2021 Polaris Ranger
Polaris Off-Road

8 Things We Learned About the 2021 Polaris Ranger From Talking to the Engineers Who Designed It

The engineers behind Polaris Ranger are rolling out some cool new features for the 2021 model year.

The Polaris RANGER is the undisputed workhorse of the company's utility side-by-side line. It was arguably the vehicle that kicked off the current UTV craze for the powersports industry and they have continued to improve these off-road vehicles every year since.

We recently had the chance to travel to the company's testing facility in Wyoming, Minnesota where we had the chance to test drive the 2021 utility vehicles like the RANGER, RZR and the GENERAL XP 1000s to ATVs like the Sportsman. It also gave us a chance to pick the brains of the people behind designing them.

Giving the presentations on RANGER were Marketing Manager Anna Abbott and Director of Product Planning Chris Hurd. They gave us some interesting insights on some of the coolest and most useful new features they're incorporating into the new machines.

Increased service intervals and strength

Standing in front of one of the new RANGER XP 1000 NorthStar editions, Hurd explained that Polaris has beefed up clutching for the 2021 models. The idea was for owners to see fewer service indicator lights and to spend less time with their machines in the shop.

"We've taken this to an industry-leading 6,000-mile service interval," Hurd said. "What that means is, you basically don't need to service anything until the vehicle reaches about 6,000 miles."

To help extend that time between visits, Hurd said the frame has completely changed. They are using larger bolts to support the front end and the frame is now 15 percent stronger and the vehicle's front suspension and rear suspension are now 50 percent stronger.

Bigger tires for more situations and higher ground clearance.

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

There seems to be a movement in the off-road industry to build UTVs with bigger tires and to give more ground clearance. Most models are coming with 13 inches of ground clearance, even six-person capacity models like the RANGER Crew XP 1000. Large, 27-inch Maxxis tires on 14-inch aluminum wheels are standard.

However, you can also beef things up a little with NorthStar Ultimate Edition. It has the same tread pattern. However, the Ultimate package offers a larger 29-inch tire for a full extra inch of ground clearance. For mudding enthusiasts, Polaris now also has the "High Lifter Edition" designed specifically for mudding.

That model has 30-inch Outlaw 2 tires with a deeper, more aggressive tread pattern specifically for mud. They also arched the A-arms of the suspension to give it a whopping 15 inches of ground clearance. Abbott said this edition was created out of pure popular demand for a dedicated mudder from their fan base. She's already done extensive testing with it in the swamps of Louisiana.

"They've been asking for a really long time," Abbot said.

The new LED Headlights are a huge improvement

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

One thing Polaris is really emphasizing with the new models this year are their LED headlights across all UTV models. Not only are they extremely bright, but Hurd said they are going to last much longer than halogen bulbs, resulting in less maintenance.

"They're the most powerful lights in the side-by-side industry," Hurd said. "They're really focused on two things, punch and spread, is sort of how we refer to headlights. Punch is how far they can see, and spread is how wide you can see. These are really focused to deliver all of that."

Hurd says he's been using the lights in prototype models since early January and they help light up the cold Minnesota nights while plowing snow.

"There's no bulbs to replace, so it's a fully-sealed unit. So, it's durable in that respect vs a regular headlight, so the output is phenomenal," Hurd said.

Plow mode will help even novices move heavy snow.

One thing we have not heard mentioned much in Polaris' promotional materials so far is an addition to the company's popular Ride Command system called "Plow Mode." Hurd told me the idea was to make it so anyone could jump in RANGER and start plowing in minutes because the system is fully automatic.

In short, plow mode recognizes the vehicle's winch, the gear the vehicle is in, and it raises and lowers the plow accordingly.

"When you switch to a low gear for example, it will drop the plow, when you shift to reverse, it will raise the plow," Hurd said. "If you're back dragging, it's just the opposite."

In a hypothetical scenario, if the person who normally plows the driveway isn't home and a blizzard starts, another member of the family could jump in the RANGER, engage plow mode, and get the driveway cleared in short order. Even if they have no prior experience. It's a slick idea that is new to the 2021 models.

Geofencing Mode Allows you to set barriers and limits.

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

RANGER has a 999cc, 4-stroke, twin cylinder DOHC engine with 82 ponies of power under the hood. It's got a lot of pep and can do some decent speeds if you push it. While doing consumer research, Hurd said they encountered many owners of these machines who weren't the ones driving them daily. Owners of farms, ranches and other businesses that utilize UTVs came to Polaris wanting options to better control how their employees or younger family members could drive the machines.

The solution was to add a new feature to Ride Command for 2021 called Geofencing. Basically, the company took some of the ride limiting features of their youth machines and incorporated them in a new and different way into Ride Command. Now, you can use the system to set maximum speed limits.

The fencing part of the technology also allows you to designate certain areas of your property off-limits for use of the machine and it will not operate beyond them. Hurd said it is a great option to keep the newer 16-year-old just learning to drive safe, and it allows employers peace of mind that their workers won't be able to go crazy behind the steering wheel of an expensive machine when the boss isn't looking.

Ride Command is more versatile than ever.

Polaris has seen an increase in sales for their 7-inch touchscreen displays for these machines in recent years. The display offers the usual information riders find useful, things like coolant temperature, tripmeters, a tachometer, a volt meter, odometer, speedometer, hour meter, gear indicator, fuel gauge, clock and more in addition to the exclusive Plow Mode and Geofencing features we mentioned earlier.

Group Ride is a particularly interesting feature that lets you link up your machine with those of your buddies and gives you a real-time map view of where everyone is constantly. Seems like a useful safety feature as well as something that will help keep you from eating the dust of the friend in front of you. Abbott noted that many of the features of Ride Command are what their customers have come to expect.

"You can do trail riding with them, you can mark waypoints if you're hunting, you can mark where your deer stands are," Abbott said. "We have back-up cameras as you're connecting to trailers. We've taken a lot of what you're seeing in the automotive industry. We're taking a note out of their playbook."

Polaris is incorporating more style into their machines.

2021 Polaris Ranger

Travis Smola

While the RANGER has always been a workhorse, it became clear that looks are something Polaris is focusing heavily on with all their new machines. In fact, Abbot noted it has been something of a request for UTVs that look as nice as they run.

In 2021, Polaris is offering more color options than ever to fit anyone's tastes. From a sharp looking matte navy blue to the ever-popular burgundy metallic, and ghost white, these machines are sure to turn some heads wherever you take them. The "Highlifter Edition" we mentioned earlier has a "ghost gray" scheme that seems to be unique to that model.

They didn't forget about hunters either. Many RANGER models are available in the popular Polaris Pursuit camo scheme for the ultimate hunting machine with the cargo box capacity to haul that big buck out of the woods easier than ever before.

Polaris is taking a lot of cues from their customers.

Throughout the whole day, it didn't matter what machine the engineers were talking about, between all the buzz words about the drivetrain of each machine, the electronic power steering, the lock & ride accessories, electronic fuel injection systems, the wide wheelbases or the 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes, the fuel system, and towing capacity, I heard engineer after engineer talk about consumer feedback. It turns out, a great deal of the job for employees like Hurd and Abbott is to go out and observe how users utilize the machines in their daily lives.

We deal with a lot of PR reps promoting their company's products here at Wide Open Spaces, but I have never encountered any that talk about customer expectations and experience more than the men and women at Polaris. In fact, they continually bombarded the other journalists and I with questions about what they were missing with the new designs.

"It really comes back to our focus on the consumers," Hurd told me. "We're always looking for ways to solve new problems for the consumer. We're watching what they do, we're visiting with them, we're asking them different questions, we're watching them use vehicles. We're always looking for ways to be able to solve problems better."

In a world where it feels like many companies are cutting corners to push out product faster and cheaper despite the cries of displeasure from their fan base, that's a refreshing thing to hear. You can learn more about the complete 2021 Polaris lineup at their website. We will also be bringing more content from our press trip to Polaris in the coming weeks right here at Wide Open Spaces!

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