Double-Duty ATVs

Cross an ATV with a pickup truck, and you might get something like a UTV. These utility vehicles, sometimes called side-by-sides or RUVs (recreational utility vehicles), combine a good-size cargo bed and side-by-side seating for two people or more with the convenient size and some of the off-road capability of a four-wheeler.

Sales of UTVs are booming and could top 275,000 units this year, as rural landowners and sportsmen discover that they can be handy to have around the spread. Because UTVs have automotive-type controls, driving one is a less athletic endeavor than driving an ATV, which makes them appealing to more mature or disabled users.

Compact utility vehicles have been around for decades, of course, toiling at golf courses and industrial sites. The Kawasaki Mule 1000, launched in 1988, probably served as the prototype for today's UTV. Powered by a 450cc single-cylinder gas engine mated to an automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission), the original Mule offered seating for two and a steel cargo box. Polaris took the UTV in an off-road direction in 1998 with its introduction of the first Ranger model, which placed a cargo box and side-by-side seating over an ATV powertrain.

Today, the Mule and the Ranger represent two branches of the UTV tree. The former, which includes models from Club Car, Cub Cadet, John Deere and Kubota, emphasizes utility. On the latter branch you'll find models like the Arctic Cat Prowler and the Yamaha Rhino, which offer an ATV-like suspension and ground clearance better able to handle rough trails or even no trail at all. Prices range from about $5,900 for a compact UTV, such as the Kawasaki Mule 600, to close to $13,000 for the diesel-powered, four-seat Club Car XRT 1500 SE.

WORK OR PLAY

If you plan to use a UTV for work, consider the size and weight capacity of the cargo box, which can range from 400 pounds to more than 1,000 pounds. Most cargo boxes are made of steel, but the Polaris and the Arctic Cat have composite plastic boxes that won't dent or rust. Most, but not all, UTVs come with a standard tilt assist for dumping the box. (On other models it's available as an option.) Other work-related factors to consider include towing capacity and the ability to handle accessory tools. You might want the capability to push a snowplow, for instance. On many UTV models that requires the installation of a winch and heavy-duty front suspension to support the weight.

For purely recreational use, speed and agility are usually more important than payload capacity. The Yamaha Rhino and Arctic Cat Prowler can reach speeds close to 50 mph (most work models are governed to 25 mph), and they can go almost anywhere an ATV can. However, they don't offer the box size or capacity of work-oriented models. If you've got a big piece of property, vehicle speed might be a time-saver, and it's certainly fun.

WHERE TO USE IT

If you replace your ATV with a UTV, you might find yourself barred from public trails. Check your state's regulations on registration for use on public land. Access to most public trail systems, including U.S. Forest Service trails, is limited to vehicles of less than 50 inches in width. Many states don't even have a registration category for UTVs, which do not fit the legal definition of an ATV. Regulations in other states vary. Michigan, for example, offers an off-highway vehicle registration tag for UTVs that makes them trail legal in some places. Of course, on private land you're free to roam.

PASSENGER CAPACITY

The Kubota and Polaris Ranger models have a bench seat that can handle three adults in a pinch, which I think is an advantage over models with two bucket seats. The new Club Car XRT 1500 SE has two rows of seats for four people, and a full-size box for gear, but it's also almost 4 feet longer than a typical UTV, and thus much less maneuverable. The new Kawasaki Mule 3010 Trans4X4 seats four ahead of a shorter cargo box. If you need box space, the back seats fold down and the box expands forward, making the Trans4X4 a convertible among UTVs.

2X4 VS. 4X4

If your UTV is going to spend most of its life on farm lanes, gravel roads and flat ground, you can probably get along without four-wheel drive, which will save you about $1,000. If your UTV is going to see mud, snow or off-trail use, however, four-wheel drive is the way to go.

ROPS

Almost all UTVs have a roll-bar device, or ROPS (rollover protection structure), to protect the occupants should the vehicle tip over. Those that meet either the OSHA or the ANSI design standard are considered "ROPS certified" and will display a certification sticker. Only about half the UTVs on the market meet these standards.

OPTIONS TO CONSIDER

You can customize a UTV with an endless array of accessories, from tool racks and plows to chrome wheels and custom body kits, offered by the OEMs and the aftermarket. Some choices:

A CAB ROOF, in either lightweight aluminum or composite, provides shade and rain protection. If you'll be out in the cold a lot, fully enclosed cabs in canvas, steel and composite materials are available. A cab heater will also warm up your ride.

A WINDSHIELD really helps cut the wind-chill effect in cool weather or winter. Some windshields are designed to fold down, so you can enjoy the breeze when the weather turns warm.

A 4,000-POUND-CAPACITY WINCH can come in handy, because when a UTV is stuck, it's really stuck. Remember that it weighs 300 to 700 pounds more than even the largest ATV.

A GUN SCABBARD is handy for transporting your firearms safely, as is a roof rack for carrying a duck boat or canoe. For about $400 you can upgrade to camo bodywork, but I doubt it will help you sneak up on anything. I'll take a blaze-orange UTV during hunting season, thanks just the same.

JOHN DEERE GATOR XPX

Engine: Kawasaki V-Twin 617cc Transmission: On-demand all-wheel drive Cargo Box Capacity: 900 lb. MSRP: $9,899 gas, $10,899 diesel Contact: 800-537-8233; johndeere.com

POLARIS RANGER XP500 MOSSY OAK SPECIAL EDITION

Engine: Single-cylinder 499cc Transmission: Switchable on-demand all-wheel drive Cargo Box Capacity: 850 lb. MSRP: $10,199 Contact: 800-765-2747; polarisindustries.com

KAWASAKI MULE 3010

Engine: Kawasaki V-Twin 617cc Transmission: Automatic CVT 2WD/4WD Cargo Box Capacity: 800 lb. MSRP: $9,599 gas, $10,799 diesel Contact: 800-661-7433; kawasaki.com

ARCTIC CAT PROWLER

Engine: Single-cylinder 641cc Transmission: Automatic CVT 2WD/4WD Cargo Box Capacity: 900 lb. MSRP: $9,499 Contact: 218-681-9799; arcticcat.com

YAMAHA RHINO 450

Engine: Single-cylinder 421cc Transmission: Automatic CVT 2WD/4WD Cargo Box Capacity: 400 lb. MSRP: $7,999 Contact: 800-962-7926; yamaha-outdoors.com

To view the complete information chart on new UTV-class four-wheelers, go to outdoorlife.com