COME TO THE DARK SIDE
Two wheels good, four wheels bad. That’s our mantra, although vans (trucks) yeah, they’re good. But recently there’s been a new four-wheel phenomenon – not quads – these SxS things which actually looks pretty cool. So cool, we had to try them. On a cool day, jeez –11ºC cool enough for you?
words: JB & images: Polaris
I ’m terrible when it comes to keeping up with the world. Things need to literally run me over before I catch on. That’s been the case with the SxS phenomenon. There I was riding our Yamaha WR250F in a rally raid in Portugal early last year when this roar of an engine – no bike engine, something much-much bigger – comes sweeping up on me, I hear shouts of Spanish or Portuguese – and then this quad-car thing barges past and roosts its way up the trail.
That thing was a beast, but the trail was technical so I was able to tag along and see just what a ball of fun the two occupants were having – sideways in every corner – right up to the point where they wrapped said beast around a tree, knocking a wheel off and putting themselves out for the day (clearly you can have too much of a good thing). But by then they had piqued my interest and while I love my dirt biking I could see those guys were having a great time, too. And while it was clearly a quad-car-thing, those guys looked just like us, with motocross helmets and
goggles, were equally getting covered in mud, and obviously had the same sense of lunacy – kind of brothers from another mother.
Actually, not from another mother, for I found a fair few of these SxS guys were bike riders too. In fact, in the UK one of the top SxS guys is an exmotocrosser. So already there are a few of ‘us’ migrating to join ‘them’ – and clearly enjoying the experience.
PERISHING POLAND It took me another year and an invite to this European launch of the Polaris General to find out what SxS stood for. It’s ‘side-by-side’, just as 4×4 stands for four-by-four, meaning four-wheel-drive. Although to confuse me again these things are also called SSVs – that’s Side-by-Side Vehicle. And, I think, nonracing types go by the acronym of UTVs, that’s Utility Task Vehicle. Confusing for a simpleton like myself, but really not that difficult to grasp.
What is simple to grasp is 100hp. That’s the output of the Polaris General XP 1000 I was going to drive. That’s a healthy number – probably twice what my Renault Scenic family MPV tested 30 www.rustsports.com www.rustsports.com 31 w w POLARIS General 1000 EPS Deluxe ABS (hey, another acronym!) pumps, and in a vehicle that weighs a much-lighter 700kg. That 100hp was also what the last supersport 600 I raced (a Yamaha R6) used to make too – and that thing flew. So I like that number.
The motor is in fact a 999cc DOHC water-cooled twin, essentially the same as found in the mad-as Polaris RZR XP1000 race model, just slightly detuned from that model’s 110hp.
The transmission is automatic, what Polaris call PVT (Passivley Variable Transmission) where two beltlinked clutch mechanisms vary the transmission speed according to load and power. Tricky stuff to understand, and not something we’d ever like on our dirtbikes, but in these SxSs it kind of makes sense and means you just have the two pedals to master while bumping all over the trail (that is ‘go’ and ‘stop’).
So, steering wheel, throttle and brake – nice and simple. Being a newbie it took most of the Polaris product presentation for me to understand just what the XP 1000 General is. It is, it turns out, it’s an Adventure SxS.
The RZR is a race SxS and their Ranger is a utility (farm) SxS, while the General treads the middle ground, offering RZR type performance but with a wee flatbed on the back so you can carry stuff. That might be loads of soil, or farm tools, but I’d like to think it would be a tent and camping stuff (and, well, lunch at the least).
The General is then, a kind of BMW GS of the SxSs. Powerful, like a 125hp waterboxer is, but equally not quite a gazelle-like motocrosser in the dirt. Where the RZR bounds around on 16” of suspension, this baby has ‘just’ 12”, albeit, as I spotted, there were Fox Podium shocks on my cart – again, stuff we can relate to. Mind you, four such shocks – I could see $ signs rolling before my eyes (and I wasn’t wrong: more on that later).
Hopping into the General reveals a unique command module. On first inspection it’s all very plasticky, like a bottom-of-the-range Skoda. There are no frills, no laced-leather steering wheel, no CNC-milled billet gear lever, even the seats, while bucket-type to stop you rolling about, are quite frugal. It’s almost a let down, but then this thing runs without windows and (as I found) as there are minimal mudguards either then everything flies at you and into the cockpit. So an easy-to-clean with a jetwasher setup is just right for this vehicle.
There is a gear stick of sorts. It’s actually a transmission position stick, because you don’t shift gears, just select drive mode of choice. The choices being park (not very exciting), reverse (surprisingly useful, in fact much needed), low (for grannies and extreme hill climbing) and high. And high deals with 99% of what we want to do. The motor starts on the turn of a key, like your car, and the engine note is throaty. It’s a 100hp 1000cc twin, it bloody well should sound throaty. And it kind of warns you of its potential.
Only here we should insert a wee story of bureaucracy killing that cat. You see, the model we were testing has been catchily labeled the Polaris General ™ 1000 EPS Deluxe ABS – T1b. I kid you not, that is the name the marketing department gave the model. Now the Americans don’t get this model because the T1b refers to EU type approval, the T denoting its designation as an agricultural and forestry tractor, 1b further categories it as ‘fast’ one and in order to meet the legislation’s requirements as a road-register-able vehicle fast in this instance means no more than 65km/h (40mph)… So for the General to be legal (on road) in Europe it is indeed limited to 65km/h.
So we have a 100hp fun-buggy, but it can’t go over 65km/h… Great. And for the purposes of this test, which was part on road, part off-road we ran with the limiter working. You can imagine what that felt like.
For recreational purposes though, the restrictor can be removed (should be removed…).Incidentally, somewhere near the end of the test I spotted a switch which offers instantly switchable drive modes, AWD for tricky stuff, 2WD for letting the back hang out and full-beans speed runs and Turf Mode which I suspect is for golf courses!
There’s ABS too, which is apparently new to this sector, probably very handy, and if you still want to do skids, well there’s always the handbrake.
0-65 IN TWO SECONDS
So here’s part of the story: the General has big stomp. You’d start it, rev it a couple of times, then select high and floor it. The thing would almost wheelie as it leapt forward, wheels spinning as it did its best WRC impression – that 100hp is no idle boast. Only this being a T1b model it hits shutdown barely two seconds later! Damn that limiter…
So for the entire test the game was to tickle the throttle to a point just below where the limiter cut in so you could get the power to tear the rear wheels loose to help steer through the turns, or to scrabble up a hill – to do anything exciting. For the moment the limiter cut in the front would either dive and over-steer or the exciting rush up a hill would sink into a steady plod.
Fortunately much of the test track was technical so that 65km/h was just about enough (although for sure we wanted full power). It was enough to understand what is unique about these SxSs
First benefit is they go easily where no car can, and certainly they’ll go there much faster. The Fox Podium suspension setup is sublime, big bumps and hollows that would have a car bellied and broken are nothing to the General – up to a point it’s a magic carpet ride – and it’ll pretty much go anywhere a bike will go until the trees get closer together than 1587mm (the General’s overall width). It really is a go anywhere thing.
Second benefit is, for a car-quadtractor-thing, it gets very close to the feeling of riding a bike. Having no windscreen or side windows (although both are an option) means you feel the wind and duck for the branches just as you do on a bike. And when you hit the water splashes, yes, you get wet. But it gives you that connection to the environment that a bike does and a car doesn’t.
Third benefit – well, I can’t wait to try one of these without the speed limiter. The sound from the 1000cc twin is awesome (it’s sitting there just behind your butt) and there’s a Neanderthallike pleasure in letting it rip. I got to making it go sideways as much as possible and bearing in mind the General looks to have a high centre of gravity it hangs in there. We did once tip it on to two wheels but if it does go further there’s a fair roll cage around you. Just two things then: firstly I’d fit a proper four or is it five-point harness (another option in the catalogue) for real fast action, and then make sure you keep your hands (and arms obviously) inside the car at all times. For a driver that means keep your hands on the wheel, for the passenger there’s a handy grab handle to hold onto. The RZR has a dummy handlebar for the codriver for that purpose, but I guess the general being an adventure vehicle, not a racer, then the one grab handle was deemed sufficient.
And that neatly brings us to the fourth and biggest attribute of the SxS – and there’s a clue in the name – that ability to take a passenger. Without a doubt the fact you can scare the bejeezus out of a mate or wife or girlfriend – anyone mad enough to step in beside you – makes the SxS double the fun. For our test drives on the first two occasions I had a co-driver onboard, from the Polaris fraternity, and for sure the squeals, screams and laughter as we barreled around the course made the drive all the more fun. And bearing in mind where we drove, the same trip on a bike would be very uncomfortable and tricky with a pillion, whereas in the General it was max comfort (or as you could get in –5ºC temperatures with water and ice washing into the cockpit) and so max fun. Later I took a drive on my own and it wasn’t half the fun I’d had earlier. Sharing – clearly a good thing.
Oh, and lastly, given this thing runs on balloon-type tyres it can – given a moderated use of the throttle – tread lightly. This is handy if you find yourself driving through an environmentally sensitive terrain. Where a 4×4 will sink and trench in squelchy going, the SxS will float. You just have to resist flooring the throttle and using the SxS’s virtues for evil…
ADVENTURING WE WILL GO
Without a doubt we’ll need to revisit these SxSs, they’re just too much fun to leave alone – as other dirt riders before me have already found out. If you’ve got the funds (ahem: see later) they are a great toy to have in the garage. For farmers the Polaris Ranger is a great workhorse. For racy farmers – and I recall nearly every farmer in New Zealand racing hare and hounds at the weekends, boy those boys like to live the dream – then the General is a utility vehicle that can double up as an alternative racer for the weekends. Nice. And in certain countries I can see the General honestly fulfilling the adventure role.
That tray on the back, capable of taking a whopping 272kg load (that’s a lot of camping gear), makes this a great overland adventure machine. Unlike a 4×4 it’s an outdoor experience too (given the minimalist cockpit enclosure), it’s just a great way to see the trail less travelled. And when I think of those Backcountry Discovery Routes in the US, if I couldn’t take a bike then this would be a perfect alternative way to travel them. Heck, if you picked a four-seater option you could take the whole family too (given just the two kids). What a great tool.
Unfortunately there is a downside. And in the UK there’s a massive downside as the General stands on a RRP of a whopping £23,899, which is sitting in there shoulder-to-shoulder with verynicely spec’d family SUVs. This is odd because the US price of $16,299 isn’t nearly so shocking. Yeah, making a quick price comparison, a Nissan Qashqai/ Rogue (same thing) starts at £19,295 in the UK, at $21,640 in the US. But of course import duties and the cost of EU homologation heavily tilt the balance. Yeah, the UK is an expensive place to live. There are cheaper SxSs in Polaris’ range, mind. That cost obstacle aside – and it’s amazing how many people find ways to hurdle these things – these SxSs are brilliant fun. I’d not be giving up my biking for one, but if I could have the both, yeah that would be nice. And hey, I got through that whole article without once saying ‘rugged’ – which is more than can be said for Polaris’ promotional video. It’s rugged you say? Yes a thousand times…