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Size Up Side-by-Sides

Select the utility vehicle that can tackle the most chores on your acreage.

The more tasks you have for a utility vehicle (UTV), the more value it will provide to you. According to John Lumkes, ag engineering professor at Purdue University, “Some vehicles have a lot more options for attachments and for multiple functions vs. others that are much more geared toward the recreational market.”

The list of chores a side-by-side, or UTV, can tackle grows each year as new machines, accessories, and attachments are introduced, making this already-popular tool a must-have. Before purchasing, consider how you’ll use a side-by-side on your acreage. This will help in selecting add-ons and a base machine.

Recreation vs. Utility
There is a wide spectrum of UTVs on the market, with some manufacturers geared toward hardcore sport and others focused on hardworking utility. Some companies offer a full line.

For example, John Deere makes traditional utility vehicles as well as crossover and pure recreational machines.

Again, think carefully about how you plan to use your machine before you purchase. “Sometimes it looks more fun to get an off-road, recreational machine,” says Lumkes. “You need to take a practical look at how you will use the UTV. If you don’t expect to bring it to trails or you don’t have the room to go 30 or 50 mph, you are probably better off staying with something more practical.”

Utility-focused machines will have driving and bed characteristics that make it easier and more efficient to carry loads and to feed animals.
“There will be different driving characteristics for all of the machines,” explains Lumkes. “For example, if you are walking along a feeding stall and someone is unloading grain, you need to be able to go 1 or 2 mph at a steady pace.

“Bed height is also going to be different,” he adds. “If you get more of a recreational vehicle, the bed height might be 3 feet high. A utility-focused machine will have a lower bed height, which makes loading and unloading easier.”

There is also a wide variance in the amount of weight different machines can haul and tow. Look at the weight limits to make sure they are up to the challenge of moving whatever you need to transport.

New machines geared for work keep pushing the boundaries on what UTVs can move. For example, Bobcat’s new 3400 can haul 1,250 pounds and tow 2,000 pounds.

Seating Configurations
In addition to more hauling capabilities, UTVs can also move more people than ever. Two years ago, Yamaha introduced the Viking, a three-person machine. Last year, the company rolled out the Viking VI, which is built off the same platform but is capable of comfortably seating six passengers.

There are also machines that give you the option of more seating or more cargo capacity, depending on your needs for the day. The Honda Pioneer 700-4 boasts an innovative convertible design that allows the two rear seats to fold into the bed so you can use the UTV with two, three, or four seats. The Kawasaki Mule Pro-FXT is also convertible, with three seats in front and three more that fold out of the cargo bed.

Accessories Add Versatility
Most manufacturers have a line of accessories specifically designed for its UTVs. Independent UTV accessory companies also have a variety of options. If you want to use your machine for a specific purpose, such as hunting, make sure there are compatible accessories available.

Some accessories are easier to install than others. For example, Polaris uses a Lock and Ride Pro-Fit accessory integration that allows you to simply snap cab components onto the cab frame without using tools. The system debuted in the 2013 Polaris Ranger XP models and is now available on the smaller Ranger 570 machines as well as crew cabs.

If you want the option to use hydraulic and PTO-powered attachments, be sure to select a model with these features. Kubota’s new RTV-X series is available with a range of hydraulically powered attachments, including straight and V-blades as well as a rotary broom. Be prepared for a bit of a sticker shock for any machine in this category.

Diesel machines also come at a premium. “It will take awhile to pay back a diesel premium vs. gas if you don’t regularly use your UTV,” advises Lumkes.

Pricing
Most UTV gas models start at about $10,000 to $12,000, with prices moving up for additional seating, electric power steering, cab enclosures, and more features. There are a few manufacturers that have introduced machines below the $10,000 mark.

Last year Honda introduced the Pioneer 500 with a list price of $8,499. The machine features a five-speed gearbox with an electric shift system controlled with paddle shifters. The hauling and towing capabilities are lower than those for the Pioneer 700, and the machine doesn’t come with a cargo bed, but with the ability to tow 1,000 pounds and haul 450, it is a capable machine at a lower entry price.

Polaris also introduced a lower-cost model, the Sportsman Ace. This one-person machine combines the nimbleness of an ATV with the ROPS protection of a UTV. The Ace has limited hauling capabilities – 240 pounds – but can tow up to 1,500 pounds for a base price of $7,499.

You want to be careful about selecting a machine based on price alone.

“Sometime in big-box stores or online there are imported vehicles with extremely attractive prices,” says Lumkes. “However, when you look at the construction, some are obviously designed from a go-cart frame scaled up to be a UTV vs. a UTV that is built with dedicated parts and driveline components.”

These machines tend not to be as reliable, and it can be difficult to find parts, he adds. “The quality is improving in some of the imported machines, but you should research online before buying,” says Lumkes. “There is a big difference between the machines that come into the lowest cost side of the market and ones that will better compete with the established players.”

In the past year, there have been more partnerships between established side-by-side manufacturers and companies that want to leverage their expertise. Ariens teamed up with Polaris to build the Gravely Atlas; Exmark and Toro worked with Arctic Cat to produce each company’s first line of UTVs; Mahindra and Intimidator have a partnership to build the mPACT XTV. When choosing between these similar machines, it’s important to consider your dealer and the customization.

“Even though mechanically the Exmark machine is the same as the Arctic Cat, there will be some variations to differentiate it from an Arctic Cat machine,” explains Lumkes. “If you know a good dealership and have a relationship with it, to me that is also very important.”

There is one last category to consider before purchasing: the used market.

“If I had a certain amount of money to buy a UTV, I would consider a used, proven machine vs. some of the new lower-cost ones,” says Lumkes. “The older UTVs are pretty durable.”

Before buying a used machine, always inspect the vehicle and look at the number of hours as well as the maintenance records.

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