Within the powersports realm, nothing is ever good enough. We constantly demand more power, less weight and quicker handling. In the sport UTV world, Polaris
answers the call better, and more often, than any other. The RZR line
of Ranger side-by-side machines has taken the genre to new levels with the introduction of each new generation. The latest incarnation is the 2011 Polaris RZR XP 900 and it whets that insatiable appetite with heaps of performance, durability and gobs of sex appeal.
The XP serves as retaliation against the brutish Can-Am Commander introduced last year, further cementing Polaris’ commitment to performance UTVs. Plenty of manufacturers are offering side-by-side vehicles but only the Minnesota-based company has the sack to put up big guns purely for the sporting enthusiasts. The XP doesn’t haul wood – it hauls ass.
Polaris didn’t bother to include a tow hitch below the rear-mounted engine – an all-new 875cc liquid-cooled Parallel Twin that is far more than a punched-out 800 HO (760cc) found in the RZR, RZR S and RZR 4. Engineered specifically for the XP, the new ProStar 900 powerplant uses a dual overhead cam design and electronic fuel injection to reach a significantly higher rev ceiling. Where our RZR 4 tach stops climbing around 6400 rpm, the 900 revs out over 1000 rpm higher on the display. The Twin’s 180-degree crankshaft keeps the XP smooth and eliminates buzzing, despite the
Polaris smashed all expectations of what a production sport UTV should be. The new 2011 RZR XP 900 is the new benchmark that others will be held against.
heightened threshold. Along with the EFI, a specific air induction system has been developed to feed oxygen to the high-performance engine. The air intake is located on the driver’s side rear bed panel, high and protected from splash by large fender flares front and rear. A small foam filter covers the initial opening followed by a contoured intake tract with drainage. The actual air filter is much larger than the standard RZR and is located at the rear of the engine. It can be reached through a quick-release panel in the bed box. The system helps keep water and dust out and also eases maintenance.
With the new engine comes a new drive system as well. Polaris needed to beef up the continuously variable transmission to handle the greater output. It accomplished this by installing a new clutch belt that is stronger than any other Polaris employs on any UTV. All of the right angles were eliminated to the rear axle, which gives the XP more efficient output and also shaves weight over the previous design. Fewer transitions and reductions creates less drag, which is crucial to delivering as much of the 88 claimed horsepower as possible to the 27-inch rear wheels. Shaft drive delivers to the front and rear differentials for selectable two-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. The gearing pattern is the same as the other RZR models with Park, Reverse, Neutral, Low and High as the shift knob is pulled backward.
Our initial ride was on our local OHV system in Southern Oregon. This tighter terrain is the playground of the original 50-inch wide RZR, but we logged several hours of break-in time on the more open loops. At 64-inches wide, the XP definitely isn’t fitting down any ATV trails, but that’s not what it was designed for. In fact, it didn’t take long to realize that even on the fire roads the XP wasn’t in its element. The ProStar engine is so fast that it’s sketchy to unleash when you can’t see what’s around the next corner. As it was, our first day was a little disappointing, but we learned a lot. Most importantly, this two-seater is built to go fast from every angle. Not only is going slow a waste of the XP’s time and potential, it’s not very good at it. A driver can drop into low range and crawl over extreme obstacles, but just cruising around demonstrates poor handling. The front end pushes horribly at anything under about 30 mph. Steering with the rear end is fun on most UTVs, and sometimes difficult to achieve – it’s mandatory with the RZR XP. That’s hard to do at slow speeds. Fortunately, the engine is willing to chug along. We never had any fueling issues and throttle response is great. There’s no lag and while the 900 will go at a moderate pace, smashing the right pedal provides a satisfying growl from the exhaust and an equal surge of adrenaline and forward thrust. The XP is unlike any stock machine we’ve experienced.
With a few hours of running time we didn’t feel as guilty about flogging it on the sand. A trip to the Horsfall OHV riding area in Coos Bay, Oregon gave us the space needed to keep the throttle wide open. We only aired the tires down to 8/10 pounds (rear/front) to avoid rolling off the bead and never had to drop them any further. There is plenty of power for everything at these smaller dunes and we spent roughly 80% of the time in 2WD, which surprised us. Our 2010 Polaris RZR 4
hits the sand in AWD constantly but the XP only needs it on big climbs or to get out of a jam. We swapped back and forth on the worm trails and found things to like about both settings. However, when the front differential kicks in it’s more noticeable than on the RZR 4. It’s louder and the driver can feel it through the steering wheel.
Polaris claims the XP will top out at 73 miles per hour. We have yet to lay tracks on a straight long enough to find out, but it’s not for a lack of trying and we’ve seen high-60s on the speedo. Increased velocity demands increased stability and the 900 gets it from an 81.4-inch wheelbase. A trophy-truck-inspired trailing arm rear suspension arrangement allows the RZR to handle just about anything the driver can point it at. Fox Podium 2.0 shocks with compression and preload adjustability hold up all four corners. The front end offers 13.5 inches of travel from a dual A-arm arrangement and the rear is set at a whopping 14 inches. Stabilizer bars out back give an extra measure of stability during cornering and the Polaris resists body roll extremely well. Thirteen inches of ground clearance and factory skid plates take care of the rest and we have yet to get hung up.
Jumping takes more thought on the XP because
it's possible to jump too far or high for the
suspension. We didn't have this problem in the
sand with the RZR 4.
With a trophy truck background it’s no wonder the three-arm trailing link setup annihilates rough terrain and it’s magic when pounding through whoops. On the Oregon dunes we normally avoid main beach access roads with other UTVs and even quads, but the XP makes us head straight for them. After a tentative start, the 900 kept asking for more, which we gladly obliged, and with a good run heading in we carried an indicated 55-60 mph through some really nasty rollers - utterly amazing. We think the indicated speed was a little generous, but without a passenger it’s more realistic. We couldn’t drive and take our eyes off the sand long enough to check, but there’s a definite performance increase without the extra weight! The beauty of the trailing link design is its ability to track the contour of the ground. Only at the fastest speeds does it start to skim. The front end lofts from one whoop to the next while the rear tires stay mostly in contact with the sand. Shutting off the throttle is the worst thing to do as the front end starts to plow rather than skip. For the most part this upsets the suspension and chassis by bucking rather than swapping like we’ve experienced in other UTVs.
In addition to high-speed, straight-line performance, the XP matches with quick steering and stable manners when changing directions. We added a turn of preload to the front shocks and had a stiffer, more responsive feel under hard turns. A higher steering ratio means less input at the wheel causes greater turning. This is exceptional at high speeds where the driver doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to get cranked from one full lock to the other. However, it makes the steering very heavy at slow speeds. The XP is available in a limited edition, but it does not have a power steering option.
The beefy suspension components add some extra weight. At 1190 pounds (claimed dry) the XP still handles large jumps with relative grace. Once the driver gets the hang of throttle control on the jump face and can control the trajectory, it’s a smooth landing – up to a point. Unlike the other RZRs which can handle anything the engine can muster, the ProStar mill can push the XP further than the suspension will comfortably handle. We had a few rough ones learning that; you can’t just pin it off every jump.
One of the first things we noticed while visually inspecting the RZR is the headlight arrangement. The aggressive-looking dual lamps use white LED bulbs that provide brilliant illumination with high/low beams operated by a toggle switch. AWD/2WD is controlled likewise. Polaris’ standard adjustable T-handle grab bar is installed for the passenger and is extremely usable in rough terrain to press back into the comfortable seat. It also makes it easier to adjust for a softer landing on big jumps. Polaris also installed a glove box which only allowed a tiny amount of water in under direct pressure washing. Three gallons of dry, user friendly space – very nice. Under the driver’s seat is an unprotected storage which easily fits a tow rope or anything else that can handle getting wet and dirty. Both seats are removable with a single latch and are adjustable using four bolts.
A tilt wheel and T-grab are both adjustable. Bottom:
We love a glove box! The air filter is easy to access.
In the driver’s cockpit is a hydraulic tilt-adjust steering wheel with 10 inches of movement which is comfortable to grip and sturdy. The throttle-side heel cup is still there and it’s even more functional with such a potent engine. A jarring foot in rough terrain has more affect with the lively XP. Side nets are high enough to keep elbows from coming out of the roll cage’s protected space and the plastic buckles are burlier than previous units which failed on our RZR 4. The instrument panel hosts a lot of usable information with an analog speedo and digital computer display. Riders can toggle through engine temperature, engine rpm, odometer, trip meter, hour meter and clock (we spend almost all of our time on engine temp or the tachometer). It constantly displays a gear indicator and fuel gauge and offers high-temperature and low battery warning lights. A DC outlet will keep your GPS, tire pump, spotlight or any other 12-volt accessory powered up.
Polaris equipped the XP with eight-spoke, 12-inch cast aluminum wheels shod in ITP ATV tires
built specifically for this model. The treads look gnarly, but we were disappointed in their dirt performance. Traction on hard corners can be better and just 3-5 inches of snow made the XP very skittish. They were excellent in the sand, however. Bodywork is similar to the rest of the RZR family, but the oversized fender flares are incredible. Water entered the foot wells during some seriously deep crossings but we hardly ever got a single splash. The only thing we’d change about the ergonomics are to add a four-point harness. The three-point seatbelts are better than most by staying nice and snug. However, we’ve said it about the other RZR machines and it goes double for the XP - it has so much extreme potential it really needs full harnesses.
Splash protection is phenomenal. A little comes through the floorboards but never really splashes the passengers.
In the sand we managed to get 50 miles out of the 7.25-gallon fuel tank (light flashing at 46). On the dirt we used 4.6 gallons for 50 miles. Small tolerances between the rear wheels and the trailing arm cause the low-pressure tires to rub off some paint, and we managed to bend the bolt that goes through the hiem joint on the passenger side tie rod. Otherwise we’re around 20 hours and there hasn’t been a single mechanical issue.
RZR sales have been a huge positive impact for Polaris from Day 1, hence its willingness to produce a new model every year since. The product-planning gurus have tapped into a vein and discovered that people are still willing to spend a lot of money on toys, despite tough economic times. Sure, the RZR line is made just for fun, but like we’ve pointed out before, they actually cover a wide demographic of users – replacing Jeeps, quads, rock crawlers and dune buggies with equal ease – which makes the base model XP’s $15,999 asking price more palatable. The 900 is no different from its siblings, it just offers more – of everything – which is exactly what we’ve all been asking for.