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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Some “Why’s?” for Polaris

This is a subject that comes up every so often. No, actually it comes up way too often – that’s why I’m writing this!

In fact one of the more telling “why’s?” is that I have enough “why’s?” that I’m not sure where to start.

Yes I do. Let me start with the most recent “why?” This one came while filming the details on the new RZR 570 we are testing. One of our past complaints was that the grab bar rattled. While it bothered me to have to wrap a bit of electrical tape around the grab bar (that slid into the mount), it was an easy fix. But Polaris fixed that. They put a square plastic sleeve inside the round tube to accept a square inner tube of the ‘new’ grab bar. As my friend calls it, ‘Kindergarten 101 stuff.’ (BTW: I have several old ‘dune buggies’ that I built that use the same grab bar technology and none of them ‘rattle’). The problem is it still rattles every bit as much as it did before. The second problem is that it’s now way harder to tape to get it to stop rattling because you have to tape the square tube that goes through the sleeve and then re-enters the ‘big round tube.’ Polaris’ answer? Don’t push it in so far…

And that brings me to another ‘Polaris answer.’ At a recent new model intro, we complained that while crossing the creeks and streams that the floorboard to body on one side of the Sportsman worked well at keeping the water from coming up and soaking your boot, yet the other side seemed to work almost perfectly at funneling the water up and on your boot. The ‘Polaris answer?’ “Wear taller boots.” (Remember that answer as you may find it in the future).

Then there’s the Polaris work-arounds. One of the most amazing to me is the heel pocket in the floorboard of the RZR. The very first RZR’s had a smooth plastic floorboard that proved to be very slick. In addition, the throttle pedal had a very quick ratio. Between the quick throttle action and your foot unable to stay in place, maintaining throttle accuracy was difficult. While I would have thought about putting in a ‘less slick’ floor covering and maybe redesigning the throttle linkage for a better ratio, Polaris ‘solved’ the problem by putting a ‘pocket’ in the floorboard to keep your foot in place. While that proved an interesting solution, it didn’t entirely fix the problem. They then changed the ratio on the throttle to have a much longer throw in the first part of throttle application, and a much quicker increase in the remainder. It still proved to be less than desired.

Now, even on the new RZR XP900 and 570 with a revised throttle system, the pocket remains. When I mentioned to Polaris that it seemed awkward to use as ‘my’ foot doesn’t sit in it they looked at me bewildered. They even wanted to see my foot’s placement in the RZR. It went completely unnoticed when I mentioned that I have driven a great many vehicles in my life and not one had a ‘pocket’ in the floorboard. Now I simply fill the pocket in with rubber and put a BedRug floor covering in the RZR to fix the problem.

But incredibly (to me at least!) there are even bigger “Why’s?” to ponder. Like why should you have to push a button on a Sportsman to make the 4WD system work in reverse? Or why do you have to flip a switch to make the engine braking go to all four wheels when in 4WD? And when you do, why do you have to be going less than 15MPH and under 3100RPM, and with no throttle application for all this to work? And when you do all this, and it is all working, then why does it not work under these conditions if you apply the brakes?

Am I the only one here, or does all this seem way harder than it needs to be?

All of those “why’s?” can be explained away as being a result of Polaris-specific AWD system. This means that I’m left to ask why they use the type of all-wheel-drive system that requires so many work-arounds rather than the tried-and-true system that everyone else uses – with the option of having 2WD, 4WD with a limited slip differential, and/or 4WD with a lockable front differential?

The Polaris answer? “Our system is the easiest to use! You just ride the ATV and when the ATV senses any slip in the rear wheels (even one lug?) it applies ‘True 4 Wheel Drive!” I see - easy as in push this button for that and that one for this but make sure you are doing this and that but be sure you aren’t doing this here or that there.

I’ve decided that it’s only ‘easy’ if you don’t care. Like the old bumper sticker says, “Sit down, shut up and hang on.” And in the fine print: ‘and don’t worry about any of this and everything will be easier.’

Now for the disclaimer (ie. THE SMALL PRINT):
I really don’t hate Polaris. Really! Actually far from it. I really respect Polaris for so many things they’ve done. For one; Even though the 50” RZR is the best selling UTV (or SxS if you’d rather call it that) no other company has had the guts to make such a machine. And specking of the RZR, no one has made a machine as light. Or that handles so well. And no one has made as many variations! And I could go on. Crew Ranger 500s, EV’s, not to mention little details like adjustable seats and nice wheels.
So for me, Polaris is like the redhead in my youth. She is (and does) so many incredibly wonderful things that you can’t help but love her, but every once in a while she leaves you standing alone at the drive-in as she leaves with another guy. And to make it worse, he doesn’t even drive a 4-wheel-drive?
Disclaimer part 2:
There never was a redhead or even a drive-in. What the heck is a drive-in anyway?
Disclaimer part 3:
If there was a drive-in I was so cool in my youth that no redhead would even think of leaving me standing alone at the drive-in.
Disclaimer part 4:
I didn’t wear those ridiculous plaid polyester pants back then either…