POLARIS RANGER EV

If you are looking for a silent and emissions-free off-road utility vehicle that will climb hills, haul itself through mud and race along the flat, then look no further. The world's first electric side-by-side with four-wheel drive has arrived, and we reckon it's a winner.

The Ranger EV has the appearance of a regular all-terrain utility - so much so that MacPherson and I initially forget that it is electric. We cannot understand why there is total silence when the key is turned. Is it broken?

"It seems so unnatural - no noise at all," says MacPherson as he depresses the pedal and moves the vehicle forward. We'll be looking for the fuel tank next.

The Ranger EV shares the same chassis as the Ranger 400 petrol engine utility and many of the features of its full-sized Polaris counterparts. It has independent suspension with 22.9cm of travel - just like the Polaris Ranger XP diesel - and ground clearance is a generous 25.4cm. But this machine has no engine.

Built for clean and quiet operation, at the heart of the EV is the largest battery pack in the industry and a 30hp electric motor that gives this utility the longest range of any electric mid-size - up to 50 miles depending on speed, terrain, load and temperature. Obviously, driving habits will also affect what you can get out of a single charge.

The machine has three modes - "Hi" for speed riding, "Lo" for towing and hauling or climbing and descending steep slopes and "Max" for maximum ratio. The latter is like the "economy" of a car. When the going gets tough, there's on-demand all-wheel drive that allows the vehicle to take rough terrain and muddy fields in its stride.

MacPherson completes two laps of the Sparsholt circuit in low range. He is impressed. "It's got very good engine braking - I mean alternator braking," he laughs. "Even on the steepest slope, which must be about 55-60 degs, this vehicle goes down nicely in control. And it has guts - it can certainly climb. It's incredible."

The batteries are accessed by removing the bench seat and two protective trays. A walk-through operator platform means mounting and dismounting are easy, and the controls are remarkably simple.

The speed range is set by the Lo/Max/Hi rocker switch. There's another for F/N/R and one for two/four-wheel drive. Lights and horn are also activated from dash-mounted switches. In the glove compartment we find a metre of cable with a plug at the end. It's all set up and ready to charge.

We are told that charging overnight is sufficient if the battery is fully depleted. Taking the national residential average of 12p/kWhr, a full charge from empty should cost a little over £1.30 - giving a per mile cost in the region of 2.6p. That's not bad when you consider petrol and diesel prices have just gone up again.

MacPherson questions the battery life. The pack has a one-year warranty from the date of purchase from Trojan Batteries. Polaris tells us the batteries should last four years or more with proper maintenance - monthly checking of water levels and terminals.

The Ranger EV has more than adequate power. The efficient AC induction motor easily propels the machine at speeds of up to 25mph. In fact, we reckon going downhill we are doing considerably more, but the EV has no speedometer.

It's time for a chase. With the Yamaha Rhino close alongside, MacPherson flies down the field once more. The Rhino's speedo clocks the EV at 30mph.

In the end though, it's not the speed that matters. There's no doubt that this all-terrain vehicle would be a bonus anywhere noise and fumes are not acceptable. It's going to be at home in estate and local authority work, in nature reserves, on nurseries and around golf courses.

On sensitive terrain, the Versa Trac Turf mode can be selected to unlock the rear differential and give one-wheel, rear-wheel drive in order to prevent damage and better navigate tight areas.

SPECIFICATIONS

Batteries: Trojan 11.5kW battery pack

Motor: 30hp electric

Charging time: Overnight

Distance on charge: Fifty miles in Max range or 25-30 miles in Hi range

Top speed: 25mph (we managed to achieve 30mph downhill)

Transmission: Hi/lo dual range with reverse

Drive system: On-demand four-wheel drive

Ground clearance: 25.4cm

Suspension: Independent rear with 22.9cm of travel

Load capacity: 226.7kg cargo box

Towing capacity: 567kg

List price: (ex VAT) £8,999

Contact: Polaris Britain on 01675 437240

Nigel MacPherson, engineering lecturer and ATV driving instructor, Sparsholt College, Winchester, put three off-road vehicles to the tesat Sparsholt College near Winchester in Hampshire. It has a dedicated ATV and quad-bike training area - a circuit cut into the hillside, featuring bends, twists, embankments, sharp climbs and steep descents.


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