2012 4-Seat Sport UTV Comparison 0

12_4SeatUTV-MainWhat’s better than making a passenger scream in a high-performance side-by-side? Making three of them scream.

The UTV market is growing, and by that we mean the machines themselves are getting larger. Four-seaters are the new rage for manufacturers. Hauling extra human cargo has been around for awhile in the utility applications, but now the sport market is demanding to bring their friends and family along for the ride as well. Polaris beat everyone to the punch with the Polaris RZR 4 back in 2010, and it stood uncontested, and largely unchanged, for a couple years. Kawasaki joined the fray by stretching its RUV (Recreational Utility Vehicle) platform and creating the 2012 Kawasaki Teryx4. With two sport models readily available, it was enough to sweet-talk MotoUSA into a comparison test.

Our first experience with the Teryx4 came in the restrictive confines of the Tennessee woodlands. Kawasaki picked that location to highlight some of the features that it feels define the T4 strong points. Of course the 749cc V-Twin is a major focus. Kawi uses the V configuration in its large sport-utility vehicles and it’s a defining feature that Team Green likes to hang its hat on. With the engine comes a centrifugal wet clutch paired to the CVT transmission. Another important design is the chassis with a much larger frame and interior arrangement than the Polaris. Kawi incorporates doors and uses the metal chassis as its own rock-slider and protection for the bodywork. The Teryx4 also has a relatively short wheelbase at 86.1 inches. These differences are some that we noted right away and wanted to put to the test against our familiar four-seat ride. Our test vehicle is the Teryx4 750 4×4 EPS LE. This is the power steering-equipped version (EPS) with limited edition (LE) features which we’ll detail later.

In terms of pure sporting performance, the Teryx4 can’t keep up with the RZR 4, however, the Teryx isn’t far behind.


By the time Kawasaki came into the picture the RZR 4 has already been eclipsed in the Polaris lineup. Just about the time the competition is figuring out how to get up to speed with a two-seat sport model, Polaris dropped the RZR XP 4 bomb. While the new SxS gets the attention for this year the standard RZR 4 is still in the lineup because it offers a different type of four-seat experience, and an amazing one at that. Our 2010 model has kept us smiling since it was introduced and we’ve returned the favor by taking it into our Polaris dealer for regular maintenance. We had it fully serviced prior to this comparison to make sure it was running in top condition. The 760cc Parallel Twin engine is a ripper, but the CVT belt is high maintenance. We’ve become accustomed to a high level of performance from the Fox Podium 2.0 shocks which are willing to eat up everything in their path. Since our model came out, Polaris has added a few features to the RZR 4 including new tires, shock adjustment knobs, glove box and added the option of power steering with its LE model.

We loaded up the Robby Gordon Edition RZR 4 and our new Teryx4 EPS LE and headed straight for the Oregon coast. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area hosts miles of dunes that are constantly changing with the highly volatile wind and rain of a coastal environment. We ran stock tires, the RZR on its Maxxis Bighorn and the Teryx4 on Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 treads. Our drivers and passengers ranged in experience and size. We even packed our Cruiser Editor, Bryan Harley, and let him give a complete UTV novice perspective. Cabs were stuffed with riders ranging from youth to six-foot-plus men. From there we headed inland to our Southern Oregon headquarters and took them through root-infested wooded hills, open fire-roads, slimy red clay and 4WD rock-crawling trails. Through it all we screamed. Sometimes in terror, but mostly out of enjoyment – egging our buddies on from front and rear passenger seats. After all, that’s the whole point.

2010 Polaris RZR 4

Take a side-by-side look at these two UTVs and the RZR 4 clearly has a more race-inspired stance. The chassis is lower, wider, longer and is wrapped in aggressive bodywork. Polaris uses a 760cc High Output engine to propel the RZR 4. It enjoys a slight 11cc displacement advantage over the Kawasaki but the biggest difference is the cylinder configuration and engine location. Polaris uses a Parallel Twin format and places the engine all the way at the back of the vehicle, behind the rear seats. On the sand the H.O. engine feels considerably stronger than the Kawasaki, all of our riders were convinced it was faster. Once we lined them up we discovered the opposite is true.

The Fox shocks and longer wheelbase make it feel more stable, and it exhibits less body roll when making fast or slow maneuvers.

The Fox shocks and longer wheelbase make it feel more stable, and it exhibits less body roll when making fast or slow maneuvers.

Polaris uses a continuously variable transmission (which it coins the PVT) which relies on engine rpm to engage the drive belt. This design produces a noticeable lag coming off idle, which allows the Kawasaki to pull away quickly. Once the engine spins up, the UTVs are dead even. We couldn’t coax the Polaris into catching the Teryx4. The lag is also noticeable under normal driving conditions, but not nearly to the same extent. At the end of the day, our drivers were all convinced that the RZR is faster overall in the dunes, but it’s not a direct result of the powerplant.

“We were surprised to find out that the Teryx4 actually beats it in any form of drag race,” says MotoUSA Editorial Director Ken Hutchison. “But there’s no denying the seat-of-the-pants-feel that the RZR 4 hauls ass. This engine makes you feel like you’re in a race vehicle and that makes it a lot of fun.”

“On the sand, the RZR’s motor was killing it,” confirms Harley.

Also, having lived with the RZR 4 for two years now, we know firsthand that the inherent slipping and variable belt tension on the PVT wears out belts. We’ve replaced several and it can lead to costly repairs. The 2012 Robby Gordon Edition RZR 4 sells for $14,499. That’s a healthy chunk less than our fully decked Kawi and $700 will buy a good supply of spare belts. Part of the reason for the price drop from our 2010 model ($14,999) is that the new standard Robby Gordon doesn’t have Maxxis tires or Crusher aluminum rims, color-matched springs, painted control arms, custom seat, custom colors or carbon fiber hood.

Polaris is proud of its chassis design and how it incorporates the engine into the rear of the UTV. This affects the handling and stability of the chassis and we credit it for helping weight the rear end and prevent bucking. A wheelbase of 103 inches is almost 17-inches longer than the T4. At high speeds this provides incredible stability. Whoops or surprise impacts don’t pitch the rear end and it has never swapped as long as we’ve been driving it. An anti-sway bar in the rear and a low center of gravity allow for long powerslides and quick direction changes without fear of rolling over.

“The RZR out-handles the Teryx for sure,” says Hutchison. “The Fox shocks and longer wheelbase make it feel more stable, and it exhibits less body roll when making fast or slow maneuvers.”

The added length is also fantastic for climbing hills. We never feel like it wants to tip over backwards on extreme inclines. In very tight terrain the Kawasaki will squeeze between obstacles easier and require fewer three-point turns, but the RZR’s front end stays planted better and minimizes the advantage. Polaris beefed up the skidplate on the newer RZR 4 which is a good thing. The undercarriage definitely takes more of a beating than the Kawi’s. An extra 17 inches between the tires allows the frame to run aground more often, which means the driver has to carry more speed and slam across mounds and obstacles in order to prevent getting high-centered. If the driver does get stuck, the AWD system is not as effective at scrapping out of a bind as the Teryx4’s true 4WD with locking front differential.

The extra wheelbase isn’t as much of a drawback as expected in tight riding. It’s often possible to use the extra length, width and stability to avoid scraping with creative driving. Even though it’s long, the RZR 4 still boasts 11.5 inches of ground clearance, and the 12-inches of suspension travel allow it to articulate well. We found that it will reach across gaps better than the Kawasaki and that helps keep it from dropping into holes and wanting to tip. It’s possible to drive the RZR 4 off ledges and across off-camber sections that will give the Teryx4 fits. The biggest drawback for rock crawling and super-technical riding is the PVT clutch system which is jerky, inconsistent and subject to overheating even in Low range, but the chassis works fine.

“It’s long and low so it drags its belly across the gnarly rocks and climbs,” admits Hutchison. “Yet, in our big, scary hillclimb test the RZR kicked-ass. Its long wheelbase turned out to work well by allowing us to reach across obstacles and set a wide footprint in the ravines.”

Our test unit is not equipped with power steering and we thought this would hurt the Polaris in our comparison. That’s not the case, however. Most drivers preferred unassisted steering in the sand and even in tight terrain the RZR is manageable. Some of that is due to the adjustable steering wheel, which makes the Kawasaki’s rigid, high placement feel very utilitarian. Also, with Fox Podium 2.0 shocks, the RZR 4 handles sudden impacts easily and rarely wants to jerk the wheel, so the damping effects of EPS aren’t as necessary. Don’t get us wrong, we love EPS in general, but the Kawasaki’s system is a little too sensitive for sand riding and it doesn’t necessarily give it an advantage in this test. Springing for the steering assist on a new RZR 4 will definitely increase the price as well.

Drivers and passengers were fed up with inconvenience of the side nets. It’s a pain to get in and out and they offer no protection from mud.

Drivers and passengers were fed up with inconvenience of the side nets. It’s a pain to get in and out and they offer no protection from mud.

Everyone who hopped in the front passenger seat of the RZR immediately loved the adjustable T-handle grip. This design fits a wide variety of rider sizes and keeps their arms inside the vehicle. The Teryx4 has a handle that’s high up on the roll cage, spreading the rider out and putting their hand/arm near the exterior of the vehicle. Smaller passengers or kids might not even be able to reach the Kawi handhold. The adjustable Polaris design is definitely the industry standard.

“The T-handle grab bar is a must-have for hauling ass,” exclaims father-of-four, Hutchison. “It makes for a better passenger experience when you can hold on for dear life with both hands.”

While riding along in the front is excellent, the rear is less accommodating. Stadium style seating places the passengers slightly higher than the front, but visibility is not as good as the Kawasaki. The biggest issue, though, is the tight layout. Kids don’t seem to mind, but adults will have their knees in contact with the seats in front of them. It’s actually nice to squeeze them in rough terrain, but for the most part it is uncomfortable. Fully removable and adjustable seats are a highlight. They aren’t as wide or cushy as the Kawasaki’s but they’re still comfortable, provide a secure platform and aren’t quite as upright.

“The RZR has the feel of a race car instead of the upright position of the Teryx,” says 5’8” Shane Irons. “That being said, the suspension of the RZR is miles above the Teryx when bombing over whoops or tearing through worm trails. I wasn’t shaken around as bad at higher speeds.”

“As a passenger, the layout is fairly Spartan,” says MotoUSA’s 220-pound Cruiser Editor in regards to the RZR. “The front passenger seat has a grab bar to hold on to. At six-foot-tall, I also bumped by legs on it a couple of times. There are no doors and it’s an open air cockpit with a roll cage, so you’re fully exposed to elements like wind, sand and rain.”

Even the new Limited Edition RZR 4 doesn’t come with a cab roof, but they are available as a Polaris accessory or through multiple aftermarket outlets. Our riders all enjoyed the extra protection that the Kawasaki provides. Where the Kawi uses full doors and a plastic roof, the RZR has a low-profile cage and nets. The top is able to slide underneath overhanging branches and nets keep down weight. The new RZR 4 has a claimed dry weight of 1255 pounds while the Kawi is listed at 1627 pounds (curb), another reason the Polaris handles better. Still, drivers and passengers were all fed up with inconvenience of the nets. It’s a pain to get in and out and they offer no protection from mud. Washing the RZR is always more of a chore as a result.

“I’ve grown fond and comfortable with the RZR 4,” admits Ken. “The seats are trick and comfortable and the reach to the controls is great for my 5’8” frame. The seat belts always seem to get me across the neck though and I’ve grown weary of cinching up the nets and clipping them in place. I like the control layout, but its minimalist by comparison.”

We’ve lived happily with the Polaris for two years. Compared to the Kawasaki, especially our LE model, it’s more of a bare-bones option. While offering more sport performance, the ride quality is exceptionally high from the suspension and chassis. It would be easier and cheaper to add comfort items as accessories than it would be to get the same racy edge in the Teryx4.

2012 Kawasaki Teryx4 750 4×4 EPS LE

As the new kid in town, the Teryx4 has been getting a lot of hype this year, and rightfully so. There are plenty of things about the new Kawasaki four-seater that add flavor to the sport side-by-side market. The T4 looks rugged and burly in a very military-esque way. The roll cage and bodywork are taller, wider and boxier than the RZR. It gives a more utilitarian feel, but Kawasaki offers the Mule lineup for work applications – the Teryx4 is definitely built to have a good time.

V-Twin power defines the Teryx family and the 749cc mill used in the T4 has been adapted slightly from its two-seater cousin. The 90-degree V has 15% more top-end power as a result of equal-length exhaust headers (a necessary design that came with added seating) and tweaked camshafts. Both machines use fuel injection and run without fault. Some drivers preferred the sound of the V-Twin while others leaned toward the character of the Polaris’ Parallel Twin. Kawasaki’s exhaust note is very acceptable and the intake has been repositioned so it no longer howls inside the front cab.

Power is comparable between the two machines, but Kawasaki delivers it quicker on the bottom end with its centrifugal clutch. This wet-clutch system is between the engine crankshaft and the CVT drive pulley. The Teryx4 is able to keep constant tension on the CVT belt and the centrifugal clutch handles the slipping and variable engagement. From a driving standpoint it feels like the wheels are connected more directly with the throttle – romp the pedal and the T4 leaps forward without hesitation.

The suspension is most at home in tighter, rutted, rocky terrain where 10.8 inches of ground clearance and the shorter wheelbase can showcase their benefits.

The suspension is most at home in tighter, rutted, rocky terrain where 10.8 inches of ground clearance and the shorter wheelbase can showcase their benefits.

“It gets with the program quick, right off the bottom and that makes a difference in sand, mud and rocks. Hands down the Teryx CVT setup is superior. It provides much more instantaneous throttle response and as a result makes the Teryx feel quicker…not faster, but definitely quicker.”

Having the centrifugal clutch allows the T4 to creep along in slow or high-load situations without jerking. This comes in handy everywhere from extreme rock crawling to simply loading on the trailer. Not only is it a benefit in every driving situation, but belt wear is drastically reduced. Hauling four people is much harder on the CVT so this is one of the best thing Kawasaki cold have done when adapting its Teryx platform. Not only does it make for easier maintenance, but also less risk of getting stranded. We don’t leave home in the RZR without a spare belt and tools. So far we haven’t developed that fear/need with the Kawasaki.

The Teryx uses a unique Double-X steel chassis that not only supports the vehicle, but also protects it. Kawasaki designed the T4 so that the metal bars of the frame and ROPS cage are the outermost points of the body. This keeps the doors, bed, foot wells and front end from suffering damage from hard objects. They can still get scratched by debris, but plastic isn’t going to get torn off. Even though it doesn’t have fender flares, the Teryx4 has slightly better splash protection than the RZR 4. Doors and the LE package roof do a good job of keeping riders clean. Why would we talk about the doors before detailing suspension components? Because it’s hard to convey just how much they bring to the riding experience

“Being able to open a door and step right in the Teryx4 was pretty sweet in comparison to climbing over the nets and frame of the RZR,” Irons notes.

The doors are just the beginning of Kawasaki’s excellent cabin. Wide, cushy seats greet passengers in front and rear. Front buckets are three-position adjustable, but the seats are not fully removable like the RZR’s, only the bases come out for cleaning. The seats are much higher than the Polaris also, which affects the center of gravity and handling. It also provides better vision for everyone. A wide grab bar extends across the back seats and the front passenger gets a handhold on the cage upright and one on the center console. Hanging on is easy in the back (a good thing considering the suspension) but the front is a bit awkward.

Up front on the frame is a dual A-arm design that is similar to the Polaris but much more compact and beefy. It has a removable front sway bar as well as a fixed one in the rear that help keep the relatively top-heavy T4 square on its feet. Even with the added stability, driving the Teryx4 requires more careful navigation. It’s a decent slider in the sand and on gravel, but rough terrain is where the chassis dimensions require smart driving.

“Since the Teryx is taller and has a shorter wheelbase it feels tippier than the RZR,” says Ken. “It handles fine in the sand, but it has considerably more body roll which gave me heart palpitations a few times.”

Suspension components are much lower-spec than the springs underneath the RZR 4, but do a good job in most situations. Kawasaki offers 7.8 inches of wheel travel up front and 8.3 inches in the rear. The LE model uses piggyback reservoir shocks that are fully adjustable for preload, compression and rebound. Kawasaki calls it “sport-focused suspension” that “offers an ideal compromise between sporty control and superb ride comfort.” We’d have to say that’s pretty darn accurate. Encountering surprise potholes, roots or rocks at a fast trail pace is no problem even when fully loaded. Hammering through sand whoops doesn’t factor into that equation.

“The Teryx4’s suspension in the whoops was brutal,” exclaims Harley. “It felt like trying to ride a buckin’ bronco.”

In all fairness, hauling butt down whoop roads isn’t exactly fun in the RZR 4 either. The Polaris can do it, but we avoid the whoop sections on both machines as much as possible because they’re jarring no matter what. Elsewhere in the sand the Kawasaki is much happier. The suspension is most at home in tighter, rutted, rocky terrain where 10.8 inches of ground clearance and the shorter wheelbase can showcase their benefits. The 89.1-inch span between front and rear wheels also has a downside in terms of stability. We had to second-guess, jockey and weasel our way into off-camber areas where the RZR mindlessly plows ahead.

The Teryx4 (and its passengers) are willing to leave the high-speed whoops to the RZR 4.

The Teryx4 (and its passengers) are willing to leave the high-speed whoops to the RZR 4.

Kawasaki includes EPS on its Teryx4 (a non-equipped model is available) where speed and torque sensors are used to vary the amount of assist. More assistance is applied at lower speeds and it decreases as speeds go up. It’s incredibly efficient for technical riding and makes it very easy for the driver to control. We think it could be turned down a little for higher speeds as it sometimes creates an oversteer issue. The Teryx4 pushes its front end a bit in corners which is exacerbated in soft sand. This scenario is where we experienced the downfall most often. But, take it into a rock garden and suddenly the EPS is magic. It’s definitely worth having. We prefer driving the T4 in slower terrain so the power steering is a great fit for its use.

One of the reasons the Kawi is so good in rugged terrain is its selectable four-wheel drive. A simple switch on the dashboard jumps between 2WD/4WD. Drivers can also lock in the front differential for maximum dragging power and traction when towing or plowing through treacherous mud. The diff-lock is also operated by a switch on the dash – a design change from the variable hand-lever used on the two-seat Teryx.

Braking is similar between the units with our drivers divided on the subject. Both are equipped with binders capable of handling the machines with four riders aboard. Our longer-legged drivers found the T4’s pedals a little close for comfort. Also, Kawasaki could take note of the heel-cup utilized on the RZR. The driver’s feet bounce around the Teryx4 a lot in rough terrain, which leads to sloppy driving.

Other things we like about the Kawi? It holds just a bit more fuel (7.9 vs. 7.25 gallons). All of the T4 models have a front bumper and the chassis is ready to accept a winch. The winch plate gets packed with mud and sand because it plows into the ground, so we’ll be testing to see if the winch suffers as a result. It also has a parking brake (hand operated!) which has room on the center console without the old diff-lock design. Both machines have small cargo beds; the Teryx4’s is narrower but has a flat bottom for easier packing. Accessing the front end is simple with a forward-tilting hood that makes getting to the radiator and air filter very easy. It’s also amazing during cleanup. A multi-function digital display offers much more information that the Polaris and the T4 has dual cup holders and an accessory power outlet both front and rear. The LE package brings two-tone seats, special color options, matching door panels, cast aluminum wheels, plastic roof, roll cage padding and the upgraded suspension.

“Hands down the comfort of the Teryx was a hit with our passengers,” Hutch says. “The back seats offer more leg room and protection with the doors. Even though the Teryx looks can feel like a work machine more than a sporty ride, it’s still very nice and tidy. Everything fits well, it’s blacked out in the version we have and it simply looks bad-ass.”

In terms of pure sporting performance, the Teryx4 can’t keep up with the RZR 4 despite its improved clutch. The RZR’s handling and suspension allow it to pull away once the going gets rough, however, the Teryx isn’t far behind. For normal sport riding the Teryx4 can hold its own. It’s better-rounded, plus Kawasaki has more emphasis on accommodating four people.

2012 4-Seat Sport UTV Comparison Conclusion

Our riders and passengers were all struggling to choose which four-seat side-by-side is the best. The good news is that there’s no wrong answer in this particular comparison. It’s great to finally get a chance at putting our familiar RZR 4 against similar technology. The results were favorable across the board, and some of our preconceived notions proved true while others were shot to hell. Both machines surprised us with their capabilities.

Polaris boasts its RZR lineup of Ranger side-by-sides as the ultimate blend of power, suspension and agility. “Blend” is the key term. Individually, some of these categories are pretty close between the two machines, but the RZR 4 is able to combine them in a way that makes each area feel more impressive than it does by itself. The Polaris definitely has the Kawasaki covered in the suspension category, and that allows it to drive different lines and feel more agile than its long wheelbase would typically allow. Also, since the RZR can absorb terrain better, the driver doesn’t have to lift off the throttle as much, which allows the engine to run up in the rpm where it’s best. Our testers were all drawn to the Polaris when it comes to pure sport performance. Even though our model isn’t equipped with power steering, we found it’s not really a disadvantage, especially in terrain that the RZR prefers, such as the dunes. The RZR doesn’t just go fast, though. Its long wheelbase provides as many benefits as it does drawbacks when crawling over technical terrain.

Kawasaki’s V-Twin engine is a proven design that makes the torque needed to yard around a full family, plus we were surprised to find that it matches the RZR on top-end performance. It scored top marks in the drivetrain as well because all of our riders love the centrifugal clutch. It allows the V-Twin to make the most of its impressive bottom end and also gives the driver ultimate control with the throttle pedal. There’s no jerky engagement and belt life is greatly increased. It’s exactly what is needed on a CVT-equipped vehicle designed for heavy loads. Kawasaki also put more emphasis on the rider comfort. More cab space and wider seats accommodate even extra-large passengers. The doors are also a feature that spoils Kawi riders. They’re much better at protecting against mud, water and branches, and they make getting in and out a breeze instead of fumbling with nets.

In terms of pure sporting performance, the Teryx4 can’t keep up with the RZR 4, however, the Teryx isn’t far behind.

In terms of pure sporting performance, the Teryx4 can’t keep up with the RZR 4, however, the Teryx isn’t far behind.

The RZR is definitely the rig of choice for hauling ass. It’s minimalist and fast. We all want to pin the throttle all the time, but the purpose of owning a four-seater is to include other riders, some of which are probably going to be kids. Kawasaki’s formula is better for hauling four people. It’s comfortable and durable. Ultimately, our testers lean toward the Kawasaki when it comes to personal choice, electing to slow down a bit through the whoops in exchange for a more enjoyable rider interface and longer service intervals.

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