The Best UTVs for Beginners According to U.S. News

Summer is in full swing. If you’re shopping for a small recreational vehicle that’s similar to an ATV, chances are you’re looking at UTVs or side-by-sides. But what if you’re a beginner that’s never actually been behind the wheel of a UTV? Don’t worry, U.S. News & World Report has got you covered. Let’s talk about the organization’s picks for the best UTVs for beginners.

What does UTV stand for?

Two men riding in a UTV
Riding in a UTV | Liz Nemeth/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

First, let’s talk about what UTV stands for. UTV stands for “utility terrain vehicle.” Though, according to NADA Guides, some also call it a “utility task vehicle.” Many also refer to a UTV as a side-by-side, NADA Guides added. Though, regardless of the exact verbiage, a UTV is a small recreational vehicle that’s built for utility. In fact, more often than not, side-by-sides are used for carrying passengers and cargo, hunting, and even towing farm equipment.

UTVs have been around for quite some time too. According to U.S. News & World Report, UTVs can be traced back to vehicles like the Willys Jeeps of the 1940s and even the Meyers Manx dune buggies from way back when in the 1960s. These days, some of the most common UTV brands include Honda, Can-Am, Polaris, Kawasaki, and Yamaha. These brands offer a variety of side-by-side models, some of which are the best UTVs for beginners, U.S. News reports.

What’s the difference between an ATV and a UTV?

While you may not have heard the term UTV before, chances are you do know what an ATV is. But do you know what the difference between an ATV and a UTV is? If you don’t, that’s OK. UTVs are meant for carrying passengers and cargo and are also capable of hitting the trails. Meanwhile, ATVs, which are sometimes called 4x4s or quads, are designed for a single person and aren’t as task-oriented. Though, they’re still more than able to get down and dirty on the trails. 

Those aren’t the only differences between the two either. When compared to ATVs, side-by-sides typically come equipped with more powerful engines, U.S. News added. Further, unlike ATVs, many UTVs can be had with performance suspension systems and even rugged four-wheel-drive systems. Side-by-sides also feature a roll-over protection system, which will protect you if the UTV flips. Unfortunately, ATVs do not come outfitted with roll-over protection systems.

The best UTVs for beginners

If you’re new to the world of side-by-sides or are shopping for a UTV with a younger rider in mind, chances are you’re in the market for the best UTVs for beginners. If that’s the case, U.S. News suggests asking yourself what you want to use your side-by-side for. Are you buying it for recreational purposes? Or, are you buying a UTV to use for towing and hauling at the farm? Also, take into consideration how powerful of an engine you need, along with how much you want to spend on a new UTV.

As for the best UTVs for beginners? U.S. News suggests three different options: the Kawasaki Mule SX, the Yamaha Wolverine X2 R-Spec 850, or the Arctic Cat Wildcat Trail. The cheapest UTV of the three is the Kawasaki Mule SX, which starts at $6,849. This model comes powered by a 401-cc engine, which U.S. News says makes it a good choice for beginners. It can also fit in the bed of a pickup truck, making it an easy side-by-side to transport.

The Yamaha Wolverine X2 R-Spec 850, on the other hand, starts at $14,799. This new side-by-side comes powered by a liquid-cooled 847-cc engine. It also features an Ultramatic V-belt transmission with all-wheel engine braking, along with a three-way locking differential for two-, four-, and even full diff-lock four-wheel drive.

The Arctic Cat Wildcat Trail is also one of the best UTVs for beginners, U.S. News reports. It comes equipped with a 700-cc engine. It also comes standard with an electronic locking differential for two- or four-wheel drive. This UTV features a rugged suspension system too, and, according to U.S. News, is deft, narrow, and easy to control. Unfortunately, this side-by-side isn’t available new. However, buying a used side-by-side is a great way to save a couple of bucks too.

Should you buy a UTV?

Before buying a new side-by-side, try getting behind the wheel of one first. In fact, taking U.S. News’ picks for the best UTVs for beginners out for a spin is a great way to determine whether or not you should buy a UTV. 

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