The short trip from the parking lot to the trailhead provided little in the way of a preview of the punishment my nerves would endure. Only the name of the trail lent insight as we turned off the pavement. Glassing a few hundred yards ahead revealed a sheer rock face. Then I saw the lead vehicle start to ascend what must have been a 45-degree rock incline, and the reasoning behind the trail’s name, Hell’s Revenge, became clear. I was thankful I was in John Deere’s newest Gator.
The introduction of the 2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i UTV takes John Deere even further from the farm to a position at the head of the side-by-side recreational vehicle market. While the original Gator only touched at the potential for a true utility vehicle to cross over to the playing field, the new 850i is the first from John Deere designed initially for play that can still handle the workloads for which the Gator is known.
The 850i comes standard with a four-stroke, electronically fuel-injected, 839cc V-twin gas engine that turns out 62 horses and 57.5 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The RSX 850i is available in three models: Base, Sport (tested) and Trail (tested).
Climbing into the new Gator for my test ride on the world-famous off-road trails near Moab, Utah, the sleek lines and scooped hood revealed influence of the NASCAR and Formula One experts with whom John Deere consulted on its design. The machine looked fast and mean. The Sport model I rode wore a set of alloy wheels with 26-inch Maxis Bighorn 2.0 tires that bit down hard below the Fox 2.0 Performance Series shocks, easily keeping me on course along the Seven Mile Rim trail. Whether accelerating through sandy dunes or traversing crumbling rock, I felt secure, thanks to the Gator’s three-point seat belt and its comfortable and sturdy 35.5-inch sport seats. John Deere advertises a max speed of 53 mph in high gear, but I got my machine to read 54 mph on the digital display screen, and I still felt like she had a little left to give.
Day two in this rocky off-road world found my life once again in the hands of the engineers from John Deere. This time I would be driving the RSX850i Trail model along the slick rock and technical trails of Hell’s Revenge. The Trail model utilizes the same fully independent double A-arm front and rear suspension and locking front differential as the Sport and Base models, and it has the same set of Fox Racing shocks also found on the Base model.
When my turn came to begin climbing the side of the mountain, I switched the 850i into 4WD by way of the convenient dash-mounted selector. I crossed my fingers, hoping the front-mounted Warn winch, standard in the Trail model, would not be needed. “Billy Goat” may have been a better name to choose for this John Deere machine I rode, because I was in instant awe as the 72.8-inch wheelbase of the Gator crawled its way up the slick rock without missing a step. I have to admit, I thought more than once that day about the 1.75-inch steel tube roll-over protective structure (ROPS) protecting me, and I was more than thankful I never had to put it to the test.
For the hunter who needs to know the utility vehicle he chooses will be able to handle the potential load of a good season, have no fear. Not only will the Gator RSX 850i get you to your quarry, it will traverse almost any terrain with 10.3 inches of ground clearance. Stocked with a 7.5-gallon fuel tank, it will get you back, too. The folks at John Deere estimate a maximum 150-mile range on a single tank. A load capacity of 400 pounds in the 8.9-cubic-foot cargo box ensures any gear and meat will make it back as well. It is evident that John Deere put a lot of thought into the design of the cargo box to make it similar to that of a truck bed. It’s equipped with two levers to manually dump through the pickup-style tailgate.
The new John Deere Gator RSX 850i transcends the boundaries of what a farm vehicle once was and takes a confident leap into the playful world of side-by-side recreational vehicles.