First Ride: 2009 Polaris Ranger UTV and RZR S

The RZR goes race-ready

Jul. 24, 2008 By Stephen Clark

Barely a year after releasing the RZR, Polaris is again taking the side-by-side market by storm with an all-new Ranger for 2009 and an exciting variation on the RZR. With the RZR still being relatively new and the prior Ranger still selling consistently in the utility market, we weren’t expecting much new product from Polaris Industries in '09. But thankfully we were wrong.

2009 Polaris RZR S


polaris rzr s utvThe Polaris RZR is an incredible side-by-side, targeted directly for trail, sport and hunting use. It has virtually no direct competition in the sport market at this time. It is unique because its 50” stance makes it ATV-trail legal (in most trail systems -some specifically exclude side-by-side vehicles). Polaris was able to achieve this by mounting the engine transversely in the chassis, behind the seats - different than the Yamaha Rhino or Kawasaki Teryx that have the engine mounted inline with the chassis, between the seats. While the standard RZR is a great machine for trail riding, its narrow stance does sacrifice some cornering and side-hill stability.

There are many potential customers who would like to use their side-by-side off established trails and aren't concerned with width - they would rather have extra suspension travel and better stability. Over the past 12 months, Polaris listened to the consumers and saw the immediate demand for aftermarket long-travel suspension kits - so for 2009 Polaris will offer the RZR S. This machine comes standard with long-travel suspension, a more powerful 800 HO engine, extended rollcage, larger tires, and cosmetic upgrades. The RZR S is remarkably similar to a couple after-market builds we have looked at here at The suspension, roll cage, wheels, and tires are all very similar. But now you can get it right from the factory, ready to play.


Powering the RZR is an 800 HO EFI twin cylinder engine borrowed from the Sportsman ATVs. Although the 2009 Sportsman 850 features a new engine, we will have to wait a bit for this engine in a Polaris side-by-side, but that’s okay because the RZR is already plenty fast. The regular RZR in stock form has an estimated top speed of 55 mph, with the RZR S a measureably faster top speed of 63 mph. The 800 EFI engines used in both RZRs are essentially the same, with the added performance on the RZR S coming from different ECU specs and clutching.

polaris rzr s utv suspensionLong-Travel Suspension

In our opinion the biggest selling point of the RZR S will be the long-travel suspension kit. The suspension travel is increased 3” on the front and 2.5” on the rear with wider a-arms. The wider a-arms increase the overall width from 50” to 60.5”. Fox Podium X remote reservoir shocks, similar to those used on the Polaris Outlaw sport quad, do an excellent job of soaking up the rough terrain. We spent a few hours railing the RZR S around a mini mx track and were blown away by how well the suspension worked. You need to either get it very wrong and land too heavy on one wheel, or hit something very big to bottom the suspension on the RZR S.

RZR Refined

The standard RZR model also gets some refinements for 2009. Polaris improved some details on the machine; making it shift smoother, quieting the exhaust, and also revamping the throttle operation. The floor now features a molded pocket that secures your heel, to help smoothen low speed throttle operation. We like the heel pocket for the most part. Our only complaint is that it makes it hard to push the throttle to the floor, especially when wearing boots. But the twitchy throttle was one of the most common complaints about the first generation RZR, so the improvement is noted. polaris rzr s utv

Polaris RZR S = $13,999

Go to PAGE 2 to read about the 2009 Ranger...

2009 Polaris Ranger HD and XP


polaris ranger utvThe 2009 Ranger utility models have also received a big redesign. The Ranger 4x4, Ranger XP and Ranger HD (heavy duty) now ride on a redesigned chassis. The Ranger Crew and Ranger 6x6 will still be available in the old Ranger chassis.

Self-Leveling Suspension

The new Ranger is an excellent UTV for those looking for a good utility vehicle that is still sporty enough for recreation, even as a base for extreme racing builds. Where the old Ranger featured McPherson strut front suspension like the Sportsman quads, the new Ranger features dual A-arm adjustable front suspension. The rear suspension is independently adjustable and the HD model features self-leveling shock absorbers.

When we heard "self-leveling" we imagined air suspension with an onboard compressor, but that is not the case. The shocks are hydraulic units from Sachs and when you load the bed they self-adjust to bring the machine back level again. It takes just a few yards of driving for them to adjust. We are not smart enough to fully understand how these work but we saw them work with our own eyes. A very cool feature.

Not Much New in the Engine

Two engines are available in the new Ranger; a single cylinder EFI 500cc and a twin cylinder EFI 700cc. The engines are essentially the same as last years Ranger. Driving the '08 and '09 models back-to-back we didn’t notice much difference in performance between the new and old. The '09 may even be slightly slower. It would be really cool if Polaris put an 800 into the Ranger but it won't be happening for 2009.

Big Changes in Styling

polaris ranger utv workThe improvement in ergonomics and styling on the new model is huge. The exterior styling is much better, with modern edgy lines and lots of front end protection. The front bumper has dedicated tie-down points and a massive tow hook. The front headlights are inset for protection from rocks and branches. There is also a nice storage compartment under the hood. And the 1,000lb capacity bed features multiple tie down points and is now tilt-able on all models.

The interior is also greatly improved. Seating is still a bench seat but is now contoured to hug the driver and passenger, giving more support to both. The steering wheel is adjustable with a tilt steering system. The dash panel is redesigned with a large glovebox and several open compartments that, according to Polaris, provide 46% more overall storage than the competition. The dash features an integrated digital/analog gauge, with open spaces for accessory switches. Polaris realizes that many side-by-side owners install accessories and they have made control installation as easy as possible. The panel can be accessed with the removal of two push pins and the under-hood compartment is tailored to make accessory hook-up to the battery easy.

The parking brake has been relocated so it can be applied from outside the vehicle if you forget to apply it before leaving the seat. And there are also cup holders for the driver and passenger.

polaris ranger utv jumpLooks Aren't Everything - How about Handling?

Okay so it looks good and has decent power, but what about the handling? Well it definitely handles much better than the previous Ranger. The handling of the old Ranger isn’t really that bad, but steering could be better. When cornering the old Ranger at full lock, the steering wheel would spin very fast as the wheels turn back to straight. To the point that you have to temporarily take your hands off the steering wheel. This handling characteristic has been greatly improved in the new model along with a new steering wheel. The steering wheel no longer feels like it belongs on a lawnmower. Although we were not able to drive the new Ranger HD the steering is probably even better on this model, as it has power steering.

polaris ranger utv

Overall Impression

We were very impressed with the new Ranger models. The Ranger fits a good niche in the market for those looking for a sport utility machine. In our opinion it fits in the market slightly on the more utility side of the Kawasaki Teryx but much more recreation orientated than the industrial sidexsides from John Deere, BobCat, etc.

We were surprised to see the attention paid to the side-by-side models from Polaris for 2009. The Polaris launch was one of those rare occasions when it felt great to be wrong. Its great to see Polaris taking the UTV market so seriously. Hopefully it will prompt the last couple Japanese manufacturers to step up their participation in this fast growing market.

Polaris Ranger HD = $12,999
Polaris Ranger XP = $10,799



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