2011 Polaris EV Electric UTV First Ride 0
EV. Electric Vehicle. No hum. Or worse even. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Polaris introduced an electric version of its new mid-sized Ranger in late 2009 as a 2010 model. Although the industry covered it, most of them, like me, showed little enthusiasm for it. Perhaps they, once again like me, wondered what the fat-sock granola-heads needed a UTV for?
So it wasn’t until the 2011 Polaris New Model Reveal up in Montana that I even took the time to look at one, let alone sit in it or even drive it. Let me back up just a bit and say how much I like the new mid-sized line of Rangers. They are just the right size – in my opinion. So after cruising the hills in both the new 500cc crew cab model and the standard cab model, I decided to take a quick spin in the EV.
Whoa! The EV is quiet, reasonably powerful, and has a range of 25 to 50 miles on a charge. All it took was one quick ride and I was already wondering if it might not just be the perfect little work truck for my small ranch? Considering I’ve had an assortment of Kawasaki Mules doing my ranch chores over the years, Polaris jumped at the chance to show me that an “electric vehicle” could do more than just reduce my carbon footprint.
Wow! It didn’t take long to be amazed! An electric motor has a lot of torque, and for working around the fields, torque is a real good thing. It’s also quiet, and for working around the house and livestock, quiet is also a real good thing.
Built on the same platform as the gas-powered mid-sized Ranger, the EV has a wheelbase of 72”, an overall length of 108” and is 56.5” wide. That’s a size that can easily be maneuvered in tight places and through smaller gates, yet can easily and comfortably seat two people — and even three in a pinch! The all-plastic dump bed measures 37” wide, 51” long and 11” deep, and is rated to carry 500 pounds. The EV is rated to tow 1250 pounds from its 2” receiver hitch.
Jumping in the EV is easy enough, but getting it moving requires just a bit of forethought if you’re more accustomed to the nuances of internal combustion than you are to electrical current. First, it’s best to park it near an electrical outlet overnight to keep it “topped off” and ready to run. Sitting down and ready to go, you’ll notice that there’s a nice, big hand lever for a parking brake just to the right of the steering wheel, right where God intended parking brakes to be! Between the hand brake and the steering wheel is the ignition key. But wait! Don’t turn it on yet! In the center of the dash are four toggle switches: One for the headlights and taillights; one for forward, neutral and reverse operation; one for high, low and maximum range; and one for choosing between four wheel drive, standard two-wheel drive, and two-wheel drive with the rear differential open for both tighter turning and doing less damage while turning on fragile surfaces. To the right of the toggles is the 12-volt accessory plug, the cord for plugging the EV into a power outlet, and a gauge to monitor the amount of power left in the batteries.
Now you know all that you need to start the EV, or maybe more correctly, turn it on. Before you turn the ignition key though, the transmission needs to be in neutral. With the toggle switch in neutral and the ignition key on, you are ready to go! Already you’re kind of amazed as there’s nothing happening. No sound. No whirr. No nothing. Release the parking brake, put the toggle in F (that’s short for Forward) and push the gas pedal. Still no sound, just instant movement and a strange smile across your face!
We were amazed as the EV has the exact same effect on every single user, every single time – an astonished look and a big grin! It’s not just quieter, but it’s also way more instant-power than you might expect. You push on the gas and it just moves forward. The EV never really gets noisy until you get it near its 25 mph top speed in high range. Then it has enough of a whirr from the 30 hp motor to make you wonder if it’s any quieter than the gas Ranger.
The huge torque and the low range combine to make the EV a reasonably capable off-roader. However, the 1700-pound weight and the medium tread 25” Carlisle All Trail tires will keep you from exploring the deepest mud and tallest rock piles. But that is not what the EV is for. No sir. It’s for quietly going about its business — your business — checking fences, hauling hay, carrying firewood, running errands – all while letting you hear the birds chirp, or even the grass grow if you’re inclined to drive that slow.
The EV can even work rather well out on the trail, whether it’s for just an evening cruise along the creek, or a scouting trip looking for elk burgers. Once again, it’s the quiet torque that makes it so nice to drive on the trail. In high range, the speed is limited to 25 mph, which is pretty doable. You really have to be more of a sport rider to need more speed than this. Maximum-range mode is set at 15 mph, and while that works okay cruising the fence-line, it’s pretty slow out on the trails. One of the nicest features of the EV is the engine braking – or perhaps more correctly labeled — motor braking. Unlike the gasoline-powered Polaris Rangers that tend to free-wheel, the EV’s motor slows the vehicle on steep down-hills just like a machine with gears.
The question left unanswered so far would be if the EV is worth the extra cost. Or, how far would you have to drive the thing to make up for the added cost? The EV is $3000 more than the equivalent 400cc gasoline model and $2000 more than the 500cc EFI. So what we are always asked is how the watts per mile compare to the more normal miles per gallon? Polaris claims that the 500cc Ranger gets 20 mpg. Using that figure and gas at $3.00 per gallon, that makes it cost about $15.00 to go 100 miles. Now, with the EV things get a little more complex. Although Polaris claims the EV can get 50 miles on a charge, we never got (not yet at least, so we wonder do electric vehicles need to break in?) more than about 30 miles to a charge. And of course, one of the problems we ran into testing that limit is the lack of available spare volts that you can carry to dump in if you run completely out while making a mileage run on the trail. But figuring electricity at 0.12 cents per kilowatt/hour and a full charge requiring 11.7 kilowatt/hours, it figures out to about $1.40 to a tank of volts! So, going 25 miles on a charge figures out to (if my math is correct) about $5.60 for 100 miles. A savings of $9.40 every 100 miles means you’ll need to drive over 21,000 miles to break even. Or, in terms I can understand more clearly: If I use the EV about 100 miles a week it would take me about 4 years to recoup the added cost of the EV in fuel savings.
But there are, I would guess, additional benefits. One would be that the 48-volt electric motor probably needs far less maintenance than the gasoline model. After all, my swamp cooler motor hasn’t needed anything but a shot of oil on its bearings for years now. And I can assume that gasoline will only continue to get more expensive. And I guess if you really wanted to be a good friend to the earth you could mount solar panels to the roof and charge the EV while you drive.
But the EV is not about saving money. It’s about hearing yourself whistle while you work!
We’ll let you know how it works over the long haul as right now Polaris will have to come and pry this thing from my granola-stained fingers if they want it back! We’ve rolled down our socks, grabbed an alfalfa sprout and tofu bagel and washed it down with a cup of vanilla bean expresso-cappuccino latte, and now we’re heading out to check the fenceline.
I figure it’s only a matter of time before the cows die of old age and we’ll replace them with a field full of alfalfa sprouts and hazel nuts. Or not.
Whatever may be the case, we’ll keep you informed if REI and Cabelas really can co-exist.