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2×4 vs 4×4 ATVs – Buyer’s Guide

If you’re in the market for an ATV, there are some things you should know. The right vehicle for you depends on how you’re going to use it and how often. 

You’ll need to factor in your weight, riding style, and riding conditions to pick something that will have adequate power and traction to find your best fit.

sport atv

Some people can get away with a 2×4 and some definitely need a 4×4 depending on use. Which leads us to our first point.

Do I need a 2x4 or 4x4 ATV?

If you’re on a tight budget the 2×4 is the obvious choice, but it might not be worth it in the first place depending on the terrain you’re riding in. If you’re going to be crossing logs, ditches or trying to climb up steep hills a 4×4 is going to serve you better. Hauling a lot of weight on your back after a hunt or for cargo? Well, that’s going to make it more likely that you’ll get stuck if you come to any difficult areas. So having a friend with a winch isn’t a bad idea if you settle on a 2×4. If you’re a bigger guy, it’s probably best to go for a 4×4 at 500ccs or above. That guesstimate is based on a 200lb male. A 2×4 is fine in light to moderate conditions with the right tires. The decision really depends on how you feel you’ll use your ATV. Driver skill also can make a 2×4 do things it shouldn’t be able to. Trying to go fast? Then a 2×4 is a safe bet, it won’t have the same utility but the solid rear axle will help it get some serious speed compared to even the biggest, brawniest 4×4. Do you prefer manual or automatic? Most 2x4s will be manual and most 4x4s will be automatic. Nowadays most people prefer 4x4s because of the all around utility, and sport ATVs have fallen in popularity over the past decade. A phrase my buddy uses sums it up, “If it’s light a 2×4 is alright, if it’s rough 4×4 is tough.” 4×4 are better for offroad terrain because: Independent suspension on all 4 wheels, the suspension will give you a “softer” ride.  2x4s: fast as heck on level ground, but will have stiffer suspension.

What is a sport ATV?

An ATV that is made for speed and is able to carve corners with ease. Want to do some wheelies? You won’t be able to that on a 4×4 but you will on a sport. They also tend to handle very well relative to their brotherly rivals, especially at higher speed. 

Sport ATVs are much lighter in weight than their utility minded counterparts! A big thing to keep in mind.

Differences between Utility and Sport ATVs

Similar to the 2×4 vs 4×4 debate, a sport ATV tends to be a 2×4 that will tear it up on level ground leaving a 4×4 in the dust. While the utility ATV will leave the sport atv wishing it had more oompf when there’s an obstacle in their path.

  • Sport ATVs are not as comfortable to ride as 4wds
  • Sport ATVs won’t have as many attachment options. Looking to use your ATV as a snowplow? Not gonna happen with a 2wd. 

There is a happy middle ground, some ATVs have the ability to switch between both drives – but they are more expensive. 

What's a good sport ATV model?

See if you can pick up a used Honda 400 ex model. These were made from 1999-2009 and you can find them for a pretty good deal if you have enough patience to scour craigslist. 

The top speed of a 400ex is going to be in the 60s without modifications.

Things to look for when buying a used ATV

It’s similar to buying a car, you’ll want to follow a few solid rules.

  • Maintenance history – if they don’t have it or if it gets brushed off that’s a red flag.
  • A title in hand. If they have a bill of sale instead. Some ATVs are stolen, so be careful.
  • Check the tread on the tires and if they have any play. Something I’ve found is that if one thing is neglected in a vehicle – several more things are also probably neglected. I go by the rule “how you do anything is how you do everything” when I’m looking to buy. 
  • Fluid levels. Check the oil, the brakes, or anything that would indicate an oil leak after you start it up. 
  • Make sure the engine is cold before you get there. Sellers often have engines warm before a buyer shows up to hide problems. MAKE SURE it’s cold – if there’s one thing you do, make it this. Request for it to be cold before you get there and then check once you do. 
  • Test drive it thoroughly – listen for anything that sounds off and when you come to any obstacles try to pay attention to anything that would raise your eyebrows.

If you follow those general guidelines which were learned through much trial and error(bad memories), then you’re in pretty good shape for buying a nice used ATV. Never fall in love with a listing, I’ve shown up to check something out to uncover damage that the seller purposely was deceiving about. 

The emotional part of my brain tried to shrug it off and that’s not a good idea. Just make sure you look at something with a logical view. If you feel iffy on it, trust your gut. 


I'm the owner of Beast Auto. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I love anything automotive related, and taking road trips all across my beautiful state.