Review - Utility vehicles

Testers from three different disciplines assess the merits of two models with contrasting specifications at Bridgwater College.

Polaris Ranger 4x4 570
Polaris Ranger 4x4 570

Reviewed This Issue
- Kubota RTV-X900
- Polaris Ranger 4x4 570

Review Panel
Sam Braund, grounds worker, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College
Aymeric Huguerre, senior gardener, Cannington Walled Gardens
Giles Prewett, arboriculture technician, Bridgwater College

Workhorse or racehorse? In this test we look at two very different utility vehicles. Yes, they both have four wheels, powerful engines, tipping cargo boxes and optional cab systems. But one is diesel, one is petrol. One has pure muscle, the other is better at speed. Transmissions are different. Weight is significantly different.

With a team of three testers at hand, we visit the Cannington Landbased Studies Centre of Bridgwater College in Somerset. Our testers come from gardening, grounds care and forestry backgrounds. What will appeal to them? Will it be the strength of carrying 500kg and hauling an additional tonne? Or will it be the ability to race across the terrain at speeds of up to 80km/h?

On the day of the test the weather was hot and sunny. Lack of rain over the previous week meant the ground was dry, even dried out, bumpy, hard and rough. We also used the college's quad bike training facility to check out the vehicles' climbing power and stability.

Kubota RTV-X900

Kubota claims that its RTV 900s have been the best-selling diesel utility vehicles in Europe since 2006. It is easy to see why. RTVs (rough terrain vehicles) have quickly gained recognition as roughty-toughty utilities that provide a smooth ride and plenty of muscle for work. Once you got used to the hydrostatic transmission, as opposed to mechanical gearboxes in many vehicles, the RTV 900 could be taken almost anywhere and would show its muscle when it came to hauling and carrying loads.

Kubota has now upgraded and improved the 900. In its latest format, the X900, this RTV has more legroom, better drivability, greater strength and more comfort. It now has independent suspension all round and it is all adjustable in five settings to suit the load carried.

The X900 also has a new gearbox. The bodywork has been enhanced and pulling power doubled. The cab has been improved and is now an add-on, bit-by-bit system so you can increase driver protection should you find that you need it at a later date. Controls, such as the handbrake, are more conveniently positioned. Ground clearance is increased. Under-seat storage has been added. In fact, the only original feature of the 900 is the engine - a Kubota diesel, so no problem there.

The result is an even better driver experience, improved performance and more work achieved for your money. If you liked the old 900, then you will surely love the X900.

The three-cylinder diesel engine has proven off-road performance and reliability. But what makes this model stand out from the crowd is VHT-X (variable hydrostatic transmission). Kubota has more experience than most in hydrostatic transmissions, and it shows. The result is less shifting - though our testers have a little difficulty at first - and there are no belts to slip.

"It's a very good machine, once you know how to use the gears. But I did struggle for a bit," says Braund. Hugerre agrees: "I know it is hydrostatic, but sometimes I found it difficult. I don't like it." Perwitt joins in: "You have to depress the brake fully then almost hold off for a second before you move the gearstick. That releases the pressure and makes shifting easy."

With the issue sorted, Prewett notes: "If you are using the vehicle generally, you don't need to change gear - just leave it in 'HI'. I drove it down the bottom of the lane, across the field, over some deep ruts and left it in HI all the time. Pop it into HI and you can do almost anything. It's almost a one-use gear. It's only when you want to crawl up a steep bank, bordering on vertical, then you need the 'LO' range and four-wheel drive."

The X900 has a high-rigidity steel frame that should be capable of taking lots of punishment from heavy work and rough terrain. Ground clearance is a full 10.4in. Independent suspension is found on all four wheels. It is height adjustable with 8in of suspension travel for a smooth ride irrespective of load or ground conditions - something our test cannot dispute. "It's a very nice, very smooth ride, really comfortable and you feel secure," Huguerre confirms. "The power steering is good and you turn very well."

Braund, returning from the steep slopes and mounds of the quad bike track, adds: "It really will go anywhere." He found the true four-wheel drive, with a limited-slip front differential and locking rear differential, helped to give control, with no wheelspin, on the steepest of accents.

"I like the fact you can engage the diff lock with your left foot for a short time. There's no worry about engaging it and leaving it in and wearing the tyres down," he adds. CV joint protectors and heavy-duty metal skid plates provide protection against rock impact on the bumpy mounds. Rear lights are positioned under the cargo box for protection.

But it is the dynamic braking that most impresses our testers. "The engine braking is very impressive," says Huguerre. You don't really need to use the brake actually. You just manage the engine and still feel secure on slopes."

Prewett agrees: "I took it up to 22mph, took my foot off the accelerator and it brought itself to a stop in about the same time as you would expect had you used a brake."

A lever beside the seat engages the hydraulic tipping. It takes five seconds to lift and four to drop down, and the tailgate can be unhitched to fold down completely or removed altogether.

"That's good," says Prewett. "There is nothing worse that tipping out the materials and then waiting for the box to slowly come back down. That makes it a great vehicle for tipping things like bunker sand on a golf course. You could carry half a tonne in the box and pull another tonne (less trailer weight) behind."

He continues: "It is not as fast off the mark as the Polaris, but then it isn't built for that. The Kubota makes a great day-to-day general vehicle for moving materials."

All maintenance points are easily accessible and under the bonnet we find two wires that, if disconnected, give speedometer readings in mph. Connect them again and the readings revert to kilometres.

There are two hitches, front and back, for pulling in forward or reverse - ideal for caravan sites where you might want to pull and push units around. Front and rear winches can also be fitted. The hydraulic system could, for instance, power a small log splitter. Prewett thinks a small crane could also be powered to help load the box or trailer with a carcass or timber.

So where would we use this Kubota? Shoots, farms, estates, forestry, parks, gardens, caravan parks, golf courses, sports grounds - almost anywhere.

Engine: Kubota D902, three-cylinder, four-cycle diesel, overhead valve
Displacement: 898cc
Net power: 21.6hp/15.4kW at 3,200rpm
Cooling system: Liquid
Fuel tank capacity: 30 litres
Transmission: Continuously Variable Hydro Transmission (VHT-X)
Gear selection: HI-LO range forward, neutral, reverse
Speed: 0-25mph (0-40km/h)
Four-wheel drive system: Front: limited-slip differential; rear:
foot-operated differential lock
Steering: Hydrostatic power
Brakes: Front/rear: wet-disc; parking: rear wheel, hand operated
Suspension: Front: independent, dual A-arms with adjustable spring
preload; rear: independent with coil over shock
Ground clearance: 266mm front/263mm rear
Turning radius: 4m
Dimensions: 3.11x1.61x2.02m (LxWxH)
Wheelbase: 2.05m
Weight: 941kg
Towing capacity: 1,000kg
Payload capacity: 679kg
Cargo bed: Steel 1.47x 1.03x0.29m (WxLxD)
Cargo bed load capacity: 500kg
Cargo bed volume: 0.43cu m
Cargo bed height: 88.7cm (unladen)
Dumping action: Hydraulic pump
Colour: Orange/camo
List price: Starting from £13,300 + VAT
Tel: Kubota (UK) - 01844 214500

Polaris Ranger 4x4 570

Is this the fastest side-by-side ever? It certainly feels like it. When choosing a new utility vehicle it is a case of horses for courses and this one, well, it's a bit of a racehorse. Should you need to speed across land, especially while carrying a passenger and kit, this could be the vehicle for you.

The Polaris Ranger 570 is delivered to us by David Webb Engineering of Wincanton. It looks the business. In Polaris's recognised sage-green livery, it has high ground clearance and typical styling that gives it the perfect looks for countryside work and rural pursuits.

The spec has all the buzzwords: on-demand true all-wheel drive with VersaTrac turf mode, high torque, independent rear suspension, long suspension travel, pulling power. But no power steering.

Braund is itching to begin the test. He swings into the driver's seat. "Comfy," he notes. But he is not keen on the net doors, "I don't think they would stay on long," and he fiddles with the push-buckle catch. With the seat belt in place, Braund turns the key, selects "Hi" range, glances over his shoulder and is gone.

The 570 is powered by a ProStar engine. Purpose built, tuned and designed alongside the vehicle, the engine was developed for the ultimate combination of high power density, fuel efficiency and ease of maintenance. The result is 44hp that should leave side-by-side utility competition in the starting blocks. Polaris boasts there is 22 per cent more power than the 2014 Honda Pioneer 700 and the 570 delivers more torque and rear wheel power.

We catch a glimpse of Braund steaming down the private lane past the golf course, heading out towards the fields, a trail of dust in his wake.

The machine is available agriculturally road legal and fully road legal. For work, it has a 680kg towing capacity and a standard 2in receiver. An additional 453kg payload capacity gives the opportunity to pop more tools and materials in the cargo box. The box has gas-assist dumping.

True all-wheel drive means all four wheels automatically engage when more forward traction is needed in sticky conditions. It reverts back to two-wheel drive when conditions improve. In two-wheel drive, the VersaTrac Turf Mode can be switched on to unlock the rear differential for easier and tighter turns without ripping up grass surfaces.

Braund breezes back into the yard. "Awesome," he exclaims. "The acceleration is pretty quick and it goes very fast. I got it up to 80km/h no problem." So that's the speed test complete. Or is it? Prewett and Huguerre are keen to try it next. They jump in. But it is not going so fast - 15 or perhaps 20km/h at a push. What's wrong?

The Polaris Ranger has a clever safety device. The driver pulls the seat belt, clicks it home and now they are roaring away. "It's got seat belt sensors," explains Prewett on their return. "If you haven't got your seat belt on, it won't go fast. That's a really good feature."

Listening to the machine idling in the yard, it is clear there is motorbike technology somewhere in it. The petrol vehicle chugs away when idling and roars when driven hard. "It's got quite a lot of poke," says Prewett. "On gravel it's easy to dump your foot and spin the back wheels."

Next it's cornering, rough ground tests and hill climbing at the quad bike training centre. Braund is quick to grasp the settings. "It's got three settings - four-wheel drive, two-wheel drive and then a turf setting. It's straightforward to use, with a button on the dash."

The 570 has a full 9in of suspension travel up front and 10in of independent rear suspension travel to give a smooth ride. All four corners can be adjusted to handle increased loads. After many manoeuvres, Huguerre declares: "It's really powerful. The smoothness of the ride is good and it responds well. But because it is very light, you don't always feel so secure."

Prewett adds: "It is smooth. I took it over rough ground that had been ploughed up - cloddy ground - and it worked well." I'm waiting for the "but". Sure enough, he continues: "But it does feel a bit tippy when you turn tightly. It tends to drop on your outside wheel - whoops like - and it is a bit heavy on steering to go into full lock to do a tight turn."

Prewett sums up his thoughts: "It's more of a quad bike with a cage on it. That would be my description of it. It goes quick, very quick."

However, we have some concerns about the amount of plastic on the Polaris, especially when using it on the quad bike course. "The underbody is plastic," Huguerre points out. "I would worry in a rocky place. I can imagine it being damaged if it grounds out."

Prewett explains the issue in greater detail: "If a rock goes into a hole on the underbody plate, the plastic would give, whereas if it had been a steel plate it would roll the rock or you would just skid off. It just depends where you intend driving your vehicle."

Having found that the tailgate will not drop all the way down, we check for maintenance access under the box. Everything seems straightforward - easy to spot the oil filter and dipstick, good access to the drain plug and the air filter is conveniently positioned. The cab has front and rear screens. Polaris Lock & Ride accessories and Pro Fit cab system can add versatility.

So where do we see the Polaris being put to work? Braund is first to answer: "Getting to the bakery quickly. Seriously though, we wouldn't want it in the Walled Garden - it's just not going to happen, it's too noisy. It would make a good rapid-response vehicle though, perhaps getting the vet out to a fallen horse on a racecourse."

Huguerre thinks it should appeal to big estates, national parks and large farms. "Anywhere you need to be quick to check things or to respond to emergencies," he suggests. "This vehicle is for those who need to move quickly and waste no time about it."

Prewett sees it having agricultural and forestry applications. "You could take feed out to the stock on farms and in parkland or carry tools in forests," he says. "It's for transporting stuff and for where you would usually choose a quad bike but need to carry a passenger."

Engine: 44hp ProStar EFI single-cylinder, four-cycle petrol double
overhead cam
Displacement: 567cc
Net power: 32.8kW at 6,700rpm
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Cooling system: Liquid
Fuel tank capacity: 34.1 litres
Transmission: Automatic PVT (Polaris Variable Transmission)
Gear selection: HI-LO range forward, neutral, reverse
Travel speed: 0-50mph (0-80km/h)
Drive system: On-demand true all-wheel drive/two-wheel drive/VersaTrac
Turf Mode
Brakes: Front/rear: four-wheel hydraulic disc; parking: rear wheel, hand
Suspension: Front: MacPherson Strut 229mm travel; rear: dual A-Arm IRS
254mm travel
Ground clearance: 254mm
Turning radius: 4m
Dimensions: 2.79x1.47x1.85m (LxWxH)
Wheelbase: 1.85m
Weight: 473kg
Towing capacity: 680.4kg
Payload capacity: 453.6kg
Cargo bed: 0.81x1.07x0.29m (WxLxD)
Cargo bed load capacity: 226.8kg
Colour: Sage green
List price: Starting from £7,399 + VAT
Tel: Polaris Britain - 0800 915 6720

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