Last week, Polaris invited me to come out to Road America in Wisconsin to test drive the all-new, all-electric Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic side-by-side UTV. After months of speculation about the brand’s first-ever flagship EV, I couldn’t turn them down.
Why did Polaris invite little ol’ Jo Borrás out to drive their new, 100 HP UTV? While it probably had more to do with me being the closest CleanTechnica writer available, I’m also smack-dab in the heart of the Polaris’ target market – or near enough, anyway, that our family recently picked up a new side-by-side of our own earlier this summer. What’s more, as a former sales manager at a Honda power sports store, I’ve ridden the comparable Pioneer and Talon models, and even sampled a Yamaha or two along the way.
I have also sampled Polaris’ first electric effort, the Polaris Ranger EV UTV. That vehicle – which developed prior to the Polaris/Zero motorcycle marriage – was powered by lead-acid batteries and had more in common with an E-Z-Go golf cart than a high-performance SxS. To someone who associates electric power with a gut-punch of off-the-line acceleration, it was disappointing … if not downright boring.
While the little Polaris Ranger EV UTV is capable enough to haul hay and hand tools around a small farm, I wasn’t convinced it merited its price tag, regardless of its electrified benefits. As such, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to come at this new Polaris with the sort of clean-slate objectivity that the company probably would have liked. To be extra, doubly sure that I gave the Kinetic a fair shake, I brought backup.
The Kid (and Me and the Polaris guy)
Along for the ride with me this week was Hobbes, a twenty-something college student who likes to drive stuff. It was both his first time on the perimeter trails outside Road America and his first time piloting a Polaris of any kind, and he was psyched. Somewhere between my jaded cynicism and his wide-eyed enthusiasm, maybe, is objectivity, right?
2023 Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic
The Ranger XP Kinetic represents the first fruits of the “rEVolution” partnership between the manufacturing powerhouse of Polaris and the EV innovators at Zero motorcycles. As a machine, it is incredibly capable, and the 110 HP Zero-sourced electric motor is just a part of the reason why.
Let’s talk about the XP Kinetic’s battery. Or, more to the point, batteries – there are two. On the “Premium” model, you get a 15 kWh battery, while the pricier “Ultimate” version comes in with nearly double that, at 29.8 kWh. Both operate on a 100V electrical system, with a separate 12V system that powers accessories – that’s critical for both the aftermarket and existing Ranger customers, wince it means that the accessories they currently have on their ICE Ranger will almost all work perfectly with the XP Kinetic version.
The battery charges on a level 2 system, which is great, since nearly every hobby farmer or dune blaster will already have a 220/240V outlet in their barn/garage to charge from. The charging port – a standard J1772-style – means it can share a charger with other electric cars or tractors you may have, also.
You’ll not that I haven’t talked about range. Off-road equipment doesn’t usually work in terms of range, but hours. A diesel tractor, for example, will clock hours of operation, not miles, because it may be in operation for several hours hauling heavy stuff across a farm at a slow crawl and only clock three or four miles. Similarly, a Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic being used on a farm won’t drain its batteries in the same way a Chevy Bolt will at a constant 70 MPH or a tractor would idling all day. For one, EVs tend to be more efficient at low speeds. For another, diesels still burn fuel, even at idle.
The Polaris? When it’s not moving, it’s not using up its electrons. (Not for any practical purposes, anyway.) That means you might get a full day’s use out of a single charge of the smaller, 15 kWH battery. It also means you might run out of juice in two hours of full-tilt, 50 MPH off-road hijinks. Keep an eye on your battery gauge, and you should be fine.
Speaking of high-speed off-road hijinks, we certainly got into those!
Following Polaris’ factory driver around a well-mapped trail, Hobbes stayed tight on his bumper through the entire ride – which, in parts, saw us running at high speeds, catching a bit of air on the steepest hills, and even splashing around a bit. It was great fun, and highlighted two facts about the XP Kinetic: the first is that this is a very capable utility vehicle, the second is that this thing can move.
Off the line, it feels just as quick as a RZR or Talon. Intellectually I know that it’s probably a bit slower than both, but it would be close – and I’m confident that it would leave more utility-focused UTVs like the Honda Pioneer or ICE-powered Rangers in the dust.
The Only View They’ll See
So, OK – farmers and worker-bees will get it. Thrill-seekers will enjoy it, too, even if the proven Ranger suspension and chassis (which is tuned slightly differently to accommodate the XP Kinetic’s lower center of gravity) isn’t on the level of the Fox racing setup on the Talon. But who else might dig the new electric Ranger?
“Another target customer who is going to benefit greatly from the new electric Ranger will be hunters,” I wrote last winter – and still stand by. “With the silent, scentless running of the XP Kinetic’s electric motors, hunters will be able to get closer to their targets without the noise and stink of an internal combustion engine scaring them away. And, sure, that angle may not play well with the PETA crowd, but it’s a not-insignificant market, and if we can get those rural markets to embrace the benefits of electrification off road, it will only be a matter of time before they embrace the benefits of EVs on the road as well.”
Honestly, after spending a few hours thrashing the all-new Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic on some dirty and dusty trails, it occurs to me that the question isn’t, “Who would like it?” but, rather, “Who wouldn’t like it?”
I asked Hobbes what he thought of the Polaris, and how, specifically, it compared to our UTV. He mumbled something about it being awesome and bolted off to another Ranger (this one in full camo) to go for another round. (We’ll call that a win.)
Polaris’ electric ranger is – finally! – ready to take on the world.
There was one other hot new feature on the Polaris beyond electrification and Zero Motorcycle motors. That’s Ride Command+, the company’s new app that combines navigation, trip planning, and an innovative “buddy” system that allows groups of riders to keep tabs on each other – like, if Hobbes flips a Ranger (or, with a likelihood approaching 100%, if I snap an A-arm bouncing the Ranger’s right front wheel off a poorly-placed rock), the rest of the group will be able to see that the Ranger isn’t moving and come to the rescue.
From the official release:
RIDE COMMAND+ features vehicle-to-cellular connectivity that allows riders to conveniently check on the current vehicle’s status, while its Vehicle Health feature will run issue diagnostic reports and monitor fuel/charge levels to confirm the vehicle’s readiness. The RIDE COMMAND+ Vehicle Locator will be an extremely beneficial feature for hunters, or anyone enjoying the outdoors, when having to leave their vehicle parked. The Vehicle Locator feature delivers a pinpoint location to the machine. RIDE COMMAND+ delivers enhanced mobile technology for riders to connect, drive and adventure.
Adding to an already-robust set of offerings, Polaris will continue to expand the RIDE COMMAND+ service with even more industry-leading features using Over the Air (OTA) updates. Coming later in 2022, RIDE COMMAND+ will offer its riders added security with Location and Bump Alerts. Bump Alert, a 24/7 monitoring feature, will send a notification any time the vehicle has been bumped or moved. If moved, the Vehicle Locator feature will provide its latest coordinates. In addition, Polaris will introduce Ride Tracking+, where riders can automatically track their rides using the vehicle’s GPS location without having to use their mobile phone’s data. After the ride, riders will be able to generate a full report from the day’s ride, including time logged, miles traveled, waypoints and elevation changes. The report is a fun and helpful tool to not only relive the ride, but to plan future trips.
RIDE COMMAND+ will launch standard on all 2023 RANGER XP Kinetic models … (and) can access the new service via the Polaris mobile app, web, or the in-vehicle, seven-inch touchscreen display system.
It worked well enough in practice that, when someone in our group bounced snapped an A-arm when their Ranger’s right front wheel bounced off a poorly-placed rock, everyone found out about it relatively quickly, and the group as-a-whole was able to respond. It’s a heck of a safety net, in other words, and I imagine it’ll be a must-have for tour companies that rent these out.
And, like, if you ever get the chance to rent one of these: do it. The list of better ways to spend a sunny summer afternoon than blasting around trails on a Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic is really, really short.
Original content from CleanTechnica.
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