Home » The 225 Horsepower 2023 Polaris RZR Pro R Is A No-Holds-Barred 4X4 Thrill Machine

The 225 Horsepower 2023 Polaris RZR Pro R Is A No-Holds-Barred 4X4 Thrill Machine

Review Razor Rzr Ts
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Every year, thrill-seeking Americans jump out of perfectly good aircraft, strap themselves into rollercoasters, and straddle motorcycles all to quench a thirst for greater speed, more fun, and heart-pounding adventure. Some choose to go off-road in a 4×4, which offers plenty of a rush on its own. However, there is a thrill out there even greater than launching a Ford Bronco off of a jump. The Polaris RZR Pro R is simultaneously so capable and so powerful that even as you send it through desert sand dunes, the machine seemingly has a bottomless well of speed still in reserve. It adds up to an experience so intense that running dunes might be one of the most fun things you’ll do without leaving the ground.

Back in late October, I got to try out the 2023 Polaris RZR Pro R in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in Glamis, California. While I’m no stranger to riding in sand, Glamis was a new experience for me. This was a place where horsepower was king and where trusting in your machine was crucial. The dunes were imposing, and to some, it might be hard to believe you could get a vehicle over them in such a graceful manner that it looked like performance art. High-end side-by-sides, such as a Can-Am Maverick R or the Polaris RZR Pro R I tested, are like a Konami code for high-performance off-roading – but whether it’s this Polaris or Contra, that cheat’s not a bad thing.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Full Disclosure: Polaris invited me to Camp RZR to take part in a massive celebration to kick off the dune season and get behind the wheel of the bramd’s capable side-by-sides. Polaris paid for my travel, provided food, booze, and housed me in a comfy air-conditioned travel trailer for the weekend.

Mercedes Streeter

“Why would you buy that when you could get a Bronco or a Jeep?” That’s something I often hear in conversations about side-by-sides. I can see where those people are coming from; a side-by-side can be as expensive as a road-legal off-roader, but you can’t take it on a road trip. So, why not get a Bronco and call it a day?

After driving both a Bronco and the RZR, and having driven each at full tilt and full send, I can say the RZR delivers exhilaration that the Bronco can’t. That’s not to say the Bronco isn’t fun. The reader who joined me at Detroit 4Fest can report that I cackled as Ford’s brutish SUV caught airtime over and over again. What makes side-by-sides like the RZR so compelling is that, as specialized vehicles, they do everything the Bronco can off-road, but even faster.

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A History Lesson

The history of Polaris side-by-sides, or Utility Task Vehicles (UTV), is a fascinating one. As UTV Driver writes, the effort from Polaris started in the mid-1990s when company co-founder Edgar Hetteen began exploring the idea of an ATV with side-by-side seating. That way, Hetteen could ride with his wife right by his side.

At the time, Polaris was perhaps known best for its innovative snowmobiles, which have their own rich history dating back to 1954. The company had other products during this era as well, including personal watercraft and the Sportsman ATVs used for ranching and off-road recreation.

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Polaris

When it came to Hetteen’s desires, he began conversations with Mitchell Johnson, the son of other Polaris co-founder David Johnson. Out of these talks came an idea for a new kind of ATV. Hetteen would get his wishes with an ATV that you get inside like a car, rather than ride on like a typical ATV. Controls would also be car-like, with a steering wheel controlling direction. The Ranger 6×6 was born.

It should be noted that it is argued that Polaris did not invent the side-by-side. The credit of “first” is sometimes given to the Lockley Wrangler, which launched in 1970. Even Kawasaki beat Polaris with the release of the Mule in 1988. However, those older vehicles were known more for their utility and construction site practicality, not their power or off-road prowess. Polaris, on the other hand, focused on off-road capability and performance. The first-generation Ranger was a 6×6, a configuration that classified the Ranger as an off-road vehicle, shortcutting the 25 mph speed limit placed on vehicles such as mini trucks and golf carts.

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Polaris

The Ranger turned out to be a hit for Polaris, and as time marched forward, the company noticed that people raced their Rangers. Seeing a new market reveal itself, Polaris leaned in on the performance, off-roading, and recreational aspects of UTV driving. Again, while UTV history can get fuzzy, most side-by-sides back then were largely for work. Even the Ranger was still geared toward work.

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For its next project, Polaris decided to make a UTV where play was at the forefront. To do that, Polaris shrunk the body down to a more trail-friendly 50 inches in width. The large cargo tray was lost in this process, as was one of the axles. A lower center of gravity was established by taking the engine and transmission, which were located under the seats, and moving them to the back. Also gone was the bench seat commonly found in utility UTVs, replaced with buckets.

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Polaris

Add enough power for a 55 mph top speed, and the ingredients for the modern performance side-by-side were all there. Even better was the fact that the RZR still had a small bed with a 300-pound payload limit and a 1,500-pound towing capacity, so it could still do some work.

The kicker was the price. The original 2008 Ranger RZR was reportedly slightly cheaper than the utility Ranger. So, buyers wanting to have more fun than work didn’t have to pay more for it.

The Polaris RZR Pro R

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Mercedes Streeter

We’re now nearing 16 years since the first RZR, and Polaris has only cranked up the power, capability, and thrills from there. Nowadays, you won’t see the Ranger brand slapped onto the RZR model, as the RZR is its own thing. Polaris has an entire line of RZRs that are designed around the type of riding you want to do. The compact RZR Trail is built for navigating tight environments while the RZR XP handles a variety of terrain.

Finally, we land on the RZR Turbo R and Pro R “Wide Open” machines, which are built to do the kinds of full sends you might want to do in desert sand dunes.

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Polaris announced the RZR Turbo R and RZR Pro R in 2021, and the machines were dubbed as the fastest, most capable, most powerful, and strongest side-by-sides to ever come from the brand. Those words aren’t fluff, either. The Pro R gets its 1,997cc inline-four engine from the Polaris Slingshot. Here, the ProStar Fury engine is making 225 HP. That power comes on at a lofty 8,250 RPM, so you have to wring it out to get that power. It’s a machine that tells you to go harder.

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Mercedes Streeter

And hard is something the RZR Pro R does well. At its launch, the RZR Pro R was the most powerful production side-by-side out there and its claims were backed up with data. When UTV Driver hooked one up to a datalogger, the Pro R reached a top speed of 90 mph and hit 60 mph in 5.11 seconds. Mind you, that’s 5.11 seconds to 60 mph without a rollout. That’s sports car levels of speed but in an off-road recreational vehicle. Apparently, the Pro R launches so hard that it pulls .94 G in doing so. I felt it and I believe it.

Nowadays, the RZR Pro R has been bested in the speed department by the frankly ridiculous Can-Am Maverick R. The Canadians managed to build a side-by-side with 240 HP and a top speed of about 10 mph faster than the Polaris. Honestly, I love the fact that the same kind of speed wars that dominate the car industry can also be found in UTVs. This just goes to show how intense these vehicles have become. You can buy side-by-sides that make more power than some cars do! What’s impressive is that, unlike Can-Am, Polaris makes tons of power without turbocharging. The RZR Pro R has 225 HP of naturally aspirated fury.

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Mercedes Streeter

The RZR Pro R also isn’t just all power. The side-by-side rides on a dual A-arm front suspension with a three-piece stabilizer bar. In the rear, you get a boxed trailing arm, radius rods, and a three-piece stabilizer bar. What’s important to know about the RZR Pro R’s suspension is the unit’s usage of FOX 3.0 Live Valve X2 Internal Bypass shocks. These are paired with the Polaris Dynamix DV active suspension program. I’ll let FOX explain how it works:

This semi-active suspension system gathers real-time data from accelerating, braking, steering, and inertial sensors every few thousandths of a second. It then electronically adjusts compression and rebound damping in each of the four 3.0 Live Valve X2 shocks.

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Mercedes Streeter

In some shocks there’s a dependency between compression and rebound adjustments. When the oil flows back and forth between the body and the reservoir, it moves through the same path. This means any adjustment to one technically affects the other.

But Live Valve X2 shocks are independent. Oil flows through one adjuster during compression and a second adjuster during rebound.

FOX explains that the benefits of its Live Valve shocks and the side-by-side’s Dynamix DV system is that each shock has adjustable compression and rebound damping on the fly. For example, if you take a hard right turn, compression damping increases on the outside shocks, reducing roll. Rebound damping then decreases in an effort to help maintain traction. The Dynamix DV system will then tell the shocks on the inside to do the opposite of what the outside shocks are doing.

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Mercedes Streeter

These FOX shocks can prepare your side-by-side for landing after you launch off of a jump, help absorb the landing, and return back to a normal state for your situation after the jump is complete. The suspension is also tied to driving modes – here’s how Polaris describes the system:

DYNAMIX DV Active Suspension offers four drive modes:

– Comfort Mode: Features low compression and rebound damping for smooth, consistent performance. The power steering calibration is designed to minimize feedback, working with the suspension to deliver a comfortable, effortless drive.
– Baja Mode: Features high compression damping and low rebound damping. This creates a high dynamic ride height maintaining stability. The power steering calibration has been specifically design to eliminate bump steer and deliver response and feel through high speed desert terrain.
– Track Mode: Features medium compression damping and high rebound damping. This ride mode optimizes the center of gravity for hard charging trails, with planted and confident handling. The racer inspired power steering calibration delivers superior feel to make the driver feel part of the machine.
– Rock Mode: Features the industry’s first angle management system (AMS). The AMS uses DYNAMIX to lean the vehicle into the slope maintaining stability when crawling through rocky terrain. Paired with the AMS, the power steering is designed for minimal steering effort allowing for smooth control on the biggest rock trails.

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Polaris

In addition to this suspension system, the RZR Pro has 16 inches of ground clearance, 29 inches of usable travel in the rear, and 27 inches of usable wheel travel up front. In this case “usable” is defined as wheel travel with the machine at full droop and to the skid plate. All of this rides on chunky 32-inch tires.

The platform is backed up by a competent part-time four-wheel-drive system. In 2WD mode, you have a locked rear differential. Then you have 4WD with an open front diff and 4WD locked. On the technology front, you get a 7-inch display that works through gloves. Polaris RideCommand+ runs through the screen, which gives you everything from your sound system to GPS, a group ride function, messaging, radio, and more. If you’ve ridden an Indian motorcycle, you’ve seen something very similar to this RideCommand+. Tunes are punched out of a six-speaker Rockford Fosgate system featuring two tweeters, two front speakers, two rear speakers, and a 400W Amp.

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Mercedes Streeter

In terms of dimensions, you’re looking at 165.5 inches for the four-seat model and 136.5 inches for the two-seater. The two-place unit weighs 2,144 pounds dry while the four-place RZR comes in at 2,480 pounds. Keep this in mind when selecting trailers to tow the rig.

Special to the machines I drove that weekend was a FluidLogic system, which delivers both metered and on-demand active hydration straight to your helmet.

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Mercedes Streeter

The big deal about FluidLogic is that it dispenses small shots of water automatically, so you can focus on driving and not keeping hydrated. FluidLogic is not something that comes standard on your RZR Pro R. Instead, it’s a $979.99 aftermarket piece that you could add to any vehicle of your choice.

Roaring Through The Dunes

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Polaris – Do you see me standing back there in the helmet?

So, we’ve talked about specs and features, but how does all of this work as an entire vehicle? In short, it’s an intoxicating experience. As many of our readers know, I love to dabble in operating all sorts of vehicles. I’ve driven a diesel-electric locomotive, I occasionally fly a Cessna, and I’ve had the privilege of driving both powerful supercars and quite possibly the dumbest, yet best pickup truck your hard-earned money can buy today.

While the Polaris RZR Pro R is not the absolute most fun I’ve had in a vehicle, it ranks high on the list.

My time with the RZR Pro R started with simply getting into the thing. As I learned with the Honda Talon, some side-by-sides don’t seem to be designed with a variety of driver sizes in mind. The Talon was a cramped ride even for short people, which is almost impressive in itself. On the other end of the spectrum is Can-Am. At least for my bigger body type and shape, I fit in a Can-Am like I would a Cadillac.

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Mercedes Streeter

To keep with the car analogy, the Polaris RZR Pro R is something more of a sports car. The fitment is leagues better than the Honda, but a little tight in fitment if you’re tall or bigger. My personal preference is toward tons of space, but I felt comfortable enough behind the wheel for a day of fun. You might have some trouble squeezing through the narrow door openings, but I think most people should fit fine in there. One benefit offered by Polaris is a telescoping and tilting steering wheel, which helps you find a comfortable spot.

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Once you’re strapped in, operating the Pro R feels a bit like running through a pre-flight checklist in a Cessna 172. There are big switches and buttons that you’re meant to be able to push while wearing gloves. Switches make a satisfying clunk and, perhaps unexpectedly, you start the machine with a key instead of a start button.

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Mercedes Streeter

Once you start that four-cylinder behind your ears the fun begins quickly after. Getting the RZR into gear involves moving the car-like shifter into position, and then taking off. Be sure to set your music, too, because the Rockford Fosgate sound system will play your tunes loud and clear, even when you have the engine pinned at redline.

I’m used to high-power side-by-sides having a turbo spooling behind my head. In my experience, a turbocharged ‘side sometimes gives you a bit of a kick when that metal snail spools up. If you like turbos, it’s a giggle of a time. The naturally aspirated units of the RZR Pro R are interesting in their own way with their almost car-like power delivery.

However, as I said, you basically have to ride the engine’s 8,500 RPM redline to get your 225 HP. If you aren’t on the throttle and the revs aren’t high, you’ll find there isn’t much power on the low end. Punch it.

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Polaris

The engine is connected to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission, but you knew that). Like all CVT-equipped side-by-sides, I find low-speed operations to be sort of weird. You’ll be moving perhaps 20 mph while that engine is running at a far higher RPM than it needs to be. At speed, a CVT is a sort of “point and click” experience. You just point the machine in a direction, punch the throttle, and off you go. It works just fine, but doesn’t really add to the joy of driving. By comparison, the Honda’s DCT system in the Talon 1000R adds a bit more action to the drive and even some paddle shifting, which adds to an overall experience of side-by-sides making you feel like a superhero.

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However, the Polaris RZR Pro R’s 225 HP, which is more than double that you get in the Honda, makes you forget about CVTs, and quickly. It’s remarkable how much power the engine has in reserve.

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Polaris

Before going out into the dunes, we received a quick crash course in dune driving. Typically, when you drive in something like a forest, you aren’t trying to break the speed of sound. Instead, slow and steady is the winning combination. Slow is practically a derogatory term out in the dunes. If you go too slow, your machine can dig in and get you stuck. If you go too slow, you might not make it up a dune. Play your cards really wrong and you can roll.

So, you want to become familiar with the far end of your machine’s pedal travel. You also want to trust that your machine is capable of making it to the top of that sandy dune, and the application of power will help you get there. When you weld your right foot into the floorboard of the RZR Pro R, the engine screams as you ascend a dune with ease. The Pro R showed no fear of any sand as I pointed the machine where I wanted it to go. Finally, those full sends that break my cars out east weren’t just good out here, but practically required.

With Great Power …

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Polaris

As I said in my first piece on driving the RZR, think of dunes like you’re driving on steep, icy hills without studded tires. You don’t want to lose momentum because if you do, you’re either getting stuck or turning around and trying again. I feel like my riding notes are worth repeating here:

Our morning dune run started easy enough with some small dunes to practice in, but as our group weaved through the sands, the dunes became larger, the climbs steeper, and the stakes higher. If you didn’t have your foot down, you weren’t going to make it. I saw each dune as a challenge. At the bottom of a dune, I punched the throttle, watched as my RZR pointed at the sky, and committed. The four-cylinder behind me wailed as the CVT ran up to speed and the tires dug in. As all of this happens, it feels as if my heart is running at a beat matching the maxed-out tachometer. I thought about drinking a Red Bull that morning, but it turned out I just needed some octane to get me firing.

The incredible part about riding the dunes isn’t just getting to lay into a throttle pedal and letting your inner rally driver out. Ok, that part is incredible. But, the whole sequence feels like you’re riding a rollercoaster. As you enter the bottom of a dune, you feel your body sink into the seat. Then, like a coaster with a launch system instead of a lift hill, you get pinned back when you give it everything for the climb. At the top of a dune, you get to look at what’s ahead, just before you feel weightless, just for a moment, and glide your way around a bowl.

Polaris

Unlike a rollercoaster, you can do this for as long as your rig has fuel in it. The fun lasts for as long as you want it to. Even better is the fact that dunes feel somewhat softer than dirt. So, you aren’t getting bruised and beaten in your vehicle as you might trying to race through a trail.

Something I didn’t note there was just how much power was behind my helmet. When I was storming through the dunes, the engine wasn’t even giving me everything it had. There was always more power in store in case I needed it. Sometimes, I did. Every once in a while I took a line I probably shouldn’t have, which began a process that could have led to me getting stuck or falling down the wrong path. I got out of these situations with more power. It was like lighting an afterburner.

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Mercedes Streeter

This power was helped along by the chassis. I let the Dynamix DV do its thing in the background and it seemed to do its job. On the dunes, the RZR Pro R gave me confidence that I could go where I wanted to. However, I think the suspension really showed its work when I took the Pro R off of jumps and tried my hand at sand drifts. The machine landed the jumps with grace and without tickling my back as getting airborne sometimes does. Sure enough, when I sent the RZR Pro R through some hard turns, I also noticed limited roll. I noticed similar behavior like this with the Honda Talon. Of course, in this case, the FOX shocks were dealing with a lot more power and shenanigans.

Because of the capable platform and because of loads of power, driving the RZR Pro R does require some skill. I would not recommend having a Pro R as your first side-by-side. This thing is the UTV equivalent of buying a Suzuki Hayabusa as your first motorcycle. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can cause chaos from behind the wheel. Even if you do have experience, the RZR Pro R is so good at its job it might have more power and capability than you have skill. But that’s fine, it’s part of the fun.

Sadly, I didn’t get to try out the sorts of trails I see out where I live. However, other reviews suggest that the Polaris RZR Pro R is just as beastly in a forest as it is racing up Oldsmobile Hill in Glamis.

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Big Money

While I’m on the subject, Oldsmobile Hill is a ridiculously fun place in Glamis. It’s a giant hill where you’ll see entire lines of side-by-sides, dirt bikes, trucks, SUVs, sand rails, and more all challenging the steep grade. Spend enough time at Oldsmobile Hill and you’ll notice which vehicles are best at making the climb. The Jeeps, trucks, and Broncos just can’t do the hill with the alacrity of the side-by-sides. The trucks also can’t really whip around the bowl at the top like the side-by-sides and dirt bikes can.

So, there’s my answer to people who ask why other people buy side-by-sides, your truck may be able to be a daily driver, but it’s hard to beat what these machines can do.

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Mercedes Streeter

Unfortunately, side-by-sides are still quite expensive. The 2024 Polaris RZR Pro R starts at $37,499, or $41,699 for a four-seater. That gets you a Premium trim level with the same engine, the same aluminum roof, and a 7-inch display. However, you don’t get the active suspension system. Instead, you get Walker Evans shocks with 16 positions of adjustment.

If you want a telescoping wheel, Dynamix DV, Fox Live Valve shocks, and upgraded Rockford Fosgate speakers, you’ll have to spring for the Ultimate, which stickers for $40,999 or $44,999 if you want it with four seats. Keep in mind that these are just the starting prices. As I noticed out in Glamis, people love to customize their side-by-sides. Accessories add cost quickly. Say you want beadlock wheels with tires, those will cost $1,879. Maybe you want a 6,000-pound winch? That’s $1,049. Do you want the best Rockford Fosgate system that’s available, with its 12-inch 400W subwoofer and stainless steel speakers? That’s $1,699. Those prices aren’t even counting the perhaps endless aftermarket upgrades out there from wraps, wheels, interiors, lights, and so much more.

Of course, since a side-by-side isn’t a road-legal vehicle in many places, you’ll need a trailer and a place to store your machine. That adds even more cost.

Verdict

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Polaris

The Polaris RZR Pro R is a machine with the power and the capability to take you further than maybe even you think you could go. That engine delivers effortless, seemingly endless power and you’ll have so much fun in it that it should quench both a need for speed and a need for thrill. The RZR Pro R was a highlight of my time in Glamis, bested only by a ride in a Blackhawk helicopter and chilling at camp with new friends.

I must admit, I still haven’t warmed up to the pricing of side-by-sides. To be fair to Polaris, all of the high-end ones command a pretty penny. The engineering of these machines is also really neat. They can take a beating and take those hits repeatedly at preposterous speeds. But, $37,499 to $44,999 is still a lot of cash, very nearly the average price of a car sold in America. Perhaps it’s best to square up a purchase like this by comparing it to other playthings. People spend tons of money on boats that may never leave a small lake.

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What the Polaris RZR Pro R excels best in is making a day of off-roading look like an art performance. You’ll glide across dunes, leap small bounds, carve sandy bowls, and can do it all with something that might resemble grace. The magic of the machine is making intense maneuvers seem so easy and so within reach. One thing I’d love to see is more experimentation with transmissions. CVTs work, but you can milk even more glee out of these things. Still, if you’re the kind of person who buys side-by-sides, the RZR Pro R won’t disappoint.

Dare I say it, if you can’t have fun in one of these you may need to see a doctor.

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Duane Cannon
Duane Cannon
3 months ago

I hear/see these things droning around on the Oregon dunes and in our mountains. They tear up the mountain roads, so more roads are gated. I’d expect a proper 6 speed and clutch would be so much more fun, but that would eliminate half the buyers. Stomp on the gas and go like an old go-kart. The backwards hat and bro-truck crowd seem to be the target consumer.

Raptor
Raptor
3 months ago

These are fun. I have rented SxSs in Moab twice and in Ouray once, and they are a blast. Obstacles that would make me nervous in my xTerra I can take at 25 mph in a SxS, and volleyball-sized rocks are just minor speed bumps. However…. I don’t particularly like how accessible SxSs have made formerly rural, difficult to access, and/or rugged terrain. It used to be that the difficult terrain filtered out all but the most dedicated folks in 4x4s or dirtbikes. Now, you have 53 year old accountants in loud SxSs clogging up the trails, and it has ruined some of the experience for me because many of my favorite places have become crowded. Still, its a free country

Last edited 3 months ago by Raptor
Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
3 months ago

I really wish these were street legal in Oregon!

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago

Obligatory fuck these things and their irresponsible owners

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

You look amazing! Love what you’ve done with your hair.

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
3 months ago

So how does this Polaris fit into off road usage where ROHVA rules are enforced, ie 1000 cc max engine? Seems that’s why most other UTVs are turbos.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

 It adds up to an experience so intense that running dunes might be one of the most fun things you’ll do without leaving the ground.” If you are running dunes and not leaving the ground, you are doing it wrong.

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  JDE

You are not wrong. You just cannot understand the sense of speed with these things without driving one. Even on sand you get stupid acceleration and while I got mine up to 70 in a straight line you really have trouble seeing the tops of shallow dunes at that speed and that increases the pucker-factor to at least 8.5 on the Clenchworth Scale. I was picking my underpants out for an hour afterwards. In a good way.

John Galt
John Galt
3 months ago

As long as they stay in the sand…fine. Let the rich have their fun.

On dirt and 4 x 4 roads these things need to be banned. The idiots driving them don’t even think about how tearing around at 40 mph on a one lane road with minimal visibility could possibly be dangerous. Not to mention that they spin all the gravel fill out of dirt roads so everyone else is left with rutted, washboard hell. I’ve seen this happen in mountain roads from Colorado to Arizona. Roads that took me to job sites in half an hour now take multiple hours due to the ruts created by idiots in side by sides that cost more than my Ranger did new.

Fuck side by sides. They are toys for the rich that damage good roads and create hazards for other road users, recreational or otherwise.
They were designed for the sand and they should be forced to stay there.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  John Galt

to be fair, those roads are also inhabited by all manner of jeeps who actually dig much worse ruts when the heavy lumbering things tend to bog down.

John Galt
John Galt
3 months ago

Sure, other vehicles do damage. But maybe this is a geographic thing. Or lexical?
Those things you call trails?
I, and the people I work with, know them as roads. Because that’s what they are and why they where built. As examples, Imogene Pass and Reddington Pass are both roads.

They were put in to connect communities and places of work with each other. (Telluride and Ouray, and Tucson and Reddington, respectively.)
That OHV users find them interesting to drive on is nice. But, as roads, they were designed and had maintenance programs designed for specific max speeds, seasons, and use cases. Imogene is one extreme, the OHV community pitches in and helps with road care. The Ouray county road and bridge department is one of the best road departments in the country and maintains it for OHV use (San Miguel is another story…). I can still drive up to the rock glacier, or sample a mine dump while the jeeps and sxs do their thing. ( I will admit that I take a perverse joy when I meet an SXS while I am headed up grade. The look on the driver’s faces as they realize they need to find reverse, they don’t know where their mirrors are, and it’s a 200ft drop on one side is…delicious)

But most roads in the west aren’t Imogene. Most roads are Reddington. Just roads that happen to be unpaved. No technical challenge or mud pit for bro-dozers to spin out on or in. No water crossing because most of this place is a desert. Just a road. Roads that regular people in regular cars used to be able to use to go places. Not a lot of people, for sure, but some. Then, in the past 8 years or so, came the side by sides. And now that the SXS crowd has spun all the gravel fill off of these roads… The state, or county, definitely not the Forest Service, maybe the BLM, *might* come in with a blade next year. Until then, regular people can’t really use the road anymore. Unless they want to be shaken apart. Because regular people don’t own $40,000 toys, or $65,000 pick ups with “desert racing” packages. If you do that’s cool and all, but you are not regular people (and that’s okay).

I am frustrated because most of us are stuck subsidizing the hobbies of the rich. There is no way the AZ voters would approve any kind of fee or tax on SXS that would help fix the road damage they cause, nor would they increase the ADOT budget to redesign the road maintenance schedules to take the new use into account.
So my co-workers and I, and other road users *waves at the ranchers, rangeland people, and immigrants (who are moving into rural western towns to get away from insane housing prices)* have to just suck it up and slow down.

I know they are fun rigs. This article is evidence enough of that. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing to read about them.
Because rich people want to go fast on the weekend..
The dirt roads suck now.
Hooray.

Steve Walton
Steve Walton
3 months ago
Reply to  John Galt

In my Ranger, I specifically ride on the peaks of the ruts to help flatten the gravel back out. Don’t paint with too broad a brush, here.

It would be nice to have a front blade that could pull the gravel from the sides back into the middle of the road. My snowplow can’t take that kind of abuse, though. Maybe someday I’ll get one, but I’m not sure my public generosity extends to that much cost.

RC
RC
3 months ago
Reply to  John Galt

Eh… they really weren’t designed for the sand. I’m surprised Mercedes didn’t delve further into it, but she briefly touched on the 50″ width of the first production vehicles. The legacy of that 50″ width is carried over into designated OHV tracks throughout the West, which are largely the legacy of work-related stuff (mining, deer hunting, that sorta thing). If you went out into the Mojave or California coast in the 90’s, there’d be plenty of light traditional ATV’s or sand rails, but none of the really utility-oriented UTV’s.

I agree with the need to enforce speed limits, and to maintain segregation of vehicles, especially as tourism in a lot of areas has increased; there are lots of places that are technically “passable” to something like a moderate-clearance sedan, albeit at 5MPH, while a competent 4×4 or UTV can go 30 or 40. UTV’s are, as you indicated, dangerous on these roads. That said, lots of states are reacting by designating OHV-only trails with the aforementioned 50″ limit, requiring licensure and education, and otherwise trying to ensure the experience isn’t being spoiled for those who are not on a UTV.

John Galt
John Galt
3 months ago
Reply to  RC

If they weren’t actually designed for sand, then they are even worse than I had assumed. All the advertising I see for them shows people having a super good time going FAST. So that’s how I see people using them, going fast. Everywhere.

I don’t do work in CA, and would only return to the Mohave if there was a paying client. But in AZ and CO, were I spend most of my time, there are many dirt roads that are essentially highways. Wide, two lane, roads that are well drained and connect towns to each other and to cities. These roads one could, in the past, easily take a sedan down at 45mph or so. Not anymore. Because the SXS crowd loves to tear down them at 65 mph while swerving from side to side. The roads were not designed, and more importantly NOT MAINTAINED, for such activities. These roads are lucky if they see a blade once a year, let alone a gravel truck. (To say nothing of the roads near the border that La Migra intentionally keeps in bad condition.) So when the SXS crowd knocks all the gravel out..well it’s gone. And now dirt roads pretty much all suck to drive on. Unless you have a fancy TRD rig or a side by side. AKA, unless you are rich.

Am I bitter, hell yeah. Because I remember when these roads didn’t suck. I still drive the same regular cab 4×4 ranger (now 30 years old. Happy birthday truck!) over these roads, that or heavy duty mine trucks, that I did 15 years ago. But now I have to creep along or shake my truck/bones apart to get where I am going. All so the moneyed class (especially retirees in winter AZ…field season is a nightmare now) can enjoy their publicly funded rollercoaster.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  John Galt

Old man here. I’ve ride my KTM 500 off road in the Nevada desert. In the course of 3 years, a trail that I could sorta ride (I’m not good enough to skip from peak to peak on my back wheel like the youngsters can), became unrideable due to SXS hooning down the trails at 70mph and creating whoops w/ a 2’ amplitude at about 10’ peak to peak. I gave up and went back to camp.

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
3 months ago

I went out on the Bandon Dunes in Oregon last year for the first time in the Polaris RS1, kind of the earlier single seat version of the RZR and…now I get it. I was road tripping and visiting my family near Bandon and my brother and I decided to hit the dunes and it was….a….blast. It’s hard to convey in pixel form just how much fun it is, and how different from taking something not specifically designed for dune blasting. I guess it’s like the difference between tracking your Porsche vs. tracking a race day Ariel Atom. Both fun, but the Atom is way more likely to cause a Chatterly Crisis. If I lived down there I would definitely get my own, but a used one since I do play with my toys and $40k is a lot to potentially roll into the ocean. That aside, it’s well worth the rental to bomb around on these for a couple hours.

Here is a link to some video of our day on the dunes to give you an idea.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

That looks like a blast-especially the banked esses. Seems like rental is the way to go for these beasts if you don’t want to commit moderate house-money to tow rig, trailer, and machine.

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Yeah, renting one once or twice a month is about the same as the payment on a new one, so why not let them store it for you? And maintain it. And cover insurance. And fuel.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
3 months ago

I don’t begin to understand the appeal, but I’m not gonna pee in anyone’s Cheerios.

In order to enjoy this $40k toy, you need to own a vast piece of land with fun trails, or a tow vehicle and suitable trailer. Makes it look to me like a $100k+ pastime.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

Eh, more and more rural areas are allowing on road use. I drove past a line of them on the pig trail in Arkansas. They had lights, signals and safety harnesses, sometimes the signals were even used. But to be honest with the high chance of breaking trail rigs, most offroading jeeps or tacos, or whatever else is also towed, it just takes bigger trucks and trailers generally.

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago

It is wild how much these cost (and to be fair, how capable they are) compared to even a few years ago.

I bought a brand new leftover Polaris Ace 900 during Covid for under $7000. It’s not exactly apples to apples with a RZR because it’s only a single seater, but it works for me to plow snow, do some yard work, and drive my little kids around in my lap.

The dirty secret of these things is that they don’t last anything like cars do. They’re run much harder, built more cheaply, and adding more power doesn’t help matters.

Needing major engine work at ~5000 miles is far from rare. Paying $40K for that would not be my cup of tea, but they are cool.

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

“Needing major engine work at ~5000 miles is far from rare.”

I believe it, dirt toy vehicles seem to have hellacious maintenance and repair needs.

I’m new to dirt toys, I got my first dirt bike (Honda xr400r) this year.

Previously, my experience with owning vehicles was limited to street driven cars and motorcycles. Most modern cars can easily go 100k+ miles with limited maintenance.

I was shocked at the maintenance schedule of many dirt bikes. It’s common for manufacturers to recommended replacement of an engine’s head at about 100 hours of use. Oil changes every 5 hours. Piston replacement every 100 hours.

Many dirt bikes and UTVs are built more like race vehicles. They have extremely high performance engines. A modern 250cc motocross bike makes 50+hp. This UTV has a 2000cc engine that makes 225hp. That’s 200 hp/liter for the bike and 112 hp/liter for the UTV.

My XR400R makes 34hp from 397cc and is considered mildly tuned. It still makes 86 hp/liter, a very respectable output.

These are MASSIVE amounts of power from small engines. They give these vehicles incredible power/weight ratios.

The expectation is that they’re going to get flogged mercilessly with every use. That high power output wears things out quickly.

Needing major engine work at 5000 miles seems about in line with dirt bike maintenance. At an average of 25mph, that’s 200 engine hours. Many 4 stroke dirt bikes would be ready for new pistons, rings, cam chain and a cylinder hone. Probably some head work as well.

This is already a bunch of expensive parts on a single cylinder. Now multiply that by 4!

My budget extends as far as my 20 year old dirt bike.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Roofaloof

Certainly the head and piston thing was way more of a thing back when 2 strokes were king, I figured the 4 strokes fixed that a bit. Guess not?

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  JDE

My KTM 500 calls for an oil change every 15 hrs & valve clearance check every 30 hrs. Of course your expected to check every bearing & spoke for looseness at each interval.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  JDE

Nope, just upped all the numbers by an order of magnitude…

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
3 months ago
Reply to  JDE

The modern, high output, high performance ones still have very high maintenance needs.

The thing is, these are racing machines. They’re designed for maximum performance. The manufacturer recommended maintenance schedule also assumes racing use.

Many people who use them more recreationally safely extend intervals 2x or more.

Unimaginative Username
Unimaginative Username
3 months ago
Reply to  Roofaloof

Can confirm maintenence is a bear for strictly off-road toys. For a glorious time from the late 90s to mid 2000s I was a Glamis regular and spent as many as 40 days a year in the dunes with a CR250 bike and Banshee quad.

Clean the air filter, thorough wash, chain lube and safety check every weekend. Oil change every other weekend. New top end every other season (or every season for guys pushing a lot harder than me). Complete engine teardown maybe every 4 years – and that’s for a toy that gets used for 10-15 hours, a dozen or so weekends a year.

But if you’ve ever done it – Mercedes’ line comparing duning to a roller coaster ride that lasts as long as you want it to is one I’ve used myself many times – you know it’s worth it.

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
3 months ago

“But if you’ve ever done it – Mercedes’ line comparing duning to a roller coaster ride that lasts as long as you want it to is one I’ve used myself many times – you know it’s worth it.”

I completely agree!

I haven’t hit the dunes yet, but I’ve gotten to explore some PNW woods for the past year. It’s been an absolute blast!

There’s something magical about riding off road.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Roofaloof

We rented a SXS for a day trip in Alaska. It was a lead-follow trip fire roads and a couple of narrow trails. Even under those conditions, the machines were knackered at the end of the year. In June it was a case of fill the oil and check the gas. You had to hang back and allow a space to the unit in front of you to be able to gas it over interesting bits.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

So the unwary who don’t do research can really get bitten buying used and thinking they’re smart having let the first owner eat depreciation—only to end up with a worn out machine needing more repairs than it’s worth?

Makes sense. I’ve idly wanted one as I loved my little 80s 4wd Subarus and since have always wanted an off-road go-cart. But, go-carts wear quickly. I appreciate that insight

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

“So the unwary who don’t do research can really get bitten buying used and thinking they’re smart having let the first owner eat depreciation—only to end up with a worn out machine needing more repairs than it’s worth?”

Definitely.

It’s a big risk with any used dirt toy.

For a used UTV, it would be worth it to get a full professional inspection, including engine leak down, before purchase.

Better to spend a few hundred $ and know what you’re getting into than get a $5,000+ surprise after!

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Much like anything upgrades just stress things out more than the vehicles are designed for. even the 900 you have is also likely used sparingly and when it is used, it likely gets a workout from your kids when you are not around to remind them who bought it. That high stress use and somewhat infrequent use generally increase chances of demise fairly early by most people’s gage.

Grab a new Rubicon 4 cylinder turbo manual trans wrangler and subject it to exactly the same use and I have a feeling the results will be similar.

Gubbin
Gubbin
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Yeah, it’s kinda crazy to watch a quarter-million dollars of truck, trailer and sand toys drive by. I just can’t imagine spending that kind of money, and we’re horse people.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Owning a horse is God’s way of telling you you have too much money.

Roofaloof
Roofaloof
3 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

I’m amazed at that too. It’s a surprisingly common sight at the trails I ride.

For me, dirt biking is an expensive hobby, and I’m in for less than $10,000 with my bike, riding gear, and pickup truck!

Myk El
Myk El
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

That definitely corresponds to something I’ve seen around my neighborhood. I’m in Tucson right on the edge of the desert and the laws that let retirees get around in their golf carts let folks register side-by-sides as motorcycles and drive them on the road to get to wherever they have fun. A few of my neighbors have them…and of those, half are now laid up in the garage needing work.

Waremon0
Waremon0
3 months ago

I’d love to see you compare it to the Canam! That one has a dual clutch transmission.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Waremon0

which one, the X3’s have CVT’s still. I think only the R followed suit from Honda and went DCT.

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