WIDE OPEN: Does sway-bar disconnect belong on your UTV?
By Joe Kosch
UTVs are loaded with trick off-road technology that drivers of other machines would love to have. But now and then, we spot something cool on other vehicles that UTVs don’t have yet, like the electric sway-bar-disconnect mechanism on the new Ford Bronco. Not sure what a sway bar is or why you’d want to disconnect it? A sway bar is a torsion-bar-type spring that limits body roll or “sway” by linking the suspension on the front and/or rear wheels. Less sway is better for fast cornering, but not good in low-speed, rocky terrain where you want the suspension to articulate, or move freely independently.
Some owners remove the sway bars from their cars for rocky terrain and reinstall them for regular riding, but this manual disconnect and reconnect process takes more effort than most drivers want to do to tune their machine’s suspension. On the Ford Bronco, the sway bar consists of two halves that meet inside a hydraulic coupling mechanism that can be disconnected with a mode-select switch in the vehicle. The Ford unit can be disengaged in high four-wheel-drive and low four-wheel-drive modes, and it will automatically reconnect if your speed increases to the point where the bar is needed for safety. But, it doesn’t switch fully off at such times. Instead, it goes into standby mode and then waits to automatically disengage again when your speed drops below the threshold. That makes the feature about as dummy-proof as it can be. The Jeep Wrangler also has a dashboard-selectable sway bar-disconnect feature, but it can’t be engaged under load like the Bronco’s. That means you need to hit the switch with the vehicle stopped before you get into challenging rocks.
Dashboard-selectable sway-bar disconnect is a cool feature, but there are a few things that may keep UTV manufacturers from adopting it. This kind of feature will add cost to the vehicle, so manufacturers won’t add it until they’re sure users want it. Since the feature changes the way a vehicle handles, manufacturers also need drivers to know how to use it, or the system must be nearly automatic and idiot-proof like the Ford system. Engineering and the idiot-proofing add more cost to the feature. Many UTV buyers don’t seem to mind paying more for adjustable suspension and even more for dashboard-adjustable computer-controlled suspension, so the sway-bar-disconnect feature may not be too far off. Halo Lockers already has an aftermarket version for Polaris, so a production one is not far-fetched!