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What’s The Difference: ATV vs. UTV

There’s been a bit of buzz recently regarding the use of ATV and UTV vehicles. With new releases from the like of Gator, Polaris, and Daymark it’s clear the notion of innovation and boundary-pushing are alive and well in this world. And why not? Utility work and dust-infused play are two activities that demand the “latest and greatest” just like any other automotive offering. Just don’t get the two confused.

It’s here where the — mistakenly mind you — interchangeable acronyms of ATV and UTV come to light. For if you’ve rarely (or never) spent some time atop either a four-wheeler or side-by-side, it’s quite natural to confuse the two. Not to worry one bit, however, because we’re quite aware of this phenomenon and guess what; the differences are quite obvious in both design and purpose. So stark, in fact, that we doubt you’ll ever make this common error again.


Dominating All Terrains

For starters, let’s break down the acronym: ATV equals “All-Terrain Vehicle.” Meaning, muddied trails, soft sand dunes, or even rocky roadways are no match for the proper ATV. Style-wise, they’re your four-wheelers and quads, complete with mud tires, single — or perhaps double — seating, and most importantly, no roll cage. If anything, the lack of a roll cage and/or rooftop should be a dead giveaway that what you’re riding is an ATV, not a UTV. From here, let’s dive a bit deeper into the intended use of the ATV. If anything, the lack of a roll cage and/or rooftop should be a dead giveaway that what you’re riding is an ATV.

Starting off, ATVs are most commonly used for racing — be it a proper track or atop rolling dunes. That’s because, above all else, they’re nimble. Such agility in the arena of switchback turns and tight corners are what makes the ATV such an adrenaline-fueled ride. Think a more sporty ride where aggressive maneuvers are part of the fun, not a white-knuckle mistake. Also, it’s important to note the different types of ATVs for the taking. For instance, sport quads are more race-friendly — like Can-Am’s DS 450 for instance — while larger, more work-ready ATVs — like the Polaris Sportsman — can protect riders from mud and dirt on the trail all while boasting the same level of brawn and performance as the sport quad.

Uses For An ATV

  • You need a terrain-conquering ride
  • You’re competing in a race
  • You don’t need a roll cage
  • You’re on a budget


Work Over Play

Which leads us to the UTV: otherwise known as a Utility Vehicle. Just the name itself here should provide a hint as to the purpose of the ride. That is specialized work that requires transportation in and around remote undeveloped areas. Also, you’ll find our Armed Forces take preference of the UTV over the ATV thanks to their utilitarian build and performance. All told, we can break the purpose of the UTV into a couple different categories. You’ll find our Armed Forces take preference of the UTV over the ATV thanks to their utilitarian build and performance.

First, as specified above, UTVs come in handy for specialized work — such as construction, farming, etc. — but can also come in handy for more extracurricular activities like hunting. Basically, any activity or job that requires off-road transit, more than one or two passengers, or transporting larger loads is ideal for the UTV. Additionally, UTVs boast one key design feature that ATVs do not: the roll cage. We can find an example of a quintessential ATV in the Polaris RZR or the Arctic Cat Prowler where enhanced cargo space is made available for owners. Finally, UTVs boast unique customization abilities that ATVs simply do not. For example, we’ve seen owners modify their UTVs in an aftermarket mentally via specialized LED lights, sound systems, heating and cooling, and even cab kits depending on their preference.

Uses For A UTV

  • Ideal for specialized work
  • You have a lot of gear to haul
  • You’re interested in aftermarket customization
  • You need room for more than one passenger

Our Pick

The Answer Depends On The Purpose

Just like bourbon vs. whiskey or muscle vs. pony car, there really is no clear winner here. And while that sounds like a cop-out, take into consideration the intended purpose of each ride. Is it strictly recreational or more work related? Is there a budget in mind? (ATVs are typically cheaper than UTVs) What’s the terrain like? Does the task at hand require a passenger or is it more of a solo mission? All these questions — and many other considerations — will help determine whether an ATV or UTV is the off-road vehicle of choice when the time comes because for some, one or the other will, in fact, stand out as superior.

All told, we can break this down — oversimplified of course — into two categories: work vs. play. Now, we know that UTV racing is a hobby and that ATVs serve more of a purpose than just romping around in the mud. This blanket assessment simply serves to help delineate the differences between the two: like why an ATV is so nimble while a UTV boasts additional seating and cargo space. Again, it’s all preference and subjectivity here. Just be on the lookout for key design principles and pricing, and we’re positive the confusion between the two will cease to exist.

How To Start Overlanding

No matter what you choose, nothing beats an overlanding experience. So why not bring your ATV or UTV along for the ride? It’s just one of many essential pieces to the puzzle. So, here’s a detailed guide on how to start overlanding for those looking to break into the lifestyle.