The 12 Best Side-by-Side UTVs of 2021

Sep 20, 2021

Category: Rides

The vast majority of wheeled vehicles are designed exclusively for use on paved roads, and though there are certain trucks that lend themselves particularly well to use in the dirt, mud, and sand, seldom can they hold a flame to a purpose-built side-by-side. Everything from their chassis to their suspension to their ride height is designed specifically for use off-road, and as such are not only capable of typically taking far more abuse, but are also markedly more competent in rough, untamed conditions. First introduced in the 1980s, the SxS market has seen a host of noteworthy advancements year after year, culminating in the latest crop of these machines.

As this segment has continued to grow in popularity, manufacturers have consequently been releasing increasingly capable and competitive models in an effort to attract buyers towards their respective offerings. However, with more models — and model variants — to pick from than ever before, shopping in this space can be an intimidating process, especially for the uninitiated. So, with this in mind, we’ve scoured the sector to deliver this guide to the best side-by-side UTVs, counting down our picks for the dozen best models currently in production, while also touching on the main factors to consider when shopping.

All-Terrain Traits

What To Consider When Shopping For A SxS

While they share a great many components, functions, and similarities, purchasing a side-by-side is a very different experience and process than buying a normal car or truck. As such, we’ve opted to highlight seven of the most crucial areas to consider before pulling the trigger on your purchase.

Engine: As the heart of a SxS, a model’s powertrain is of extreme importance. When reviewing this area, you’ll want to consider an engine’s size, layout (i.e. number of cylinders and configuration), and cooling system, as well as whether to not a given engine is turbo or supercharged or naturally aspirated. In more recent years, the sector has also started seeing both hybrid, gas-electric powertrains and full-electric units as well.

Componentry: The performance of a SxS will largely boil down to its engine and running gear, with this latter area consisting of the frame, suspension and braking components, and other vital elements. When looking at this area it’s important to consider the brand of the suspension pieces, what type of setup is being used, and what kind of performance specs are offered in terms of ground clearance and travel.

Crash Protection: Because side-by-sides are intended for use in harsh off-road conditions, they need to be able to withstand quite a bit of abuse, which is where crash protection comes into play. Many SxS models come straight from the factory with items such as skid-plates, rock sliders, and steel bumpers or bull-bars. A decent number of these models also feature protected exhaust systems.

Transmission: This is another area that’s become increasingly important, as no longer are simple five and six-speed gearboxes the standard in the industry, as these transmissions have been supplemented with semi-auto items, paddle shifters, and other additions that make this area well worth exploring. Gearing and two and four-wheel drive modes are also worth exploring here.

Creature Comforts: Historically, side-by-sides have been decidedly spartan, minimalistic items that feature only the bare essentials and little else. This has changed in recent years as creature comforts such as windows, heating and AC, infotainment systems, and the like have all been becoming increasingly common.

Supplementary Features: The concept of smart devices has permeated just about every industry on the planet, and the SxS market is no exception. High-end sound systems, battery charging stations, Bluetooth connectivity, and pairing with dedicated smartphone apps have also become more and more common in this space.

Upgrade Packages: Most SxS models are offered in numerous trims, with a base model, and then up-specced versions that feature a host of factory upgrades such as winches, crash bars, and special liveries. You do always have the option of upgrading a base model using hand-selected aftermarket parts, though some of the higher-spec SxS models make for stellar turnkey machines right out of the box.

Polaris Ranger EV

A fully electric workhorse lending itself to everything from ranch hand duties to hunting applications, the Polaris RANGER EV is a surprisingly capable UTV with a 1,000lb payload capacity, a 1,500lb towing capacity, 10″ of ground clearance, seating for two, and true on-demand AWD/2WD modes supplemented via a VersaTrac Turf mode. The electric RANGER is powered by a single, 48-volt high-efficiency, alternating current induction motor that makes 30hp and draws from a traditional lead-acid battery. A full 9″ of travel fore and aft comes from a suspension system with front MacPherson Struts and rear dual A-arms.

Engine: 48V AC-Induction Motor
Power: 30HP
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,762LBS
Suspension Travel: 9″ Front & Rear
Ground Clearance: 10″

Purchase: $12,499

CFMOTO ZFORCE 950 Sport

Almost certainly representing the best bang for your buck in the SxS class by a pretty significant margin. The ZFORCE’s roughly $13K MSRP gets you a 79hp liquid-cooled V-Twin engine mated to a CVTech transmission, a one-piece HSLA steel frame that’s been paired with dual-A arm front suspension with fully adjustable gas shocks and a QUADLINK rear suspension setup, all LED lighting including DRL-equipped headlights, a TFT display, a 3,000LB winch, LED lighting, DC power and USB ports, a 220lb cargo rack, 14” alloy wheels shod in 27” all-terrain tires, a 2” hitch, full-coverage skid-plates, and an electronically-controlled throttle — all of which come offered as standard.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 963cc V-Twin
Power: 79HP & 60FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,400LBS
Suspension Travel: 11″ Front, 11.8″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 12.2″

Purchase: $13,199

Hisun Strike 1000 EPS

Straddling the line between a high-performance SxS and a utilitarian UTV, Hisun Motors’ Strike 1000 EPS is part thrill machine and part workhorse. Made in Texas and backed by a two-year warranty, the Strike 1K is also another choice that offers pretty stellar value, considering an electronically fuel-injected, liquid-cooled V-Twin engine dual A-arm suspension front and aft with Nitrogen-assisted hydraulic shocks, electronic power steering all come included in the vehicle’s sub-$15K MSRP, as does an included roof, windshield, 14″ aluminum wheels, a 4,500lb winch, and side mirrors. Available in four color options, this model also sports 2WD and 4WD drive modes with a locking diff.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 976cc V-Twin
Power: 65HP
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,742LBS
Suspension Travel: 10″ Front & Rear
Ground Clearance: 13″

Purchase: $14,599

Polaris RZR RS1

The most lightweight and nimble Razor Polaris has ever built, the RZR RS1 is a unique, single-seater side-by-side with a central cockpit and a host of competition-derived features. Weighing less than 1,400lbs, the RZR RS1 is powered by a 110HP, liter-sized ProStar twin-cylinder engine that’s cooled via a race-style rear-mounted dual-fan radiator and features a top-shelf suspension package with stage-tuned Walker Evans Needle shocks that afford an even 21″ of travel front and rear. Other noteworthy standard fare includes a two-foot brake pedal and oversized 29″ all-terrain tires.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 999cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 110HP
Seats: 1
Weight: 1,383LBS
Suspension Travel: 16″ Front & 18″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 13″

Purchase: $15,999

Segway Villain SX10 H

The first-ever use of a hybrid powertrain to be used in the Powersports industry, the Segway Villain SX10 H is a modern SxS that was born out of the smart era and is equal parts high-performance and high-tech. Its 196hp 1,000cc DOHC parallel-twin motor has been paired with a 144kW electric motor that allows the hybrid system to generate a whopping 184.4ft-lbs of instantly accessible torque. The entire SxS is constructed around a high-strength Chromium-molybdenum steel frame that’s been paired with front dual A-arm suspension and a torsional trailing-arm arrangement — helped along by a front and rear axle diff lock. In addition to connectivity to a smartphone app, the Villain SX10 H also sports a massive Tesla-style 10.4″ TFT touchscreen central display.

Engine: Hybrid Gas-Electric Liquid-Cooled 1,000cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 196HP & 184.4FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 2,247LBS
Suspension Travel: 15″ Front & 15.7″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 13.8″

Purchase: $18,400+

Polaris RZR Pro XP

Touted by Polaris as being its most capable and versatile Razor to date, the RZR Pro XP sets the industry standard for performance with a 181hp, turbocharged powertrain that allows for a top speed of more than 80mph — more than enough for almost any off-roading application. Riding on 14″ cast aluminum wheels wrapped in 30” MAXXIS Carnivore 2.0 tires, the Pro XP-spec RZR also boasts a cool 14.5″ of ground clearance, 17″ of front suspension travel and 20″ in back, Walker Evans 2.5 needle shocks, and the Polaris’ Xtreme Performance Isolated True On-Demand AWD/2W system.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled, Turbocharged 925cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 181HP & 120FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,760LBS
Suspension Travel: 17″ Front & 20″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 14.5″

Purchase: $21,999

Yamaha YXZ1000RR SS XT-R

With an outward appearance that’s just as aggressive as its performance, Yamaha’s YXZ1000R SS XT-R is one of the more capable and best-equipped stock SxS models on the market, kicked along by a potent 998cc inline-three engine mated to a paddle-shifted five-speed sequential transmission. Adorned in a special edition livery, the Japanese brand’s YXZ1000R SS XT-R comes straight from the factory with a WARN winch, color-matched wheels shod in Yamaha‑exclusive Maxxis Carnage tires, selectable 2WD and 4WD modes, and a three-way locking differential.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 998cc Inline-Three
Power: 103.1HP & 113FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,625LBS
Suspension Travel: 16.2″ Front & 17″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 12.4″

Purchase: $22,299

Arctic Cat Wildcat XX SE

Arctic Cat’s Wildcat XX is already an immensely competent and well-constructed side-by-side, though the SE-spec of the Minnesota marque’s flagship SxS model takes things to the next level with a host of impressive factory equipment. This includes a 3,500lb WARN winch, top-shelf FOX 2.5 PODIUM QS3 Shocks, a front steel bumper, rock sliders, and a special livery with color-matched ROPS and suspension pieces. At the heart of the machine is a class-leading 130hp liquid-cooled, liter-sized inline-three that’s been mated to the American brand’s new ADAPT CVT clutch.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 998cc Inline-Three
Power: 130HP
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,816LBS
Suspension Travel: 18″ Front & Rear
Ground Clearance: 15″

Purchase: $22,699+

Kawasaki Teryx KRX 1000 ES

Borrowing elements derived from Team Green’s World Superbike-dominating factory race team, Kawasaki’s eS-spec TERYX KRX 1000 represents the company’s top-of-the-line side-by-side and sports a host of noteworthy upgrades and standard items. Alongside a semi-active suspension package complete with FOX 2.5 Live Valve Internal Bypass shocks, the eS also gets a sport front bumper, a special graphics package, Kawi’s KQR sport roof, and a color TFT display — all of which come standard.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 999cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 112.6HP & 76.7FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,944.8LBS
Suspension Travel: 18.6″ Front & 21.1″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 14″

Purchase: $24,399

Can-Am Maverick X3 X DS Turbo RR

There are two models that consistently dominate the SxS sector and account for an enormous market share, with one being the Polaris RZR and the other being Can-Am’s Maverick X3. The Can-Am features a turbocharged 900cc three-banger cranking out an even 200hp and 136ft-lbs of torque, as well as a lockable front differential with an exclusive Smart-Lok tech, plus a trio of 4WD modes. Soaking up bumps in the dirt is a dual A-arm suspension setup in front and a four-link TTX arrangement out back — both of which are equipped with sway bars and paired with FOX 2.5 Podium piggybacks. Standard amenities on the X DS Turbo RR version also include rear tow hooks, an 850W magneto, integrated front bumper, quarter-doors, and a full HMWPE skid plate.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled, Turbocharged 900cc Inline-Three
Power: 200HP & 136FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,501LBS
Suspension Travel: 20″ Front & Rear
Ground Clearance: 14″

Purchase: $25,899+

Honda Talon 1000R Special Edition

If one were to take Honda’s flagship side-by-side and treat it to a host of spare-no-expense upgrades, it would almost certainly bear a striking resemblance to Big Red’s Special Edition Talon 1000R. In addition to coming cloaked in an urban camo scheme, this Special Edition model also sports a launch control mode, FOX Live Valve Q3S manually adjustable shocks, an automatic dual-clutch transmission with paddle-shifters, a winch, a roof-mounted LED light-bar, windshield, roof, and a front steel bumper — again, all as standard amenities.

Engine: Liquid-Cooled 999cc Parellel-Twin
Power: 104HP & 81FT-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 1,630LBS
Suspension Travel: 17.7″ Front & 20.1″ Rear
Ground Clearance: 12.6″

Purchase: $26,099

Nikola NZT

Whether it’s the EV startup’s Badger pickup model or its battery-powered semi-trucks, Nikola’s electric vehicle offerings have managed to garner an enormous amount of attention, largely on the strength of their sleek appearance and eyebrow-raising spec sheets — and the company’s NZT side-by-side is no different. Capable of receiving over-the-air software updates, the NZT features for independent motors that generate (a claimed) 590hp and 775ft-lbs of torque, allowing for 0-60mph runs in only four seconds and a battery pack that affords a 150-mile range and can receive a full recharge in only two hours when using a DC Fast Charger. Alongside FOX 3.0 Factory Series Internal Bypass shocks that offer 18″ of travel, the NZT has also been gifted a 7″ instrument cluster and a 13″ central infotainment system — both of which are IP68-rated while the remainder of the vehicle achieves an IP67-rating.

Engine: Four Indepedant 400V AC Motors
Power: 590HP & 775Ft-LBS
Seats: 2
Weight: 5,250LBS
Suspension Travel: 18″ Front & Rear
Ground Clearance: 12″

Purchase: $80,000+

The 10 Best All-Terrain Vehicles

Off-road vehicles are hardly limited to just side-by-sides. If you were hoping for a bit more variety out of your down-and-dirty rides, you’ll want to check out our guide to the best all-terrain vehicles.

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