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2021 Polaris RZR Test Drive: We Went on a High Performance Thrill Ride

Polaris RZR
Polaris Off-Road

The 2021 Polaris RZR hits the spot for anyone with a need for speed.

In the world of side-by-side UTVs, the Polaris RZR stands out in a crowd. The large tires and aggressive lines of the body just scream speed and performance. As I would soon find out, these machines drive as good as they look at the Polaris off-road 2021 model year press event. Polaris Industries ended up showcasing every machine in their 2021 lineup and that included some wheel time with their high-performance off-road vehicles.

This event was held at one of Polaris' testing facilities in Minnesota and even though the company had not originally planned an RZR test ride for myself and the other journalists in attendance, they ended up bringing out some of their top of the line powersports machines for a test run anyway.

We were glad that they did. To say that driving the Polaris RZR XP brings an adrenaline rush would be an understatement. Buckle that harness tight, you are going to need it!

New Year, New Tech and Features

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

Before we got some hands-on time with these new performance utility vehicles, Steve Kemp, the engineering lead for the RZR platform gave us a short introduction to all the new features for 2021. One big feature Polaris is pushing for the machines in the new year is their Ride Command technology. Kemp said they have noticed customers are picking machines with the package about 40 percent of the time now.

"It's kind of hard to explain to people what it does unless you actually do it," Kemp noted.

In short, Ride Command is a seven-inch touch display built into the center of select machines. It helps display normal things like your gear indicator, fuel gauge, tachometer, voltmeter and more. But the Ride Command technology goes beyond things like coolant temperature and other gauges. It is also a service indicator that can give you a full diagnostic readout in case of problems.

Polaris is really pushing the technology as a way for a group of riders to avoid eating each other's dust all day. The display also comes pre-loaded with base maps of trails across the U.S. and it displays not only your position on the map, but the position of your buddy's vehicles too through a feature called "Group Ride." One of the engineers told me a story about how he got separated from a friend in New Mexico. All it took was a glance at the screen to see what turn he had made. Another feature an engineer revealed to me that isn't advertised on the Polaris website is the fact that Ride Command can be loaded with GPX coordinate files. That means you could use this machine geocaching or simply drop in some points or routes to a favorite rock out cropping or waterfall that you want to show friends. It makes navigating there that much quicker and easier.

Ride Command is more than just an hour meter and tripmeter that records the usual technical stats about your journey. Polaris has also built in Bluetooth capabilities so you can synch your machine with your smart phone. Yes, you can take calls and texts from the center console of your RZR. It also allows you to pump music directly into a headset to drown out engine noise or to communicate with the others in the group without shouting. The technology even allows you to synch up with a mounted GoPro camera and operate it from center console without ever touching the camera.

"Technology really makes the riding better and that's what we're about," Kemp said.

For 2021, Polaris is also accounting for how people like to modify these vehicles. They are introducing a bevy of new accessories including roofs, cabs and heaters as well as windshields, winches, bumpers and doors to the highly successful SXS line.

RZR Pro XP

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

In addition to all their other side-by-sides and ATVs, Polaris had every conceivable variant of RZR model on display at their press event. This included everything from the single seat RS1 to the four-seater RZR Turbo S 4 and the RZR Turbo S Lifted Lime LE. That limited edition has a bold black, red and lime green paint scheme that makes it stand out from every other machine on display. Kemp said that machine is part of Polaris' ongoing commitment to customer service.

"For some people, this is what they're looking for," Kempt said. "This isn't for everyone. But we have a commitment to bring color and style to our riders. We need to bring that variation because that's what riders really like."

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

For our test drive, they set us up in the RZR Pro XP Ultimate. (The XP stands for "xtreme performance"). This machine includes a simpler, matte titanium metallic color scheme that is just as eye-catching. This machine is liquid-cooled and the 4-stroke DOHC twin cylinder 925cc engine is turbo charged, pumping out a whopping 181 horsepower. Switching between two-wheel and on-demand AWD is a snap and can be achieved through a simple button press. The transmission of this machine is automatic, making it easy for even a novice to jump in and drive over challenging terrain. Once again in 2021, Polaris has beefed up the wheels and tires for these machines. The Pro XP sits on 30-inch Maxxis Carnivore tires on cast aluminum wheels. Those big tires give the new RZR an impressive 14.5 inches of ground clearance.

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

The suspension systems have been Polaris' bread and butter for SXS machines the last few years. They just keep finding ways to make the ride smoother no matter the terrain. The shocks are Fox 2.5 Podium live valves. The front has dual A-Arms and the rear suspension has trailing arms. As I got strapped into the RZR for the ride, one of the engineers leaned over to remind me of the DYNAMIX active suspension control system. With the simple flip of a button, this electronic system allows you to adjust the firmness or softness of the ride on the fly. Even as you are tearing through woodsy trails at great speed.

More experienced riders are likely going to keep this setting in "Sport" mode which provides a slightly stiffer, more performance-based experience. I kept it in this setting for about half the ride before switching over to "Comfort" mode. It's amazing how quickly the RZR's ride smoothed out and the suspension began eating up the rocks and bumps for me with ease. Part of the course included a short whoops section that the RZR's suspension simply devoured. The comfort mode is going to be ideal for riders wanting a more casual ride or for people new to side-by-sides to get a better handle of the machine. After they gain experience, then they can take things to the next level with a new suspension mode. 

Raw Power

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

The first part of our test run took us through a winding part of Polaris' test course that they had set aside specifically for running the RZR XP 1000s and General models. It provided just the right amount of twists and turns to feel the stability of the RZR's 96-inch wheelbase and 64-inch stance. The RZR corners like a dream and banks well into the tight turns of the course. The RZR is equipped with some quality power steering that makes this even easier.

Something should be said for the comfort of the bucket sets and harness system too. It takes a little longer to strap into the RZR than Polaris' other side-by-sides like General and Ranger, but it is an incredibly secure feeling. I'm about six foot one and I was a little worried the RZR would be a little cramped. However, a quick seat adjustment later and there was plenty of leg room.

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

Once we ran through the course, putting those front and rear shocks through a real workout, we arrived back at the staging area where one of the engineers encouraged us to open the RZR up on a flat straightaway to really feel the power of those 181 ponies.

In the open, RZR accelerates like a rocket and the momentum of dropping the accelerator pressed me back firmly in the seat. The RZR goes from 0-60 in seconds, giving a rush of adrenaline that easily carried me through the rest of the day. For anyone with a need for speed in their off-road machine, it is safe to say that the RZR delivers in a big way. If this machine does not get your heart pumping, I seriously don't know what will. This was hands-down the most powerful machine we tested all day and another big win for Polaris in the performance side-by-side category.

Other features and final thoughts.

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

A few things we forgot to mention earlier with the new RZRs include the impressive LED tail and headlights. Polaris is putting these lights on almost all their new models this year and they are impressively bright. Not only are they designed to be brighter, they are also meant to be used longer. Sounds like a win to us. They extended this feature to the cab with interior accent lights.

In my conversations with the engineers, I was interested to learn that during their consumer research, they have noted an emerging number of users of the RZR buying the machines for hunting purposes. It is worth noting that the machine does have Polaris' lock and ride cargo system and it does have a box capacity of 740 pounds. This puts the RZR on the lower end of cargo space for Polaris machines, but for a single hunter, it should be more than adequate.

2021 Polaris RZR
Travis Smola

Overall, our time with the RZR was short compared to the other models we test drove at the Polaris facility, but this one left us yearning for more. We only hope they invite us back soon for more wheel time with these impressive performance machines. The RZR Pro XP has a US MSRP of $28,499. See the Polaris website for more information on this machine and all their SXS offerings for 2021.

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

NEXT: THE AXIS DEER AND HOW THEY'RE IMPACTING PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES

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2021 Polaris RZR Test Drive: We Went on a High Performance Thrill Ride