East coast testing Polaris' 800 wide ride
We’ve ridden the Polaris RZR S 800 in the wide-open Nevada desert and the hilly grasslands of Montana. Up until recently, however, we hadn’t had the opportunity to take it for spin in the tighter confines of the eastern half of the United States.
Once the pinnacle of the Sport side-by-side (SxS) world, the RZR S is now something of a tweener. With the standard RZR 800 and 570 owning riding areas with tight 50 in. trails and the RZR XP 900 and its rivals battling for supremacy of rough high-speed trails, where does this leave the RZR S? In southern Ohio we are surrounded by a number of off-road parks that allow jeeps and buggies, in addition to ATVs, so a majority of the trails are easily wide enough for the RZR S (60.5 in. wide). However, most of the trails are tight enough that you don’t really need the explosiveness the XP’s engine or its longer wheelbase and suspension travel. On paper the RZR S looks like the perfect solution for the east coast, wide-trail rider, so we decided to put it to the test where we live to find out.
To put our RZR S to the test, we acquired the services of pro ATV motocross racer Casey Martin, who has owned a RZR S for 10 months, and Jennifer Wingate, an off-road novice with some entry level ATV experience. We wanted to see what the machine was capable of doing, and how well it worked in the hands of a timid first time UTV enthusiast.
The RZR S is powered by the same 760cc high-output, twin cylinder, water-cooled, four-stroke engine that powers the RZR 800, which is reported to produce 55 horsepower. With the RZR S listed at 1,022 lb. dry , Polaris boasts a 0-35 mph time of 3.8 seconds. In previous testing out west, we have had the RZR S up to 56 mph and still gradually climbing.
When you stomp the gas the engine feels willing and offers lots of torque. It gets you out of the hole quickly and gobbles up some impressive inclines with little run at the bottom. With power to spare while cruising wooded trails, the RZR S is a blast to race from corner to corner in the trees.
In wide open spaces, the engine is fun to race around with. However, its dated push-rod engine design lacks the explosiveness of the RZR XP 900’s modern overhead cam engine. This makes breaking the rear end loose for slides a little more difficult. You also don’t have the same ability to loft the front end over obstacles on the RZR S, like you do on the RZR XP, partly due to less horsepower, but more due to the fact that the RZR S simply doesn’t build RPMs as quickly.
As the trail tightens up and gets more treacherous, the strong torque and smoother delivery of the RZR S’s engine works to its advantage. It doesn’t feel overwhelming in tricky sections and does a great job of taking advantage of available traction.
Polaris’ automatic PVT transmission features Park, Reverse and Neutral, in addition to two forward ranges (High and Low). Clutch engagement is butter smooth, which aids on tricky takeoffs without feeling excessively laggy. We found High range perfect for general trail use in the woods and fields, while Low range came in handy for rock crawling and the most intimidating ascents.
We’d like to see this unit come with engine braking standard, if not Polaris’ Active Descent Control. You can use the engine for braking on long gradual down hills, but it requires feathering the gas pedal to keep the PVT engaged. Shifting into Low range will further help.
The two-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive system allows you to shift from full time two-wheel-drive to all-wheel-drive on the fly. All-wheel-drive lets you enjoy the extra traction of locked in, four-wheel-drive, which kicks in automatically when the rear tires begin spinning marginally faster then the front tires. It then returns to rear-wheel-drive only when traction becomes available. Through the years, AWD has been all right with us. We’ve heard some enthusiasts express their desire to be able to lock in true full time four-wheel drive for the most difficult, low traction situations. It wouldn’t hurt, but we haven’t felt we needed it yet.
At 60.5 in. wide, the RZR S enjoys a notable advantage in stability compared to the 50 in. RZR, and all of the sport utility UTVs we’ve tried from various manufacturers. Evan compared to the latest high-dollar machines on the market, the RZR S stability is rock solid in corners and off-camber trails. At 77 in. long, the S has the same wheelbase as the original RZR. This helps keep the turning radius manageable in most trail situations. We rarely needed to employ a three-point-turn.
Thanks to its extra width, the RZR S is able to run two-inch taller tires compared to its little brother and gains stability at the same time. The 27 in. ITP 900 XCTs tires come mounted on sharp looking cast-aluminum wheels. Their taller size combined with longer control arms and more suspension travel yields two more inches of ground clearance (12 in. total). Load down the car with two occupants and take a run through the rocks, and that extra two inches of ground clearance feels like a whole lot more. We were surprised at the size of some of the rocks and logs we were able to traverse without dragging the bottom of the machine. For times when you run out of ground clearance the full plastic skid plates are a welcome feature, but we’d suggest switching to a tougher set of skid plates if you plan on doing a lot of crawling in sharp rocks.
Steering on the RZR S is responsive, but by no means twitchy. The car does a good job of going where it’s pointed without ever doing anything unexpected. While the tires did a good job of controlling direction and getting the power to the ground, we found they wore quickly in hard pack and provided a buzzy ride at low to intermediate speeds.
In our experience, the 12 in. of suspension travel in the RZR S was more than enough, especially for the less whooped out trails we regularly ride. The chassis features dual A-arms up front and a lower A-arm with large beefy upper control arm out back. While the base model’s stock shocks are only preload adjustable, they are set up well for most situations. They provide a plush ride over small trail obstacles and perform admirably while picking your way through large rocks, as the suspension on one side can compress a eat up the impact with a rock while the other side reaches out to keep the tire in contact with the ground. Meanwhile, the driver and passenger float comfortably overhead.
At the other extreme of suspension performance, the shocks do a good job of resisting bottoming – even on imperfect landings after grabbing a few feet of air. Rebound damping was a little bit on the fast side for whoops, although it never started bucking or swapping uncontrollably. For entry-level shocks, they work respectably well everywhere and quite well on the typical trails we encounter in the eastern part of the country.
The biggest drawback to these shocks is that they are not rebuildable. This means that if you ride your RZR regularly, you can expect to face the expense of purchasing aftermarket shocks in a couple of years. If this sounds like a hassle, consider spending a little more now and get one of the Limited Edition RZR S models, which come with Fox Podium X shocks. These shocks are rebuildable, evolvable and feature compression damping adjustment.
Braking performance is superb on the RZR S, thanks to hydraulic disc brakes at all four corners. The front brakes feature dual piston calipers, enhancing power, while steel braided brake lines increase power, improve feel, and help resist facing. Feel through the pedal is quite good. While we wouldn’t call them overly sensitive, you can lock all four wheels up and stop on a dime when the situation calls for it.
The cockpit on the S is well thought out, although a little on the small side – especially if you’re over six-feet tall. A tilt steering wheel, plus the best designed passenger grab bar on the market (with adjustable reach) make accommodating different size drivers and passengers easy. The seats can be slid forward or rearward, but require removing four hex head bolts on the lower rails. This is a pain when the occupants are radically different in height, but both want to take turns driving. Why can’t they feature a lever and rail system like the ones the automotive industry has been using forever? The seats are placed low in the car, lowering the center of gravity and improving the feel.
RZR S occupants are surrounded by a (ROPS) certified roll cage. Door nets allow you to get in and out quickly, while offering a measure of protection by helping keep your limbs inboard in the event of a rollover.
Storage and Towing
A three-gallon water resistant glove box resides on the passenger side, in addition to dual cup holders found in the center console. The rear cargo box features 300 pounds of capacity. Polaris’ lock and ride system lets you easily install various bed accessories. A rear-mounted 1.25 in. hitch receiver will allow you to tow up to 1,500 pounds.
As we mentioned before, Polaris offers a few LE models of the RZR S. The Blue Fire and Orange LE models feature painted plastic, Maxxis Bighorn tires mounted on black inlayed aluminum wheels, and of course, the addition of high-performance Fox Podium X shocks. The Fox shocks make these models worth the extra $1,300 asking price by themselves, as replacing the stock shocks can cost thousands.
The Sunset Red EPS LE model features all of the upgrades of the other LE models, plus the benefit of electric power steering. We have tried the Polaris EPS system in the RZR 4 and it works wonderfully. Our only issue with this unit is that its retail price of $14,999 is within $1000 of the base model XP 900. It comes stock with outstanding Fox Podium X shocks.
The RZR S’ outstanding performance really made it shine back east in our neck of the woods. It has the engine and handling necessary to go fast, but the extra suspension travel and ground clearance that really makes us continue to love this model. Casey Martin Showed us what the stock RZR S was capable of, while the RZR S helped show test rider Jennifer what she was capable of, as she got up the courage to get her first bit of air time on an off-road vehicle ever. Of the half dozen or so vehicles we have let her ride or drive, this is the first one she was asking to take out and drive again. Guys, if you want to get your lady into off-reading, here you go!
While there may be better SxS models for the guys out west and 50 in. trails simply won’t let the RZR S pass through, if you ride in wooded areas with Jeep or buggy trails, the RZR S is nearly the perfect blend of performance, drivability and price. For everyone else, The RZR S may no longer set the mark for what a pure Sport SxS can be, but it has all the attributes needed to be a great sport machine at a price that puts it in a class by itself.