2021 Polaris Ranger
Polaris Off-Road

2021 Polaris Ranger NorthStar Test Ride: A Hard-Working Machine That Can Do It All

The new Polaris Ranger models are as sweet as ever.

When it comes to working utility side-by-sides, the Polaris RANGER is top of the line. This is a machine that works hard. However, as we have found out in many test runs the past few years, it is not afraid of playing hard too. For farmers, ranchers, hunters, and many others, the RANGER is the perfect balance between these two extremes.

We recently got the opportunity to visit to the Polaris Off-Road testing facility in Minnesota. While we were there, we got to test drive all their upcoming 2021 model year machines including RZR, General, Sportsman ATVs and of course, the new Rangers.

We also got a chance to talk to the engineers who designed and built the new RANGERS at length to get all your burning questions about these new machines answered.

Trail time with the 2021 Rangers

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

While I have previous experience driving open cab RANGERS, this test run gave me a chance to get some wheel time in with the RANGER XP 1000's NorthStar Ultimate and Premium packages. Both are hard cab models that make you feel more like you're driving a micro-sized pickup truck rather than a light UTV, right down to the gear indicators, speedometer, tachometer and air conditioning setup. It even has a seat belt reminder. just in case you forget to fasten it.

On the surface, the Premium and Ultimate are nearly identical. Both vehicles have an electronic fuel injection  fuel system. Both have a 999cc, 4-stroke, twin cylinder DOHC engine pumping out 82 horsepower. While these are primarily work vehicles, they have enough pep for a little fun after the chores are done too. The 81-inch wheelbase gives a nice, steady feel to the machine even when cornering through the twisting turns of the Polaris test course. We ran our test in AWD mode, but it is a simple task to switch to 2WD or VersaTrac turf mode. Honestly, for most work purposes, we see AWD as suiting the task well unless you're just doing light work on flat surfaces all day.

Right off the bat, they had us plowing the RANGER up high bridges with sharp angles intended to showcase the machine's abilities. Just like my previous experience with this machine, they climb like mountain goats. When we took the machines over the exposed rock piles of the course, the dual A-arm for both the rear and front suspension soaked it up like a champion.

Suspension has really been the area where Polaris has excelled the last few years and so we were not surprised to feel how well the RANGER NorthStars ate everything the course threw at us. One key difference between this and my previous experience with RANGER was that this time the company loaded up the back with some weight to help simulate work conditions. These vehicles have a cargo box capacity of 1,000 pounds. The cargo box height and cargo box width are identical for both models with the overall load capacity being 1,590 pounds. These vehicles have a towing capacity is 2,500 pounds. That should be more than enough for most work or hunting purposes that people are going to use these vehicles for. Honestly, I forgot the added weight was back there. It made no difference to the handling or ground clearance I had come to expect from these machines.

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

These may be utility vehicles in name, but the overall handling was much like a standard quad, albeit a little smoother and with easier control.. The electronic power steering made handling the twists and turns through tight trees in the forest a true joy. If you don't have fun driving one of these, you aren't human. As I already stated, RANGER does feel more like a pickup thanks to the comfortable steering wheel and other cab amenities. I ended up turning on the air conditioning during my second run with the Ultimate and was shocked with how fast it cooled the warm cab down. For anyone who spends all day working in the dry heat of somewhere like Texas or Arizona, this would be a welcome addition. The models we drove had a three person capacity, but never once did they felt cramped. It always amazes me to find such a small vehicle can offer so much comfort in such a small cab.

The biggest difference between the Premium and the Ultimate editions comes with the presence of Ride Command technology (more on that later) and the tires. The premium has 27-inch Maxxis tires on 14-inch aluminum wheels which gives the machine a 13-inch ground clearance. The Ultimate has sized-up 29-inch Maxxis tires that give it an additional inch.

There really isn't much of a difference in the ride between these two new utility vehicles. After all, it is the same drivetrain, front and rear suspension and engine. The tires are even the same tread pattern, just slightly upsized for the Ultimate edition. Speaking of tires, they grip nicely no matter the surface. The engineers had warned us of a little slop on some parts of the trail from the previous week's rains, but it was hardly noticeable during our runs. It is worth noting the RANGER does not corner as well or as fast as the Polaris crossover General, and it certainly doesn't accelerate 0-60 in seconds like the performance RZR, but that is to be expected from the workhorse of the line. It is still darn fun to drive in any off-road setting. I should also mention the 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes of these machines. They just feel extremely solid and add to the overall ease of driving these machines. Even someone totally new to the powersports world can sit down in one of these and be driving like a pro comfortably in minutes thanks to the similarities to full-size trucks.

Polaris told us looks have played a big part in their design decisions this year and that's probably why they are offering RANGER in a ton of color options this year. The machines were rode were a sharp burgundy metallic and matte navy, but they are also offering a Polaris pursuit camo geared towards hunters and a sharp "ghost white" scheme that really makes these machines stand out in a crowd.

Ultimate Ride Command

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

If you have not heard about the Polaris Ride Command system already, it is the company's attempt to incorporate the latest technology into a 7-inch touchscreen display. This and the bigger tires result in an approximate $3,000 MSRP price difference between the Premium and Ultimate. The Ultimate starts at $26,999. You may be thinking that's a lot of money for additional bells and whistles, but from our testing, all of the features are quite practical and useful, especially to anyone who spends a ton of time in these machines every day.

This screen is more than just a simple clock display that also serves as an extra fuel gauge, odometer, tripmeter, volt meter, coolant temperature monitor and an hour meter. Ride Command can also synch up to your cell phone to allow you to receive texts and calls in the field if you are communicating with clients. Talk about a unique home office setup! It also allows you to operate a mounted GoPro camera or map the custom trails on your property.

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

When you get a service indicator light, the system helps serve as a diagnostic tool to identify the problem. Useful if it's a problem you can fix yourself quickly, helping avoid unwanted time back at the dealer. Speaking of which, Polaris says they have upped the service intervals for these machines to a whopping 6,000 miles. That means more work and play and less time waiting for your vehicle to come back from repairs. We can get behind that.

Polaris is pushing Ride Command heavily across all their UTV models and once you start playing around with it, the usefulness becomes more obvious. One particularly cool new feature is Group Ride, which allows users to link machines and display them on the map screen. No more getting lost or separated and wondering where your friends went. I glanced down at the screen a few times during our test ride and was amazed at how accurate it was and how quickly it kept up with real-time positions. This will be as useful for safety reasons as it will be for simply keeping up with your friends.

Final thoughts

Polaris knows their customers. Every new feature on RANGER is built with a specific practical use in mind. As I talked to the engineers, the one thing I heard them repeat continuously was "consumer input." These men and women spend a lot of time in the field every year observing how their user base utilizes these machines and it shows in the product they put on the field.

These are machines that are built to work. However, they also aren't afraid to play once the day is done either. For farm work, hunting or just tooling around out back, the 2021 RANGERS are a winner in our book. Check out the Polaris website for more information on this machine and their other 2021 models.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels