From the July/August 2012 issue of ATV Rider Magazine.
The original side-by-sides, like Kawasaki’s Mule and Yamaha’s Rhino, were specifically designed with the rancher and hunter in mind. We never could have imagined what was to follow. A machine built to carry tools, guns and game sparked an off-road craze that has sent sandatics and desert whompers into a whirlwind of excitement. This mass hysteria has all but overshadowed the true purpose of the side-by-side.
This issue, we decided to take a step back from the high-performance dust and focus on a few UTVs better suited for the mellow-headed, steering wheel crowd. The Polaris Ranger Crew, Kawasaki Teryx4 and John Deere S4 are each four-seater options that range from a sturdy farm steed, casual trail cruiser and adventurer to a good balance of everything in between.
John Deere Gator XUV 550 S4
Sturdy Farm Steed
When I hear the name “John Deere,” I immediately envision a large piece of farming equipment hogging the right lane on my drive through the country, or a bright green-and-yellow sit-down mower bumping around on the local football field. Isn’t that what Adam Sandler was riding in that movie The Waterboy? For 175 years, the Deere brand has been stamped onto the farming community. The Illinois company has also been selling its ATV-esque Gator utility vehicles to the public and armed forces since 1987, and entered the UTV world in 2010 with its Gator XUV 825i “Crossover Utility Vehicle.” Earlier this year, John Deere added a pair of smaller crossover utility vehicles to its lineup with the 550 and 550 S4.
An air-cooled and carbureted 570cc V-twin powers the XUV 550 S4 to a 30-mph top speed. This motor was used to effectively cut costs and give the $9,200 S4 one of the lowest retail prices of any UTV on the market. It still baffles us that the previously released liquid-cooled, EFI, 812cc, DOHC inline triple was not chosen for the 1,455-pound XUV S4 as the 550’s powerplant generates a claimed 16 horsepower and 28.6 pounds-feet of torque, while its big brother 825i’s mill boasts a claimed 50 horsepower and 47 pounds-feet. The XUV 550 S4 is like the fabled turtle in the race. It might not perform at a blistering pace, but it’s super reliable and chugged its way up every hill and trail obstacle of our mountainous testing terrain. If you want the hare, there is a strong possibility the S4 will boast a better-performing powerplant in 2013.
Power reaches the very stout Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 treads via the CVT. A center dash-mounted shifter actuates high, low, neutral and reverse with 2WD and 4WD and uses a lever-engaged limited-slip front differential. The rear differential is unlocked to protect the ground surface, like your lawn, but can be locked mechanically.
Even loaded down with four passengers and tipping the scales well above 2,000 pounds, the S4 offers a surprisingly plush ride. Up front is a double A-arm setup with 9 inches of wheel travel. Out back is an H-arm setup that has a claimed 8 inches of travel. There’s also a solid 9.3 inches of ground clearance. This Deere is slowed by hydraulic disc brakes on all four corners and utilizes a mechanical parking brake found to the left of the large foot brake pedal. Braking was solid on flat surfaces, but downhill braking was a challenge under load.
Even though the S4 is the lowest in performance of all three four-seater UTVs, it is probably the best ranch hand for the price. Low floorboards make entry and exit very easy. It can transport up to four people with two rows of bench seats, but for the times when you need to carry more gear, a convertible cargo rack folds down over the back row of seats to allow for a 32 percent greater carrying capacity in the bed box. The manual dump cargo bed can hold 400 pounds and has a power assist option. This baby can tow up to 1,100 pounds with a standard 2-inch receiver and has a payload capacity of 1,200 pounds.
John Deere’s S4 is available in a traditional green/yellow or a Realtree Hardwoods HD camo (for $99 more) and utilizes 75 attachments (and counting…) including cabs, brush guards, snowplows, gun racks and lights.
Kawasaki Teryx4 750 4x4 EPS
Casual Trail Cruiser
Kawasaki’s Teryx4 has a good power curve and nimble handling, making it the sportiest of the three four-seater UTVs we compared. It has the same liquid-cooled, 749cc, four-stroke V-twin that is found in the standard Teryx. It’s peppy enough to enjoy sporty trails with or without passengers, but provided a smooth, mellow ride for slowly entertaining your guests. An electronic fuel-injection system pumps regular unleaded fuel to the V-twin powerplant, and an automatic CVT gives the driver the option of high and low range in 2WD and 4WD with a variable front differential lock. Running in low range, the Teryx4 has a max speed of about 30 mph, and if you wanted to engage the 4WD system, you need to slow to speeds of 10 mph and below.
Electronic power steering is available for the Teryx4 (for $1,000 more), and it makes the 1,600-pound beast a joy to drive. It’s amazing how easily the Teryx responds with EPS. The price of the Teryx4 EPS ($14,399) is right on par with the high-performance class Polaris RZR4 ($14,999 or $15,799 with EPS), but quite a bit pricier than John Deere’s $9,299 XUV S4 and Polaris’ $12,399 Ranger Crew 800 ($13,999 with EPS). The Ranger Crew is also available with a 500 powerplant for $10,299.
Both the front and rear of the Teryx4 feature a double A-arm suspension with high-performance gas shocks, similar to the ones found on the Teryx Sport edition. There are piggyback shocks out back on each model; the same shocks are also up front on the EPS and LE models only. They all feature adjustable compression, rebound and preload settings. This setup provides 7.8 inches of travel in the front and 8.3 inches in the rear. With a full load there was little suspension sag, and gave the Teryx4 well over 10 inches of ground clearance! The ride was ultra-plush with a full load, which is what it’s intended for.
Kawasaki’s Teryx4 runs on the same Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 meats found on the John Deere 550 S4. They provide great traction in every terrain, offer great predictability around corners and, most importantly, they don’t get flats! These things are tough as nails. Bringing the big UTV to a halt are dual hydraulic disc brakes up front and a sealed wet multi-disc system in the rear. Stopping power is solid, and the parking brake has been redesigned so it is a hand lever instead of the old foot-locking pedal.
The Teryx4 has great styling on the outside and is ergonomically sound on the inside. All of the controls are easy to reach, there are dual cupholders, a digital gauge, glove compartment and a 12-volt outlet for both the front and rear passengers. The bucket seats are the most comfortable of these three UTVs. Taller or shorter driver/passengers can take off the seats and adjust them as well. The Teryx4 isn’t as easy to get in and out of as the John Deere, but it being a sportier, more comfortable ride, you won’t be getting out as much. The doors add a nice touch and are the best working doors we’ve tested. Not just stock doors, the best, period.
The downfall of the Teryx4 is its lack of cargo space versus the number of people on board (four). The 250-pound box capacity is little over half the John Deere’s, and it doesn’t offer a dump bed. The upside is Kawasaki makes nifty luggage boxes that bolt into the bed, and there are many aftermarket companies that make roof racks for the Teryx. Check out next month’s issue for our adventure build and see the true potential of the Teryx.