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'08 Polaris Ranger RZR - Off Road Alternatives

Posted in Features on June 19, 2008
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Photographers: Courtesy Of Polaris

It started with utility vehicles being modified for off-road sport use. Polaris has raised the bar again for those who like to go fast with their Ranger RZR, a side-by-side designed from the ground up as a speedy, powerful sport vehicle that can do utility work too. Called the Razor by everyone, the latest side-by-side from Polaris is lighter, lower, and narrower than any other side-by-side. It also really moves.

Powered by a fuel-injected 760cc twin that's mounted transversely behind the seats and in front of the rear end, the Razor is a true midengine design. This allowed Polaris engineers to lower the height of the front seats, lowering the RZR's center of gravity considerably. This allows pretty spirited cornering, even with the RZR's narrow 50-inch width.

The 50-inch width makes the RZR a truly trail-capable side-by-side. It really bothers us that there are those in the ATV community who would limit trail use to only those with traditional ATVs and leave the side-by-sides out. The ATV enthusiasts in northern Utah and southern Idaho have gone a step further by getting the Forest Service to close Jeep trails to everything but ATV use. "Traditional" ATVs, that is. Until the RZR was introduced, all other side-by-sides were excluded. We've said it before - any mechanized trail user group (ATV or fullsize vehicles) that closes backcountry trails or roads to other groups are the enemy and should be fought whenever encountered. Anyway, let's get back to the RZR.

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The RZR is the fastest side-by-side available at the time of this writing. Hopping in, latching the seatbelts, hooking up the safety nets, and flooring the go pedal pastes a grin on your face. The RZR has plenty of low-end torque and high-rpm horsepower. You can climb the steepest hills in the dunes with a stock RZR. We raced our Rhino and the RZR. The RZR whipped our Rhino soundly. The new Rhino with the fuel-injected Grizzly 700 powerplant should be at dealers by the time you read this, so it will be interesting to see how it does in a rematch. Right now, the RZR is the fastest, sportiest side-by-side on the planet.

The independent front and rear suspension soaks up ruts and bumps. The rear A-arms are rolled (tilted) so that when the rear wheels travel up, they also travel back. Good thinking, Polaris. The coilovers could be valved a bit more aggressively, as you can hit whoops and get a slight pogo effect going. Walker Evans is working on coilovers that will eliminate this.

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The RZR can be driven in 2WD for grin-inducing drifts and powerslides, or AWD that allows the RZR to corner like it's on rails. The AWD runs in RWD until it detects slip up front, when it sends power to the frontend. It works seamlessly. We wondered about no locking differential up front, but we didn't need it. The RZR climbed rock ledges easily, even with one front wheel completely in the air. The automatic Polaris Variable Transmission (PVT) is a beltdrive that works well at all speeds except the 0-to-2-mph range. Here, we encountered our only caveat with the RZR. When trying to finesse the RZR over some boulders, the clutch engagement felt like a truck or Jeep with a high-stall torque converter. The RZR would lurch on engagement, forcing us to keep one foot on the brake and the other on the throttle. Since hardly anyone who buys one of these is going to care how it works at 0 to 2 mph, we imagine this is a nonissue for almost everybody. For us, it might be the reason we would choose a Rhino for slow off-road use.

As mentioned before, Polaris engineers worked hard at keeping the RZR's center of gravity low. This means a low step-in height and low rockers. We thought these might drag when breaking over sharp rocks or edges, but that didn't happen. The RZR worked just fine in tight, narrow spots and steep, sharp breakovers. It would then accelerate unbelievably and race to the next obstacles.

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The interior of the RZR is well thought out too. The gauge cluster is easy to read, the seats are comfortable, and the passenger even gets an adjustable T-bar handle to grab. Safety nets keep body parts inside during a rollover, and there are plenty of storage areas. The radiator access under the front hood also includes a storage area. The rear deck has numerous tie-downs, and Polaris has an innovative optional cargo system that locks down gas cans, racks, and other pieces safely.

The Polaris RZR is fast and capable. It can also work as a utility side-by-side for hunting or trail use. It's narrow width allows it go where no other side-by-side can - on ATV-only trails. It's comfortable. Maybe Polaris marketing's statement is true. They claim the '08 Polaris RZR "offers razor-sharp side-by-side performance." We agree.

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