Running with the Deere!
So you think that a company best known for agricultural equipment cannot think out of the box from time to time? Don’t judge too soon as the 2013 John Deere Gator RSX850i is designed to compete with the best the side-by-side segment has to offer. The RSX850i is available in three trim levels – Base, Sport, and Trail.
With a long history of building some of our nation’s best farming equipment as well as a full military line (including Remote Operated Vehicles), John Deere has now set its sights on the sport/utility UTV market. We had a chance to test out the Gator RSX850i Sport ($14,999) near the Moab, Utah.
Starting with the power of this new Gator RSX850i, John Deere enlisted Piaggio to help develop a powerplant to get the RSX rolling. Piaggio is an Italian company best known for building motorcycles and scooters (along with airplanes and small trucks) and the mill in the RSX850i closely resembles the one found in the Piaggio-built Aprilia SRV 850 scooter, which our sister site Motorcycle.com reviewed earlier this year. Using the four stroke platform the electronic fuel injection gives this machine a snappy start in most any conditions. The 839cc engine is a V-Twin model and it produces a modest 62 horsepower for the 1,360-pound machine. With an available torque rating in the area of 57.5 ft-lbs. the low-end grunt of this new Gator should make it excellent for any towing duties. Liquid cooling is the norm these days and this RSX850i is no different. After all, keeping a working man’s machine at the correct temperature is very important.
Digging a little deeper into the transmission of the new Gator RSX you will find some standard features typical of other vehicles in this class. The four-wheel drive system has the rear wheels locked in full time and the front differential will be limited slip until you lock the machine into full locked position by the twist knob located just to the right of the steering wheel on the dash. When you are ready to get moving simply reach down between the seats and grab the shifting handle. This transmission incorporates Low, High, Reverse and Park as its choices and low is at the bottom with Park being the top position. Seems like that was planned just right! The enclosed and sealed CVT belt drive is also an industry standard and this has worked for years, so it’s no surprise to see John Deere use it on this Gator.
Banging through the rough stuff is something this machine was intended to endure and with fully independent front and rear suspension you can tell right away. The front end of the new Gator RSX850i has 9.0 inches of travel and an anti-sway bar to keep things legit. The rear wheel travel offers 9.0 inches as well and with sway control on the back this machine is truly a stable ride. It’s great to see the development of this machine coming along and with the knowledge of larger than life NASCAR chassis fabricators helping its bound to work great.
Stepping back for just a second and looking at the unique lines of the John Deere Gator RSX850i, we were just amazed at the overall classy styling in this machine’s design. Many UTVs look similar, but for some reason this one sticks out. The sleek curves make the RSX just look fast and with things like high-back seats poking their heads up over the dash it is very inviting. The Sport model of the RSX850i gives the feel and look of a Baja-type vehicle. With the design leaning towards harsh desert terrain and technical rocky sections of the gnarliest trail you know it should inspire confidence right from the showroom floor. Perhaps what best sets the Sport model apart from the Base and Trail editions is its FOX 2.0 piggyback shocks with full spring and compression adjustability.
The tubular cage surrounding the driver and passenger as they slip into the seats is ROPS approved and John Deere used 1-¾-inch tubing to keep the Gator’s occupants safe and sound. Keeping the riders in their seats are the three-point seat belts, which are also pretty standard for today’s UTV world. The Sport model stands on 14-inch custom wheels wrapped in Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires. This combination is rugged and with a brand like Maxxis on board the trail is yours to be tamed.
Some other key elements that many loyal John Deere Gator owners may want to know are the towing and overall carrying capabilities. The tow rating for the Gator RSX850i is a massive 1,200 lbs and after you fill up the 8.9 cubic feet of rear cargo bed space you can dump the load back out via the manually released cargo bed dump lever.
So with some of the details exposed we’re assuming you might want to know our real world experience and how this off-road machine handled the trails. The off-road known as Moab would reveal to us the finer points of the Gator RSX850i as well as some things we would like to see more attention given too. John Deere had planned a two-day event for us in two very different areas. Our first day was spent at SevenMile Rim getting familiar with the new machine and testing the suspension as well as the handling and comfort of the newest Gator. Sitting in the RSX850i you immediately feel comfortable. The high-back seating wraps its arms around you and welcomes you in. It would be nice to see these great seats tilted back just a couple of inches to give your legs more support, but they were in no way uncomfortable. The three-point seat belts worked well and the only thing we would add to them would be an anti-cinch mechanism so they let you flex just a bit without binding up.
As we pushed the gear selector into high and gave the foot feed a poke the Gator launched into motion and we were off down the trail. Getting the power out of the machine wasn’t very hard as it seemed to reach its peak fairly quickly. The top speed of the new Gator was around 53-55 and honestly for the general public that is probably just fine. Most hardcore riders will modify the stocker to get a bit more out of it anyway. One thing that caught our attention was that the RSX feels as if it reaches its potential a little before the engine is actually ready to quit and most of the power can be felt right off the bottom. This could be in the CVT clutch, but we’d like it to be a bit more linear to distribute the power out evenly in the RPM range. With 62 ponies available there is enough to go around if the machine is geared for it.
The nimbleness of this Gator was really refreshing. The Gator RSX850i handled any trail obstacle we could throw its way and surprisingly enough it remained mild mannered and we never felt as if we were out of control. Riding in Moab and being able to make that statement is a true testament to this machine’s capabilities. We were able to ride the Slick Rock portion of Moab on our second day and there were plenty of really big and intimidating obstacles for the new Gator to climb over. The RSX850i handled all of them very well.
Are there things that may need a second look for refinement on the machine? Certainly, but we’d expect it to keep getting better and better as John Deere makes improvements.
It’s exciting to know that John Deere gets our crowd and with a great product like this we are sure off-roaders will be paying very close attention for years to come.