It’s hard to believe the Polaris RZR has only been around for thirteen years, considering how big of an impact it’s had on the off-road industry. This machine completely changed the UTV game, shifting our focus from hardy workhorses to faster, sportier models. There’s no telling what sport side-by-sides would look like today if Polaris hadn’t given us the RZR.
Since its release was so influential in terms of everything that followed, we thought it would be fun to take a look at where the RZR began and see how it evolved into what’s on the market today. With so many models, sub-models, special editions, and upgrades, it would be impossible to cover them all. But even a brief overview of the RZR’s evolution gives you an idea of just how influential it has been for everyone in the industry.
The UTV world got its first look at the RZR in 2007, when Polaris unveiled the 2008 Ranger RZR 800. It was originally released as a sub-model of the popular Ranger, but as the RZR gained popularity, Polaris realized this machine was in a class of its own. The Ranger name was eventually dropped and the evolution of the Polaris RZR began.
The 2008 RZR was totally different than anything Polaris had made up until this point. Although they initially shared a name, the RZR was easily distinguishable from the larger, work-oriented Ranger. Its compact body style boasted a lower seating position, and this machine simply looked speedier. But it didn’t just look fast—the RZR topped out around 55 MPH. Although this might not sound super impressive today, in 2007, the RZR was much faster than others in its class.
The body style wasn’t the only difference between the original Ranger class and the new Ranger RZR. To give riders a lower seating position, the engine was placed behind the seat instead of underneath. The lower center of gravity made for improved handling and the ability to take faster corners without worrying about tipping or rolling over.
Another difference in the seats was the switch from the Ranger’s bench seat to a pair of individual adjustable seats with three-point seat belts. The driver’s side had tilt steering and the passenger’s seat was equipped with a grab bar on the dashboard—perfect for adding stability and comfort for your passenger when going over rougher terrain.
Although it was built with sport in mind, the original Ranger RZR was equipped with a bed and boasted a 300-lb. payload capacity and a 1,500-lb. towing capacity. You could get this work/sport hybrid for MSRP $10,299, which was about $200 cheaper than the Ranger XP and the base-model Yamaha Rhino 700 FI Auto.
Speaking of the Rhino, it was the RZR’s biggest competition at the time. The Yamaha Rhino also offered faster top speeds and a powerful engine in a smaller body style. Polaris played off of the Rhino’s popularity when designing the RZR, wanting to give off-road enthusiasts more options when it came to going fast and having fun.
According to Polaris District Sales Manager Mike Carr, “We wanted to build a play-first, work-second vehicle that completely blew the market away and captured the attention of the Rhino enthusiast. And for the person that has a Rhino or was thinking about [buying] a Rhino, we wanted to give them something else to consider.”
This strategy of playing off of other companies in the industry and using them as fuel to innovate became a common theme for Polaris in subsequent years. That drive to constantly stay ahead of the competition is what kicked off a never-ending string of exciting new releases. The race to build the fastest, most powerful sport UTV was on.
The 2008 Ranger RZR 800 was a hit, but Polaris didn’t stop and take a breather after its release. Instead, they continued to ask themselves, “How can we make this better?” and then acted on the answer. What followed was an exciting decade (and then some) full of new Polaris machines, each one faster and more exciting than the last.
Just one year after releasing the original RZR, Polaris was back at it again with the RZR S 800. Its specs were pretty similar to the previous model, with the exception of width—the new RZR S was a whole ten inches wider than the original, measuring exactly 60” wide.
With this machine, riders began to realize just how much they could do with a sport UTV, and they wanted more. So Polaris delivered, with new RZR models appearing in rapid succession.
While the RZR was taking the sport side-by-side market by storm, Polaris threw something new into the mix: the RZR 170. As the world’s first youth UTV, this model was geared towards riders ages twelve and older. Since safety was an obvious concern here, the 170 came with one-piece side nets, two helmets, an instructional DVD, a safety flag, and an adjustable speed limiter.
Released in 2011, the RZR XP 900 was powered by the ProStar 900, an 875cc, four-stroke, fuel-injected, DOHC twin-cylinder engine. The difference between this and the 760cc powering the first two RZRs was bigger than you might think, putting out 88 HP and maxing out at 73 MPH.
The XP 900 was Polaris’ first departure from the original front and rear A-arm design used in the 800 and 800 S. It was the first RZR to utilize the new three-link trailing arm rear suspension, designed to handle all of that extra power put out by the ProStar 900.
Compared to other sport UTVs on the market at the time, the RZR XP 900 was in a league of its own.
Can-Am beat Polaris to the 100-HP mark with the Maverick 1000, released in 2013. But Polaris wasn’t far behind, and the very next year, the RZR XP 1000 hit the market.
The Maverick 1000 was innovative for sure, but some felt that it was lacking in the suspension and handling department. The RZR XP 1000, however, had it all: an incredible engine, great handling, well-tuned suspension, and excellent trail comfort.
With these two companies running neck-and-neck to release the next big thing, the extreme-performance UTV war was at full force. And we were here for it.
Barely two years later, Can-Am and Polaris were at it again. Once again, Can-Am beat Polaris to the punch when it came to releasing the very first turbocharged side-by-side. And
Like most RZR releases, this machine was a game changer. It boasted 30% more horsepower, 45% more torque, and the ability to reach speeds of 60 MPH in less than six seconds. All of this came together to give us a RZR that was optimized for all types of riding—not just high-speed thrills.
By 2017, the competition between side-by-side manufacturers began to settle down. Each company was finding its own groove, and for the first time, Polaris went nearly an entire season without a major new model release. Their period of rest was short lived, though.
In 2018, Polaris released the RZR RS1. It had the power and suspension of the RZR XP 1000 packed into a single-seat package, putting the driver in the center of the action for the ultimate off-road experience. With its impressive power and high-visibility sight lines, the RS1 was an immediate hit.
The success of the RS1 didn’t mean Polaris was done for the year. Also in 2018, they released the RZR XP Turbo S, and it was the most impressive RZR yet by a long shot. This machine was given a totally new design from top to bottom, with a 72” width, 25” of usable wheel travel, 32” stock tires, and Polaris’ extreme performance on-demand 4×4 system—just to name a few features.
Each machine that followed the original 2008 Ranger RZR 800 were leading up to this—the 2020 Polaris RZR PRO XP. In just over a decade, we went from the compact and sporty 50-inch Ranger RZR 800 to this groundbreaking new model. There’s no doubt that this is the most powerful and monumental RZR release yet.
The RZR PRO XP brings an impressive 181 HP to the table. Its 64” width and 96” wheelbase give you 14.5” of ground clearance. The frame and cage have been redesigned with 2” tubing and 1.75” cross braces. The lower front nose and higher back fenders give the PRO XP a menacing and aggressive look—fitting for something so punchy and powerful.
No huge changes were made to the suspension, but everything was made stronger, thanks to the size of the tubing and how it’s mounted to the frame. On the inside, you’ll find more storage in the dashboard and an ergonomically-improved grab handle on the passenger side. In terms of comfort, the seats received a total redesign, allowing for more leg room and dual dead paddles for the passenger.
In short, the RZR PRO XP is a beast. It’s especially remarkable when you look back at the original RZR 800 and see just how far Polaris came in a little more than a decade.
As you can see, the ten years following the release of the original RZR were a whirlwind of innovation and new releases. Each company was constantly trying to one-up the next, but in the end, everyone won—especially off-road enthusiasts like us, because we were left with tons of exciting new machines to play with.
Through all of the changes, though, there are some RZR qualities that have remained consistent. Each new model was designed with the intention of creating the fastest, sportiest, and most fun side-by-side imaginable.
This begs the question, though—how has Polaris managed to stay ahead of the game for so long? In an industry that changes from season to season (or heck, even from day to day), how has Polaris managed to keep the RZR relevant and at the forefront of the competition? The answer is easy. Polaris simply doesn’t stop. They don’t sit back on their haunches just because they’ve built one or two successful machines. Their constant development makes it hard for any other company to keep up. Even if another company beats them to a milestone, like Can-Am did with by reaching the 100-HP and turbocharged benchmark first—Polaris is never far behind. They don’t give anyone else the chance to be in the lead for long.
Obviously, we’re huge fans of competition like this. Everyone benefits from this constant innovation because companies are constantly pushing each other to churn out new and exciting machines year after year. The only thing left to ask is, what’s next? We can’t wait to find out.