If you want a UTV to make those never-ending chores around your property go faster, and to have more fun while you do so, you’re in luck.
The UTV market has swelled. Today, 177 models are on the market compared with 52 in 2012.
Of the current models that we counted, 124 are utility, or work, UTVs, which are geared toward hauling and towing objects. The other 53 are sport UTVs, which are designed for joy riding.
However, that’s just simple classification. Manufacturers now make specialized UTVs. For work, you now can find a model that has a gas-assisted dump bed and a model that includes a two-wheel-drive turf mode that prevents the tires from digging into delicate soil. Hunters can find a UTV that’s tricked out with camouflage bodywork, gun scabbards and winches. If you want to take your UTV in the mud, then you’ll find mud-specific UTVs that are outfitted with air-intake snorkels, mud tires, relocated radiators and lower gearing. If you plan to ride your UTV in dunes and sand, then you’ll find UTVs that are equipped with high-performance adjustable shocks, more ground clearance and performance sand tires.
In 2012, we marveled that Arctic Cat’s dune-buggy-like Wildcat 1000i H.O. ($16,599) was the most “extreme” design that we’d seen. Today, at least six UTVs (starting at $19,499) are designed specifically for navigating dunes, and all six are equipped with engines, shocks and sand tires that are a step above those of the Wildcat 1000i H.O.
“What we’re seeing is that the hunting world likes to be able to work with their vehicles and likes for them to be very mobile, and then you have the guys in the desert who want to go fast on a high-horsepower turbocharged engine with long travel suspension,” says Rick Sosebee, who’s been a contributing editor to ATV Rider magazine for 11 years. “In today’s market, you can say this and this and this, and there’s a machine built specifically for what you want to do.”
However, you should keep in mind that as manufacturers rolled out niche UTVs, the prices of the vehicles went through the roof. We found 27 UTVs that cost at least $19,000, compared with just three models that cost that much not that long ago.
Meanwhile, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) haven’t seen much change. As the number of UTVs exploded, the number of ATVs dropped a bit. We counted 104 ATVs on the market, which is down from the 123 that were available previously.
“As UTVs become better suited to everything from farming to racing, ATVs have been hanging on by the skin of their teeth and been relegated to adding bold new graphics as opposed to any real advancements,” says Jorge Cuartas, who’s written about ATVs and UTVs since 2001 and has managed an amateur ATV racing team since 2003.
ALTERNATIVE FUELS. When Polaris introduced an electric UTV in 2012, no other mainstream manufacturer was expected to follow the company’s path. The latter part still holds, but now Polaris has two electric sport UTVs.
The Ranger EV Li-Ion ($22,999), which was introduced in August 2015, is the first UTV that’s powered by a lithium-ion battery. The Ranger EV ($11,299), which debuted in 2010, has a lead-acid battery. Experts tell us that, regardless of the type of battery, electric UTVs are limited in their usefulness, because the UTVs deliver only a few hours of performance on a full charge.
We found that as a result of its lithium-ion battery, the Ranger EV Li-Ion gets roughly twice the range (up to 50 miles with no payload) on one charge as does the Ranger EV. The Ranger EV Li-Ion also is 462 pounds lighter than is the Ranger EV, which is still the heaviest two-passenger UTV that we found.
Unfortunately, both electric UTVs top out at 25 mph, which is below average for a UTV. Furthermore, the Ranger EV Li-Ion costs $13,000 more than the otherwise identical gasoline-powered Ranger.
“Electric [UTVs] have improved, but for most people, when you get in a UTV situation and you get out in the woods, you don’t want to worry about running out of battery in an hour and a half or 2 hours,” Sosebee says. “There’s no way to regenerate that power without plugging that thing in for 4 or 5 hours.”
Similarly, a little growth has taken place with regard to diesel power in UTVs. Polaris introduced three diesel-powered UTVs (starting at $13,799), and Kawasaki now sells six diesel-powered UTVs (starting at $13,199), compared with two before. However, experts tell us, and manufacturers concede, that diesel models still don’t produce as much horsepower or speed as does a gasoline model of roughly the same size. Diesel-powered models also typically cost $1,200 more than do gasoline-powered models that have the same engine size.
We haven’t heard of any manufacturers working on major breakthroughs in terms of models that are powered by alternative fuels, so if you’re looking for an ATV or UTV that has long-range capacity and power, then gasoline is your only option.
Cassandra Clark has tested and written about ATVs and UTVs for 14 years. Her work has appeared in ATV Rider and Popular Science and on OutdoorLife.com.