If you are new to ATVs and can’t decide what the best ATV is for you, or if you don’t even know where to start, it can be a daunting task to try and make a decision by yourself. There are basically two different options of the types of ATVs to choose from, aside from youth ATVs which I cover more on choosing the right youth ATV in this article I wrote.
Sport ATVs and Utility ATVs have several differences including drivetrain, size, and capabilities and have many pros and cons for each type of vehicle.
Sport ATVs are tons of fun on and off the track and what I prefer to drive but Utility ATVs also off a lot of fun AND practicality. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two and by the end of today you will be able to decide which of the 2 is the best ATV for your needs.
What Is A Sport ATV?
A sport ATV is a two wheel drive ATV that most often has a single rear axle with a single suspension that is meant to be lightweight with lots of power to dominate the racetrack. There are a few models with independent rear suspension like the Polaris Outlaw 525 IRS but these quads are the exception, not the rule.
Sport ATVs have many advantages based on what kind of riding you want to do but they also have some disadvantages. Most disadvantages are prevalent when not on a racetrack or on a decent trail, but they are still capable of getting into a lot of other places that you would not think possible if you only use a little bit of willpower and ingenuity.
Sport ATV Pros
Sport ATVs Are Fast
Sport ATVs are designed for the race track and are designed to be fast. They often come with engines, suspensions, and frames that are specifically designed for track use and that comes with a lot of territory when talking about SPEED.
There are 2 stroke and 4 stroke sport ATVs and either can be used for racing and upgraded quite a bit so if you choose a sport ATV, expect some good power output to get you up and moving for an adrenaline filled ride.
Sport ATVs Have Lots Of Modifications
Most vehicles have tons of companies vying to sell you aftermarket parts to increase performance and the sport ATV world is no different. You can upgrade or modify almost any part on sport ATVs to give yourself better performance, meaner looks, more comfort, and more useability.
From the drivetrain to the engine, all the way up to the handlebar grips and foot pegs, a sport ATV can be customized. The plus side to being able to customize your ride is that you can tailor it to your riding style and the turf you claim as your home riding grounds. Most mods are generally user friendly and can be done at home but for larger mods and for the less mechanically inclined, you will need to take a trip to the shop.
I personally have customized mine a little bit and it made a big difference installing a full exhaust system and a jet kit. There is much more that can be done and will be done in the future and that is one of the beauties of owning a sport ATV.
Handling Is Much Better
Like I said, sport ATVs are designed for the track and in order to be the best track machine it has to be able to handle things like turns, whoops, and jumps. While Utility ATVs can DO all these things, they can’t do them as well as a professionally tuned sport quad. Most times utility ATVs can’t handle as well as a factory sport quad in the same sense. each ATV utilizes handlebars and you can get a set of performance ones at Amazon.
Sport quads are lighter and can be easily manipulated at high speed by drifting into turns or, when you have A LOT OF PRACTICE, doing whips off of jumps. This is a more advanced technique but it looks really cool and you probably won’t be seeing any utility ATVs pulling this move. They also handle well when rolling slowly down a tough trail or when moving in reverse (yes some sport ATVs have reverse gear!).
They Look Lean And Mean
Sport ATVs ARE lean and mean and they need to look that way. Yes they have mean looks and that may just be aesthetics to some but they are designed to help reduce the mud and debri that is slung back onto the rider from the wheels.
Nothing adds to the WOW factor for an ATV than to have a super aggressive fairing kit screaming down the track or up the dunes for everyone to see. I LOVE the way sport ATVs look and that is part of what drew me into the sport.
Sport ATVs Are Cheaper
ATVs are not all that cheap in general but when you look at the price tags on high end sport quads and compare them to high end utility ATVs, expect to see the utilities going for almost 2 times as much.
This is because utilities are much bigger and have a lot more material to them. They also come with four wheel drive systems and have a ton more components to them than a sport quad.
Sport ATVs have high performance engines and great suspension systems and are overall very high quality so a lot of the price tag is in the performance while utilities price tags often come into play because of, well, their utility.
On average a sport ATV will run around $9,000 new and anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 used depending on the make, model, condition, and year. You can find a great used sport ATV for a great price if you do your research.
Size is an important piece of the puzzle because a smaller quad like the sport ATVs of today are easier to haul than their utility cousins. Hauling from one riding location to the next is made much easier by being able to load a smaller ATV and honestly, you can manhandle a sport ATV in many other situations.
I have been stuck in a situation where there was a trail behind me, and nothing but trees and downhill in front of me. The trail was so thin that I couldn’t do any kind of 3, 6, or even 10 point turn to try to get myself in the opposite direction. Instead I got off the quad and yanked the front of the ATV around to the left and went to the back and snatched up the back end to the right and before I knew it I was backtracking on the trail to find a more friendly route.
Weight Is Lower
Sport quads are designed for racing, I think have hit on that quite a bit, so they are going to be light enough to maximize the power to weight ratio. This ties into the story I just told about being able to manhandle the ATV in a tight situation.
This also applies to loading and unloading the ATV. It is much simpler to load and unload a lighter sport ATV and if you have any questions, I wrote another article on how to load an ATV in this article.
Sport ATV Cons
No Power Steering
Sport ATVs don’t come standard with power steering and honestly they don’t really need it. This is considered a con because some people will still have a hard time turning a quad that doesn’t have power steering equipped. Power steering also helps to absorb some of the obstacles that are found on the track and the trails so overall, power steering is a nice feature to have. If you want to know more about ATVs and power steering then I have another article I wrote over here.
Can Be Overconfident
Everyone knows sport quads are race machines and probably see the people doing all kinds of stunts on TV and think “I can do that too” but you can’t Being on four wheels tends to make people feel over confident but it is actually tougher to complete some tricks and even tougher to maneuver at times BECAUSE OF THE 4 WHEELS.
Can Be Uncomfortable
Sport ATVs are designed for performance, not luxury and comfort so your seat won’t be the most comfortable to sit on and your grips may not be as cushy as you would like. You will have to upgrade those components to enhance the comfort is that is what you are looking for.
Not Good For Hunting
They are definitely not good for hunting. They are WAY too loud and can’t carry all of the things you want or need. They are too loud and will scare away all your game before you even get to your favorite hunting spot.
Confined To Trails And Tracks
You won’t be taking a sport quad too far off the beaten path because your tires, suspension, and ground clearance will not allow you to go over too large if obstacles. It is tough to ride terrain that is not suited for sport ATVs, but like I said before, it can be done if you put your mind to it.
Not Good For Hauling
The only thing you will be hauling on a sport ATV is your backpack and let’s be honest, you can’t fit a whole lot in one of those. They don’t come equipped with racks to cinch anything larger down and are just plain bad at trying.
Not Good For Towing
Again, they are not designed for towing and are just plain horrible. They don’t have the weight to pull on anything significantly heavy or anything that is stuck in the mud that is bigger than the ATV itself, besides, sport ATVs don’t even have hitches…or winches, so no go on the towing.
Sport ATV Market Is Dying
It saddens me to have to admit this last one but it is so true. Sport ATVs just aren’t as big as the once were. I wonder all the time, “What happened to the sport ATV market?” and have come to the conclusion that sport ATVs are being pushed out by UTV Side By Sides, Utility ATVs, and lack of interest. I wrote a whole article about this you should go take a look at.
What Is A Utility ATV?
A utility ATV is designed to act as a tool to supplement extra work loads by being able to haul, tow, and be a workhorse when needed. These four wheel drive ATVs are meant to take almost anywhere and many have made an entire lifestyle out of mudding and modding for the mud.
Utility ATVs make their homes in the mud, on the farm, and anywhere that a sport ATV can’t conventionally go. Their disadvantages are more about not being able to race and handle as well as a sport quad but are not a limiting factor for what they are designed for.
Utility ATV Pros
Can Go More Places
Utility ATVs more often than not, come standard with four wheel drive. This opens a whole new world of possibilities when compared to a sport ATV. Utility ATVs can go through mud holes and up berms and hills much better than a sport ATV could ever dream of. They also have a much higher ground clearance, especially if you upgrade to larger tires which allows them to traverse larger obstacles.
There are disadvantages to the heavy weight of utility ATVs but not in this case. The heavier weight allows them to get a good grip on the terrain and even at slow speeds a utility ATV can use it’s weight to bury the grip from the tires and gain plenty of traction. This makes them ideal to go in more places than their two wheel drive sport ATV relatives.
Enhance Your Hunting Trips
Utility ATVs are a great resource for hunting. Lots of them already come with camouflage patterns on them and have great mods that can be added to them to enhance the hunting experience. To check a few mods I think are great for hunting, an article I wrote has several listed that will make hunting a breeze, other than actually finding the game!
Maximize The Benefits Of Towing Towing
Another advantage to a utility ATV and their weight is that they are pretty good at towing and most even come equipped with a hitch. The heavy weight allows them to be able to snatch logs and even other ATVs out of a sticky predicament.
Towing things like trailers is always good on the farm when you have bales of hay or equipment that need to go back and forth between stables. The four wheel drive further enhances their towing capacities and makes this a worthwhile advantage.
Utility ATVs have suspensions meant to handle their heavy weight along with heavy loads on their racks. Different type of racks can be installed in place of the stock racks to make sure you can haul every piece of gear you need, no matter where you go.
From rack boxes, to drop racks, and power loaders that rely on winch power to lift heavy objects you can use a utility ATV if you don’t want to tow a trailer behind you or if you have so much stuff that you need both!
The ability to haul anything you want is why I dub them the workhorses on four wheels.
Built For More Comfort
While a utility ATV is not a Cadillac it is definitely one compared to a sport ATV. These ATVs generally have much larger and more comfortable seats and are designed for the rider to sit in a more relaxed position allowing for a more comfortable overall ride.
One thing about utility ATVs is that you shouldn’t be riding as tight as you would on a sport quad and you won’t be squeezing at every turn and through every whoop section, because you won’t be riding like that.
Power Steering, an awesome feature in these ATVs was often talked about as not necessary by the old curmudgeons of the sport when it was first released. Power steering is especially useful for these heavier ATVs when running down the trail and even more so when moving at slow speeds.
Trying to turn a heavy ATV when going in reverse or very slow trying to get out of a large rut can be a pain putting all your weight into the handlebars to get them to turn. Power steering adds assistance to your steering but also has the added advantage of reducing the impact on the rider through the handlebars should you hit any large obstacles out in the mud or on the trails.
Power steering is a very useful accessory for ATVs and I talk more in depth about it here.
Utility ATVs Can Be Used For Plowing
If you live in a climate where the winters are harsh enough to warrant plowing snow, then utility ATVs have the ability to have a snow plow attached to them! Now you won’t be going out and plowing snow in a 6 foot blizzard but doing your driveway, sidewalk, and anywhere up to a foot to a foot and a half should be a breeze for any larger utility ATV. If you have a large area of deep snow that needs to be plowed you might want to steer clear of an ATV snow plow and try to use a more conventional snow blower.
If you aren’t plowing snow for a living where you need a dedicated snow plow truck or snow blower they are very useful and I cover those topics over here.
Utility ATV Cons
For the most part, weight is a good thing on utility ATVs because it helps provide traction for things like hauling, towing, and gripping mud but when it comes to loading a utility ATV it makes it a little more of a chore if you are not properly prepared.
The story I told you about manhandling my Polaris 525s sport ATV would not have come close to happening if I had been riding a utility ATV instead of mine. You are talking about a 4to 500 pound sport quad vs a 1300 pound utility ATV so unless you are participating in the strongman competition this year, you won’t be able to either.
Larger Size Hinders Hauling
The larger size of a utility ATV means it takes up quite a bit more space when trying to haul it back and forth. This larger size also means that you won’t be able to fit it down tighter trails where the trees are closer together. You may just have to run over new terrain and make your own trail!
Price Is Very Steep
Utility ATVs have a lot more moving parts and components and are equipped with more bells and whistles to be able to handle situations that sport ATVs are just not equipped to handle. With those bells, whistles, and capabilities comes a significant increase in price. I stated above that you will be looking to pay close to twice as much for one of these than you would a smaller sport ATV.
Handling Is Not Great
Utility ATVs have a higher center of gravity, are heavier, do respond well as a sport ATV. After all, sport ATVs were designed to handle well to maximize their speed at the track. While power steering is an advantage, it does not help the handling of these larger ATVs when it comes to roll overs and handling turns at higher speeds. This is one thing you need to be careful with as a utility ATV owner.
The bulky design of the larger ATVs is not aesthetically pleasing like their sport ATV counterparts and, for me, there is no real WOW factor when I see a monster utility ATV barreling at me through the mud. This has to do with all the extras that are tacked on as well not letting the designs cater to a more sleek and finely tuned appearance.
Not Meant For Racing
Can you race utility ATVs? I am sure you can but I can tell you right now, you won’t be getting the kinds of performance or times that a sport ATV gets. They are DESIGNED for racing and that is what they excel at. No sense in trying to force it when you can just buy a sport quad that will race better and let the utility ATV go mudding for the afternoon.
Most Are Not As Fast As Sport ATVs (Pro Sometimes)
Up until fairly recently sport quads have been fast and a utility ATV just can’t keep up for the most part. On straight aways, these larger engine sized ATVs like the Can-AM Renegade 1000R can keep up with and even be faster than a decently modded Yamaha Raptor 700. Even with all the weight that these ATVs have, they are becoming powerful enough to hang with race designed quads on straightaways.
What ATV Should You Pick?
Well that really depends on what your style is and what you will be using your ATV for. They are two totally different beasts with two totally different philosophies when it comes to how and where they can drive.
If you can’t tell, I am partial to sport ATVs and they have been a part of my life for a long time. I have had so much more fun on a sport quad than I have on a utility ATV but that isn’t to they both aren’t super fun machines.
So ask yourself whether you are looking for practicality, hauling gear, or mudding and you want to do anything like that then you should probably pick a utility ATV.
If you want to go fast, race tracks, ride trails, and don’t have any need to haul, tow, or go mudding then the decision is simple. Join me as a sport ATV owner.