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.
Polaris Ranger Crew 800 EPS
A Good Mix Of Everything In Between
Polaris uses a 760cc twin-cylinder engine to power the Ranger Crew. It’s liquid-cooled, and an electronic fuel-injection system delivers the fuel. At 1,515 pounds (dry), the Ranger is close to 300 pounds heavier than its two-seater Ranger XP cousin, but unlike the Teryx4 and XUV S4, the Ranger Crew has seating and seatbelts for six passengers. Fully loaded, it is close to 10 mph slower than a loaded-down Teryx4, but it has 24 ponies more than the John Deere four-seater (40hp compared to 16hp) but 14 less than the Teryx4 (54hp). Your passenger will not be reaching for a handhold, and your lap times will not impress. However, its output is strong, and its loading capacity massive. It’s large, 36.5-by-54.0-by-11.5–inch dumping bed box can tote an impressive 1,000 pounds of cargo. It has a payload capacity of 1,750 pounds, and its standard 2-inch receiver can tote up to 2,000 pounds. It is a workhorse. There is a ton of lower-speed torque, and the fully sealed, automatic CVT is smooth and durable.
In low range, we were able to climb some very steep hills without ever slipping or heating up the drive belt. There is a neutral and reverse selection, as well as a high speed that gets the Crew into the low 40s, loaded.
Like the entire Polaris Ranger lineup, the Crew UTV runs in true all-wheel-drive. You drive in 2WD, then all four wheels engage automatically when you need more forward traction and revert back to 2WD when you don’t. When in 2WD, the VersaTrac Turf Mode switch unlocks the rear differential for easier, tighter turns that won’t tear up your grass. This mode is similar to the one found on Honda’s Big Red UTV. This is great for those with big lawns or who spend time on the golf course. Talk about a “Four!” wheeler.
The fuel mileage is excellent. A digital/analog instrument display allows you to monitor fuel consumption from the driver’s seat. We were able to drive hard for hours without seeing the warning light flash. Low-speed jobs and low-speed driving should keep the 9-gallon tank running for over 100 miles. The XUV gets slightly better fuel mileage, but its 4.9-gallon tank requires fill-ups earlier. Kawasaki’s Teryx 4 gets over 70 miles with its 7.9-gallon tank.
The front end of the Ranger Crew features double A-arms with 9.6 inches of wheel travel, and the rear suspension has double A-arms with 9 inches of wheel travel. All four corners have preload-adjustable shocks that control damping. At ride height, 11.5 inches of ground clearance is found under the entire length of the belly pan, plus that area is protected with a thick plastic skid plate.
We tested the EPS-equipped 800 version of the Ranger Crew, which runs for $13,999, $600 more than the standard Crew 800 and close to $3,000 more than the standard Crew 500. At top speed, the machine is stable on choppy or off-camber trails. If the trail turns rough, the suspension finds its limits if you don’t back off the throttle. Slow down to medium speeds, and the shocks work excellently. You can drive through rocky stream beds and hit small jumps and bumps without a problem. The PXT treads are tough and offer good traction, and the four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes are the best of our three test machines.
The cab of the Ranger Crew features a Roll Over Protection System rollcage and is equipped with three-point seatbelts for driver and passengers, with a lap belt for the middle occupants. There are also easy-buckle driver and passenger safety nets that provide a safe-and-secure cockpit. Cab ergonomics are excellent. There is a ton of legroom, and the cab’s easy slide-through design lets three adults get in and out quickly. A tilt steering offers a 10-inch range of motion, and the gear selector and 2WD/4WD controls are in good locations. Under the driver’s seat is a large storage compartment that we used often, to carry camera gear, small coolers and trailside repair items. There is also a huge glove box, two cupholders, two 12-volt power sources and a ton of other useful cubbyholes in the dash.
If you’re looking for a pure workhorse for the ranch or homestead, the John Deere XUV S4 is hard to pass up with its attractive retail price of $9,299. You won’t be going fast, but it’ll hold up well to abuse and the cargo bed and towing capacity are solid. It was the easiest machine to get in and out of with no nets or doors, and it has an option of 75 attachments! On the other hand, the Kawasaki Teryx4 is blast to drive, especially with EPS. It is one of the most comfortable UTVs we’ve tested. That being said, it has horrible storage and the doors can be considered a hassle if you need to get in and out constantly. We wouldn’t suggest it for a work vehicle, but we can’t wait to build our adventure machine for the next issue. Finally, if this were a shootout, the Polaris Crew would take top honors because of its overall versatility. It’s sportier than the John Deere and can tote a Teryx4-size payload.
2012 John Deere Gator XUV 550 S4
Type: 4-stroke V-twin
Fuel system: Carburetor
Drive system: Belt, 2x4/4x4 with limited-slip front and positive locking rear
Transmission: CVT with high/low, reverse
Front: Fully independent dual A-arms/9.0 in.
Rear: Independent H-arm and control link/8.0 in.
Front: 25x8-12 Ancla M-T extreme-terrain; 25x8-12 Terrahawk AT all-terrain; optional 25x8-12 Maxxis Bighorn 2.0
Rear: 25x10-12 Ancla M-T extreme-terrain; 25x10-12 Terrahawk AT all-terrain; optional 25x10-12 Maxxis Bighorn 2.0
Front and rear: Four-wheel hydraulic discs
Wheelbase: 79.0 in.
Claimed wet weight: 1,455 lb
Ground clearance: 9.3 in.
Length/width/height: 146.0/56.5/74.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.9 gal.
Turning radius: 19.7 ft
Cargo box capacity: 400 lb (32.3L x 47.6W x 11.7H in.)
Towing capacity: 1,100 lb
Lighting: Two 37.5-watt halogen
Instrumentation: Engine hour gauge
Colors: Green/yellow, Realtree Hardwoods HD camo (+$99)
2012 Kawasaki Teryx4 750 4x4 EPS
Type: 90-degree, 4-stroke SOHC V-twin
Fuel system: DFI with two Mikuni 36mm throttle bodies
Drive system: Shaft, selectable 2x4/4x4 with variable front differential control
Transmission: Continuously variable belt-drive transmission with high/low range, reverse, engine-braking
Front: Dual A-arms/7.8 in.
Rear: Independent dual A-arms/8.3 in.
Front: Maxxis 26x9-12
Rear: Maxxis 26x11-12
Front: Dual hydraulic discs with 2-piston calipers
Rear: Sealed, oil-bathed multi-disc
Wheelbase: 86.1 in.
Claimed curb weight: 1,624 lb
Ground clearance: 10.8 in.
Length/width/height: 125.2/62.0/77.3 in.
Fuel capacity: 7.9 gal.
Turning radius: 16.7 ft.
Cargo bed capacity: 249 lb (17.9L x 47.6W x 8.7H in.)
Towing capacity: 1,300 lb
Lighting: Two 35-watt headlights, two 8-watt taillight, 24-watt brake light
Instrumentation: Multi-function digital meter with speedometer, fuel gauge, clock hourmeter, odometer, dual tripmeters; parking brake, CVT belt, gear, water temp and oil pressure indicators
Colors: standard—Sunbeam red, Scout green; EPS—Vibrant blue, Realtree APG HD camo (+$600); EPS LE—Aztec red, Sunrise yellow (+$800)
2012 Polaris Ranger Crew 800 EPS
Type: 4-stroke twin-cylinder
Fuel system: EFI
Drive system: Shaft, on-demand AWD/2WD/VersaTrac Turf Mode
Transmission: Automatic PVT with high/low range, reverse
Front: Dual A-arms/9.6 in.
Rear: Dual A-arms, IRS/9.0 in.
Front: 26x9-12 PXT
Rear: 26x11-12 PXT
Front and rear: Dual hydraulic discs with dual-bore front and rear calipers
Wheelbase: 108.0 in.
Claimed dry weight: 1,515 lb
Ground clearance: 11.5 in.
Length/width/height: 145.0/60.0/76.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 9.0 gal.
Turning radius: N/A
Cargo bed capacity: 1,000 lb (36.5L x 54.0W x 11.5H in.)
Towing capacity: 2,000 lb
Lighting: 55-watt low/60-watt high, LED taillight
Instrumentation: Digital gauge, speedometer, odometer, tachometer, tripmeter, hourmeter, clock; gear, fuel gauge, high-temp/low-battery indicators
Colors: Polaris Pursuit camo; LE—Pearl White