Polaris ATV Plow
"I've been riding these things my whole life. There's basically no way I'm going to flip this one over, " Tom Kaiser, managing editor at ATV Magazine, says as we strap ourselves into a new John Deere Gator XUV at Carolina Adventure World. "But if I do flip it, you have to ignore the basic human instinct to put your arm out of the vehicle to brace for the fall. Just grab the seat belt like this." Kaiser clenches the shoulder strap by folding his arms across his chest like a sleeping vampire. The ride, fortunately, sends neither of us to our coffins.
There were moments, though, that felt as if death could be waiting behind the next loblolly pine. Kaiser got the machine up to 42 mph on a winding, rutted trail crowded with mature trees and hairpin switchbacks. It may sound slow, but on the trail, 42 mph blows by pretty darn fast. Kaiser's steady throttle had the rear-end fishtailing across sand and red clay in the woods of Winnsboro, S.C., and his tendency to hopscotch the machine between divots and mounds tested the new Gator's suspension. Its rugged stance and knobby tires cushioned a few landings that seemed bound to chip our teeth before the wheels gracefully returned to earth.
Having just completed an ATV safety training course, we were curious to sort out the difference between that class of vehicles and this one, known to the riding world as a UTV ("XUV" is John Deere's model name). Shouting through his helmet over the noise of the new Gator's 50-hp, 812-cc, three-cylinder engine, Kaiser described three things that are best done in an ATV, and three other tasks that call for the UTV.
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Use an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) When:
1. You need to be nimble.
ATVs are best suited for making quick turns. They operate well in tight woods, and are great for situations that call for quickly hopping on and off the vehicle or hauling small cargo loads. Compared to UTVs, these vehicles can more easily be towed by truck to a riding venue. "The ATV is more physically demanding to ride, and the rider must use balance to manipulate and control the vehicle, " Kaiser says. "It's fun, and they're small enough to really manhandle around, whereas a UTV is large enough that you're just strapped in and along for the ride. Even though they are fun, it's just not as active as sport riding an ATV."
2. You're in a race.
"ATVs come in different forms, " Kaiser says. "Sport quads, like the Yamaha YFZ450, Yamaha Raptor 700, Polaris MXR450, Suzuki LT-R450, Kawasaki KFX450R or Can-AM DS 450, are smaller, lighter and designed for high-performance riding and racing. Owners modify these two-wheel-drive machines for specific conditions."
If your idea of a race is getting a day's work done before the sun sets, a class of utility ATVs can meet that need as well. "Utility ATVs like Polaris Sportsman, Yamaha Grizzly, Can-Am Outlander, Suzuki King Quad and Kawasaki Brute Force are larger, heavier and have big fenders that protect the riders from mud, debris and water on the trail, " Kaiser says. "They are highly capable, can tow heavy loads and have racks for strapping down cargo and tools, but can also be ridden on the trails and modified for high-performance riding. They're mostly used to get sportsmen out to their hunting land, or by landowners working on small-scale projects—plowing snow, for example".
3. You're on a budget.
According toe Kaiser, ATVs are typically several thousand dollars cheaper than UTVs. "They're getting very high-tech these days, with the addition of power steering, four-wheel independent suspension, electronic fuel injection and complex four-wheel drive systems, " he says. These modifications typically come cheaper for ATVs than for UTVs.
Popular Mechanics' Harry Sawyers (left) hangs on for dear life as ATV Magazine's Tom Kaiser kicks up a dust cloud on a trail in South Carolina.
Use a Utility Vehicle (UTV) When:
1. You have a lot to haul.
"Aside from providing a nice spot for your dog or spouse to sit next to you, UTVs often have a large dumping rear cargo hold, " Kaiser says. "This provides room for a much larger load than most ATVs can haul—without attaching a trailer. Also, because they have truck-like cabs and seats that allow riders to sit upright, UTVs can be more comfortable for older riders. They really shine in covering lots of miles in comfort without the forward-leaning position of a quad." Although some ATVs provide storage on the vehicle, UTVs typically have a rear platform big enough to bring, say, a couple of chain saws into a woodlot and a load of bucked logs back out.
2. You're performing specialized work.
Lots of accessories (the Gator can use over 100) allow UTV owners to design a machine suited to specific needs. UTVs can be very sporty—models such as the Kawasaki Teryx, Arctic Cat Prowler, Polaris RZR and the new Can-Am Commander are designed for high performance. "These recreation-focused UTVs are also capable workers, although there are many work-specific UTVs that aren't any fun, " Kaiser says. Now, "fun" is relative. Kaiser would consider the Gator's standard 16.3-cubic-foot cargo space and 1400-pound towing capacity to be features found on a work-specific UTV. But I considered riding with him in a work vehicle to be so much "fun" I nearly had a heart attack.
3. You're showing off.
"There is an amazing amount of customization available to UTV owners, " Kaiser says. "People put on cab kits, specialty HID and LED lighting (that cost a lot of money), stereo systems, in-cab heaters. They upgrade the wheels and tires, and spend big bucks enhancing the vehicles' performance." Kaiser says UTVs are a dream come true for power-sports dealers, because the majority of UTV owners invest in personalization and performance enhancement. The Gator XUV 825 and 625 models we tested would retail for upwards of $10, 000.