2011 Polaris Ranger RZR First Ride 0

Finally, there are some meaningful changes to the Polaris RZR! After all these years of adding new models like the RZR S, limited editions and the four-seat RZR 4, the little 50” RZR that started this whole thing back in January of 2007 gets a makeover for 2011. Well, actually the whole line of RZRs get the mild makeover.

2011 Polaris Ranger RZR First Ride

2011 Polaris Ranger RZR First Ride

Most noticeable is the new look. The front grill has been opened up to give the RZR an almost 30% improvement in total cooling area. There are also revised safety nets for easier use that include bigger snap-buckles. Climbing inside, you’ll find a slightly changed dash layout with new sealed switches for the 2WD/AWD option, as well as (French horns trumpeting!) a headlight switch that now has both high and low beams. Also new is the analog/digital gauge package. The single gauge pod now includes a clock, a water temperature gauge, a low-battery warning light, as well as the typical speedometer, tachometer, odometer, hour meter, two trip meters, gear indicator and fuel gauge. Also new, and long overdue, is a sealed storage compartment under the passenger grab bar. Not wanting to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth here, but it sure would have been nice to see additional interior storage as well.

Perhaps the best news is that the 50” RZR is now equipped with the 55-horsepower (claimed) HO engine like the one found in the RZR S and the RZR 4. For 2011, the engine has a new intake system, modified combustion chambers and exhaust system, as well as an all-new Bosch fuel injection system. These changes were made in an effort to improve the low speed driveability, as well as improve the engine’s overall efficiency. Supposedly these modifications increase the range of the RZR by 30%.

Along with these changes, Polaris modified the fuel tank with a big screw-off plate for easy access to the sending unit and fuel pump. Also improved for 2011 is better cooling for the clutch and drive belt for added durability. Then, to finish off the changes, there are some new bed extenders on the 50” RZR to make it easier to carry more gear out on the trail.

The 2011 Ranger RZR S (left) got the same updates as the standard RZR and maintains all the sporty handling you've come to expect from the S trim.

The 2011 Ranger RZR S (left) got the same updates as the standard RZR and maintains all the sporty handling you’ve come to expect from the S trim.

So, how’s it all work? Climbing in, you’ll find that same silly foot pocket that the Polaris folks put in the floorboard as their solution to the touchy throttle pedal. It gives new meaning to the term “work-around.” But on the good side, the seats are adjustable fore and aft. Sure, you’ll still need to remove them and loosen four Torx-head bolts, but at least they are moveable. Plus, the steering wheel adjusts up and down. These two combine to make it pretty easy for most people to get comfortable in the little RZR.

With a simple twist of the key, the new engine comes to life and it seems much crisper sounding. Even with just a blip of the throttle you can feel how much cleaner the new engine runs. Ofcourse, that’s once your foot gets settled into the foot pocket. With a foot on the brake and a pull back on the shifter, you’re ready to go! Although the shift pattern makes perfect sense, if you’re used to an ATV it will take a little getting used to with “High” all the way to the rear and “Park” all the way to the front.

If you’ve driven any of the RZRs before, the cleaner acceleration of the new engine will be instantly noticeable. The new engine accelerates from turns with no hesitation, whether it’s from mid-rpm in sweepers, or low-rpm out of those tight, twisty corners. The handling of the 50-inch RZR is always a treat, unless of course you’re in a long section of whoops and you’ve driven a RZR S. But those high-speed, wide-open spaces are not really the area of performance that the standard RZR 800 is designed for. No sir. The smallest RZR is best at having all the attributes of a side-by-side and yet still being capable of exploring all those incredible trails that are most typically ridden only by ATVs.

ADC is still unavailable for AWD-equipped Ranger RZRs. Considering 2011 brought some meaningful changes to the RZR, this was one change we were suprised got looked over.

ADC is still unavailable for AWD-equipped Ranger RZRs. Considering 2011 brought some meaningful changes to the RZR, this was one change we were suprised got looked over.

Of course, it’s also those tight and twisting trails that bring out one of the biggest flaws in the RZR – its lack of downhill braking. An inherent flaw of the Polaris AWD system is its inability to have the engine braking delivered to all four wheels. This causes the rear wheels to slide on steep and loose downhill trails, even when in AWD mode. Polaris has addressed this problem on some of their ATVs by adding ADC (Active Descent Control) which seems to solve this problem in a novel work-around, but has yet to put it on any of the RZRs. While the lack of four-wheel braking is probably not as big of a problem on the other RZR models, because the 50” RZR is designed to be used on the tighter and more difficult ATV trails, it is very much needed and very much missed!

So although we wish Polaris would spend a little more time addressing some issues on the RZR, it’s still nice to see them continue to refine it – especially considering there is still no competition in the 50-inch wide side-by-side market. That seems all the more amazing considering RZR 800 is still the best-selling UTV in Polaris’ lineup. Hello! Is anybody listening out there?

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