Sport ATVs vs. utility ATVs vs. side-by-sides: Which should you buy?


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October 17, 2017 | Updated October 19, 2017


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Key Points

Picking the right powersport vehicle

  • Sport ATVs are lighter, faster and better at absorbing shock.
  • Utility ATVs are better for carrying cargo and driving through rough terrain.
  • Side-by-sides can carry a passenger and haul heavy loads.

When you’re in the market for a new powersport vehicle, one of the most important questions to answer is whether you need it for sport or utility. ATVs, sometimes known as quads, come in both sport and utility varieties. Side-by-sides, also known as utility terrain vehicles, are equipped for even hardier utilitarian purposes.

Figuring out what kind of vehicle best suits your needs should be one of your first steps before you head to a dealer. To make that determination, you must understand the advantages and disadvantages of each vehicle type.

Sport ATV

Sport ATVs are primarily used for racing — they tend to have smaller, lighter bodies than utility models, and they’re fast, yet easy to handle. They are typically rear-wheel drive vehicles, and may come with a two- or four-stroke motor. Robust suspension systems help absorb the shock of hard landings on the track or trail.

Utility ATV

Utility ATVs may come with either two- or four-wheel drive. They can tow relatively heavy loads and often come with racks or other accessories for carrying tools or cargo. Utility ATVs may also have large fenders that can help protect riders from debris or mud flying up as they ride. They are able to traverse through mud and other uneven terrain that would stymie a sport ATV.

Side-by-sides or UTVs

Side-by-sides, or UTVs, are well-suited for heavy-duty work. They’re called side-by-sides because a passenger can sit alongside the driver. If you’re doing work that may require a passenger, a side-by-side is probably the vehicle for you.

Side-by-sides are primarily used for utility purposes, rather than for racing or other sport-related activities. Because side-by-sides tend to be heavier-duty than ATVs, they’re more expensive, typically by a couple thousand dollars. They are also highly customizable, with riders adding special lighting, headers or stereo systems. Most side-by-sides come with roll cages that protect the driver and passenger in case of a rollover accident.

Making a decision

If you know what you need a powersport vehicle for, it shouldn’t be difficult to determine what type of vehicle you should buy. Planning to do a lot of racing and trail riding? A sport ATV is likely your best bet. Have a lot of light work or hunting to do? Choose a utility ATV. Have heavy-duty work and hauling to accomplish? A side-by-side can help you get the job done.

Financing your purchase

When you know what kind of powersport vehicle you want, the next step is finding the financing to purchase it. Powersport vehicle loans can be more difficult to obtain than car loans, because lenders consider powersport vehicles luxury items. If you have trouble getting a loan to buy your ATV or side-by-side, consider offering a larger down payment. This lowers the amount of money you’re borrowing and shows lenders you’re invested in the purchase.


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