Next-Generation ATVs

Manufacturers are increasing their number of sport UTVs at far higher prices than ever before for ATVs. But don’t look for new alternative powertrains to catch on any time soon.

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Today’s all-terrain vehicles (ATV) ask only a simple question: What do you want to accomplish? Whether it’s bombing around backwoods trails or hauling a stack of firewood—or both—manufacturers produce a model that can handle your task. Although great features such as electronic fuel injection and disc brakes now can be found on economy models that start at as little as $4,200, manufacturers have been paying particular attention to the other end of the price spectrum. The result is far more utility vehicles (UTV) than were on the market 4 years ago (52 now compared with 30 in 2008) at prices that might make motorcycle manufacturers blanch.

The UTV, which also is known as a side-by-side for its carlike seating of driver and passenger, always has been a trusty workhorse. But lately manufacturers have been making more models that cater to play time. Although it technically wasn’t the first sport UTV, the introduction of the Polaris Ranger RZR (now a four-model line) in the 2008 model year jump-started the market for increasingly sporty UTVs.

Sport UTVs have engines that are tuned for performance and faster speeds, their shocks are tunable (meaning that they can be adjusted to smooth out bumps and jolts on high-speed rides) and they don’t look like the typical UTV that you’d find hauling a load of hay. In fact, the new Arctic Cat Wildcat 1000i H.O. features the most extreme design that we’ve seen: It resembles a tricked-out dune buggy.

 The trade-off is in the payload: Sport UTVs have limited cargo capabilities in the 250- to 500-pound range, compared with traditional UTVs, several of which can haul at least 1,000 pounds.

But you’ll have to pay to play. Sport UTVs typically cost far more than do traditional work UTVs. For example, the lowest priced work UTV that we found, the Kawasaki Mule 600, has a price of $6,699; the lowest priced sport UTV is the Polaris Ranger RZR 570 at $9,999.

And the sky’s the limit on where today’s UTVs go in terms of price. Four years ago, you would have had a difficult time finding a UTV that cost more than $12,000. Now, we found at least nine models that cost at least $15,000, and certain trim levels of models by Can-Am, Kubota and Polaris start above $19,000.

You should look for this trend to continue. Although manufacturers don’t separate sales figures for the sport-UTV market from the larger UTV umbrella, all of the sources with whom we spoke tell us that the sport-UTV category is selling well even during the economic downturn compared with other ATVs.

POWER SOURCE. As you might suspect in these days of $4-per-gallon gasoline, ATV manufacturers are experimenting more with models that use alternative fuel sources. Diesel-powered UTVs have been around on models that were marketed toward farmers, but more recreational-focused manufacturers slowly are dipping their toe into the diesel-fuel pond. Kawasaki introduced two diesel-powered models since 2011, and Arctic Cat introduced the first diesel-powered non-UTV ATV in 2008.

Diesel-powered models are strictly for the work-minded. Diesel engines don’t produce as much horsepower as a gasoline engine of roughly the same size does and thus not as much speed. For example, the John Deere Gator XUV 855D, which has an 854cc engine, generates 23 hp and claims a top speed of 30 mph. The gasoline-powered Gator XUV 825i, which has an 812cc engine, generates 50 hp and a claimed top speed of 44 mph. But a diesel engine produces more torque, which makes it better for towing or hauling cargo.

Diesel-powered models also are heavier than are their gasoline-powered counterparts, sometimes by as much as 200 pounds more, and they also typically carry a premium of roughly $1,000 compared with gasoline-powered models of the same engine size.

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