JOHN DEERE GATOR RSX850i VS. POLARIS RANGER XP 900
In the sport utility UTV world, the Polaris Ranger XP 900 and the John Deere Gator RSX850i are the newest challengers on the block. We took them on several aggressive and leisurely trail rides, as well as put them to work on the farm to see how well they perform.
In this issue, we have a huge UTV buyer’s guide featuring over 40 new UTVs in all the popular high-performance, recreational and sport utility categories. While the high-performance UTVs like the RZR XP 900, Wildcat and new Can-Am Maverick have been getting all the headlines lately, the sport utility side of things is still going strong. In fact, just last summer we tested two brand-new models in this category—the Polaris Ranger XP 900 and the John Deere Gator RSX850i. We define a sport utility UTV as having a dump bed for hauling and work chores, but still using a peppy engine and suspension strong enough to tackle rough terrain. Yamaha’s Rhino, the Can-Am Commander, Kawasaki Teryx and the Arctic Cat Prowlers also fall into this segment.
This month we gathered up the two newcomers—the Ranger XP 900 and John Deere’s high-performance Gator RSX—to see how they compare to each other. Like most sport utility tests, we took the two machines out on the farm and put them to work. When the chores were finished, we also took them on a few aggressive trail rides to get seat time, both as a driver and as a passenger. Here’s what we found out.
Along with great power output from this 900 engine, the machine stays quiet on the trails or worksite. Just lift the bed, and the engine is easy to service or clean. With all the engine weight so far back, we thought the front end would be light, but it stays very planted when climbing.
Both machines use powerful twin-cylinder engines. Polaris equipped the Ranger with an inline, two-cylinder powerplant from its sporty RZR XP 900. For this model, the power has been smoothed out and quieted down tremendously. The sheer horsepower and excitement was swapped out for stump-pulling torque and smooth drivability.
John Deere sourced this sporty Gator engine from the Italian engine maker Piaggio. The V-twin is clutched well for sport driving, and a low-range selector on the transmission will allow it to work like a tractor too. The only downside is that engine access under the center cowling takes a bit longer than most.
To provide power to the Gator, John Deere sourced an Italian engine from a company called Piaggio. Their powerplant is a V-twin setup that is very similar to a Rotax engine found in Can-Am products. Pretty much the only sport utility machine that has more power than these two is the Arctic Cat Prowler 1000. Take it from us, their 1000cc V-twin is better suited for the Wildcat than any sport UTV.
As for these two machines, their engines are very evenly matched. They both feature right around 60 horsepower, are fuel injected and quick. In a makeshift drag race, the Deere gets a slight jump off the line, only because the throttle-wire system Polaris uses has a slight delay when you go from idle to full throttle. It is so slight that you only notice it if you are drag racing.
If you have work to do with your UTV but still plan on hitting the trails too, the Ranger XP 900 and John Deere Gator should be considered. They are faster than the Kawasaki Teryx, Yamaha Rhino and Arctic Cat Prowler 700.
John Deere’s V-twin has seamless acceleration from a standstill. Its power will put you back in your seat. The Ranger has a much smoother power curve. However, in a straight-line contest, they run neck and neck. When top speeds are reached, the Gator hits the 55-mph speed limiter hard, and you have to back off the throttle a bit to keep the engine from sputtering. The smooth power of the Ranger tops out at an even 60 mph. There is no rev limiter here; the engine just stops gaining speed. In low range, things work the same on the Polaris. You could hold the throttle wide open and at 30 mph, the engine just stops going faster, and the revs stay low and comfortable. Again, the Polaris engine is extremely quite at all times. It has a huge muffler similar to what you would find on a Toyota pick-up. The Gator noise emissions are about average, if not on the loud side.
To slow things down, the Ranger has a smooth, progressive pedal controlling its four discs. They do a great job stopping the rig comfortably. On the Deere, the brakes are a bit firmer. All four discs lock up nicely, but it’s a little harder to manipulate the amount of brake pressure you want to give the tires. Another feature we didn’t like so much is that there is no gear indicator on the dash, so at night, you can’t tell what gear you have the machine in.
Four-wheel independent suspension is found on both machines. Travel numbers are an inch higher on the Polaris at both ends at 10 inches. However, the RSX850i has compression- and preload-adjustable Fox shocks on all four corners, so that sort of evens things out. The stock Polaris shocks are only preload adjustable.
On all corners, dual A-arms control movement. Both machines have new-style, angled (or trailing) A-arms in the rear similar to what the Can-Am Maverick uses. Like the Maverick, the Gator has toe adjusters at the front and rear ends. Polaris uses a stationary system out back, but they do equip this Ranger with dual, rear, top-shock mounts. This way if you know you are going to be carrying heavy loads exclusively, you can make the change for the best ride possible.
Speaking of ride quality, the Ranger takes the cake for having more plush suspension. Even with the compression dialed out of the Fox shocks on the Gator, slow-speed riding on choppy terrain is a bit more bumpy. John Deere makes up for things by having sporty bucket seats that do a better job keeping the rider in the correct seating position.
The Ranger has a full 10 inches of wheel travel at both ends and 12 inches of ground clearance underneath. This machine and the Gator use a trailing A-arm rear-suspension design. Can-Am’s new Maverick also uses this setup. On this Ranger, the suspension is ultra smooth.
We do like the bench seating on the Ranger for when you have an extra person to carry, or just for that extra elbow and legroom. In fact, the legroom in the Ranger is better than it is in any RZR. Polaris did an excellent job addressing our past complaints about the cockpit and made the control pedals easy to operate, and the tilt steering wheel feels much better than it does on older models.
The Gator features an inch less suspension travel than the Ranger. However, it has compression- and preload-adjustable Fox shocks on all four corners that outperform the stock Polaris shocks. They are a bit harsh at slow speeds, though.
Even when things get aggressive, the Ranger is tough to abuse. The power-steering system on our test unit completely illuminated feedback from the trail no matter how rough it was. You do have to rotate your hands a bit more on this machine, as the steering ratio is still fairly loose. However, the XP handles rocky, technical terrain as good as a Yamaha Rhino, and small whoops are no problem at all. If the whoops section gets too serious, the John Deere starts to fly past. It skips over the rollers as good as the original RZR, and that’s good. Weight balance is pretty neutral, so the Gator flies straight and lands just as good. The Green Machine also handles the technical stuff very well. It has a positive-locking front differential, which will help this machine climb over just about anything. But be careful, ground clearance is a couple inches lower than that of the Ranger, and we scraped the skid plate quite a bit more in the Gator.
This Ranger has the largest dump bed found on any UTV. It holds an incredible 1000 pounds. Four floor-mounted tie-down hooks as well as upper bedside hooks provide more than enough securing points for strapping any shaped load.
When it comes to getting chores done, the Ranger is the clear winner. It always has been. It has a huge rear dumping cargo box that Polaris claims will hold a 1000 pounds of whatever. Comparing that to John Deere’s recommended 400-pound capacity is like comparing apples to grapes. If you are going to use the dumping feature of either machine and approach the maximum limits, we suggest installing an electric bed lifter. They save a lot of backaches, and both manufacturers offers them.
The bed behind the cockpit of the Gator RSX can hold 400 pounds. Four floor-mounted tie-down hooks will help you secure that load. This bed is very light, which makes it easy to lift and dump.
An under-hood storage compartment is supplied on the Gator, as well as a locking glovebox.We wish the cup holders were moved from the dash area to in front of the shifter.
Other storage opportunities on the Gator are limited to a glovebox and a pair of cup holders. The entire Polaris dash area has pockets and shelves to store all manner of goods. Furthermore, lift up the passenger seat, and a medium-sized box can hold even more items.
To keep the occupants in the cabin, the point harnesses are used on both units, except for the center passenger of the Ranger; he gets a lap belt. The Ranger also has side netting, which is pretty sturdy. However, if we were using the Ranger for more sport-oriented driving, we would install doors like on the Gator.
The big Polaris Rangers have always had great storage opportunities. This machine has a good-sized compartment under the passenger seat and a bunch of shelves under the dashboard area.
Both manufacturers make things like air-filter access easy, and Polaris has dramatically improved access to the drivebelt and CVT cover on this unit for water drainage or quick changes if necessary. On the other hand, to remove the drivebelt on the Gator, you actually have to remove the driveshaft that goes to the front differential, so prepare yourself for this extra step.
In our long-distance rides, we got better fuel mileage out of the John Deere, but it has a smaller tank by over 2 gallons, so the driving range was about the same, at 150 miles between fill-ups, when driving at a quick pace.
Unfortunately picking a clear-cut winner between these two machines is going to be tough. In our testing, they both have proven to be strong as well as useful. For work chores or fun on the trails, there is very little from keeping these two machines from being called perfect. What is easy is deciding what machine we would use in certain situations.
If our priority was to hit the woods, dunes and deserts and drive aggressively, the Gator gets the vote. The seating position, strong motor and aggressive suspension suit this type of riding best. Work would have to be second priority, but like all John Deeres, this machine can get things done.
If we were using our money to buy a work, ranch or farm implement, but with the notion the vehicle would be used for off-road excitement as well, the Ranger XP 900 is the best machine on the market. There’s nothing better, or easier, to use on a day-to-day basis. And when you get out on the trails, this Ranger can handle almost any terrain you put in front of it.