Whether you’re racing through the desert, coasting over dunes, or aggressively tearing up your favorite trail, there’s just no substitute for raw power. One of the best ways to experience that power in its most impressive state is to get behind the wheel of a turbocharged side-by-side.
That’s easier said than done, though, when you look at the cost of a turbo UTV and the maintenance that goes along with it. So how do you know if investing in a turbo is the right choice?
Let’s take a look at how turbochargers work, what benefits and drawbacks they offer, and how to know if shelling out the extra cash for a turbo UTV is worth it.
Turbocharging is a process that allows smaller engines to produce higher power. This happens when a device called a turbocharger is added to an engine. The turbocharger increases an engine’s efficiency and power output by forcing extra compressed air into the combustion chamber.
All of that pressurized air enters the combustion chamber as the piston makes a downward stroke. It then goes through the turbocharger and spins the turbines and compressor wheel. This use of exhaust air is what sets a turbocharged engine apart from naturally aspirated (NA) engines.
To make a long story short, turbochargers cause more air to pass through the cylinders. And the more air that passes through the cylinders, the more power they churn out.
Turbocharging in the UTV world is still a fairly recent development. The first side-by-side to come with a turbo straight from the factory was the 2015 Can-Am Maverick X ds, whose 121-HP Rotax 1000R turbo engine proved to be a benchmark in the industry. This machine boasted 10% more horsepower and almost 40% more torque than anything else on the market at the time—but not for long.
Shortly after, Polaris followed suit with the release of the RZR XP Turbo and from there, a horsepower war had begun among the big industry players.
Why would you want a turbocharged engine in a side-by-side? We’ll get more into the benefits later on, but some of the reasoning has to do with the fact that most state regulations and racing organizations adhere to the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) definition of UTVs, which dictates that a UTV’s engine size cannot exceed 1000cc.
Do machine manufacturers have to abide by these regulations? No—technically, they can make whatever they want. But companies like Can-Am and Polaris know there’s no point in making machines that the majority of riders can’t use. Turbochargers are a way for manufacturers to give UTV riders more power and speed while staying within that 1000cc regulation.
Who doesn’t want to have the most powerful side-by-side on the block? Here are some of the specific benefits that come with having a turbocharged engine.
Arguably the biggest draw of a turbo engine is the horsepower it churns out. Certain terrain types, like sand, put an increased load on your engine because of the extra effort it takes to turn your tires. Having a turbocharger gives you more power and keeps your engine from working too hard.
This one is debatable, but we’ll mention it anyway. Turbo engines are typically smaller, which makes them easier on fuel. But put that engine in the hands of someone with an aggressive ride style and all that hard riding can cancel out the improved fuel efficiency.
Having more power in a smaller engine helps to keep your vehicle’s weight down, which makes it easier to produce above-average speeds. This is a huge draw for racers (or anyone who just likes to go fast).
Turbo UTVs tend to have more options and better overall specs than non-turbo machines. Better seats, improved suspension, and more durable drive belts are just a few things you’ll most likely get in a turbocharged machine.
Turbocharging isn’t all butterflies and rainbows. Let’s go over a couple of drawbacks that might deter some riders from taking the plunge.
Side-by-sides are expensive enough as is, and not everyone is willing and able to shell out the extra dough for a turbocharged engine. Sure, you’re getting a ton of speed and power for your money. Not to mention there are a ton of premium specs that usually come along with a turbo UTV. But for those of us on a budget, the price tag isn’t always realistic.
Turbo engines have more components, meaning more can go wrong. The increased pressure and temperature in the engine can cause some parts (like your valves and pistons) to wear more quickly. The possibility of frequent or expensive engine maintenance is another deterrent for riders on a budget.
Now that you know exactly how it works and what it does, you should have a better idea of whether a turbocharged side-by-side is right for you. If you’re still undecided, here are some other factors to think about.
If you’re big into dunes or desert racing, more power is always a good thing. A turbocharged engine will give you all the horsepower you need to turn your tires in sand. On the other hand, if relaxed trail riding or technical rock crawling is more your speed, a turbo might not be worth the investment.
Where you live can be a determining factor in whether a turbo is right for you. Take altitude, for example. High altitudes lead to a loss in intake manifold pressure. A turbocharger can help make up for the lost pressure and help you get the most out of your machine’s performance.
It’s not all about altitude, though. Topography should be taken into consideration as well. For riders who ride in densely-wooded areas or where visibility is an issue, hitting top speed probably doesn’t happen on a regular basis—or at least it shouldn’t, for safety reasons. If you’ll rarely get to max out your engine’s power and speed, a turbo probably isn’t worth it.
As we mentioned earlier, turbo machines are more expensive—usually to the tune of $5,000 more than a non-turbo counterpart. If you’re shopping on a budget, passing on the turbo model can leave you with more cash in your pocket.
Purchasing and installing an aftermarket turbocharger is another option to consider, but it’s not for everyone.
First off, aftermarket turbo kits are expensive—we’re talking 4 or 5 grand—and unless you’re an expert, you’re looking at installation fees on top of that. Installing an aftermarket turbo is a complicated process that can sometimes require alteration of your body work, so only a qualified technician should take on the job.
Once it’s installed, you may soon realize that other upgrades are required in order to keep your machine running smoothly. All that extra power means you’ll probably need an improved suspension or braking system. Taking this into consideration, after all is said and done, it might cost more to DIY a turbo engine than it would to opt for the factory turbocharged version.
Another thing to note is that adding an aftermarket turbo will void your factory warranty.
So to make a long story short—yes, it is possible to add a turbo to a non-turbo engine. But is it worth it? We’ll leave that up to you.
In our opinion, deciding whether to go with a turbo engine vs. regular engine isn’t a question of whether you need more power. Because for most of us, we don’t need all that extra horsepower.
But at the same time, how often do you hear riders say, “Man, I wish this rig wasn’t so dang powerful!”?
The bottom line: it all comes down to budget and maintenance. If you have the money to shell out for a turbo side-by-side and the maintenance that comes with it, we suggest going turbo every time. Because even if you don’t need the extra power, it’s always nice to have it in reserve.