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2021 John Deere Gator XUV835M First Drive

Could the best all-around UTV be a John Deere?

The UTV and side-by-side market has recently exploded in popularity. Vehicles that were once used on the farm and construction site have now made their way into the mainstream as implements of recreation. And if there's any manufacturer that has the right to win in this space, it's John Deere.

While John Deere may be best known for its large green tractors and other farm and construction equipment, the company has been producing the Gator line of utility vehicles for many years. Recently, John Deere made the jump from producing just the Gator utility vehicles often found roaming golf courses and sports arenas and added the more consumer-oriented Gator XUV lineup to the stable. For 2021 the Gator XUV is offered with the choice of seating for two, three, or four passengers, with the choice of several John Deere fuel-injected engines in both gasoline and diesel, three different trim levels, and with a plethora of options too long to list.

When John Deere called us up and offered the use of a Gator XUV for a couple weeks, we quickly said yes. What arrived was a brand-new 2021 Gator XUV835M three-seater clad in the company's new camouflage color scheme. The Gator XUV835M sports an 812cc three-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 54 hp and 47 lb-ft of torque. While that power figure may seem on the lower end of UTVs (the top-dog turbo cars produce almost 200 hp), it's worth noting that the Gator can tow up to 2,000 pounds and haul up to 1,000 pounds in the bed. This is more than most compact crossovers currently on the market can boast.

The Gator XUV835M sports a fully independent suspension, with dual A-arms and adjustable coilover shocks at all four corners. The rear is equipped with an anti-sway bar. The front suspension features 7.9 inches of wheel travel, while the rear bumps up to 9.1 inches. Curb weight for our tester clocked in at about 2,200 pounds wet. Because there are so many options, it's difficult to nail down a price range for the Gator XUV; however our 835M tester came in at about $22,000 delivered, and different models start anywhere from about $15,000 and run up to nearly $30,000.

Now, we have to admit, we're a bit outside of the Gator XUVs intended use case. This class of UTV (the market segments into utility, recreation, and sport categories, roughly) falls more to the recreation side of the house. This means that while it has fun styling, decent wheel travel, and knobby tires, it's still geared at getting work done. For example, our tester came equipped with a locking rear differential, a limited-slip front differential, and a hydraulic dump bed. We feel the Gator XUV is best suited for people who like to explore the woods, hunt, fish, and the like. People who need a vehicle that can work the ranch on Friday and get to the hunting blind or remote camping spot on Saturday.

Where we're based, on in the West Coast in Southern California, the UTV scene is dominated by the much larger and much more terrain-specific sport UTVs (think Polaris RZR and CanAm Maverick X3). So, when we set out to test the Gator XUV835M, we knew we were a bit out of its element. And before you ask, we were limited to private property for our testing as the Gator wasn't registered for OHV use in California, so our options for driving were pretty slim.

Despite all of this, we were still able to have an absolute blast with the Gator. We found the engine to be plenty powerful for all of the exploring that we did and never really found ourselves wishing for more. When in two-wheel drive the vehicle let the tail slide a bit, and then for more traction engaging four-wheel drive was as easy as a quick flip of the dash switch. The rear locking differential was activated by a dash switch, as well. For the really steep hill climbs there's a low range, which not only helps the vehicle climb but also extends the life of the CVT belt.

While the 835M has a published top speed of 45 mph, we managed to hit 42 mph at full song in the dirt with two people on board. The suspension handled all of the bumps we could throw at it with ease, so long as we were mindful of throttle input (read: don't roll the whoops too quickly). We really enjoyed the electric power steering, and the new "automotive style" controls made driving the 835M about as simple as it ever could be. Shifting in and out of gears was easy, and the digital dashboard displayed all of the important information that we needed to know.

What we learned during our short time with the 2021 John Deere Gator XUV835M was that this is one vehicle that's packed with both loads of fun and tons of utility. If there was truly a jack-of-all-trades UTV, this may just be it. Sure, you can get Gator XUVs with fewer features, or more features, but this middle-of-the-pack 835M seems like the hot ticket to us. We enjoyed driving it over the desert terrain we had at our disposal, and we can see where it would be a lot more fun in the dense tree-lined and mud-rutted forests found almost everywhere else in the U.S. The 835M can tow and haul enough to be useful in almost all household or ranch-style situations, and it's comfortable enough that nearly anyone can drive it. We also found that nothing makes children laugh more than hours upon hours of Gator rides around the front yard (our grass still hasn't recovered, but that's OK).