Hop in, don a helmet, buckle...
Hop in, don a helmet, buckle your seatbelt and go! The fun and easy-to-drive nature of side-by-sides has made them hugely popular over the past few years.
There we were, barreling down the course at a pace that blended the surrounding scenery into a beige and green blur. In my mind, I'm World Rally Championship driver Colin McRae and my British codriver calmly states the turns ahead, "Right turn in point two followed by a hairpin left," he says over his headset. I pin it and our Subaru WRX drifts through the curve beautifully. Countersteering into the turn, I effortlessly skate past the apex and into another straightaway-with speedometer and tachometer climbing in unison. "Well done, old boy," he says as we rocket through the Australian outback on our way to another rally victory.
Of course, that's just my imagination. In reality, I'm just a magazine editor and we're plonking down fire roads in Primm, Nevada, not Australia. My "codriver" (ATV Rider photographer Drew Ruiz) isn't praising me, he's yelling at me not to damage his expensive camera equipment that's bouncing around in the back. And we're not in a hopped-up Subaru WRX ... we're testing the all-new Polaris RZR 800.
Later that day, my imagination takes me to a packed stadium filled with fans thirsting for mechanical carnage. I stomp the accelerator and the supercharged, methanol-fueled monster truck I'm piloting crashes into a pile of old car bodies and shoots skyward. The foundations of the stadium rumble with a combination of engine noise and screaming fans as my truck comes crashing down on top of the car pile.
Again, that's just my ego at work. I'm still in the scorching Nevada desert, but this time I'm rock crawling aboard a Yamaha Rhino 660 Special Edition. The hooting I hear isn't from 60,000 fans, but from members of our riding group as they rally to see how far off-camber I can get the Rhino before she'll tip over.
Clearly, side-by-sides (SxS), utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) or whatever you want to call them are fun. Don't mistake them for a re-hashed version of a Kawasaki Mule-we're talking bigger tires, longer suspension travel, more creature comforts and much more performance than the Mule could ever offer. The side-by-side revolution is here, and it's high time ATV Rider got involved. Yamaha's Rhino 660 is the current king of the hill, but can Polaris' Ranger RZR 800 knock it from the top spot?
First off, we'll spare you the obvious clichs, such as "razor sharp," "the razor's edge," "razor thin" and more. With that out of the way, let's talk about the ground-breaking Polaris Ranger RZR 800 (or RZR, for short). Polaris has developed a large fan base with its Ranger 700 side-by-side, but that model is rather large and utility-oriented. To counterattack against Yamaha's ultrapopular Rhino, Polaris could have used the Yamaha as a benchmark and tried to copy it. Instead, Polaris looked past the Rhino in many areas to set benchmarks of its own.
The result is a SxS that's lighter, faster and more powerful than the Yamaha. Polaris claims the RZR makes 30 percent more horsepower than a Rhino and a whopping 52 percent more than an Arctic Cat Prowler (which we couldn't receive in time for testing). Weight is one area where Polaris usually suffers, but the Minnesota gang developed a svelte machine that claims a dry weight of 945 pounds. The Rhino's claimed dry weight is 1049 pounds. These are big machines that require a trailer or at least a full-size pickup with a 6.5-foot bed to haul.
OK, so it's lighter and more powerful, and the RZR also has a lower center of gravity than the competition. What else about the RZR makes the Rhino a potentially threatened species? Its low-slung, slinky chassis is great for high-speed turns, and while ground clearance is slightly less than that of the Rhino, we still found the RZR's rock-crawling capabilities to be respectable, provided you're very careful with your line selection. Double A-arm suspension up front with 9 inches of travel paired with 9.5 inches of independent suspension travel out back make for a smooth-riding machine, as well. A 77-inch wheelbase and 50-inch width make the RZR the "only trail-capable side-by-side," as Polaris puts it. By comparison, the Rhino 660 offers four-wheel independent suspension with 7.3 inches of travel at each corner, a 75.2-inch wheelbase and a 54.5-inch width.
Add up all these features and you'd probably wager that the Polaris RZR 800 is one fast machine-and you'd be right. The 760cc parallel-twin engine is big, powerful and sounds good, too. An extra cylinder is never a bad thing in our book and makes for a smoother, torquier engine. The RZR also has electronic fuel injection (EFI), so throttle tip-in is very responsive. Stomp the pedal from a dead stop and the RZR will flat-out boogie all the way up to an electronically limited 55 mph. That's a heaping 15 mph faster than the Rhino's top speed, and it makes all the difference in the world. Fast, open trails that are a bore on the Rhino due to its 40 mph limit suddenly turn into a hoot on the RZR. Every time we saw a hump in the road, we got an uncontrollable urge to jump the fool out of it on the RZR. Even our friends at Dirt Rider took notice when we parked the RZR in the Primedia garage. "Hey what's that thing? It looks pretty cool!" "Eight hundred cc, huh? It sounds pretty wicked!" Coming from a motley crew of guys-most of whom wouldn't touch an ATV with a 10-foot pole-that says a lot. Bottom line: This is the sports car of the ATV world.
Based on all the praise bestowed upon the Polaris RZR, it would seem the Yamaha Rhino 660 is soon to be extinct-that it's slow, outdated and boring. Not even close.
With a huge aftermarket following and legions of loyal fans, the Rhino isn't giving up any of its habitat without a fight. Our Rhino was a 660 Sport Edition, which includes preload-adjustable piggyback shocks, sweet aluminum wheels, a canopy roof, a Baja-style front grab bar, silver seats and a gorgeous faux-brushed-aluminum finish on the body. It's a real head-turner, but its $11,149 MSRP caused some sticker shock among our testers, especially when compared to the RZR's $9999 price tag.
The Yamaha's build quality was slightly better than the Polaris, and the dashboard layout was a little cleaner, as well. A large, easy-to-read LED display with a soft-green glow adorns the cockpit of the Rhino. Questions about speed, mileage, fuel level or simply the time of day can all be answered with a quick glance. A headlight switch, choke knob, 4WD switch and 12-volt DC charger receptacle round out the instrumentation on the Rhino. The Yamaha's dashboard also has a glove box, which is a welcome cubbyhole for storing a tow strap, candy bars, cell phone or anything else you can think of.
In lieu of a glove box, the Polaris RZR instead offers the passenger a big T-handle with rubber hand grips to grab onto. This is nice to have, but some type of interior storage would have been appreciated. A pair of cup holders (which the Rhino doesn't have) are mounted right below the shifter of the RZR, but things tend to fly out of cup holders, especially when you're driving a machine as fast as the RZR 800. A combination analog/digital gauge is the RZR's main focal point, along with a 12-volt DC receptacle and a smattering of switches here and there (display cycle button, backup light toggle switch, headlight and "AWD" toggle switches).
Another notch in the Yamaha's belt is the Rhino's storage bed. It's bigger, has a tailgate and acts as a dump bed, thanks to two gas struts underneath. Simply pull a lever and the bed raises up. Press down on the bed and it locks into place with a click. Simple, easy and effective. Polaris knew that riders seeking more of a workhorse model would gravitate toward the Ranger 700, so the RZR's rear storage area is smaller. It's not really a bed, but more of a platform, yet it does still have the same handy tie-down anchors of the Yamaha. The Rhino's bed also has a 400-pound capacity, while the RZR can handle only 300.
The Rhino's not giving up without a fight-but does it stampede over the RZR in terms of performance? No way. The 660cc carbureted engine is no slouch, and the Rhino is still very fun to drive. But the truth is, the RZR 800 has set the performance bar so high that the Rhino seems a little lethargic by comparison-especially at altitude. During testing at Big Bear, California (elevation approximately 6000 feet), the carbureted Rhino began to wheeze a bit up the hills, wheras the EFI-equipped RZR powered up them with no problem.
It's hard for the Rhino to compete with the 100 extra cc of displacement, one extra cylinder and electronic fuel injection that the RZR offers, but when the going gets tough, the Yamaha gets going. When the trails are rough and the traction grows scarce, a push-button locking front differential helps the Rhino find it. Greater ground clearance coupled with such a capable drivetrain equated to our Sport Edition Rhino 660 crawling over obstacles that hung up the hot-rod RZR. Braking on both models was good, and there are no wimpy drums here-only hydraulic discs all around.
Wahoo! Brian hangs on for...
Wahoo! Brian hangs on for dear life while Tyler does his best "Dukes of Hazzard" impression.
Who wins? You do. It's great to have a choice between two excellent machines and if your goal is to outaccelerate your Rhino-owning friends, a Polaris RZR 800 belongs in your garage. But side-by-sides are about more than just raw power-they're about versatility, and the Rhino has more of a do-it-all mentality. The Polaris RZR slashes away at the Rhino in a few key categories, but we're forgetting one thing: rhinos have really thick skin. Since the Yamaha Rhino 660 appeals and will continue to appeal, to most people, our testers have declared it the winner.ATVR
If settlers had these to drive...
If settlers had these to drive instead of those clunky old covered wagons, the West would have been tamed a lot sooner.
I really like the Yamaha Rhino's pickup truck capability, and the engine wasn't bad, either. It's restricted to a rather dull 40 mph, but you can tell it has some speed left in reserve by how easily it hits the rev-limiter. My favorite feature was the locking front differential. When the trail gets bad, shift into 4WD. When the trail gets worse, engage that locking differential and almost nothing stands in your way.
That said, my vote goes to the quick-handling Polaris RZR 800. The turning radius was excellent, at 101.5 inches versus the Rhino's 153.5 inches. For $9999, you sacrifice some utility in exchange for awesome performance that would take thousands to duplicate from a Yamaha Rhino 660 Special Edition, which is more expensive to begin with at $11,149. If "I Can't Drive 55" is your theme song, try that speed in a RZR 800-it'll have you singing a different tune.
If I were to buy one just to have in the garage and use around the house, I would choose the Rhino. The Rhino has a dump bed to throw things into. It also has a locking differential and a standard-size tow hitch to pull things around with a lot of traction.
The RZR was very fast and handled great; the lower CG kept it from rolling over. The sway bar in the front and rear seemed to keep it very level and stuck to the ground. The engine-braking was very helpful when going down hills-instead of jumping on the brakes you could let the engine slow the vehicle. The adjustable steering wheel made the RZR easier to drive and comfortable, and the safety nets made you feel much safer.
The RZR only had a few bad points. For some reason the pedals felt a little too far to the right, and there was no easy place to put your phone, wallet, cooler or gas; it felt like it would just fall out of the back.
The Rhino's balance of good to bad traits won the day. Its suspension was a little rough when just cruising but seemed to help in high-speed bumps, unexpected G-outs or potholes. The ground clearance helped for straddling big rocks and other obstacles in the road. It was very comfortable and easy to step in and out of.
The two major things that I did not like about the Rhino were it was too slow, and it always wanted to roll anytime it hit a corner too fast. Two minor problems: when going up on a ledge, if there was a tree next to you, the roll cage would get caught on it. And if I were to roll in the Rhino, because of its open sides, I felt I would fall out.
No matter what, you must know how to drive the Rhino because it has a tendency to roll very easily. A beginner could handle the RZR at 30 mph and lower speeds, but once you get the Polaris over 30 mph, it's best to know what you are doing.
When I sat down in the passenger seat of the Yamaha Rhino, I immediately loved the comfy seats and leg room. When we took off, I instantly noticed how smooth the ride was, despite "barreling" (a Rhino maxes out at 40 mph) over rocky, uneven terrain. I also liked the Rhino's cargo area. You can even strap in an ice chest or a duffel bag if you decide to camp overnight. That extra space would come in handy if you have a growing family but can't quite afford to buy a sand rail-it's a good starter car in that regard. Then I slid in behind the wheel. I thought the Rhino accelerated a bit sluggishly, and as for the speed ... well, it would have been fun to go a little faster. If you were headed uphill, you're more likely to run faster than the Rhino. It seemed to be pretty good on gas mileage.
On to the Polaris RZR. It wasn't that bad but it was not as comfortable as the Rhino. We took off on the same type of terrain and I found that I felt everything-especially large rocks. I loved the speed; the RZR maxed out at 55 mph. It made me a bit nervous, but that was part of the reason it was so fun! Going around the turns at a faster speed just increased the adrenaline rush. Finally, I got to drive the RZR. This was definitely a different driving experience than the one I had with the Rhino. First, when I stepped on the accelerator, it moved. Driving this UTV felt like (I would imagine) driving a race car-you had to countersteer quite a bit, whereas driving the Rhino felt pretty similar to driving a standard car. The steering did enhance the experience and going around the turns at a faster speed, combined with the change in steering, was pretty exciting for me. Second, I noticed I didn't feel the impact of hitting those rocks as much when I was sitting in the driver's seat-nice!
If you're looking for a fast, fun little side-by-side, then the RZR is your best bet. If you're in the market for a fun, off-road vehicle that has great ground clearance, offers some cargo space and a smooth ride, then I'd say go with the Rhino. It's a bit more costly than the RZR, but to me, you're getting more bang for your buck.
When it comes to the decision of which machine I'd like to see when I open my garage door, my vote goes to the Yamaha Rhino. I viewed this machine as the most versatile of the two.
Yes, it did seem to lack in top-speed performance, but you could definitely tell it had more power capabilities with the help of some mods. Driving in the rocky Nevada desert with small boulders strewn all over the roads and trails, we had no worries with the Rhino. Just aim for them and know that the ground clearance of this machine would keep you from hitting them. Having the sport suspension was welcome as well. At high speeds, the Rhino soaked up everything from the smallest bump to some decent-sized rain ruts without flinching. When it comes to serious rock crawling, you can't beat having that locking front differential. Just push the button to engage it and you're clawing your way to the top of your obstacle.
There were a few things to dislike about this machine: The high saddle, the lack of a door or leg restraint system and the difficult to grab and release parking brake lever.
When it comes to the Polaris RZR, I may love its rocket power and smooth acceleration with instant throttle response, but its serious lack of ground clearance and overall suspension performance really lowered its score. It felt like the undercarriage hit every rock or pebble it went over, and every nook and cranny in the fast desert roads we traversed were passed on to the driver.
If I was getting one of these two units for the specific purpose of racing on a UTV circuit, though, I would choose the RZR. But for all-around use, the Rhino still dominates this class. In the long run, you would invest more money into the Rhino to get it to handle as well as the RZR, but with a few simple engine mods, you can get the Yamaha's powerplant up to par with the Polaris. Either one of these machines will suit entry-level drivers or pro racers. Only the common sense of the driver will determine if they are capable of handling either of these side-by-sides.
Note: We did not have any issues with the Yamaha Rhino. The Polaris RZR, on the other hand, had a battery light and check engine light flickering on intermittently while driving at night.