissions, rather than manual transmissions.
Finally, though we aren’t going into detail here with regards to safety equipment, make sure you budget for a full-face helmet with a face shield or goggles, protective pants, long-sleeved riding shirt, boots, and gloves. Don’t overspend on the vehicle and leave yourself short when it comes to other gear.
With the above factors in mind, here are a few of the best ATVs for beginners.
This Honda is a good beginner ATV because it’ll help you learn to really ride, though it doesn’t have the payload capability of many other ATVs. In that sense, it’s best for a beginner who plans to primarily ride for recreational purposes. The TRX250X has an air-cooled single-cylinder 229-cc engine that’s simple and reliable, provides modest power, and uses a dependable electric starter. This ATV also has a manual transmission, so new riders can get off on the right foot (literally) and develop their shifting skills without being overwhelmed by power. The starting price of $4,949 is a reasonable investment for the hobby.
Can-Am Outlander 450
The Can-Am Outlander 450 is a more beginner-friendly version of the Can-Am Outlander 570 described earlier in this article. It comes powered by a reliable 427-cc single-cylinder engine, rated for a novice-friendly 38 horsepower. These figures make the Outlander 450 capable of moderate utility work, but without being overpowering and too hard for a new rider to handle. Its starting price of $6,299 represents quality, yet it’s still affordable for the segment.
Polaris Sportsman 450
We already discussed a couple of Polaris Sportsman models above for our list of the best ATVs overall, but this is another case in which the scaled-down version is great for beginners. The recently redesigned Sportsman 450 has many of the same attributes as the higher-end models, such as on-demand all-wheel drive and an easy-to-use automatic transmission. The single-cylinder 499-cc engine is rated for 33 horsepower, so it provides utility without overwhelming a new rider. It starts at $6,399.