By Joe Kosch
One of the things I like best about UTVs is their basic nature. You’ve got the engine, wheels, suspension and steering, and not too much else; no intrusive traction control, automatic braking or other systems to do the driving for you. Seeing how your skills and a fairly simple vehicle do against the challenges that off-road terrain presents is always entertaining, sometimes more entertaining than expected. The latest UTVs are capable of climbing hills and handling speeds on rugged ground that make them seem invincible, which gets drivers thinking they’re invincible, too. Finding the limits of your machine, the terrain and your skills isn’t just fun, it’s an education.
As much as I like the bare-bones nature of the machines we drive, I’m completely in favor of the trend towards more common-sense convenience and safety features becoming standard equipment. I’m a big fan of doors, especially the ones that open and shut easily, and stay shut when you want them to. Doors used to be an expensive extra cost option. Now, good doors are common on all but the entry-level models from most manufacturers. To me, nets always seemed like they did a better job of keeping you from getting in a vehicle than falling out. There may be some appeal to driving a machine without doors, but I haven’t found it. When I’m in ugly terrain and my sense of invincibility is challenged, I think of doors like a helmet for my body. Protection just lets me enjoy UTVing more.
I’m also glad to see instrumentation go from almost nothing to great. UTVing was still fun without speedometers and gas-tank-mounted fuel gauges where you had to climb out of the vehicle to check, but information adds to the fun. It’s neat to glance at the dash and find you’re going a couple mph faster than before, or that you’ve got enough gas to extend your ride. The clean, classic analog gauges on some high-end UTVs like Polaris Generals and many RZRs are excellent, and some machines like the Yamaha YXZ combine analog instruments with graphic displays. The better graphic displays like the ones in Can-Am X3 Turbo RRs are great, too. Easy-to-use navigation on Polaris and Yamaha UTVs does so much and is so simple to use, it turned a technophobe like me into a fan. As much as I like having a speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, tachometer, coolant temperature, volt meter, hour meter, service reminder, clock, gear indicator, fuel gauge, seatbelt reminder, compass, elevation, latitude/longitude, route recording & display, fault code display, Bluetooth connectivity and USB port, it’s just as cool that Polaris doesn’t make you pay for the sophisticated display on every model. As it turns out, basic Polaris instrumentation is very detailed, so you won’t miss out on any really essential info if you don’t have the fancy display.
Another area where I’m glad to see progress is reduced noise, vibration and harshness. I like simple vehicles, but it’s hard to enjoy driving something that sounds like a gas-powered cement saw. Some noises I definitely like to hear, like some intake and exhaust growl, but I don’t miss the driveline clatter, transmission whine and engine noise lots of early UTVs used to have. It’s good to see refinement come to UTVs, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect even more refinement from vehicles with car-like prices. Some UTVs, like the Kawasaki KRX 1000, have pretty slick shift levers, but some are just okay. If the transmission-range selector in your economy car worked like some in UTVs, you’d want to have it repaired.
I don’t feel spoiled driving UTVs with basic conveniences like doors, instrumentation and a good level of refinement, but it’s hard not to feel pampered in the high-end, factory-customized models many manufacturers offer. Machines like Yamaha’s RMAX 1000 SE, the Polaris General XP 1000 Factory Custom Edition, and others have the winch, roof, wheels, navigation, and interior lighting many serious enthusiasts seek out and bolt on eventually. Some even offer the convenience of suspension adjustable from the dash. There’s a lot of satisfaction in starting with your favorite base model, building a machine to suit your needs and style with accessories and aftermarket parts, and going out and enjoying it, but I see the fun and practicality of picking a factory-equipped machine and being able to go straight from the dealer to the trail. Fortunately, the huge variety of machines in UTV manufacturer’s lineups let you spoil yourself to any level you want.