There are only two different kinds of wheelers in the world: Jeep peeps and side-by-side riders. They’re similar, but have totally different approaches to the same hobby. One thing’s for sure Are Jeep owners too afraid of getting dirty? Are they glampers at heart? Do UTV riders not have enough common sense to save their money for a vehicle that doesn’t have to be trailered everywhere?
Or as one Jeeper put it, “I’d never be friends with a UTV girl, but I could marry one.”
The side-by-side was born out of the Jeep. If there was no Jeep, there would be no UTV. They’re consanguineous—they share the same blood—and they’re both off-road fiends. Today people fall into two different camps. There’s the “why not just get a Jeep that I can drive to and from the park and take right onto the trail” group and the “side-side-by sides are so much more fun” group.
Now we might be a little biased—we do make parts for UTVs after all—but let’s look at every aspect of these vehicles and decide once and for all which one is best.
There are a few big glaring differences between a Jeep and a side-by-side that we need to look at first. These differences arise because a Jeep Wrangler is a car, while a side-by-side is not, and the following features have almost nothing to do with off-roading.
The first thing everyone says when asked to compare Jeeps and UTVs is that Jeeps are street legal right off the lot. And it’s true! You can sign your paperwork, hop in your shiny new Wrangler, drive an hour to the ride park, and go straight on the trail. It can be your daily driver and your weekend warrior.
Compare that to a side-by-side where you need a truck, most often a trailer, and a UTV to do what a Jeep can do on it’s own. There are states and counties that do allow you to ride your UTV on the road in their stock configurations, but most places require the addition of windshields, headlights, and more if you can make them legal at all.
Comfort is an even more lopsided argument than road riding. A Wrangler blows the gaskets right off any UTV when it comes to comfort. They come with a fully enclosed cab standard! They have AC, heat, a radio, windshield wipers, and cushy seats.
You can get those options on most UTVs too—you’ll just have to shell out some extra cash for the luxury parts.
As an automobile, a Jeep Wrangler’s safety features are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Therefore, it has airbags, crumple zones, and a robust frame. It’s designed to keep passengers safe in head-on collisions on the highway.
The safety features of side-by-sides are not held to such a standard. They have roll cages, seatbelts, and systems that limit your speed when your seatbelt is unbuckled, but they’re not designed to take hits the same way a Jeep is.
Does any of the basic stuff really matter? When it comes down to it, you’re picking the best ride for going off-road and air-conditioning doesn’t really help there.
Even an entry-level Jeep Wrangler Sport is a powerful machine. Let’s take a look at the key specs.
Let’s compare that with Polaris’s flagship model, the RZR PRO XP Ultimate Edition. It comes in at about the same price, and is among the very best UTVs on the market today.
At first glance, it looks like the Wrangler wins hands down. The torque and horsepower leave the PRO XP in the dust, right?
Not exactly. At double the weight, those boosted specs don’t make much of a difference, and the pound for pound performance on the PRO XP ends up being better. We’re talking about 11 lbs. per horsepower for the PRO XP and 14 lbs. per horsepower on the Wrangler. It’s a difference you can feel.
Speaking of differences you can feel, the 74-inch width of the Wrangler means it’s excluded from all but the widest trails and open parks. The PRO XP is 64 inches wide and is much more versatile. It’s capable of taking on most any backwoods trail and nimbly maneuver through chicanes and rocks that would bog down any Jeep.
Plus, the RZR PRO XP is fast. The Wrangler loves to crawl and there aren’t many side-by-sides it could outrun on the trail.
The biggest difference between a Wrangler and a side-by-side is its off-road readiness. By that we mean the ability for a stock machine to go rock crawling or trail riding.
UTV’s are wholly focused on going off-road, and they can’t be beat in this regard. They have more ground clearance (even a stock Ranger 570 has 0.3 inches more ground clearance than a stock Wangler Sport), more aggressive tires, better clutching, and independent suspension.
They also have better body geometry that allows them to approach obstacles head-on without their bumpers getting in the way. Basically, the bumper is higher up so the first thing to hit log or boulder is the front tires.
The plastic fascia on UTVs is also a win. Why? Nobody cares if they scratch them up, and nobody babies their machine to protect their plastic. It’s not like scratching the paint job on the Jeep—it looks terrible, it exposes the underlying metal to the elements which can lead to rust, and it can be expensive to repair.
Nope, the Jeep’s not quite ready for the trail. It really needs a lift kit, some aggressive tires, and some machine protection before you take it on the trail.
Finally, let’s talk about price. You might be surprised just how many options there are for you.
Looking at new prices is a little unfair for the Jeep. The MSRP for the two-seat model of the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sport is $28,295. Optimizing it for off-road will run you at least a few hundred dollars more than that. And that’s the cheapest new Wrangler you can get.
The MSRP for a RZR PRO XP Ultimate is $28,499, plus you need a trailer and a truck to haul it. But that’s about as high-end as it gets. You can get a new off-road ready side-by-side for almost any price point down to around $10,000. And these aren’t obscure brands you’ve never heard of—you can get a new Can-Am Defender HD8, Honda Pioneer 500, Polaris Ranger 570, Polaris RZR 570, and others each for $10,000 or less. They’re not quite as capable as their more expensive versions, but they’re still plenty powerful enough for some exciting off-road.
If you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat the off-road value of a new UTV.
This is where things get tricky. If you’re diligent and patient enough, you can find any vehicle for almost any price. But there are certain trends that make Jeeps come out a little ahead.
Newer Jeeps tend to retain their price, but if you go back a few model years and look at high-mileage Wranglers, you can get great deals on already modified vehicles for less than $15,000. That’s a crazy value and one that’s hard to ignore. Even getting a used RZR 1000 at that price becomes a little difficult to justify.
But then again, what are you after? Do you want a vehicle that’s laser-focused on flying through the backwoods, or are you looking for a daily driver that doesn’t mind getting dirty? The value of a Jeep vs a UTV varies from person to person.
We have a lot of Jeeps in our parking lot at SuperATV, so it should come as no surprise that we don’t agree on all points here.
Christen chooses Jeep:
“With a Jeep, I can drive anywhere and UTVs are limited in that respect. Jeeps can rock crawl just like UTVs, but I like how UTVs gain speed fast and almost drift around corners.
Overall, I like Jeeps better because it’s a toy and a daily driver (2 for 1). Plus, Wranglers really hold their value when you go to trade them in.”
Adam chooses UTV:
“I would go with UTV if I were going to buy a vehicle completely dedicated to wheeling. They are much more versatile in the terrain they can get around in, meaning between trees, up slopes, etc. and that means more places to ride a lot of times.
They are smaller, which makes them easier to work on without a lift, and you don’t need quite as large of an area to store it. One disadvantage is that you can’t just drive it where you are going usually, so that means you need a trailer and truck big enough to haul it. A Jeep you can just jump in and drive.”
Justin goes Jeep:
“I operate on 95% logic. $15-25K can get me a nice road worthy Jeep that does 80% of what a sport SXS does. I don’t have to invest in a towing truck or a trailer either. Sport side-by-sides are a blast, but are they worth the cost for someone that has to finance it?”
Jordan sings Kumbaya (but really chooses UTV):
“Both are one in the same in terms of being able to see amazing sights, get to destinations not easily reached, and go on overnight adventures leading to who knows what. All night wrenching or all night throwing down on some trails.
It’s not about what you’re riding but the fun you are having. Heck, we’ve done it in ol’ beater cars, golf carts, go karts, and mowers—if you got a ride, bring it!
I’m a little hard on stuff riding wise, some may say, so I don’t feel so bad rock bouncing the RZR instead of a Jeep. The RZR has held up great and I’m very impressed. Luckily I work for an amazing company that helps feed my passion. At SuperATV, when I do need replacement parts from internal transmission goods to new fender flares, and the list goes on, we got it.”
There’s a handy-dandy comments section down below for you to tell us why we’re wrong. That’s really all it’s for. So if you think we missed the point or that anybody who buys a side-by-side is a sucker, please share.
What do you think? Is the two for one Wrangler unbeatable value, or are the uncompromising side-by-sides worth the price?