Take a side-by-side look at these two UTVs and the RZR 4 clearly has a more race-inspired stance. The chassis is lower, wider, longer and is wrapped in aggressive bodywork. Polaris
uses a 760cc High Output engine to propel the RZR 4. It enjoys a slight 11cc displacement advantage over the Kawasaki but the biggest difference is the cylinder configuration and engine location. Polaris uses a Parallel Twin format and places the engine all the way at the back of the vehicle, behind the rear seats. On the sand the H.O. engine feels considerably stronger than the Kawasaki, all of our riders were convinced it was faster. Once we lined them up we discovered the opposite is true.
Rough, high-speed terrain like the dunes is where the RZR excels. Keeping the engine up in the rpm help avoid the CVT belt issues.
Polaris uses a continuously variable transmission (which it coins the PVT) which relies on engine rpm to engage the drive belt. This design produces a noticeable lag coming off idle, which allows the Kawasaki to pull away quickly. Once the engine spins up, the UTVs are dead even. We couldn’t coax the Polaris into catching the Teryx4. The lag is also noticeable under normal driving conditions, but not nearly to the same extent. At the end of the day, our drivers were all convinced that the RZR is faster overall in the dunes, but it’s not a direct result of the powerplant.
“We were surprised to find out that the Teryx4 actually beats it in any form of drag race,” says MotoUSA Editorial Director Ken Hutchison. “But there’s no denying the seat-of-the-pants-feel that the RZR 4 hauls ass. This engine makes you feel like you’re in a race vehicle and that makes it a lot of fun.”
“On the sand, the RZR's motor was killing it,” confirms Harley.
Also, having lived with the RZR 4 for two years now, we know firsthand that the inherent slipping and variable belt tension on the PVT wears out belts. We’ve replaced several and it can lead to costly repairs. The 2012 Robby Gordon Edition RZR 4 sells for $14,499. That’s a healthy chunk less than our fully decked Kawi and $700 will buy a good supply of spare belts. Part of the reason for the price drop from our 2010 model ($14,999) is that the new standard Robby Gordon doesn’t have Maxxis tires or Crusher aluminum rims, color-matched springs, painted control arms, custom seat, custom colors or carbon fiber hood.
Long wheelbase and wide track make the RZR 4 a good slider. Polaris also manages to provide a low center of gravity while retaining high ground clearance.
Polaris is proud of its chassis design and how it incorporates the engine into the rear of the UTV. This affects the handling and stability of the chassis and we credit it for helping weight the rear end and prevent bucking. A wheelbase of 103 inches is almost 17-inches longer than the T4. At high speeds this provides incredible stability. Whoops or surprise impacts don’t pitch the rear end and it has never swapped as long as we’ve been driving it. An anti-sway bar in the rear and a low center of gravity allow for long powerslides and quick direction changes without fear of rolling over.
“The RZR out-handles the Teryx for sure,” says Hutchison. “The Fox shocks and longer wheelbase make it feel more stable, and it exhibits less body roll when making fast or slow maneuvers."
The added length is also fantastic for climbing hills. We never feel like it wants to tip over backwards on extreme inclines. In very tight terrain the Kawasaki will squeeze between obstacles easier and require fewer three-point turns, but the RZR’s front end stays planted better and minimizes the advantage. Polaris beefed up the skidplate on the newer RZR 4 which is a good thing. The undercarriage definitely takes more of a beating than the Kawi’s. An extra 17 inches between the tires allows the frame to run aground more often, which means the driver has to carry more speed and slam across mounds and obstacles in order to prevent getting high-centered. If the driver does get stuck, the AWD system is not as effective at scrapping out of a bind as the Teryx4’s true 4WD with locking front differential.
The extra wheelbase isn’t as much of a drawback as expected in tight riding. It’s often possible to use the extra length, width and stability to avoid scraping with creative driving. Even though it’s long, the RZR 4 still boasts 11.5 inches of ground clearance, and the 12-inches of suspension travel allow it to articulate well. We found that it will reach across gaps better than the Kawasaki and that helps keep it from dropping into holes and wanting to tip. It’s possible to drive the RZR 4 off ledges and across off-camber sections that will give the Teryx4 fits. The biggest drawback for rock crawling and super-technical riding is the PVT clutch system which is jerky, inconsistent and subject to overheating even in Low range, but the chassis works fine.
The Polaris is surprisingly good in tight terrain. It can drag its belly on sharp obstacles, but the CVT belt is what truly holds it back.
“It’s long and low so it drags its belly across the gnarly rocks and climbs,” admits Hutchison. “Yet, in our big, scary hillclimb test the RZR kicked-ass. Its long wheelbase turned out to work well by allowing us to reach across obstacles and set a wide footprint in the ravines.”
Our test unit is not equipped with power steering and we thought this would hurt the Polaris in our comparison. That’s not the case, however. Most drivers preferred unassisted steering in the sand and even in tight terrain the RZR is manageable. Some of that is due to the adjustable steering wheel, which makes the Kawasaki’s rigid, high placement feel very utilitarian. Also, with Fox Podium 2.0 shocks, the RZR 4 handles sudden impacts easily and rarely wants to jerk the wheel, so the damping effects of EPS aren’t as necessary. Don’t get us wrong, we love EPS in general, but the Kawasaki’s system is a little too sensitive for sand riding and it doesn’t necessarily give it an advantage in this test. Springing for the steering assist on a new RZR 4 will definitely increase the price as well.
Everyone who hopped in the front passenger seat of the RZR immediately loved the adjustable T-handle grip. This design fits a wide variety of rider sizes and keeps their arms inside the vehicle. The Teryx4 has a handle that’s high up on the roll cage, spreading the rider out and putting their hand/arm near the exterior of the vehicle. Smaller passengers or kids might not even be able to reach the Kawi handhold. The adjustable Polaris design is definitely the industry standard.
“The T-handle grab bar is a must-have for hauling ass,” exclaims father-of-four, Hutchison. “It makes for a better passenger experience when you can hold on for dear life with both hands.”
While riding along in the front is excellent, the rear is less accommodating. Stadium style seating places the passengers slightly higher than the front, but visibility is not as good as the Kawasaki. The biggest issue, though, is the tight layout. Kids don’t seem to mind, but adults will have their knees in contact with the seats in front of them. It’s actually nice to squeeze them in rough terrain, but for the most part it is uncomfortable. Fully removable and adjustable seats are a highlight. They aren’t as wide or cushy as the Kawasaki’s but they’re still comfortable, provide a secure platform and aren’t quite as upright.
“The RZR has the feel of a race car instead of the upright position of the Teryx,” says 5’8” Shane Irons. “That being said, the suspension of the RZR is miles above the Teryx when bombing over whoops or tearing through worm trails. I wasn’t shaken around as bad at higher speeds.”
The RZR lacks some comfort and protection for its passengers, but it has an excellent front grab bar. Neither machine comes equipped with flag mounts.
“As a passenger, the layout is fairly Spartan,” says MotoUSA’s 220-pound Cruiser Editor in regards to the RZR. “The front passenger seat has a grab bar to hold on to. At six-foot-tall, I also bumped by legs on it a couple of times. There are no doors and it's an open air cockpit with a roll cage, so you're fully exposed to elements like wind, sand and rain.”
Even the new Limited Edition RZR 4 doesn’t come with a cab roof, but they are available as a Polaris accessory or through multiple aftermarket outlets. Our riders all enjoyed the extra protection that the Kawasaki provides. Where the Kawi uses full doors and a plastic roof, the RZR has a low-profile cage and nets. The top is able to slide underneath overhanging branches and nets keep down weight. The new RZR 4 has a claimed dry weight of 1255 pounds while the Kawi is listed at 1627 pounds (curb), another reason the Polaris handles better. Still, drivers and passengers were all fed up with inconvenience of the nets. It’s a pain to get in and out and they offer no protection from mud. Washing the RZR is always more of a chore as a result.
“I’ve grown fond and comfortable with the RZR 4,” admits Ken. “The seats are trick and comfortable and the reach to the controls is great for my 5’8” frame. The seat belts always seem to get me across the neck though and I’ve grown weary of cinching up the nets and clipping them in place. I like the control layout, but its minimalist by comparison.”
We’ve lived happily with the Polaris for two years. Compared to the Kawasaki, especially our LE model, it’s more of a bare-bones option. While offering more sport performance, the ride quality is exceptionally high from the suspension and chassis. It would be easier and cheaper to add comfort items as accessories than it would be to get the same racy edge in the Teryx4.