We can’t help but thrive on all things mechanical, especially when machines are powered by efficient performance engines and fitted with real four-wheel drive. We’ve always said, “What good is a truck or off-road machine if it doesn’t have a good balance of power and four-wheel drive?” So when John Deere released the Gator RSX850i we were all over it.
After some seat time on our initial test drive of the RSX850i we were impressed and hooked (Apr./May ’13). We wheeled the little machine over some of the toughest trails in America and had a blast. In comparison to other manufacturers’ machines, the nimble Gator met our expectations of a sport/utility side-by-side. In recreational terms, we would be proud to show up with the Gator when a bunch of friends got together with their side-by-sides!
Unfortunately we missed the mud and snow we were hoping to get into when we had our hands on the Gator, but because of the hours we had spent in it we don’t have any qualms saying we think it would perform just fine in either. We literally beat the crap out of Gator in our testing, so much so that we were a little worried when the guys from John Deere picked it up. They just smiled, threw it on the truck, and drove away! We were a little sad to see it go, but over the course of a year we also had a blast jumping the Gator, working the hell out of it on our little ranch, and wheeling it over rocks, sand, and hard-packed dirt. We even rolled it! Never once did the Gator fail us or underperform. Even after we rolled it, we just pushed it back over and kept on going.
The RSX850i is available in three versions: standard, Sport, and Trail. The Gators start in price from around $12,999 to over $15,199, depending on the model, features, and accessories. That’s a hefty sum of cash to plop down for some folks, but it seems to be the going rate for a side-by-side these days. A number of accessories are available for the RSX850i that make it more appealing to some. We installed the overhead radio system and tested the full front windshield. The radio system took less than an hour to install and was great for entrainment out on the trail, especially with satellite radio pumping through the speakers. The windshield worked great in damp and wet conditions, keeping the cold wind off our faces. However, we would not recommend the full windshield for dry dusty conditions because it causes dust to swirl in a vortex inside the cab and makes it hard to see and breathe.
Our testing let us get to know the Gator intimately. Although we experienced far more positive aspects of the RSX85i, it wouldn’t be fair to review it for you without telling you about a couple of downsides we found. We’re in a bit of sticker shock about the pricing of the three versions of Gators, which we find on the spendy side. Adding accessories would put the Trail version to well over $17,000. However, as we said, the pricing of the Gator falls in line with all other side-by-sides on the market. We can’t help but think that other off-road vehicles out there would suit our needs more economically, like an old Jeep or truck. Also, we think the boys at Deere should work on a quieter exhaust for the machine. The engine and exhaust are noisy—with a helmet, on it is difficult to communicate with driver or passenger. If the Gator is used for hunting the noise would scare away any alert game.
Overall we loved the suspension, especially the Fox 2.0 shocks and the power-to-weight ratio of the Gator. The suspension would absorb harsh and rough roads with ease, and driver and passenger fatigue after long rides was almost nonexistent. We feel that a one-SUV family would benefit from an RSX850i if it were their only machine. Not only can it be used as a tool around the ranch or farm, but it performs exceptionally well out on the trail, dunes, and beaches for a great day of recreational four-wheeling.
2013 Gator RSX850i
Engine: 839cc four-stroke V-twin
Torque: 59.5 lb-ft
Top Speed: 53 mph
Transmission: 2-speed continuously variable
4WD: On-demand true 4-wheel drive
Suspension: Optional Fox 2.0 Performance series shocks/coilovers
Axles: Front and rear independent
Tires & Wheels: Alloy wheels with Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires
Ground Clearance: 9 in.
Accessories: A full line of accessories is available, including Warn winch, brushguards, skidplates, windshield (half and full), full underbody skid protection, poly sport roof, lighting, cargo, and sporting options