Polaris Sportsman 500 Top Speed, Value & Full Rundown

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The Polaris Sportsman 500 was the first ever Sportsman ATV produced by Polaris.

It got its start in 1996, seeing an eighteen-year production run that didn’t end until 2013.

Though not the most powerful quads in their class at the time, they offered excellent low-end torque that helped them to hold their own on the trails with just about any ATV on the market.

But how do they stack up from a top speed perspective?

And what should you know before buying or selling one?

This guide will help answer those questions with a full rundown of the following:

  • Top Speed of the two main Sportsman 500 models
  • Why one Sportsman 500 model is faster than the other
  • How to make the Sportsman 500 even faster
  • Overview of the changes the Sportsman 500 underwent through the years
  • Specs and key features
  • Performance
  • Present-day values of each Sportsman 500 model
  • Pros and cons

About Polaris Sportsman 500 Models

The Sportsman 500, along with the Sportsman 335 and Polaris Magnum 425 of the same timeframe, helped put an end to the monopoly that Japanese organizations had on the ATV market and put Polaris on the industry map.

Polaris achieved this by building the Sportsman 500 as a dual purpose machine, able to offer a good mix of both working and recreational ability.

While the early Sportsman 500 models made plenty of waves in the ATV industry, it wasn’t until Polaris made some big changes in 2001 that the model’s popularity really took off.

The big changes in 2001 came as a response to a number of customer reviews through the years mentioning that the quad felt underpowered.

Polaris listened, and in 2001 they upgraded the Sportsman 500 to the Sportsman 500 H.O., or High Output.

The new H.O. models were equipped with an upgraded high output engine along with a bigger 40 mm carburetor (previously 34 mm) to help the engine breathe better.

These upgrades resulted in a 26% increase in power, which clearly made a big difference in the eyes of consumers as demand for the H.O. models instantly took off and never looked back.

These upgrades also had a positive effect on the speed of these models, making the H.O. models slightly faster than the base Sportsman 500 models that came before.

Polaris Sportsman 500 Top Speed

There are two main models that make up the line of Polaris Sportsmans, each with a different achievable top speed.

The Polaris Sportsman 500 standard models are those years from 1996 to 2000, while the Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O. models run from 2001 on.

The Polaris Sportsman 500 top speed is around 55 mph, while the Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O. models and their more powerful engines top out at around 60 mph.

For those looking to make these models even faster and more powerful, that can be done by making some or all of the following modifications:

  • Upgrading the air intake system
  • Upgrading the exhaust system
  • Re-jetting the carburetor to ensure optimal air to fuel ratios
  • Adding slightly larger tires
  • Adding a big bore kit

Depending on the mods you settle on, you could see anywhere from a 5-15 mph increase in top-end speed which will level the playing field between your Sportsman 500 and some of the sportier ATV models.

Specs, Key Features, & Performance


Two different engines were used to power the Sportsman 500 throughout its production run, with pre-2001 models utilizing a standard Polaris engine and 2001+ H.O. models equipped with a High Output engine.

It was the same for the carburetors, with a 34 mm carburetor installed in the 1996 to 2000 models and a 40 mm carburetor installed in the 2001+ H.O. models.

This upgraded combination in the H.O. models made them 26% more powerful, with the standard Sportsman 500 getting around 32 horsepower and the Sportsman 500 H.O. getting around 41 horsepower.

In 2006, the Sportsman 500 introduced models with Electronic Fuel Injection as options alongside those with carburetors.

Both engines are geared low, with a focus on low-end grunt for working tasks and traversing tough terrain like mud, both of which the Sportsman 500 excels at.  

And the Engine Braking System comes in quite handy when descending steep trails or mountainous terrain.

Like many classic carbureted models, the carb in the Sportsman 500 is prone to causing issues with backfiring and stalling if not jetted properly and cleaned regularly.

This Sportsman 500 is brought to life by a DC-CDI electric start ignition.

Engine Type4 Stroke, SOHC
Cylinder ArrangementSingle Cylinder
Displacement499 cc
Bore X Stroke92 x 75 mm
Compression Ratio10.0:1
Engine CoolingLiquid Cooled
Fuel Delivery40mm Mikuni Carburetor (2001-2006), 34 mm Carb (1996-2000), EFI (2006+)
Fuel Capacity5.25 US Gallons


Selectable 2WD and 4WD is available via a thumb switch on the handlebar, giving riders the ability to easily switch between either depending on the terrain.

A rear driveshaft with a Hilliard-type clutch system helps reduce steering effort and provides power to the wheels.

Mated to the engine is a fully automatic CVT transmission that offers High and Low gear along with Reverse, which comes in handy while trail riding or working out of a sticky situation.

One drawback is that during steep descents in mud or snow, sometimes the front wheels don’t fully lock in despite the ATV being in 4WD mode which can make things tricky.

Drive SystemSelectable 2WD/4WD, Shaft Drive
Transmission TypeFully Automatic CVT w/ High/Low/Reverse


The Sportsman 500 is equipped with a Macpherson strut suspension up front that offers 6.25 inches of travel and enables it a tight turning radius of 5.4 feet.

In the rear, an independent progressive rate suspension with a stabilizing anti roll bar offers 9.5 inches of travel and helps to keep the tires planted firmly on the ground in all terrains.

It was one of the first 4×4 ATVs to sport independent rear suspension, paving the way for the many 4×4 models that followed.

With an impressive 11 inches of ground clearance, the Sportsman 500 has no problem clearing most logs, rocks, and ruts in the trail.

While the suspension provides a smooth ride in most terrains, it is known for being a bit stiff.

This is beneficial for trail riding, but can take a toll on the driver’s wrists and arms when riding over constant obstacles.

The suspension can feel a little less smooth when riding downhill.

Wheelbase50.5 in
Ground Clearance11 in
Turning Radius5.4 feet
Front SuspensionMacpherson Strut
Rear SuspensionIndependent Progressive Rate w/ Anti-Roll Bar
TravelFront – 6.25 inches, Rear – 9.5 inches

Tires & Brakes

Hydraulic disc brakes on all four wheels offer excellent stopping power in any terrain and are one of the strengths of this model.

Most Sportsman 500 models came equipped with 25 inch diameter tires in both the front and back, though that did vary depending on the model and year.

Some models were fitted with 26 inch tires in all four corners, while some were fitted with 25 inch front tires and 22 inch rear tires.

Either way, while the stock tires offered sufficient enough grip, those who planned to do more serious off-roading or mudding usually swapped them out for something more aggressive.

Front Tires25 x 8-10
Rear Tires25 x 11-10
Front Brake TypeHydraulic Disc
Rear Brake TypeHydraulic Disc


HO models 4 inches short in length at 81 in vs 85 in, some years only a few inches short or longer than others.

In terms of size, the Sportsman 500 was very similar to other Polaris models of the time like the Polaris Magnum models and Polaris Trail Boss models.

Most Sportsman 500 models were 85 inches in length, with some of the H.O. models only a few inches shorter or longer than others.

At 46 inches in width, they offer plenty of ability to ride the tightest trails and wooded areas, with their low end grunt and tight turning radius combining to make them excellent on twisty trails as well.

At 697 lbs this machine is not on the lighter side, but is still easy to control and handle.

Length85 in
Width46 in
Height47 in
Seat Height34 in
Dry Weight697 lbs

Polaris Sportsman 500 Value

If you’re looking to buy or sell a Polaris Sportsman 500 and want to know about what you could expect to get or pay, you can refer to the table below.

Per JDPower, the numbers below are the original suggested list price and the average present-day retail prices for each base Sportsman 500 by year.

Two of the more popular online marketplaces for ATV sales, ATV Trader and Facebook Marketplace, corroborate these numbers as most used models are offered at somewhere around the average price.

Year, Make & ModelLIst PriceAverage Retail Price
1996 Polaris Sportsman 500$6,449$905
1997 Polaris Sportsman 500$6,749$990
1998 Polaris Sportsman 500$6,499$1,035
1999 Polaris Sportsman 500$6,749$1,215
2000 Polaris Sportsman 500$6,999$1,340
2001 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,999$1,530
2002 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,999$1,635
2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,599$1,700
2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,599$1,825
2005 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,699$2,105
2006 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,699$2,475
2007 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,999$2,845
2008 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$5,999$2,600
2009 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$5,999$2,845
2010 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$5,999$3,000
2011 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$5,999$3,195
2012 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,199$3,325
2013 Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O.$6,199$3,530

Pros & Cons


  • Dual-purpose machines, offering a good mix of working and recreational ability.
  • Excellent ground clearance of between 10 and 11.3 inches.
  • Plenty compact enough to navigate tight trails and ride BLM land.
  • Handles exceptionally well despite its weight.
  • Engine power is good making hills, mud, and soft terrain no issue.
  • Various different models, trim styles, and color options to choose from.
  • Higher ventilation and water proof wiring gave it a big advantage over other models in its early days.


  • Carburetors in these models are known to cause issues with stalling, backfiring, rough idling, and hard starting if not jetted properly and cleaned routinely.
  • Suspension known to be a little stiff.
  • Front wheels are prone to not fully locking in 4WD during steep descents, making them tricky when this happens.
  • Stock tires are a bit small leading to the need for upgrades if doing serious trail riding or mudding.
  • Some of the oldest used models for sale have likely sat idle and not been cared for properly, requiring mechanical work to get them running well again.


Even to this day, the Polaris Sportsman 500 models are some of the most bulletproof quads you’ll find from a durability perspective.

And they’re no slouch in the performance department either, offering much of the same capability as many new 500 class ATVs.

For more on Polaris, check out the following before you go: