Trail Test: 2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

Most of us have had the experience of happening across a treasured toy, game, or tool which has languished on a shelf or in a box for years. After a few minutes with the thing, we tend to wonder why we socked it away on a dusty shelf in the first place. Nostalgia is a helluva drug.

2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

Your author had the same feeling after a rip on the 2023 Sportsman XP 1000.

These days, it’s easy to get entranced by the convenience (and luxury) of a burly side-by-side off-road machine, especially ones which boast a fully enclosed cab plus the likes of climate control and booming stereos. But after climbing onto this Sportsman ATV, your author now remembers why he got into powersports in the first place – many moons ago.

2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

At hand is a twin-cylinder single overhead cam engine making 90 horsepower, flying a ProStar banner and whose 952cc displacement is generously rounded up to 1000 for purposes of marketing. Three driving modes are present – performance, standard, and work. The latter two are tuned for manageability at low speeds or pushing through rough terrain. We found no shortage of grunt whilst navigating maintained trails or clawing around and over trees toppled by Hurricane Fiona well over one year ago. Turns out that nature is quite capable of messing itself up and doesn’t need our help doing so, thank you very much, making it all the more important to tread lightly when using machines like the Sportsman.

2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

Keeping up with sportier ATVs and side-by-sides on long stretches of gravel path was possible using the ‘performance’ driving mode – and while one needed to be more judicious with throttle control than the other two modes, it no longer exhibited the hyperactive tendencies it once did on equivalently-powered Sportsman ATVs from just a few short years ago. Clearly, someone at Polaris has been listening to consumer (and journalist) feedback and the Sportsman is better off for it.

2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

Those felled Fiona firs were dispatched with tires measuring 27 inches in diameter (9 inches wide up front and 11 aft) and a solid foot of ground clearance. Unlike its wider in-house sibling which has an ‘S’ suffix on its name, this Sportsman has a goldilocks just-right width of just under 4 feet (47.6 inches), making it a great tool on which to dart through tighter trails some larger machines would fear to tread. Given the dimensions of an average pickup box, it was also easy to ride this thing up a set of ramps and secure it in the bed – no cumbersome trailer or theatrics required. Curb weight is around 400 kilos (900 pounds) and well within the payload limits of many trucks.

2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

This particular trim of Sportsman XP 1000, the Ultimate Trail, presents its driver controls in an unpretentious with clear – if plain – digital gauge set taking the place of a coveted RideCommand 7-inch screen, a tech wonder that is, all else being equal, a $2,000 proposition on the Sportsman. Though it is an excellent piece of kit, able to offer route guidance plus planned trail rides with your buddies and simple phone pairing, padding the purchase price by 10 percent isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This writer feels it’s worth the cash.

But even without RideCommand, phone alerts can be displayed through the standard gauge display – albeit in the style of an ‘80s alarm clock – whilst a handy 12V socket stands ready alongside a handy outlet for battery trickle chargers. The latter is a smart addition since placing a battery tender on a stored ATV is a great way to prolong its life and is a comment as to how Polaris employs real-world gearheads to design their lineup.

2023 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 Ultimate Trail

A lockable hand lever for parking brake duties and traditional left-thumb headlight switch are perfect examples of a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, working seamlessly just as they have for decades of riders. Thumb controls for the onboard winch now sprout from the same area. The lone complaint is aimed at the slider switch controlling four-wheel drive that proved fussier to operate than a two-year old toddler. Just confirm via a graphic on the digital display which wheels are getting power and you’ll be fine.
There is an unexpected wealth of covered and latchable onboard storage, meaning owners shouldn’t need to spring for expensive add-on accessories unless weekend plans include feeding the multitudes over Christmas up at the cottage. A cupholder stands ready to eject your water bottle at the first bump but is a convenient spot in which to place a drink whilst stopped or – if we’re being honest here – stuff an easily accessible microfibre rag for wiping off a helmet visor while adventuring. Its single-rider seat is the softest of all its competitors and is comfortable for hours behind the handlebars.

Price checks in at $18,499 plus freight and PDI which places it at the upper end of Sportsman territory but well below most side-by-sides. Anyone just wanting the appearance of this XP 1000 (LED headlamps, burly tires, winch capability) can check out the $12,799 Sportsman 570 which – for 2024 – certainly looks the part but has less than half the horsepower and less payload capacity.

We’ll take the XP 1000, thanks. After all, nostalgia is a drug best enjoyed at full strength.

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