UTV TEST: 2021 POLARIS RZR XP 1000 TRAILS & ROCKS
A UTV born for the badlands By the staff of Dirt Wheels
Dirt Wheels hasn’t had the opportunity to test the RZR XP 1000 Trails & Rocks model since 2016. Since then we have seen that the model is a popular choice for serious trail hounds, including some of the Rally on the Rocks ride leaders. For 2021 the Trails & Rocks gets a full makeover with strong styling cues and LED lighting from the RZR Turbo S. In addition to the new profile, the machine is a lush Metallic Polaris Blue with color-matched suspension parts and beadlock rings. At the lower body line is what looks like a blue-grey body accent, but it is a body-hugging steel rock slider incorporated right into the styling. It doesn’t make the middle of the car appreciably wider, but offers great protection in a vulnerable location. In all, the redesign is a welcome and modern look for the proven warhorse.
There are a number of reasons that the RZR XP 1000 Trails & Rocks has such devotees. All too often, UTVs designated “trail” models have shorter travel, lower capability suspension and a narrower stance. None of those generalizations stand up with the Trails & Rocks. Polaris chose the willing and capable XP 1000 as a base with its smooth and drivable, 999cc, normally aspirated engine. This was Polaris’ best-selling sport platform for many years.
ITS OWN STANDARD
By contemporary standards, the XP 1000 has a short wheelbase that makes it ideal and nimble for tight trails, but it is the same length as the XP 1000 and even the RZR Turbo. It has the same 18 inches of rear-wheel travel and 16 inches in the front. It is indeed a sharply focused trail and rock weapon, but it doesn’t sacrifice suspension action, ride comfort or performance to achieve that focus.
After selecting the XP 1000, Polaris set about introducing desirable, extreme trail-specific traits. In 2016 this was one of the first UTVs to come stock with 30-inch tires. For 2021 the tires are Pro Armor Crawler XG tires that are the same 30×10-14 size on all four corners. Those tires are mounted on beadlock rims that allow running low tire pressure for traction without risking the tire debeading. Combining extremely arched A-arms with those 30-inch tires boost the ground clearance to 14.5 inches. For comparison, the Polaris single-seat RS1 has 13 inches of clearance.
One of our favorite features of the Trails & Rocks is a low range that is 55 percent lower than the normal XP 1000. We would welcome that ratio for the Turbo S with its 32-inch tires! That is a huge advantage for technical driving. The low-range ratio allows much greater throttle control for questionable traction. It also takes the load off the belt in slow-going.
MORE THAN LOW GEARING
Polaris didn’t rely on the low gearing alone. Polaris’ ProStar 1000 H.O. engine boasts 110 horsepower. It features dual overhead cams, electronic fuel injection and four valves per cylinder. It also features massive dual-bore 48mm throttle bodies and long-tip fuel injectors. Despite the high-performance pedigree, the 1000 H.O. (high output) engine is inherently controllable with no radical jumps or hiccups in the power delivery.
An all-new, low-speed throttle map gives you even more torque, enhanced control and responsiveness at low speeds when you need it most. Polaris has a true, on-demand all-wheel-drive system. In practice that means the front wheels don’t drive until the rears start to spin. As a result, the steering is always light and smooth during relaxed driving with no torque pull on the front wheels. When the rears slip a certain percentage, the fronts kick in smoothly. For the Trails & Rocks, the fronts engage sooner than on the standard XP 1000 with less rear-wheel slip required. Polaris calls that “Xtreme Performance AWD.”
Walker Evans needle shocks are still the suspension of choice for the Trails & Rocks. A large internal tapered shaft “needle” inside the shock closes off the free-bleed through the shock shaft as the shocks get deeper into the travel. That allows a light, reactive action in the initial stages of travel, but radically boosts control and bottoming resistance when deep in the travel.
In front are 2.0 units with 2.5 shocks in the rear. All have 16 usable compression adjustments. It is also easy to adjust the preload with no lock ring to knock loose. The ride over slow-speed rocks and chop is quite smooth. This is partially due to the shock internal settings, but is enhanced with the chassis tuning. For example, the Trails & Rocks has no front sway bar. That affects the stability of the machine a bit flicking back and forth with rapid direction changes that load the suspension. Conversely, at slower speeds and in conditions that don’t promote tossing the car around, the whole car has more active-suspension articulation. That allows it to absorb bumps that our RZR Turbo S (with exceptional comfort to the suspension) could not match at technical trail speeds.
This vehicle is more than just a low-speed crawler. When boulders are replaced with twisting terrain, the car remains nimble and ready to dance with you. When compared to other RZR models, though, the Trails & Rocks is a bit more prone to lifting the inside wheels when slammed into sand double-rut turns. When you have a UTV that is just begging for the most challenging routes, there is always the chance of needing some help. Help is always mounted right in front. A 4500-pound rated Polaris winch should provide plenty of help should you need it.
While most of the interior is standard XP 1000 fare, there are notable additions. The Trails & Rocks employs full half doors, a change we find welcome. In addition, the six-point Click-6 harness seat belts are unique. Instead of a fifth point that runs a strap between the legs to point in front of the seat, there are a waist belt and angled straps that secure the thighs to hold you securely in the seat base. There are belts for each shoulder, but unlike most harness-type seat belts, the shoulder belts are retractable. As long as you move slowly, the belts allow you to move your upper body freely to look for trail lines. Move quickly and they lock you in place. Very nice!
A final interior difference is the shifter, and it is one we wouldn’t mind seeing on all RZR models. It has park at the front with reverse, neutral, low and high as you pull the shifter back. Park requires a move to the side to engage it. If you are making multi-point turns, you don’t have to look at the shifter—just push all the way forward for reverse, then all the way back for forward high. Shifting feels smoother than a standard Polaris shifter as well.
Our test car was new but had enough miles on it to be broken in. It is owned by powersports industry veteran Steve Norr. Before he took delivery of the machine, he added a roof, mirrors, a half windshield and a spare tire rack with a fifth stock beadlock wheel and tire on it. In addition, he wisely carries a complete tool pack that includes a jack in addition to other vital tools and equipment. The added weight on the rear left the rear-shock tender springs fully compressed, but the car still handled fine and had a comfortable ride.
We tested on a 90-mile desert loop that had your usual terrain conditions, ranging from dry and dusty fire roads to challenging rock formations with a few twisty sand washes in between. Hitting the trail, we immediately noticed the car has great ride quality. It is very smooth over small chop and bumps. On this particular trip, there weren’t too many regular “whoops” to deal with. Thanks to no whoops and the fact that this car had fixed (not electrically adjustable) suspension compression settings, we felt no need to change anything. No doubt some spring changes would make up for the weight of the tools and spare over the rear, but, again, no real complaints. In low-speed situations, the machine felt well-planted and conformed nicely to the terrain at hand. In particular, while picking through large rocks, the action was better than any of the cars on the trip. In many cases we found that the 64-inch width was an advantage to picking smooth lines.
In higher-speed situations, the car wasn’t as stable, especially in the corners, as other cars in the group that have both front and rear sway bars. We were exclusively on designated trails that see a lot of use, so many of the turns have a double rut. Pushing hard into those turns we felt more body roll, thanks probably to the soft shock settings and lack of a front sway bar.
The 999cc non-turbo motor had plenty of user-friendly power that was easy to modulate. The bottom-end response was smooth and predictable, and had no “lag” that can be found in turbocharged applications. The machine started instantly hot or cold and immediately settles into a smooth idle. Even though it was a cool day, the machine ran nice and cool, even in the slow, no-speed sections where there is no airflow over the radiator. It is amazing how well these modern powerplants run! We put a good 90 miles on this one trip, and it still had a good reserve of fuel left.
ENTERING THE FUN ZONE
We encountered two very fun rock-crawling sections, and this rig performed admirably! It traversed these sections easily and made us look like we actually knew what we were doing. We easily and gratefully noticed the extra-low gear ratio of low range. We wish other RZR models had this low of a ratio! Going down one of the steep rock sections in low required little to no brakes, being in full control of any directional changes we wanted to input. In high range, the machine had plenty of speed with good “shifting” and throttle response at any rpm.
Polaris took the XP 1000 that we love and respect and gave it an entire trail arsenal, including armor for the rocks it would be drawn, too. There is a great low-range ratio, the doors we want, and truly cool shifter and shift pattern. None of the changes is simply amazing by itself, but the sum of the parts adds up to an amazing UTV we’d be happy to pilot anywhere and any time.
2021 POLARIS RZR XP 1000 TRAILS & ROCKS
Engine type ProStar 1000 H.O., 4-stroke, DOHC twin cylinder
Bore x stroke 93 mm x 73.5 mm
Fuel system Electronic fuel injection
Fuel capacity 9.5 gal.
Starting system Electric
Final drive Shaft
Front Dual A-arm with 2.0 Walker Evans shocks/16” travel
Rear Trailing arm with stabilizer bar and Walker Evans 2.5 shocks/18” travel
Front 30×10-14 Pro Armor Crawler XG Rear 30×10-14 Pro Armor Crawler XG
Wheels Cast aluminum with beadlock
Brakes 4-wheel hydraulic disc with dual-bore front and dual-bore rear calipers
Ground clearance 14.5”
Payload capacity 300 lb.
Towing capacity N/A
Dry weight 1,573 lb.
Colors Polaris Blue
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