To suggest a side-by-side ute can do what an ATV does is not the main issue here. After all, for some tasks, such as personal transport across tricky terrain, an ATV remains difficult to beat. Yet it’s also fair to say that the instant dismissal of utilities is more than a little blinkered.
If you’ve just taken a look at the list prices of the featured machines, then you may well be tempted to move on without reading anymore. OK, so a Polaris Sportsman 850 XP EPS is hardly a typical farm ATV, its 7,699 tag positioning it firmly in the “alright for some” bracket. We also appreciate that the Ranger 700 HD utility and its 2010 replacement, the 800 HD, come with pretty scary 11,399 sticker prices, too.
So have we lost our marbles? Well, here is the thinking behind this profidriving impression. If you’re looking for a pokey,
petrol-powered utility vehicle that offers all the grunt you could ever need for routine heavy work, a three-abreast Ranger will no doubt make it onto your demo list. If, on the other hand, you want a bit of muscle to pull a heavy trailer and are not after extra seating capacity, a big ATV, with power steering, is likely to be an attractive option.
Using this “heavy work” brief as a buyer’s benchmark saw us call up these two very different units from Polaris. If we were repeating the exercise, however, we would perhaps go down an alternative route. For 2010, the company is introducing a smaller Ranger, the 400 4×4. Making do with a single-pot, carburettor-fueled motor, this all-new model has room for a passenger and provides a respectable 225 kg platform capacity. It will tow 567 kg, too.
For many, this 400 model is much more of an ATV replacement than a big Ranger. Admittedly, it isn’t as beefy as the 700 HD/800 HD utilities, but then it’s nowhere near as expensive either. At 6,199, it’s priced to compete head-on with a mid-range ATV.
And then there’s the 2010 Sportsman 550 EFI, which acts as the perfect foil to the tested 850 XP EPS. The 550 EFI is seen by Polaris as an ideal farm ATV, its matt finish and steel wheels helping to keep its cost down to 5,899. That’s a welcome 500 less than the existing Sportsman 550 EPS with its power steering and styling bling. It’s also 1,800 less than the 850
Sportsman we talk about here. So should we have given these models a ride out and not the big guns assembled here? Perhaps. Nonetheless we still wanted to see what the extra up-front investment buys. So, back to our Ranger 700 HD and Sportsman 850 head to head.
We tackled this appraisal in two distinct ways. First, we used the two vehicles as everyday farm tools for a couple of weeks. The aim was to get a feel for which unit better suited the demands of a mixed livestock farm, with routine haulage of feed to livestock, moving fencing materials and livestock/ crop checks all falling into the daily work pattern.
Secondly, we took a closer look at the two machines themselves, focusing upon ease of operation, off-road capabilities, towing performance, comfort and ease of maintenance.
Ute negatives? As we expected, the points we were less keen on with the test Ranger apply to all side-by-sides. Heavier than ATVs, these machines are also wider, so areas accessible to an ATV may be off limits to a big Ranger. The rear load platform is, by necessity, high off the deck so restricting its usefulness when loading heavy sacks, bales and hefty chunks of timber. Farm dogs, particularly the more arthritic ones, will also find it a fair old leap. The load platform may tip up, but this is more for service access and making it easier to hose or sweep out. A gas strut will not allow you to tip a load of gravel, for example. If you want self-tipping, you need to head for the options list.
With the Sportsman, its power and load carrying capacity are restricted by the ATV layout. There is only so much you can fit on front and rear load areas so, regardless of its capacities, you’ll still need a trailer. This is perhaps a roundabout way of saying a less powerful ATV will do everything that the mighty 850 will do. Even when towing, the Sportsman is almost too powerful; it’s tempting to assume that simply because the 850 can pull an oversized load, it’ll be able to stop it, too. Which, of course, isn’t necessarily the case.
If petrol was free, this pair of machines would win over a good number of those who took one out on demonstration. Though their sticker retail prices are enough to secure a decent used pick-up, both the Sportsman 850 and Ranger HD are immensely capable. It’s just that both these vehicles are perhaps too costly for a typical farm to both buy and fuel. Polaris recognises this farm justification issue, its all-new Ranger 400 representing a genuinely viable ATV alternative as an affordable side-by-side. The Sportsman 850 is also ATV overkill. It may make you grin as you open up the throttle, but such thrills come at a cost. A “plain Jane” Sportsman 550 EFI is a far more realistic farm buy.
To write up a driving impression and suggest you look at non-featured machines is not our usual practice. But it does prove the point — that you need to take a long, hard look at what’s on offer. Having driven the new Ranger 400, we reckon it’s a machine that will tempt more ATV users to consider a side-by-side.
So, back to answer our original question: is a Ranger a viable ATV alternative? Yes, but maybe not the big Ranger 800 HD. It’s the Ranger 400 that we suggest you try — for starters, at least.
Once the novelty of the rum-
bling thunder of the Sportsman’s lusty 850cc twin ceased to seduce us quite as much, it was the Ranger HD that became the default vehicle choice. With its ability to carry two passengers, plus a generous load area, the Ranger is great for nipping out to do fence repairs, saw up a fallen branch or just nip off with a couple of feed bags.
In fact, we found we turned to the Ranger far more than we thought we would, finding a reason to jump on it rather than getting out a wheel barrow to move the odd sack or bale to a feed pen. Lazy, eh? Yup. Indeed, if the Ranger had been fitted with a roof it would have been just about the ideal farm runabout — except when it came to filling it up with fuel. Even taking the cost of petrol out of the equation, the need to top up the tank with a jerry can every other day became a bit of a pain. If this gives the impression the Sportsman 850 was left alone during our test period, it should be stressed that this ATV proved a huge hit with everyone who rode it. The EPS power steering makes this large bike — by traditional ATV standards — shrink around the operator. It’s so easy to ride across ruts and place it exactly where you want it; agility is first class. Reversing a trailer is less of a struggle, too.
James de Havilland writes for profi, a leading
European farm machinery magazine. Visit the
website at www.profi.com.Grainews readers
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