EASIER TO operate than an ATV, a good utility vehicle (UV) can haul moderate loads, scramble over terrain and get you from farm to field quickly in relative comfort. Forget the golf cart pretenders of the past; this new breed of machines is now all-terrain-capable and equipped with functional cargo beds, making them as practical as a mini dump truck.

But which one is the best choice for the farm? To find out, we took 10 farmers from around the country, gave them 10 utility vehicles from different companies, and turned them loose on 700 acres of steep hills, fields and forests at the Caribou Gun Club in south-central Minnesota. We asked these farmers to fill out detailed score sheets and give their honest opinions about each machine. Their comments show that the companies that build these machines are as different in their ideas about what a UV should be as are the farmers who drive them.

Further ATV/UV Reading:

more ATV/UV articles

Speed limits

From the get-go, our field of machines broke into two distinct categories: the fast and the slow.

Most UVs conformed to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard that utility vehicles should not exceed a 25-mph top speed. Although perhaps prudent from a safety perspective, the speed-limited vehicles found themselves at a distinct disadvantage against the machines from Polaris and Yamaha, both of which chose to ignore the standard in favor of ATV-like top speeds in excess of 40 mph.

After our testers drove a few rounds of field paths and gravel roads, we soon learned that busy farmers tend to get impatient on long, slow trips between jobs. After driving every machine, most of our farmers agreed that although anything faster than 40 mph is probably too fast for sensible farm work, their ideal machine should be able to attain a top speed somewhere in the mid 30s. Such a “happy medium” was not available in any horsepower range, however, leaving us with a pack of trusty turtles lumbering after a pair of wild-riding hares.

Scoring by category

As you read these reviews, keep in mind that picking the best machine depends on what you are going to use it for. Speed is fun and saves time in big fields. But for trundling hay bales, kids and feed around the farmyard, the slowest or easiest-to-use machine may still be your best bet. The machines also differ in price, which is always a consideration.

Also keep in mind that our testers were farmers, not automotive engineers, so these numerical scores are subjective and necessarily unscientific ratings. Each score is an average of the scores given by each of the 10 farmers. Ratings were based on a 5-point scale, with 5 being best, 3 average and 1 poor. For comparison, the lowest-scoring competitor posted a composite score of 3.3, while the highest-scoring competitor posted a 4.2. The top three were separated by a margin of just 0.3.

Each machine had its own specific strengths and weaknesses. In most cases, but not all, farmers said their top-scoring machine would also be the one they'd be most likely to buy for their farm.

Please note the top four vehicles in each of the five performance categories our farmers tested. Out of a field of 10 machines, these were the cream of the crop in each particular category.

Maintenance and service

Most farmers have plenty of tools and their own shop. So unlike a lot of recreational drivers, farmers like to do at least some basic maintenance and service themselves. Our testers inspected each machine to see how easily an owner could get at its oil filter, spark plugs, belts and other items that need periodic replacement. Moreover, the engine configuration had to be intuitive and familiar at first glance. For drivers who prefer to take their UV to the shop for maintenance by an experienced mechanic or technician, this category would be somewhat less important.

Loaded hauling

UVs are supposed to be work vehicles, so we put them to work hauling five 60-lb. bags of salt up and down some steep hills. While this load did not approach the factory-rated limit on any machine tested, it was representative of a typical farm load and enough weight to produce noticeable differences in each vehicle's handling, braking and acceleration performance. As you might guess from these top finishers, engine power, suspension and brakes factored heavily into this event as the UVs hauled the loads up and down hills and over moderate terrain.

Another important consideration was ease of loading and unloading. We made our farmers load at least some of the bags themselves. That meant they rated a high box or a hard-to-operate tailgate latch lower for the extra loading effort it required. A good power dump box such as the Kubota's went a long way in improving a vehicle's score.

Low-speed handling

Farmers often use UVs instead of pickup trucks because UVs can get into tighter spaces. We tested each vehicle for its maneuverability around a tight barrel weave. Farmers drove first forward, then backward through the barrel weave. Comfortable suspension, appropriate low-range gearing, responsive steering, good visibility, balanced weight distribution and tight turning radius factored heavily into picking the top three here.

Interestingly, the smallest machine, the 2-wd Gator, drew many positive comments about its tight turning radius and ability to weave through the barrels, but an uncomfortable, jarring suspension knocked the Gator out of contention for a top-four ranking in this category.

Unloaded off-road four-wheelin'

For some people, the appeal of a UV over an ATV is that a UV isn't as fast and is therefore a safer ride for employees and family members who might drive it. Speed can be an asset, however, on today's large, spread-out farms.

In this event, comfortable-riding UVs that proved they wouldn't take all day to get to the work site and back home again scored better than their slower or more lumbering counterparts. Speed and handling also mean that if you want a UV that's higher on the fun scale, these are the machines to look at.

Overall comfort and styling

Seat comfort, suspension, noise level, controls, amenities such as cup holders and overall product design and quality came into play in this most subjective category of all. For some farmers, this boiled down to the kind of emotional impression each machine invoked for the human behind the wheel.

Polaris Ranger XP
Price: $10,799

THE RANGER XP is equipped with a 700cc, twin-cylinder, electronic fuel-injected engine and will tow 1,750 lbs. or carry 1,500 lbs. in the cargo box. In terms of ride, both loaded and empty, the Ranger's suspension was its most significant advantage. The Ranger has 4-wd but can go places in 2-wd that other machines don't dare to tread in 4-wd mode.

Overall, the Ranger came out on top largely because of its strength across all categories, outperforming the competition at both work and play. For example, Tom Henry named the Ranger as his favorite of all the UVs. “I liked the composite box and lift dump,” he said, “and I loved the 41-mph top speed.”

However, a few of the farmers had suggestions for improvement: “The pedals are too close to the seat and too close together for people wearing boots,” Clark McPheeters said. “The turning radius could be tighter; throttle input in the corners and disengaging the rear differential lock and 4-wd helped a great deal.”

For more information, contact Polaris Industries, Dept. FIN, 2100 Hwy. 55, Medina, MN 55340, 800/765-2747, visit www.polarisindustries.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 200.

Yamaha Rhino 660
Price: $9,199

WITH AN emphasis on innovative design and screaming performance, Yamaha tends to configure its machines differently than most. The half UV/half ATV Rhino is no exception. At 54.4 in. wide, the Rhino is more than 5 in. narrower than the Ranger. The Rhino's 660cc, single-cylinder engine is carbureted and tuned to produce mega power and a top speed of 42 mph.

For maintenance, the Rhino's oddball configuration resulted in a lot of head scratching and grumbling during the maintenance portion of our evaluation. For example, Abe Hodgen said that the Rhino has “great handling and power, but the oil filter will definitely make a mess during changes.”

Out on the course, however, the Yamaha came back strong on off-road performance, attacking steep hills, stream crossings and terrain like its wild beast namesake. Some farmers grumbled about Yamaha's insistence that all drivers wear a helmet and three-point seat belt on the Rhino, but most realized the safety precautions were a good idea as they approached too-fast speeds out in the field. Being the sportiest of the bunch, the Yamaha also had the smallest payload, with only a 400-lb. bed capacity.

Some of the drivers thought the Rhino's speed made it better suited for recreation than for work. “The fun factor is high, but might not be the right fit for farm work,” Tom Henry said.

However, Kent Lock stated, “The Rhino would be my choice for an all-around cattle operation machine. I like the high road speed and smaller size of the Rhino that would allow you to load it into a pickup truck. The bucket seats and three-point seat belts are a good idea. So is the push bumper and the plastic-lined bed.”

For more information, contact Yamaha Motor Corp., Dept. FIN, 6555 Katella Ave., Cypress, CA 90630, 714/761-7300, visit www.yamaha.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 201.

Kubota RTV900
Price: $9,995

THE KUBOTA, despite its 25-mph speed limit, nearly overtook the speedsters in top scoring with its speed-limited but torquey diesel engine, industrial-strength frame and superior hauling abilities. Its 1,630-lb. payload and 1,323-lb. towing capacity, 3-range hydrostatic transmission and 5-gal.-per-minute hydraulic couplings for running accessory tools or small implements made the Kubota the most tractor-like of all the UVs we tested. The Kubota's 3-cyl., 4-cycle, diesel, OHV engine stoically pumped out 21 hp without drama. Easy-to-read dash gauges, cup holders and a comfortable, roomy seating area also served the Kubota well.

Kubota did the best in maintenance and service, dominating that category. It also did very well in off-road ability and heavy hauling, with an impressive dump box. But a hydrostatic transmission that some farmers had a personal bias against, no gasoline engine option and an annoyingly sticky shifter counted against the Kubota. Always skeptical, our farmers didn't seem satisfied with the Kubota rep's promise that the shifter would loosen up with use.

Tom Henry said, “I like the quiet diesel engine and the hydraulic dump box but really did not like the hydrostatic transmission on the Kubota; abrupt jerky stops when I let off the gas made me feel out of control. The shifter is sticky. Overall, my least favorite machine. This one might have a place in the right application, but it's not for me.”

But Abe Hodgen declared, “I like this machine. It is smooth, maneuverable, and has great engine braking downhill. I also like the dump box.”

Jeff Ryan said, “I like the hydrostatic transmission and payload capacity. But shifting between gears is difficult and not smooth. As soon as Kubota can get their UV to shift better, I'll probably buy one.”

For more information, contact Kubota Tractor Corp., Dept. FIN, 3401 Del Amo Blvd., Torrance, CA 90503, 888/458-2682, visit www.kubota.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 202.

Further ATV/UV Reading:

more ATV/UV articles

Land Pride Treker 4410
Price: $8,645

WITH ONE of the most comfortable and consistent packages in the bunch, the Land Pride Treker proved to be a pleasant surprise in its first appearance in the FIN Rodeo. Powered by a 20-hp Honda gasoline engine, it impressed in all the hauling categories, living up to its 900-lb. rated cargo bed capacity and 1,250-lb. towing capacity. The Treker placed strongly in overall comfort, styling and accessories with wide seats and convenient cup holders.

Drivers especially liked the Treker's autolock differentials that sense wheel slip and lock automatically. The differentials also have built-in overrunning clutches that allow the fast wheel to run ahead in turns, so the rider doesn't get as fatigued in turns and the wheels don't tear up the ground. The in-dash shift lever is also integrated with the parking brake, eliminating the need to deploy the brake, or the possibility of driving away with the parking brake engaged. For water-crossing ability, the Treker has a fully enclosed and sealed torque converter and an air intake that is located at the high point of the chassis. It had no problem crossing streams.

A few of the testers mentioned the Treker's turning radius as being “a limiting factor.” Scott McPheeters said the Treker has a “very wide turning radius” and a “somewhat spongy ride.”

Tom Henry said, “I like the parking brake integrated with the shifter. But the Treker engine is underpowered and the machine feels tippy. Turning radius is not very tight.”

For more information, contact Land Pride, Div. of Great Plains Mfg., Dept. FIN, Box 5060, Salina, KS 67401, 785/823-3276, visit www.landpride.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 203.

Kawasaki Mule 3010 Trans
Price: $9,599

KAWASAKI scored well for overall quality, maneuverability and an engine so quiet that our farmers had to listen twice to make sure it wasn't running before they cranked the starter.

This particular Mule was a higher-priced deluxe model, impressing farmers with a versatile and ingenious cargo box that can be quickly transformed from a long-bed work machine to a short-bed people hauler with an extra bench seat behind the driver. Box payload is 400 lbs. in four-person mode or 800 lbs. in two-person mode.

The Mule had some strong support among farmers who liked its quiet engine, handling around the barrels and good off-road performance. Improvements in loaded hauling and top-end speed would have helped the Mule's overall rating.

Kent Lock stated, “The Mule is quiet and well designed. I found nothing really bad about it. Obviously well thought-out in every detail. It rides well and the four-passenger configuration would be great for hauling hunters to the field. The dump box was a bit awkward to use though.”

Dale Koester agreed: “The Mule was the quietest machine to operate. I liked the second bench seat option, but latching the box and dump was a hassle.”

For more information, contact Kawasaki Motors Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 25252, Santa Ana, CA 92799, 800/661-7433, visit www.kawasaki.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 204.

Bobcat 2200
Price: $8,900 for gas, $10,800 for diesel

WE TESTED both a diesel- and a gasoline-powered Bobcat 2200. Though the same vehicle is also sold under the Club Car brand, our drivers found that this industrial-strength machine has little else in common with golf carts. Although the farmers preferred the Bobcat's Kubota-built diesel for its added torque, they rated both the gasoline and diesel machines well in maintenance and serviceability, hauling and unloaded handling. Rated payload is a generous 1,100 lbs. in the cargo box and 1,200 lbs. towing.

Bobcat shined the brightest with its IntelliTrak automatic differential lock 4-wd. With no need to be manually shifted into 4-wd, both machines provided outstanding traction and easy shifting. If anything held the Bobcat back, it was short suspension travel that resulted in a relatively low score on overall comfort, handling, and, to a lesser degree, braking. The roll-over protection system (ROPS) on both machines also rattled excessively, perhaps giving an unfair impression of lower quality than these machines deserved.

Jeff Ryan said, “The Bobcat offers outstanding agility, but a rough and loud ride.”

Paul Gervais agreed, saying the Bobcat gave “a very rough ride” and had “a noisy bed and rollbar [ROPS].” He said he “liked the seat and adjustable steering wheel.”

However, a couple of the drivers had mostly positive comments about the Bobcat. “The Bobcat has pep,” Shirley Hodgen said. “It handles the hills and mud better than I thought it would. The more I drove it the better I liked it, though it could use a better suspension.”

Kent Lock said the Bobcat has “great four-wheel traction and mud protection for the driver.”

For more information, contact Bobcat Co., Dept. FIN, Box 6000, West Fargo, ND 58078, 866/823-7898, visit www.bobcat.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 205.

E-Z-GO ST
Price: $8,500

The E-Z-GO vehicle won the hearts of several drivers who deemed it “most improved” from the last FIN UV Rodeo. Departing from the previous golf cart design, the E-Z-GO UV is now a legitimate competitor in overall performance, especially in low-speed maneuverability and hauling capacity. Shirley Hodgen called the UV “the most improved of all contenders.” She said, “It used to be a golf cart. Now it's a real machine with nice touches like an electric dump box and bed stake holders for larger loads. There's also a place for a cell phone holder — nice! The lighted gauges were good, but the dashboard symbols were confusing.”

However, despite a max payload capacity of 1,100 lbs. in the cargo bed and 1,500 lbs. towing capacity, high expectations from the 18-hp Honda gas engine were not met. The ST lost ground on engine power and performance.

“Great 4×4 characteristics, but needs more power,” Abe Hodgen commented.

Clark McPheeters agreed: “On-the-fly shifting and 4-wd makes the E-Z-GO easy to drive, though the machine could use more power and easier-to-understand dash symbols.”

Tom Henry said, “I like the 2-in. receiver hitches and the three-person bench seat. It did okay on the stream crossing, but the E-Z-GO is short on power and the rear suspension is sloppy. The parking brake pinched my fingers. Perhaps they should stick to golf carts.”

For more information, contact E-Z-GO Textron, Dept. FIN, 1451 Marvin Griffin Rd., Augusta, GA 30906, 800/241-5855, visit www.ezgo.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 206.

Deere Gator 2×4 ($6,999) and Gator HPX 4×4 ($9,399)

THE GATORS ranked among the best in ease of service and maintenance. And the smallest Deere handled the low-speed barrel weave better than any other machine. But despite many of our farmers' penchant for John Deere green, most were disappointed with the overall performance of Deere's Gator lineup.

Though deer are supposed to be speedy, nimble creatures, our farmers agreed that the Deere Gators lacked power to adequately get anywhere quickly or handle large loads. The Deere with the 13-hp engine managed to reach 20 mph. The 20-hp 4×4 labored to a speed-limited 25 mph.

Both machines provided bumpy rides not only over terrain but on flat gravel roads as well. They also got stuck in the mud more often than any other machine. Our farmers did their best to find something honest, but kind to say about two green machines that are long overdue for a redesign.

“Despite being grossly underpowered, the 2-wd Deere handled the barrel weave course surprisingly well — up, down, forward and back,” Tom Henry commented.

Shirley Hodgen said the Deere machines were so slow that her “cows could outrun them. “But,” she added, “I'm more confident in Deere's maintenance and service than that of any of the other companies. I can't afford to wait around for repairs and parts. Deere service has a proven track record with me. The 2-wd did handle well around the barrels, and with its small engine, the Deere was the quietest of all the machines.”

For more information, contact John Deere Commercial & Consumer Equipment Div., Dept. FIN, Box 13603, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, 800/537-8233, visit www.deere.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 207.

MAINTENANCE AND SERVICE FIN Top 4
1. Kubota RTV900 4.4
2. Polaris Ranger 4.0
3. Deere Gator 3.9
4. Bobcat 2200 diesel 3.8
LOADED HAULING FIN Top 4
1. Polaris Ranger 4.3
2. Yamaha Rhino 4.1
3. Kubota RTV900 4.0
4. Bobcat 2200 diesel 3.8
LOW-SPEED HANDLING FIN Top 4
1. Polaris Ranger 4.2
2. Yamaha Rhino 4.1
3. Bobcat 2200 gas 4.0
4. Kubota RTV900 3.8
UNLOADED OFF-ROAD 4-WHEELIN‘ FIN Top 4
1. Polaris Ranger 4.4
2. Yamaha Rhino 4.3
3. Bobcat 2200 diesel 4.2
4. Kawasaki Mule 4.0
OVERALL COMFORT AND STYLING FIN Top 4
1. Yamaha Rhino 4.4
2. Kubota RTV900 4.2
3. Polaris Ranger 4.1
4. Land Pride Treker 3.8
UTILITY VEHICLE SPECS AND FINAL RANKINGS
Machine Engine Payload Price FIN score
Polaris Ranger XP 700cc, 40 hp, EFI 1,500 lbs. $10,799 4.20
Yamaha Rhino 660 660cc, 42 hp, single cylinder 400 lbs. $9,199 4.14
Kubota RTV900 900cc, 20 hp, 3 cyl., diesel 1,630 lbs. $9,995 4.00
Land Pride Treker 614cc, 20 hp 900 lbs. $8,645 3.77
Bobcat 2200 719cc, 20 hp, diesel 800 lbs. $10,800 3.76
Kawasaki Mule 3010 617cc, 20 hp, V-twin 800 lbs. $9,599 3.72
E-Z-GO ST 4×4 620cc, 18 hp 1,100 lbs. $8,500 3.61
Bobcat 2200 614cc, 20 hp, gasoline 800 lbs. $8,900 3.58
Deere Gator HPX 617cc, 20 hp, V-twin 900 lbs. $9,399 3.45
Deere Gator 2×4 401cc, 13 hp, V-twin 900 lbs. $6,999 3.30
Deere Gator 4×2 401cc 13 hp V-twin 900 lbs 6,999 3.3

THANK YOU!

FARM INDUSTRY NEWS appreciates the companies that agreed to participate in this event by sending their machines and expert personnel to work with our Team FIN farmers.

Special thanks go to the Caribou Gun Club in Le Sueur, MN, for its outstanding, friendly services and use of its beautifully maintained grounds and facilities.

And finally, we thank our Team FIN farmers who generously gave their time and expertise to ensure the success of the 2005 FIN UV Rodeo.