shook up the sport UTV market with the introduction of the RZR 4 in 2010. We’ve spent considerable time with the revolutionary side-by-side over the past year and racking up hours on the dunes quickly became a favorite pastime for our testers and their families, as you can see in our 2010 Polaris RZR 4 First Ride
. During the summer we enjoyed the quiet, spark-arrested 800 Twin for cruising forest roads and kicking up dust between multiple trips to the Oregon Coast. The 4-seater is right at home in the sand, but as the weather has turned we were anxious to get more time in the dirt. We’ve slopped through local poker runs, crossed knee-deep creeks and chased snow drifts at higher elevations. The big RZR is proving to be much more than a shrunken dune buggy.
Polaris’ 760cc HO Twin was sufficient for carrying a full load through the sand, but not exactly with overwhelming authority. In the dirt, the 80 x 76mm cylinders are much more effective and fun. Electronic fuel injection allowed the RZR to crank over and fire right away, every time regardless of if it had been running hard in 100-degree heat, or if it was right off the trailer on a 50-degree morning. Throttling is a little abrupt for the first few minutes until the engine gets up to temp, but after that we had no problems at all with the engine ever missing a beat. Braking from the Twin is noticeable as well. On relatively flat trails we wish it was less intrusive, but whenever the front end tilts down it’s nice to count on some additional slowing power. It’s most noticeable with just a driver or one passenger.
On dusty surfaces, the Twin has the power to spin the rear tires which is not only fun, but helps in steering. We typically kept the RZR 4 in high range and smashed the throttle, relying on the suspension. Because it can absorb so much punishment, we found the motor had enough steam to pack the four-seater over almost anything in 2WD as long as you keep momentum up and the tires spinning. When the going gets technical or we need to slow down to not freak out the kids in the back seats, low range works great for minimizing speed but keeping revs in the safe zone. Bogging the engine is not the preferred method, and we learned the hard way.
Drifting the rear end is a little more difficult with the longer wheelbase, but the engine is powerful enough to spin the tires, particularly on dry ground or gravel roads.
After a complete year of riding, we’ve only experienced one mechanical issue. The clutch belt inside the PVT transmission failed at the 20-hour mark. When the belt came apart it damaged a bearing, which made for a larger repair than expected, requiring the entire engine to be pulled out. The service was done by our local certified Polaris dealer and the replacement belt has held up without problems. The issue was due mostly to our own driving misuse by creeping around the dunes at too slow of a pace for high range. The engine needs to spin up in order to get a secure grip on the belt and avoid burning it up. If you plan on going slow with the family, be sure to drop it into low range. The belt is a wear item so eventually it’s going to be replaced anyway, but that doesn’t mean you want to do it right off the bat. We overestimated the transmission and it cost us. Heavy duty belts are available and aftermarket clutch kits are some of the hottest performance upgrades.
Aside from our learning curve blunder, the engine has been solid. We like the Parallel Twin even more in the dirt. It’s fairly economical, getting an even 60 miles on one tank of fuel (7.25 gallons) during one of our trips. Our top indicated speed on a dirt road was 56 mph with one passenger.
The first thing everyone wants to know is how it handles. Various conditions require different driving styles and we found great success simply by changing the preload and compression settings on the Fox Podium X 2.0 racing shocks. In the dunes we cranked down the collars a couple turns to handle our heavy passengers and high speeds. In the woods, backing off the shock preload three turns improved the RZR’s ability to twist comfortably and absorb rocks, roots and ruts at the slower pace of trail driving. However, it also made the chassis more tippy. We also dropped a few pounds of air in the tires during rides where we knew the speeds would be low, adding a bit of comfort and an expanded footprint.
Overall the suspension has proven to offer a wide range of performance from high-speed pounding to comfortable cruising. Passengers are always amazed by how cushy the ride is, especially in the front seats. Things seem a lot faster when you aren’t in control of the steering wheel, but every time we cringed in anticipation of an impact, the RZR simply soaked it up without hesitation. Passengers riding in the back get jostled around more as the rear end springs over bumps. Also, the seating arrangement is more compact, making the rear better for smaller passengers, but not necessarily uncomfortable for adults.
The RZR 4 is long, no doubt. A 103-inch wheelbase is over two feet longer than the RZR S, which has become a standard in side-by-side performance. As a result, one area where the RZR 4 consistently excels is during climbing. The extra 26 inches between wheels provides incredible traction when tackling hills. Having the rear wheels located at the very back of the vehicle is an advantage as well. The small bed is located above and in front of the tires, which prevents it from acting like a counterbalance. Even a load of cargo has little effect on the four-seater’s uphill abilities. Flip the AWD switch and this baby is seemingly unstoppable on ascents. This longitudinal stability is great for high-speed riding as well. The responsive motor and excellent traction afforded by the Maxxis Bighorn tires always kept us in control.
The turning radius is a little wide at slow speeds, but the extra wheelbase is rarely noticed moving down the trail. The RZR’s belly scrapes on some of the steeper waterbars, but getting high-centered is never much of a concern with the smooth-gliding skidplate. Big Jeep barriers are common in our favorite riding area and consist of two large mounds with a hole in the center. Again, with the wheel placement at the very front and rear, approach angles are exceptional and it’s very simple to roll up obstacles without getting hung up. Some creative driving and learning to use the wheelbase to our advantage actually makes some of these larger obstacles easier on the RZR 4 than perhaps a shorter UTV. Because it can span the gaps more effectively, the RZR 4 has enough traction to accelerate hard up the second face with enough momentum to bump the glide plate and slide down the backside.
The RZR 4 easily fits on well-worn ATV trails even with its 60.5-inch width.
Tight turns are less of a hassle than anticipated. We got bound up a few times when an uphill trail turned sharply between two trees. Despite the 60.5-inch width, the RZR 4 will go on most of our heavily used ATV trails (read, blown out), even the so-called 50-inch trails. The problem is typically at the start or end of a trail where maintenance crews have placed rocks, gates or cement blocks at exactly the designated width. We’ve accidentally wound up on some tight trails only to retrace our route because the exit was blocked. Fortunately, getting turned around is easy. The 26 x 9-12 and 26 x 12-12 Bighorn tires resist slipping and the width provides horizontal stability. The driver needs to have patience and allow the rpms to fall below about 1300 on the indicated digital tach, otherwise the transmission grinds obnoxiously.
The roll cage is built to accommodate the stadium seating, meaning it’s significantly higher in the rear. A few branches that slipped unnoticed over the driver’s head got caught. Getting used to this is no different than learning a minor adjustment for the longer wheelbase, and ultimately we found that the RZR’s multi-piece cage caught less than expected. We loved dropping into low range and blazing our own trails, often through blackberry bushes or brush that dwarf the Polaris, but the cage does a good job of deflecting that stuff away from the front passengers. Those in the rear will get more scratched up.
The seats are extremely comfortable. We had no problem sitting in the RZR for hours, which is a good thing since we love driving it so much. Having stadium style seating with the rear passengers higher than the front makes riding in the back much more pleasurable. We did have issues with the frame guards coming off the front seats, allowing our knees to bang against the metal. And speaking of that, we wrapped foam around the cage where it cradles the front passengers. After smashing an elbow during aggressive driving, this is something that Polaris should consider making standard.
Seatbelts hold fast though it would be nice to have a better harness system for serious riding. Because the RZR is so gnarly, we often find ourselves in places that push the comfort level. During these times, knowing there’s a foolproof harness system would ease our minds. Polaris also needs to equip the safety nets with better clasps. The nets themselves are great, but we’ve continued to have issues with the buckles which are small and cheap.
Camping and exploring with the family are what the big RZR is all about.
The tilt steering wheel makes getting comfortable in the cockpit extremely easy. Our testers were all happy to leave the adjustable seats alone thanks to the easy steering placement. Slipping in and out with the extended roll cage can be cumbersome at times, especially with extra rain gear and multiple layers of clothing. Honestly we didn’t think this was going to be such a big deal, but moving the wheel up is a big help and we’ve come to rely on the hydraulic system every time we use the RZR – great feature. The steering wheel itself is a hard plastic, but it has ergonomic contours (lumps) at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, making for an easy grip. About the only thing we’d like to add is power steering, which Polaris has done for 2011.
It comes with two 12V power sockets. One is located on the front dash and the other is between the two rear seats, close to the cup holders. And speaking of, we didn’t lose a single water bottle – ever. Both of these features add to the riding experience, but we’d trade them all, or at least the second set, for a glove box. The RZR 4 is seriously hurting for storage. The 2011 model comes with one mounted below the adjustable front passenger T-grab. Unfortunately, our ’10 model only has the compartment underneath the front hood. We keep the stock tool kit and spanner wrench, zip-ties, one water bottle, some rags and a spare PVT belt, but that’s about max capacity.
We used the Polaris as a pack mule/support vehicle to carry spare fuel, lunches and dry clothes as we chased our friends around a local poker run event. Whatever your off-road desires, the RZR 4 can take you there.
stic on the floorboards is great for cleanup and the drain holes are sufficient to get mud or sand out without issue. We’ve seen a surprising amount of negative feedback on the Internet regarding the heel scoop at the driver’s throttle foot. It serves its purpose in our opinion. Access to the battery is quick and once the seats are removed, cleaning is as simple as a quick spray-down. That’s a good thing since the tires fling up a lot of crap.
Robby Gordon Off-Road livery gives the Polaris a visual appearance to match its astounding performance - it looks badass. The standard wheels and tire package are remarkable; exactly what we would expect on a machine of this caliber. We used the hard/rocky terrain treads for all of our testing, including sand and mud and only changed air pressure in the Maxxis tires. Not only do they perform well, but they add to the aggressive look. One thing we did notice is that the fender flares are pretty small. This helps immensely when trying to squeeze through tight trees or a trail barrier, but everything and everyone in the vehicle gets covered in mud, including the cargo bed. We strapped down a duffel bag once and that was the only time we made that mistake. A plastic tote is a cheap and effective alternative, or spring for the custom fit Lock & Ride accessories.
Getting the whole family out to enjoy riding has never been easier. If the seats aren’t full of passengers it’s just much room to pack extra fuel or gear. Most RZR owners we meet love their machines, and if they have kids, they instantly love ours, peppering us with questions. The doubters always balk at the $14,999 MSRP with the argument of “why not get a sand rail,” or “just buy a Jeep.” Here’s the problem, folks – those machines can’t do everything the RZR 4 does. Other off-road toys might be better in one specific area or have certain advantages, but the overall versatility and competence of this mighty Polaris, not to mention the build quality, is tough to match. We cruised miles of mountain roads, splashed through mud holes, explored Oregon’s biggest sandbox and even put it to work around the farm. Everywhere it goes, the RZR 4 excels.