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First Drive: 2016 Polaris General Side-by-Side ATV

Posted in Features on January 31, 2016
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Photographers: Wayne DavisCourtesy Of Polaris

Play hard, work fast. That is exactly what the newest Polaris side-by-side brings to the off-road scene. It’s called the General, and by all accounts this new all-wheel-drive hybrid is a beautifully balanced blend of the best attributes of both the workhorse Ranger XP 900 and the sporty RZR S 1000 EPS.

The Ranger line is as rugged and utilitarian as they get with literally a ton of towing capability, a hydraulic-assisted dump box that can tote a ½-ton, and a class-leading payload capacity of 1,500 pounds. It’s great for dirt sport enthusiasts who need a versatile, all-wheel-drive utilitarian side-by-side.

RZRs, in stark contrast, are all about sportiness: fast and nimble with great power and speed. RZR S 1000s are long on suspension travel and seating comfort, but woefully short on storage capacity; anything larger than a small gear bag is left at the parking area because its fixed cargo box is tiny.

Enter the 2016 General. This sporty, stylish hybrid mix of RZR and Ranger brings with it a nicely balanced middle ground designed to outshine rival Can-Am’s Commander and gives Polaris lovers a machine capable of taking care of business on a hobby farm while fulfilling the need for speed at the off-road sport level.

Polaris put us in command of the General for day exploring the ruggedly beautiful mountains out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. After more than 50 trail miles it is easy to see how the Rangerized RZR S 1000 would easily find its way into Dirt Sports & Off-Road reader’s garages.

In General you’ll find the longer wheelbase of the Ranger, along with its low-range gearing for doing work things, a bigger cab, a dump box, towing and payload capacity, all seamlessly merged with the seating comfort, ground clearance, suspension travel, nimbleness and power of the RZR.

Power comes from the 100hp ProStar 1000 coupled to the Polaris AWD system. Although Polaris engineers used the Ranger’s low-range gearing for the “work” functions, we found the extra-low range gearing a great asset in climbing steep inclines and traversing boulder-strewn sections of the trails we drove. When speed called, the RZR’s high-range and 100hp engine had no problem zipping past 60mph even at the mile-high-plus elevations we drove.

COLOR CODED
Much like service medals, Polaris offers the General in three color-coded trim levels: Indy Red is the base model; Velocity Blue is mid-trim, outfitted with a front bumper and 4,500-pound-capacity electric winch along with 14-inch Matte Black cast aluminum wheels paired with eight-ply, 27-inch GBC Dirt Commander tires.

The top-tier General is Deluxe Orange Burst, and it adds three-way-adjustable Fox Podium X 2.0 QS3 Shocks, a sport roof with a rear-view mirror, and Bluetooth-ready 100W MTX Premium Soundbar that rocks big time.

During our frist drive we found the mid-level suspension to meet most need off-roaders needs. But the three-stage-adjustable Fox Podium shock option would come in quite handy for anyone running deserts or spending a lot of time in big dunes. The Fox shocks are equivalent to the Blue General’s when set at the softest setting; set at the stiffest (3) setting greatly increases compression valving, which would be good for towing or carrying a load in the bed.

GENERAL COCKPIT
During our day driving a mid-level blue General (I guess that’d be a two-star?) we put its all-wheel-drive system to the test over all types of snow-covered gravel ranch roads and old rocky logging trails. It’s a terrific trail machine in all respects.

In vehicle terms I’d call it the SUV of the side-by-side ATV market: It’s agile, powerful, and just flat fun to drive. The 81-inch wheelbase is two inches longer than the RZR, giving a nicer ride and more stability. The interior is almost three inches wider than the Ranger and RZR, with two inches more legroom and nicely bolstered bucket seats designed just for the General.

The cockpit even has a useable center console with multiple cubbies located around the cabin area to store smaller items.

Driving, or riding shotgun, the General makes you feel safe and secure, in part because the fiberglass half-doors offer great protection from debris, and the window openings are at just the right height to rest one’s arm. The doors are sealed as well, keeping water and muck off the driver and passenger, and they open wide making ingress/egress easier than either Ranger or RZR.

Another excellent improvement: The old “T”-bar has been nixed. In its place are a pair of sculpted passenger-seat grab handles, one located on the left side of the seat, the other built into the door. A small touch that makes a big difference.

COVERING GROUND
For a stable and smooth ride, this new side-by-side hybrid’s stretched RZR S 1000 chassis runs a dual a-arm front suspension with a class-best 12.25 inches of suspension travel combined with 13.2-inches of rear travel. The combo does a commendable job soaking up the jarring that comes when rolling over rocks, roots, bumps and ruts.

Standard front and rear sway bars keep the ride level and reduce body roll through aggressive cornering on trails. Ground clearance is also best-in-class, with a foot of air between the full-length skid plates and terra firma. Unloaded, it squats to 7.4 inches when loaded down with 600 pounds in the dumping bed or a heavy trailer on the receiver hitch. The close-ratio All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system pulled me up some steep trails I didn’t think possible to drive, snow and all. When needed, all four wheels will engage almost instantly for more forward traction and will revert back to 2WD when it is no longer needed.

Another key performance point for me is how well the Engine Braking System (EBS) works: Lift off the throttle and you feel the compression braking instantly, which is immensely useful when traversing steep descents or towing a trailer.

Along with the AWD and EBS system, a faster steering ratio coupled with standard Electronic Power Steering (EPS) across all three trim levels means the General takes the brunt of what the terrain has to offer so the driver and passenger can enjoy the drive.

MULTI-TASKING
The General would be a really good machine for anyone who wants a side-by-side that can do light-duty “work” chores as well as being capable of taking gear out on the trail, like hunters and weekend adventures might find handy.

To that end, Polaris offers 30 new accessories just for the General, including windows, heater, and bed storage boxes in addition to more than 90 Ranger Pro-Fit Lock & Ride accessories that span both work and play. So it can the General can be easily configured for whatever need arises.

Need lights? The General runs the highest output charging system Polaris offers, so adding LED light bars and the like are no issue. The base model is pre-wired for a winch and all have multiple areas on the dash ready for installing auxiliary switches.

Hybrid, or “cross-over” side-by-sides are a new breed. The Polaris General, which hits dealers in December, is going to attract a lot of interest in that arena because it fits the needs of those who want that middle ground between pure sport and pure utility. Well done, General.

2016 Polaris General Specifications

RZR S 1000 GENERAL Ranger XP 900 EPS
Engine ProStar 1000 ProStar 1000 ProStar 900
HP 100 100 68
Drive Type AWD/2WD AWD/2WD AWD/2WD
Ground Clearance (in.) 12.5 12 12
Suspension Travel F/R (in.) 12.25/13.2 12.25/13.2 10"/10"
Weight (lbs.) 1,235 1,430 1,373
Wheelbase (in.) 79 81 81
Overall Size (in.) 106x60x71.5 116.4x62.5x73.8 116.5x60x76
Engine Braking No Yes No
Electronic Power Steering Yes Yes Yes
Fuel Capacity (gal.) 9.5 9.5 10
Bed Box (in.) 20.7x37x7.9 27.5x43.1x11.6 36.5x54x11.5
Bed Capacity (lbs.) 300 600 1,000
Max. Towing (lbs.) 1,500 1,500 2,000
Max Payload (lbs.) 740 1,100 1,500
Top Speed (mph) 71 (Est.) 62 (Est.) 62 (Est.)
MSRP $17,999-$20,299 $15,999-$19.999 $14,499-$15,299

The Velocity Blue (mid-level) General is an excellent model for dirt sports enthusiasts looking for a sporty utility side-by-side that has a useable bed while providing very good suspension travel, handling and power.

With on-demand all-wheel-drive, a foot of ground clearance, and RZR suspension, the 100hp Polaris General is quite capable of traversing snow, mud, sand and other terrain and doing so with ease.

One of the selling points of the General is the hydraulic-assist dump bed that in between the size found of the RZR and Ranger. Bed payload capacity is 600 pounds.

Deluxe (Orange) Generals come standard with three-way-adjustable Fox shocks that give the new side-by-side better handling under heavier demands.

The General interior very automotive-like with bucket seats, console shifter, and a dash with easy-to-read instrumentation and switches within easy reach.

Three 2016 Polaris Generals: Mid-level Velocity Blue, top-end Deluxe Orange Burst, and the entry level Indy Red.

Bucket seats and a decent center console are just two of the improvements made to the interior that make the 2016 General a nicer drive than either Ranger of RZR.

Polaris has 30 new accessories for the General including these nifty cargo boxes that have seals around the lids to keep water and dust out

With 1,500-pound towing capacity and 2-inch-receiver, the General can handle the lighter utility chores with ease.

Outdoorsmen and dirt sports enthusiasts who need to carry gear into the backcountry will find the General more than capable of handling such tasks while providing power, traction and suspension travel to make the trips as quick and comfortable as the driver commands.

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