2009 Polaris Ranger RZR Review 0

Every once in a while a new product comes along that completely changes the way we do things. Sometimes that change is as big as the zipper, and sometimes more like sliced bread.

For those of us fixated on ATVs those new products would be things like the original 3-wheeled ATC, or the Honda 250R, the Polaris Sportsman with its independent rear suspension, or the Prairie with a big V-twin engine and a locking front differential!

For the UTV crowd this lightning has struck twice, first in November of 2003. That’s when Yamaha introduced a new model to its lineup, called the Rhino. It wasn’t a true utility machine and certainly not an ATV. Basically a combination of an ATV’s agility, a UTV’s capability, and the pure fun of a dune buggy, Yamaha used the term Side X Side to classify this new model. With the Rhino, Yamaha started a whole new class of off-roading and from that day on the off-road world would never be the same.

2009 Polaris Ranger RZR

2009 Polaris Ranger RZR

Then on February of 2007 on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, Polaris introduced the RZR and that lightning of unsuspected change struck our industry once again. Every magazine editor at the event was caught completely off-guard by what they saw on that cold morning in the desert. The 50-inch wide RZR seemed to fit better into the category of a two-seat ATV than as a utility-oriented UTV. The RZR had incredible performance from its 800cc Twin, great handling, and the ability to go where previously only ATVs could go – those 50-inch wide, two-track trails.

For 2009 Polaris has shown their desire to continue to develop the RZR and make it every bit as good as they can by making a host of evolutionary improvements. First, to improve safety, the protective roll cage has been strengthened by 30% and the side safety nets have been revised for easier use. Also modified were the shoulder protectors.

One of the most noticeable improvements is the change in the throttle pedal. Owners of early models oftentimes complained of a too-quick throttle response that could cause jerky operation at slow speeds over bumpy terrain. For 2009 the throttle linkage has been modified to require a bit more movement for the first portion of throttle application. In addition to that, a heel pocket has been added into the floorboard to help keep your foot from sliding around as much in rough terrain.

As before, the RZR offers you the ability to adjust the seats fore and aft. Although not quite as easy as a sliding lever like you find on your car, you can unlatch the seat from the RZR and by loosening four Torx-head screws slide the seat forward or back. Of course, we’re not sure who made the call to use Torx bolts since I don’t know many people that happen to carry a set of those around in their tool kit! There’s enough adjustment to provide a comfortable seating position for just about everyone from 5’5” to 6’5.” Also helping in that department is the tilt steering wheel. Simply pull the lever on the side of the steering column and a hydraulic shock allows the wheel to tilt up for easy egress and seating for the big-and-tall group, and down for easy reach by those in the category of short-and-thin. And while we’re discussing the steering wheel, it has a pair of bulges at 10 and 2 o’clock that help make it comfortable to grip, even in tough going.

The dash layout and gauges remain the same for 2009 with a large speedometer dial located in the center of the dash with the odometer, trip meter, hour meter, tachometer, clock, fuel gauge, and drive position all located inside its face. Also on the dash are the switches for the headlights, the all-wheel-drive system, along with a 12-volt accessory plug. Missing for 2009 is the rear backup and work lights and the controlling switch. Evidently few people use their RZR’s at night and fewer still back them up in the dark. On the passenger’s side you’ll find the same great adjustable T-handle grab bar that’s typically found only in off road racecars and sand buggys. Although other manufacturers have tried their best to provide a new and improved way for passengers to comfortably hold on while pounding through the back country, the simple t-handle is still by far the best, easiest to use and most comfortable.

For 2009 Polaris has strengthened the frame around the front and rear suspension’s attachment points as well as the rear suspension mounts to better withstand the stress applied from adding long travel arms and shocks on the RZR S model. The front and rear suspensions consist of dual A-arms with five-way preload adjustable shocks at each corner. The total suspension travel is nine inches up front and 9.5 inches in the rear. To help keep the RZR more stable when cornering, there are anti-sway bars on both the front and rear suspensions. Although the anti-sway bars can help on the fast stretches of fire roads, they do limit the articulation of the suspension in the slow-going rough stuff. Although the ground clearance sounds reasonable at 10 inches, with the stock 25-inch Maxxis bias-ply tires mounted on 12-inch steel wheels and a 77-inch wheelbase, the RZR still drags its middle over many obstacles an ATV would clear. Remember that even though the RZR is barely any wider than the typical ATV, it has over two feet more space between the front and rear wheels!

Powering the RZR is a longitudinal liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 760cc Twin cylinder engine putting out 52 horsepower and propelling the RZR to a top speed of approximately 55 mph. A belt-driven CVT transmission is mounted to the rear of the big Twin. Previous RZR’s have been plagued with problems of dust getting through the air filter intake system and causing engine damage. For 2009 Polaris has redesigned the intake system for improved durability so the RZR can now be driven for many more miles before requiring the air filter be cleaned. Also redesigned is the exhaust system with better heat protection at the exhaust manifold and a redesigned muffler for an even quieter sound.

A Sage Green color option is avaiable.

A Sage Green color option is avaiable.

A lever between the seats directs the engine’s power through the CVT transmission. Pull the lever all the way back for high range, one notch forward of that is low range, one more finds neutral and finally reverse and park position at the front two positions. Polaris modified the shift linkage for easier shifting between gears, and most importantly the shifter can now be moved more easily from the park position even when the RZR’s parked on a steep incline. The brakes are hydraulic-operated discs at each wheel, controlled like your truck by a foot pedal next to throttle. Still missing is a hand lever cable brake system for use as a parking brake or as an emergency brake should the hydraulic brake system fail – or should you merely find yourself compelled to do E-brake turns. Ah, now perhaps that may just be why there is no hand brake considering we are living in a time where the great lawyer conspiracy helps protect the stupid from being responsible for their actions.

The RZR has a comparably light dry weight compared to other side-by-sides of only 945 pounds. Unfortunately, that light weight has been achieved with the extensive use of plastics. It’s rated to carry only 300 pounds in its small 42 x 22-inch bed, but can tow 1500 pounds using the slide-in hitch receiver system – now reinforced for 2009. The bed is also equipped with Polaris’ unique Lock & Ride cargo latching system.

The RZR has a lot going for it. We really like the sporty, clean looks, comparing it to the Ford EX experimental off-roader first seen at the 2001 Detroit Auto Show. It has incredible handling and an amazing amount of power. Plus it’s great sounding and yet wonderfully quiet at the same time. Of course one of the best features of the RZR is that it fits on those beautiful and fun 50-inch trails. We also appreciate the adjustability of the steering wheel and the seats and that helps the RZR to be comfortable to ride in for hours at a time without complaint. And of course, the great grab bar helps the passenger to feel as comfortable in rough terrain as the operator.

There are some downsides to the RZR. First, we really think it needs that hand-operated brake for parking and emergency use. Also the Polaris’ drive system doesn’t provide the engine’s braking to all four wheels even when in 4WD, and this causes the RZR to be far more demanding to drive in steep downhill terrain than it should be. We also wish it came with more sealed storage that’s easily accessible while seated. And now, more so because we see the RZR S come with nice wheels and tires, we sure wish the regular RZR would come with a set of wheels and tires more suited for actual off road use. As it is they’ll be stacked in the garage while you spend hundreds more dollars for a set of good radials.The bottom line on the RZR is this; if you can only have one vehicle for exploring the scenic back country, especially those incredible ATV-only trails, playing race car driver in the sand dunes and maybe even doing some light chores around the farm, then you’re going to have to look pretty hard to find any one better and more fun than the RZR.

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