Top-Notch Carryalls Utility vehicles are built to haul a buddy and your deer

Using a lot of bungee cords and tie-down straps, I once managed to pack an inflatable boat and its air pump, a compact outboard motor, the fuel tank for the motor, a life jacket, fishing gear and lunch onto the cargo racks of an ATV. Then I drove the load over 18 miles of rutted trail to a mountain lake in Idaho. It wasn't pretty, but I made it.

That trip immediately came to mind when I took a short test ride in the Kubota RTV900, a new utility vehicle designed to compete in the emerging "side-by-side" category.

The Kubota's steel cargo box measures 52 by 47 inches and is close to 12 inches deep--big enough to haul all the stuff I had strapped to my ATV and more. It's rated to carry more than 1,100 pounds in the bed--800 pounds more than the largest ATVs. The RTV900 offers a second seat for a buddy and four-wheel-drive power from a torquey 21.6-hp diesel engine.

ROOM FOR TWO The RTV900 ($9,899 to $11,199; www.kubota.com) is designed to compete with established side-by-side models like the Kawasaki Mule and John Deere Gator, as well as newcomers like the Polaris Ranger and Yamaha Rhino. In fact, more than 20 manufacturers offer side-by-side utility vehicles today. Some, such as the Yamaha Rhino, are based on ATV running gear and are especially off-road capable. Others are really little more than overgrown golf carts. Most have cargo boxes and seating for two and can be outfitted with a roof or full cab. While side-by-sides may be less off-road capable than ATVs, many outdoorsmen find that they offer far more utility and comfort.

FULL OF FEATURES

Those advantages might appeal to hunters who are interested in hauling gear into camp, decoys into the marsh or game out to the road--all with a partner on board. Kubota will offer a version of the RTV900 with camouflage bodywork (though the standard Kubota orange might not be a bad idea in the field, either). These workhorses also come with an OSHA-certified roll cage and a brush-bar on the nose.

Another key feature of the RTV900 is its hydrostatic transmission. Unlike the belt-drive transmissions used on most other utility vehicles, the hydrostatic unit on the Kubota creates super-smooth starts on inclines, reliable engine braking on descents and amazing pulling power at low speeds. Kubota uses a second hydraulic pump for power steering and the hydraulic bed lift. There are also fittings to power accessories, such as a hydraulic plow blade, a post-hole digger and a saw.

The one disadvantage to all these vehicles is that they are too wide, are too heavy or carry too many people to be registered as ATVs in some states, so they cannot be used on public trails. However, their use and utility on private land is almost unlimited.

Deere Leaps Into the ATV Market John Deere has introduced its first line of ATVs, five basic models in familiar green-and-yellow, aimed at the work/utility market. ($6,499 to $7,799; www.johndeere.com) Two Buck models are powered by a 498cc single-cylinder engine and have a five-speed automatic transmission. Three Trail Buck models feature a CVT belt-drive transmission with a 498cc or 644cc engine. All models have 4WD. Bombardier manufactures the Buck and Trail Buck for Deere, and both are very similar to the Bombardier Traxter and Quest models. A similar co-op manufacturing agreement will add a version of the new Deere Gator HPX utility vehicle, called the Sarasota, to Bombardier's line.

For more on trucks and ATVs, go to www.outdoorlife.com