The first shipment of Bombardier's new Outlander 800 utility quads has just arrived in South Africa and was invited to ride the first one uncrated in Cape Town.

It's a big, solid all-wheel-drive workhorse with the same surrounding spar technology frame, trailing torsional independent rear suspension and Visco-Lok front differential as the earlier Outlander models.

What's special about this quad is its engine. It's been built by Austrian engine specialist Rotax and is not only Bombadier's first V-twin but also its first with fuel injection. The company calls it the 4-Tec high-output engine (four valves per cylinder) and claims maximum output of 46kW.

We didn't put this brand new machine on the dyno; instead we took it to De Morgenzon wine farm near Stellenbosch where manager Anton Ferreira (trusting soul and fellow biker) encouraged us to kick up dust.

Given its head and a clear road the Outlander thundered up to 125km/h in less than 300m with plenty more to come (top speed is estimated at 150-160km/h in standard trim), rumbling in typical V-twin style without any vibration.

Even when lugging hard uphill at low revs the big Rotax vibrated very little, just ground out immense torque, seemingly unstoppable.

It drives via a centrifugal clutch, two-speed gearbox with reverse and shaft drive to all four wheels. A sliding clutch on its drive shaft disables the drive to the front wheels at the flick of a switch on the right handlebar.

With 4x4 engaged the Visco-Lok front differential automatically monitors wheel speed and locks up progressively as needed to prevent wheelspin if one front wheel loses traction.

The controls are absurdly simple for such a competent all-terrain vehicle: a lever on the right of the bodywork engages either high, low or reverse gear and a conventional thumb throttle makes it go. The footbrake lever operates only the rear brake while the handbrake on the left handlebar operates all three inboard disc brakes.

Because the gear selector is on the right you have to take your thumb off the go button to change gears - a simple but effective form of interlock.

A tumbler switch on the right handlebar engages and disengages all-wheel drive on the fly, at any speed.

Sudden clutch

The centrifugal clutch takes up very suddenly, especially in reverse, which can be a problem because that's when quads most require finesse in their operation. The Outlander 800, by contrast, leaps backwards in reverse with a loud thump from the transmission at the faintest touch on the thumb throttle.

Its operation is almost as jerky in low range but an educated right thumb can soon produce smooth, face-saving take-offs in high range.

There are racks fore and aft (this is a working quad, after all) but onboard storage is practically non-existent - only a little box under the rear rack. A similar hatch at the front serves only to protect the radiator overflow bottle and filler cap.

Marshmallow soft

The long, flat saddle is deep and marshmallow-soft, the ride surprisingly plush thanks to the trailing torsional independent suspension that uses two long, single-sided swing-arms to guide the rear wheels.

The fascia panel houses a speedometer, an hour meter and warning lights for 4x4, high beam, engine diagnostics and low fuel. The ignition key includes a immobiliser - an accurate copy will turn the lock but the vehicle won't run and it is next to impossible to hot-wire.

But this quad is all about its engine. It'll go up slopes too steep to walk on, in high range, on just a whiff of throttle; it's so strong in low range that its climbing is limited only by the traction of the big knobblies.

The Big Bomb will persuade a lot of sports quad riders to swop to utility quads; in many ways it is the Range Rover of ATVs.

Price: R80 000.

The Outlander 800 is available in a two-seater version, the Outlander 800 Max, for R88 000. An XT package is also available for either model at about R10 000 extra and adds:

  • ACT radial tyres with a tougher tread pattern.

  • Heavy-duty front and rear bumpers.

  • Hand guards.

  • A front-mounted 2500W Warn winch with handlebar controls.

  • Test quad from Waterworld, Cape town.

  • Bombardier Outlander 800 specifications