By Howard J Elmer
The idea behind an electric ATV may have sprung from the use of batteries to power golf carts over the years, but the execution of the new EV by Polaris is anything but a golf cart. In fact, it’s likely that the popular move toward using electric in the automotive market is more likely the inspiration behind the 2010 EV which is built using the newest Ranger frame – the midsize 400.
This new gas-powered 400 uses the Ranger name associated with Polaris’s full-size three-passenger side/side UTV, but it is decidedly smaller in all respects. The 400 seats two, rather than three, and features a shorter wheelbase, length and width. If I had to give it a number to describe its size, I’d say it was ten percent smaller across the board.
So, the EV offers a new form of propulsion in an all-new frame, but, as I said before, don’t confuse it with a golf cart. The key reason I say that is because this Ranger features front suspension of the independent MacPherson strut-type with eight inches of travel, while the rear wheels are sprung with dual A-arms (IRS) that offer nine inches of travel. Overall ground clearance at the centre is ten inches. Suggested retail price for the EV is $13,399, and it’s available now.
This unit was presented to the assembled media during the all-line introduction in Minnesota in June and it’s there that I had a chance to run it. The EV churned through mud, climbed fallen trees and, in general, worked as well as its gas-powered versions. So in many ways it was the same as the Ranger 400 I also tested – except for one distinct characteristic - it’s virtually silent. How quiet was impressed on me by the fact that I could easily follow the conversation of two other outdoor writers (speaking at normal volume) riding in an EV a dozen metres ahead of me while driving on a test loop through the bush. Wanna sneak up on something? The EV will do that.
Unlike the hybrid gas/electric combinations that are becoming commonplace in cars, this side/side ATV is a fully electric model. At its heart is an electric motor that makes 30 hp at peak rpm running as a single 48 Volt AC induction motor. The power is provided by a battery pack (that rests under the two-person bench seat) that has 11.7 kilowatts (kW) of storage capacity at 48 Volts DC. To accomplish this, the EV uses eight 12V US 12VXC batteries in series-parallel configuration. Note that these are fairly standard lead/acid batteries – which means they are very reasonably priced when it comes time for replacement.
Still, while testing, I kept coming back to the concern most customers would have - how practical would an all-electric side/side really be? To answer that question, we have to look at two things. First, what is the EV capable of and second, what will it be called on to do.
Polaris says that the EV has a range of 50 miles (80 km) on flat terrain when it’s running in the “max range mode.” This is one of three operating modes that can be switched as needed, they being L (Low), M (Max Range) and H (High). What they do is pretty much self-explanatory and the draw they put on the batteries is equivalent to speed or load the EV is being driven at or subject to.
Top speed on the EV is 25 mph (40 km/h), so another way of looking at consumption is that two continuous hours of running at max speed will drain the batteries. Of course, this would be unusual, so to keep track of the cumulative use of power, the EV has a dashboard-mounted digital charge meter that constantly shows the state of the batteries, and an hour meter that indicates cumulative hours on the vehicle (handy for scheduling regular maintenance). A full recharge takes eight hours using any standard 110V outlet.
While the gas and electric Ranger share many common components, there are some key differences. First, the tires have a somewhat less rugged tread on the EV that makes for lower rolling resistance. Comparatively, they also carry a much higher pressure – 20 psi. This unit also has a turf mode – which means single wheel drive operation – that's specifically designed not to tear up the turf. So while the EV is not a golf cart, you may well find EVs on golf courses doing all sorts of work. With all-electric operation, the lack of exhaust fumes also makes the EV ideal for inside or confined space usage.
Some other advantages to this smaller Ranger design are its ability to fit the back of a standard pickup truck. Also, the shorter wheelbase also equals a better turning radius and improved trail performance. Other design features on the new Ranger also lend themselves to trail-riding such as recessed headlights for protection against rock chips and branches. Also protected are critical parts like the radiator and front differential by specific steel and plastic shields. All this, though, is behind the heavy-duty steel tube bumper. This design protects the whole front end of the Ranger and tapers off at the corners to allow obstructions to slide off the unit when hit. That dissipates energy and pushes the unit away from the object you’ve run into.
The roll cages on Ranger cabs have always been substantial, but they are also now ROPS (Roll-Over-Protection-System) certified. What that means is that the cage is guaranteed not to collapse if the unit rolls or ends up on its head. Other safety features include three-point safety belts, grab handles and enough body depth to keep knees and elbows inside the vehicle. As for weight ratings, the EV has the same abilities as its gas-powered brother. That’s a total payload of 1,000 lb, with 500 lb being supported by the standard cargo box, and a tow rating of 1,250 lb.
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