The Complete Guide to Selecting the Best UTVs of 2019
Written by Preston V. B.
Do you want to find the best UTV for your needs? You’ve come to the right place
These days, we truly live in a golden age for motorcycles, ATV’s, Side-by-Sides (SxS’s, or UTV’s), watercraft, and all the rest, a field collectively known as powersports. Products are multiplying and evolving at rates never before seen. Manufacturers are paying close attention to their customers and how they ultimately use their products and are using what they learn in current and future production. Focusing on the off-road segment, and having already covered ATV’s , I will address their bigger brothers here, known as either UTVs or Side-by-Sides.
A Quick Tutorial on UTVs
A quick Google search of the term “UTV” turns up two phrases for its meaning, Utility Terrain Vehicle, or Utility Task Vehicle. (I find) these terms (seem) to make relatively less sense than the competing phrase as well as being a bit antiquated, hinting at only the original usage of these great machines. The origin/genesis of these machines lies in industrial and agricultural fields, involving manufacturers such as John Deere, Kubota, and Ingersoll-Rand, yes, the Bobcat people. These manufacturers and their machines are all still around and they are very capable machines for their intended purposes, but they are one part of a much larger whole.
What is a Side-by-Side?
The term Side-by-Side (SxS) refers to the seating arrangement that is common to all such machines, regardless of origin or purpose, that being the single most distinguishing feature. No matter who made it, or what it is made for, the seats are all side by side, even with the addition of back seats. For this reason, that is the term I will continue to use here.
The SxS Market Today
Today’s market in 2019 offers more than ever before, and all signs point to an even more robust 2020 as well. Currently, there are 145 SxS’s to choose from made by six different manufactures, with an average Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $16,387. As with anything else, the trick is finding the right one for you.
Speaking of what they are made for, SxS’s ultimately serve at least one of three major functions:
- Utility, which is primarily farming and commercial related
- Recreation which is primarily hunting and family related
The trick is knowing which one you want, and more so, how much of it you want to do or to what magnitude. Know yourself, and what your intentions are. Generally speaking, while you want to get as close to the mark as possible, it is better to slightly overestimate than to underestimate to any degree.
Why Buy a UTV?
A common question these days is “why a Side-by-Side?” Occasionally it is followed by “for the price of some SxS’s, I could have a Jeep!” You’re probably wondering “what makes them worth it?”
Well, to put the bottom-line up front, you’re getting a purpose-built off-road vehicle, made to do that one thing very well.
SxS’s are in the Goldilocks zone between a traditional ATV and a full-sized vehicle like a Jeep or a truck. Achieving comparable speeds to either alternative, a SxS will be more powerful, and carry more than an ATV while being lighter, and more durable than a Jeep or truck. There are no metal panels to dent, paint to scratch, glass to break (unless you put some there), etc. SxS’s are shorter in length, narrower and shorter in height with less mass “above the waist” as it were, making them more maneuverable than any full-size vehicle in an off-road setting.
Due to drivers and passengers sitting “in”, as opposed to “on” them, they enjoy lower centers of gravity and therefore more stability as well. This was a lesson I learned the hard way the first time I tried to keep up with early sport SxS’s on my ATV. I could go much faster, in both acceleration and top speed on the straights, but could not safely keep up in turns. I was really working to throw my weight around and force the ATV to do what I needed and I was barely keeping up. Here we are, back at that bottom line; SxS’s are purpose built and they do their jobs incredibly well in 2019. Such performance is not readily available in any other vehicle.
Types of UTVs
There are now 3 distinct types of SxS’s out there today, as previously mentioned, Utility, Recreation, and Performance. While some may be able to dabble in the other areas, they remain distinguishable when compared to the others.
The originals are the utility models, these are where it all started and grew from. These are work focused with higher payload and towing capacities. Some distinguishing features are 3-person wide bench seating in both the front and, if equipped, the rear as well, typically larger cargo boxes, and multiple storage locations throughout the cabin area.
Utility SxS’s can often accommodate all sorts of additional equipment, from completely enclosed cabs with glass windows and even heating and air conditioning, to snow plows. Often, proprietary attachment points allow for racks designed to hold long hand tools like shovels and pickaxes, fluid tanks for sprayer systems, and the like. The far reaches of the utility SxS market and aftermarket can share a fence line with the agricultural industry. On the far side of that fence is where the aforementioned John Deere, Kubota and Ingersoll-Rand products still reside. Those machines still possess tractor genes and the latter has a hydraulic system and frontal attachment points for fork or bucket loader attachments. The machines here in our own pasture are more work horses than full on oxen.
The next logical step is recreation, which shares several traits with utility models, but are a better balance between work and play. On these, the 3-wide bench seating is more often replaced with bucket seating that is more supportive at higher speeds or steeper angles. Rear seating in recreational models can either be fixed, or more recently, convertible which folds away into the floor of the cargo box when not in use. The Rollover Protection Systems (ROPS) will cover all seating areas. Half doors are common OEM equipment on these models. While still capable of moving respectable payloads, slight concessions are made in that department for more comfortable rides or the ability to conquer more technical terrain. Recreational SxS’s are a great example of being a “Jack of all trades & master of none.” For most buyers of recreational models, they are just right, not as brutish as utility models and not as bonkers as performance models.
That brings us to the newest and most aggressively growing segment of the SxS market, the performance models. These are the most purpose-focused of them all. There are a few models within this ever-expanding segment that are even aimed squarely at specific types of terrain, almost to the point of making them unpleasant outside of their natural habitat. Mud focused models are a prime example. Most, however, just go for the biggest possible specs so they can devour the roughest possible terrain.
These models usually have no trailer hitch and very little in the way of cargo boxes. The glorified shelves at the rear of most performance machines usually lack a tailgate and the little space available is usually half full of a radiator or air intake components. If one must have cargo on board a performance model, then OEM accessories or the aftermarket will become inevitable.
Performance models are easily the most obvious to distinguish from the others, they have huge suspension, making them wider, allowing for larger tires. Of course, to go with those are larger engines, many of which are turbocharged nowadays. Power numbers for these models are commonly over 100 HP. The suspension travel numbers are almost measured in feet, the only things that consistently have more suspension travel than performance SxS’s any more are Baja racers, and they may well lose their edge in a few short years.
Now that we’ve covered the current market and the types and uses of SxS’, let’s begin to hone in on our ultimate question here: what are the best SxS’s of 2019? We’re covering seven major SxS manufacturers: Arctic Cat, Can-Am, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki, and Yamaha.
Best UTV Brands of 2019
Best In Innovation: Can-Am
The suspension systems used by Can-Am are not seen anywhere else in the industry, nor are the cargo areas that are permitted by said suspension. Their Commander, for example, essentially has two beds, with a smaller one below the main one. This additional bed has its own tailgate and the space can be used separately or combined with the upper main bed by removing the panel between them, oh and it still functions as a dump bed as well, and it is the recreation model, not the utility model.
Best In Reliability: Honda
Honda is still famous for their reliability. They may be a bit behind the cutting edge in some cases, it is getting harder to notice that these days, but when they commit to putting something on the market, you can rest easy that it will do exactly what is says on the box for years to come.
Best In Durability: Polaris
Polaris machines can be a bit on the heavy side, but they proudly proclaim how they are built to take anything you can throw at them. They’re right, I’ve seen them do it.
Best In Quality: Yamaha
Yamaha proudly draw from their success in other areas of motorsports, like Moto GP the motorcycle counterpart to Formula 1, and apply it to all of their products. Their products are very well rounded and have earned many loyal fans over the decades. They may not steal the show in any one measure of performance, but they are well put together and an appealing option nonetheless. I know I have a favorite from their stable, their Sport SxS engine is one of the more interesting developments in the industry, more on that shortly.
Best Overall: Kawasaki
Kawasaki is the granddaddy of them all, one of the original SxS’s. As a fan of them recently told me about them, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
On the power front, the war rages on in the SxS segment, just as it does in the ATV segment, between Can-Am and Polaris. Other manufacturers have gotten out into space and may have landed on the moon, so to speak, but these two manufacturers are going Mars or bust. This commercial war is being waged on multiple fronts, notice the model names… “Commander” vs. “General”. Polaris was in the lead, and then Can-am squeaked ahead, but as I was writing this piece, Can-Am went nuclear for 2020.
Polaris’ development of a line of engines specifically for SxS applications had been their primary weapon. Despite similar sounding displacement numbers, they are actually not the engines found in ATV’s, these are the ProStar engines, the current pinnacle of which is a 952cc, twin cylinder turbo engine producing 168 HP. It was narrowly beat this year by Can-Am’s Turbo R engine producing 172 HP, and they are making it a combination counter attack. Published online now, and coming soon is their Turbo RR. An extra R, and 23 extra ponies, from 172 up to 195 out of a 900cc 3-cylinder turbo engine. 200 HP is now a bolt-on part away. It even makes me ask “What’s next?” SxS engines are now out-cranking a lot of sport bike engines on the roads today. Let’s see what you’ve got Polaris!
Having gone on long enough about the manufacturers, here are the best models in each class of the market.
Best UTVs of 2019: Utility, Money, Family, Trail Riding and Mud, Hunting, Performance and Overall
Best Utility UTV 2019: Polaris Ranger
For utility, the top spot goes to the Polaris Ranger, not really a surprise there. Of Course, Can-Am won’t have that and is hot on their trail with their Defender. The Ranger starts at $5,499 and can go all the way up to $27,299 when all the bells and whistles are added. Check out the available Ranger inventory in your area using GoRollick. Polaris Ranger is good value for a great product, to mean slightly pricier, but worth it.
It weighs in at 1,342 lbs for the single bench model to 1936 lbs for the Crew model. It measures 62.5” wide, 77” tall, 116.5”-152” long, again, regular and then Crew model. All the great classic Polaris features are present, and some are even improved. Those massive payloads I mentioned earlier are 1,000 lb bed capacity, and 2,500 lb towing capacity. Storage has appeared in what was previously unused space in years past such as flip up seats, and an array of bins in and under the dashboard. Comfort is improved with thicker seat padding. It is time tested and continues to improve. The ranger offers the most options for size and power, 2, 3 or 6 seat, 500cc up to 1000cc, and even an EV.
Best UTV for the Money 2019: Yamaha Viking
The Yamaha Viking is great value for a good product. Note that “good” and “great” have swapped places here. A top trim model from Yamaha can be had for the base model to mid-range price of a Polaris or Can-Am. The Viking starts at around $11,999 and ranges up to $15,599. Go to GoRollick to check out available trims and inventory in your area.
The Viking tips the scales as 1420 lbs – 1695 lbs for the 3 vs. 6-seater. The tape says 62” wide, 76” high, 122”-154” long and it brings a 600 lb bed capacity, and 1,500 lbs of towing to work all day. It packs the fan favorite 686cc engine, and a full set of features now considered standard, locking front differential, dump bed, seating for 3 or 6, large fuel tank, underbody protection, and digital gauge display. While it may not be the absolute best at any one thing, you’ll want for nothing while spending less money. Also “Viking” just sounds cool, one can bring the whole hoard and get a lot of off-road pillaging done with this one.
Best Side-by-Side UTV for the Family: Yamaha Wolverine X4
Yamaha delivers great value in an easily manageable package, which is great for family outings in the Wolverine X4. It has a standard-length wheelbase for easier handling and storage. The rear seating is individually stowable, seat folding vertically and the back sliding forward, flat up against the front seats when not in use. Mechanically, the Wolverine X4 musters respectable power from its 847cc twin cylinder. The entire powertrain is designed to run as quietly as possible with as little noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) as possible for all day comfort.
Additionally, the powertrain is arranged to sit as low and centered as possible to further enhance handling and passenger comfort. It also competes with all the high-end models in available accessories, from a full length roof panel to a completely enclosed cab with a windshield wiper, locking doors and rear window/hatch, sliding windows, an in-dash stereo and integrated heater.
Best UTV for Trail Riding and Best UTV for Mud 2019: Can-Am Maverick Trail 1000, Polaris RZR 900, & Polaris RZR XP 1000 High Lifter Edition
Trail: Can-Am Maverick Trail 1000 & Polaris RZR 900
The term “trail” in the context of SxS’s is actually legally defined. The U.S. Forest Service mandates an overall vehicle width of no more than 50” on the vast trail networks it maintains across the country. Personally, I don’t see this as an issue, I am just glad that the USFS accommodates us motor loving people. The only two machines that fit the bill are the Can-Am Maverick Trail 1000 & Polaris RZR 900. Just as on every other front in the ongoing commercial war between Can-Am & Polaris, the opposing products are nearly identical as one reads their spec sheets, that notion holds most true in this segment of the market thanks to Uncle Sam. Power is dead even at 75 HP from each despite the 100cc advantage of the Can-Am, and the Polaris weighs in at just over 200lbs lighter. Suspension remains within the 50” spec, of course, but the Maverick has some heavier duty components. The Polaris does not come with power steering in this trim while the Can-Am can be had with or without. But in the all important aspect of value, The Can-Am Maverick Trail DPS 1000, with its power steering is priced $400 cheaper than the Polaris at $12,999.
Mud: Polaris RZR XP 1000 High Lifter Edition
Accompanying the high-performance models are versions tailored for deep mud. Beginning with the same high-performance platforms and most of the suspension, mud models get their own finishing touches on the suspension, retuned shocks, etc. lower gearing, ang larger tires with massive sweeping tread blocks and high mounted snorkels to feed dry air to the engine and transmission. Polaris retains the crown for 2019 with the highest ground clearance at 15”, most suspension travel at 20.5”, and tires with the deepest treads at 1 5/8” to 2 ¾”. Expect that may change in the upcoming year as Can-am prepares to return fire with their Maverick X3 X-MR Turbo RR, we’ll see if Polaris is prepared to counter in 2020.
Best Side-by-Side UTV for Hunting 2019: Can-Am Defender, Mossy Oak Edition (Runner-up Polaris Ranger 1000XP Back Country Edition)
When it comes to hunting specific models, the two highest performing models come from Polaris and Can-Am, also as expected, each of their machines are nearly identical on paper. Each has a 3-person capacity with folding seats with storage below, and an incredibly similar set of options tailoring them for the hunt right from the factory. Each has a 4,500lb winch, arched A-arm suspension for increased clearance, underbody protection, multiple drive modes, and of course a commercial camouflage pattern. Both also are ideal platforms for the plethora of accessories to further customize and enhance functionality.
Where they begin to differ is in the outskirts of accessory territory: The Polaris includes high mounted intakes emerging right behind the center seat, whereas the Can-Am brings a hard roof. Even finer point of distinction is in how each approach their various drive modes. Both models have 2WD, 4WD or AWD, work and turf modes as well as hill descent control and their own forms of auto locking front differentials. The Can-Am Defender Mossy Oak Edition edges out the win thought due to its $19,699 MSRP compared to Polaris’ $19,899 while focusing on the more commonly added accessories such as the solid roof panel.
Now for the big dogs, the best of the performance machines.
Best Performance UTV 2019: Can-Am 2019 Maverick X3 X RS Turbo R
Can-Am’s 2019 Maverick X3 X RS Turbo R vs. Polaris’ RZR XP Turbo S.
Can-Am is the current power leader, and charging hard into the next model year. The Mav is the one heavily raced at professional levels including Baja and Dakar. Those are two events where an eerily high proportion of entrants never see the finish line from their race vehicle. The whole Maverick line is huge, 3 sub-models and 19 variants, including terrain specific models and various trim levels. Almost too much really, it makes for some long names. The current king of the hill is the 2019 Maverick X3, X, RS, Turbo R. Say that three times fast. The Mav is still faster.
This high trim model rings up at $27,299 for the 2-seater, $29,899 for the 4-seater. It is one of the most expensive options on the market, but you get a lot of performance for that. Physically, you get 1,627 lbs and 132” L, 72” W, 68” H worth for the 2-seater and 1,858 lbs & 165” L if you go for two more seats. Just in case you glossed over the number-y bits, this thing is a full six feet wide. The suspension travels 24”, yep, two whole feet. All that mounted to a chassis with a low-slung cabin and stuffed with that 172 HP engine and you have specs that were not too many years ago only seen in the farthest reaches of the aftermarket.
Polaris was winning the power war just last year. That is how often the crown changes hands. They do still retain some top marks though, edging out the Mav by inches in suspension travel and tire size. Polaris also speaks highly of the engineering they put into their RZR, how they built it to handle the larger components they fit to it. They aren’t giving up their durability edge either. Less than 5-10% separates the specs in all other areas, the battle rages on. How will Polaris counter the offensive from the north? 200+ HP maybe?
Best Overall SxS: Can-Am Commander (Runner Up Polaris General)
Moving on to Recreation, Can-Am strikes back, and a relatively newer challenger steps onto the battlefield. The Can-Am Commander offers a multitude of trim levels with a total of seven with prices ranging from $11,199 to $22,099. There really is something for everyone, making Can-Am quality more accessible than ever. Measuring in at 118” long, 58.6” wide, and 72” high for the 2-seater base model, and 150” L, 63” W, 76” H for the 4-seater Limited model. Weights are 1291 lbs & 1572 lbs respectively. The Commander has long been regarded as the best combination of work and play in on the market. Features like the dual level cargo bed are exclusive here. This model has a track record of handling business on and off duty. It is Can-Am’s longest running model, so there is a lot of hard-earned knowledge about it and loads of OEM and aftermarket accessories, as if the Limited needs
The Commander narrowly wins out over the Polaris General for the amount of choice a buyer has, more engines, more trims, more options. The General is a stiff competitor, and being a newer model it incorporates a lot of lessons learned but it may appear less appealing to those less interested is a 1000cc, 100HP engine as the only choice.
How to Buy a Side-by-Side UTV
Although SxS’s have gotten more affordable in the last decade, they are still a pricey piece of machinery to purchase. Ranging from $2,000 all the way up to $20,000+, some of us will need to finance our SxS and all of us want to get the best deal possible. If financing is something you are considering, read through Rollick’s definitive guide to getting a UTV loan to help you through the process. When you’re ready to get an offer on your UTV, make sure to see all of the best available UTV incentives, rebates and deals here. If you’re confused as to how these incentives work, you can read through Rollick’s UTV incentives guide. When you’re ready to see pricing, head to GoRollick.com where you can search inventory, see pricing and buy from a national network for dealers.
As I’ve said before, there is something out there for everyone. We really are living in a golden age for powersports. We as buyers have more choices than ever before. Manufacturers are listening to their consumers and their products reflect that more every year. The best part is that cost-conscious buyers are not left out! Just about anyone can feasibly get themselves into a machine of top-notch quality these days. There is no better way to get so much performance out of a relatively light package right off the showroom floor.
From tiny dump truck to tiny Trophy Truck and everything in between. Side-by-Sides really do what nothing else can. Should you decide to join the huge and still growing club of SxS owners, the Rollick Buying Program is standing by to help… (Program Details…). Just be sure to know yourself, and your intent. Be realistic. Think ahead and know that you’ll likely be happier with a slight overestimation than any degree of underestimation when it comes to how much Side-by-Side you want or need. If you enjoyed this article, check out my complete guide to the best atvs of 2019.
The Rollick Buying Experience
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