Afraid? Ha! I can’t even begin to tell you. But to tell you the truth, it was all in my head. After all, the Sportsman XP850 isn’t such an ‘I’m going to kill you’ machine. It just needs you to be gentle, but it’s hard, knowing you’re riding the Land Rover of the ATV world. So when I swung a leg over it, save for the first ten minutes (the thumb-lever throttle takes about that much time to get used to), everything happened in ultra-fast forward.
To give you a rundown through the interface, you firstly have a not-very-unusual looking key. Then, after you’ve un-killed the engine, you thumb the starter, snick the car-like gear lever – an auto ’box that just needs to be shifted into Low, High, Neutral, Reverse and Parking – into Low and thereafter, duly hang on for the love of your flesh and bones. Oh, and if you’re not impatient like me, soak in the good quality plastics that feel rugged and built to withstand abuse. And find thrill in the fact that you have a headlamp and turn indicators (for whatever imaginable reason!). Also that on your right thumb, just above the throttle lever, is a switch that lets you select between two- and four- wheel drive. Four wheel drive?! Well, you heard right and it’s mighty helpful. If you’re into having fun, 2WD (rear-wheel drive, that is) is great. But on steep inclines, especially where traction is at a premium, the 4WD unit is indispensable to the Sportsman.
Now to answer a crucial question. Why is the Sportsman, which is a non-road legal ATV (to give you its elementary outlay), pegged at ` 13.68 lakh (Mumbai)? Is a 250 not enough? A 400 perhaps? Alright, here we go. The SM XP850 is, literally, like a Land Rover. Yes, the controls and switches don’t feel any different than those on a standard-issue 150cc motorcycle. And the paint finish is no great shakes either. It’s all pretty ‘normal’ looking – no Rolls-Royce special effects here. But, I think in terms of functionality (leaving aside the road legal bit), for someone who can’t imagine being lugged around on an off-road motorcycle and its two wheels, the SM XP850 is the only available alternative.
The ‘premium’-ness of the SM XP850 lies, instead of in some soft-touch, cold-metal bits, in the way it makes light work of things that would be magnified on lesser ATVs. To put it in more conventional understanding, it’s like what the RR Phantom does to you when you think you’re doing about 80 kph and you look down at the speedo and see you’re doing 120 kph more.
And really, if you have the liberty of a farmhouse or access to some forest trails (and hence, are filthy rich), why not have the best the world can offer? It’s like saying the Skoda Superb is realistically as comfortable as life can be, but that can’t stop you from buying a RR Phantom, no? And if that’s not enough reason to lust after the SM, did I tell you the Sportsman comes with a powerslide button as standard? Of course, it’s not called that but instead, rather tamely, an accelerator.
However, the SM XP850 is still nearly as sharp as a motorcycle and if that doesn’t appeal to your senses, you need to shift focus to the RZR 4. The RZR 4 is a dream-come-true vehicle (Polaris officially calls it a Side x Side) for those who’ve spent years mastering the art of maniacal driving, hammering away on a keyboard or a PlayStation controller. It can be driven exactly the way you’re not supposed to drive any four-wheeler with a lot of power. The gear selector is the same as on the XP850, and the only difference is that you have an accelerator/brake pedal and a steering wheel, both (obviously!) on the left side of the cabin. No need to be cautious – you could place a brick on the accelerator and simply focus on steering the car, indulging in Scandinavian flicks, as I suppose they’re called. Powerslides are available easier than they are on Gran Turismo4 and if you own/can rent a dusty oval, you can go sideways till you run the fuel tank dry.
As if that’s not enough of a selling point, Polaris has thrown in a total of four seats into the RZR 4, so on your little trip into the woods (Why exactly? – Kartik ), your friends/family/assistants can tag along. And they’ll be as exposed to the elements as you will. When Polaris’ ‘expert’ driver took us on a vehicle-familiarisation lap, we were hoping for rather a lot of talking and observing. Instead, it turned out to be a track-familiarisation lap (since the driver couldn’t resist the urge to go completely flat out, forgetting he had to tell us about the vehicle) and rather than talking, we were screaming, and the only observation we made was that Aditya needs to get a haircut and that we were hungry. Really, the RZR 4 is that difficult to, let’s say, not drive enthusiastically. The alter ego demands for the thing to be road-legalised – the RZR 4 will do a complete turn-around of my otherwise dull commute (in a car, that is). Now to find Rs 19.99 lakh...