Farmer tested, farmer approved UTVs

Our farmer evaluators test three of the newest UTVs, and all three give near-perfect reviews.

If you’re in the market for a new side-by-side, we have good news: Our team of farmer evaluators tested three machines that all stand up to the daily demands of farming. They had about six months to put the UTVs to work on their operations, and, at the end, each machine received a perfect or near-perfect rating.

The Successful Farming Product Test Team

Successful Farming magazine has a long legacy of testing ATVs and UTVs. Our team has completed three extensive evaluations: in 2007, 2013, and 2017. At each evaluation, we had a crew of riders evaluating multiple machines, taking each through a series of tests. In 2018, we decided to expand our coverage and bring our testing to the farm, using the Successful Farming Product Test Team. Beyond UTVs, these farm evaluators also test a variety of shop advances and tools less commonly found on farms.

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2019 Kubota RTV-XG850 Sidekick | 5 of 5 stars

True to its name, the Kubota RTV-XG850 was a trusty sidekick for the Heineman family throughout the 2019 summer and harvest. Paul Heineman, along with his brother, Craig; nephew, Brett; and sons, Andrew and Marcus, used the Sidekick for a number of chores, including fixing fences, checking the moisture of corn and soybeans before heading to the field during harvest, and hauling rocks out of fields. 

When asked what he liked about the Kubota Sidekick, Paul Heineman says, “It’s probably easier to say what I didn’t like.” As you’ll see, the list of features he enjoyed is long. “It’s a very functional machine, easy to drive, easy to haul things in, and easy to get in and out of,” says the corn and soybean farmer from Ogden, Iowa.

One of the most useful features on the UTV was the electric dump box. “This was really nice when I picked up a rock or two or five. It made it really easy to dump,” says Heineman. “The Sidekick was very solid and when I loaded it up with some rocks, they got pretty heavy pretty quickly. It handled the load really well, and the suspension worked very well on this machine.” 

The Sidekick’s hardiness also extended into towing. “We hooked the corn heads up to the Sidekick to pull them up to the shop to fix them or to clean them. The machine can pull quite a bit, and the four-wheel drive worked well,” he adds.

Heineman’s other favorite feature: the lights. “The Sidekick had very good lights on the front, so I could see at night when I was working,” he says.

Beyond the lights, the Sidekick also came equipped with a windshield and radio, which Heineman says were nice features to have on the machine. If he could have added one more accessory, it would be a rearview mirror.  

The top speed for the Sidekick is 40 mph, which was plenty fast for Heineman to zip from field to field. This is one of the areas where the Sidekick stands out from the other models in the Kubota lineup (most max out at 25 mph). 

Equipped with power steering, the Sidekick was “really comfortable to drive,” says Heineman. “The doors worked well, so I could slide right in, and the machine started well. It was also easy to shift back and forth and put into four-wheel drive.”

While putting the Sidekick in gear was easy, Heineman’s one complaint on the machine was how jerky it was. “When I first put the Sidekick in gear and stepped on the accelerator, there was a slight lunge. That was kind of an issue when I was backing up and somebody was trying to hook up,” he says. “I figured out real quick that I had to have one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator to try and smooth that out. That was probably the biggest thing I didn’t care for.”

2019 John Deere Gator XUV865R | 5 of 5 stars

For more than a decade, the Bakers have used the same John Deere Gator on their farm in Orangeville, Illinois.

28230 Baker UTV
Mark and Kim Baker with the 2019 John Deere Gator XUV865R.

“We used it twice a day, every day, and it’s just been a good, durable machine for us,” says Mark Baker, who runs an operation that includes grain, hemp, and a dairy with his wife, Kim, and their two sons, Zach and Chad. 

Last year, the Bakers got an upgrade: a 2019 John Deere Gator XUV865R. 

“Our older Gator didn’t have a cab or air conditioning. We just used it for chores. In comparison, this is like a Cadillac,” says Kim. 

While she’s survived without it before, Kim says that the air conditioning is a must. “The best two features are the air conditioning and the cooler,” she explains.

Mark also appreciates the creature comforts of the new Gator. “This cab is very soundproof and tight. When I shut the door, I really feel like I’m in an automobile,” he says, adding that simple features like cup holders also make a big difference. “It’s just well laid out. For example, the cup holders, there are six to be exact, because you can never have too much coffee.”

Like the cab, Mark also appreciates the layout and design that went into the rest of the machine. 

“The Gator has a unique area where I can access the battery. The nice thing about that is, there are a couple of posts on there that I can use if I have a dead battery, and I can actually use it to jump a piece of equipment,” says Mark. 

The Gator is also up to the challenge of towing other equipment, including grain platforms and hay racks. 

“It’s amazing – the amount of torque they have provided us to use,” says Mark. “It’s very strong while geared low – not a fast machine. It has over 2,000 pounds of pulling power, and I am just amazed by that.”

In addition to towing, the Bakers also haul a full pallet of seed in the back during corn planting and say the machine “handles quite well.”

Even with a full load, the Gator is “very stable and very low to the ground,” says Mark. “It’s very responsive as I’m turning and steering.”

However, the Bakers have experienced one issue when the machine is loaded down. 

“It is a tad bit under power with the AC on, especially going up and down hills with a load,” says Mark.

Their other big complaint? No radio! 

“A radio is available for extra cost, but I think it should come with it,” says Kim.

Mark agrees. “When my wife rides with me, I have to sing to her, and she’s getting tired of that.”

2019 Can-Am Defender DPS | 4½ of 5 stars

In 2013, the Fred family in Rochester, Indiana, purchased their first UTV, which quickly became the vehicle of choice on their diversified dairy and row-crop operation. 

“UTVs are really handy, and they are replacing the ATVs because you can haul stuff and hold multiple passengers,” says James Fred, who farms along with his dad, David; brother Eli; uncle Bill; and cousin Scott.

28230 Fred UTV
James Fred in the 2019 Can-Am Defender DPS

READ MORE: A walk around the new 2020 Can-Am Defender Pro HD10

Since that first purchase, the Freds have owned multiple Polaris Rangers. Last year, the family tried out a Can-Am for the first time, specifically a Can-Am Defender DPS.

“The Can-Am is a solid machine. It feels really heavy duty,” says James Fred. “I was impressed by the setup, the design, the ride, and everything.”

The Can-Am quickly became Fred’s main mode of transportation around the farm. He used it to check hay fields and to haul gear to the fields for tile repair jobs. “The Defender did a really good job of handling anything thrown at it. It was never short of power,” he says. “I used the Defender to pull unloaded hay wagons around the farm as well as header carts. It had plenty of power, and I could put it in four-wheel drive if I had any traction issues.”

One of the first things Fred noticed about the machine was how smoothly the machine shifted. “Going forward or backward, the motion wasn’t jerky at all,” he explains. “I also liked the way the shifting was set up – in different locations, not in a straight line. I knew what gear I was in at all times.”

In addition to smooth shifting, the suspension also gave riders a smooth ride. “I could go across rows and not feel like I was going to bounce out of the seat. The suspension was very solid, and I was impressed,” says Fred. 

The seats themselves were another positive attribute. “The seat cushions had good back support,” he says. “I could also put my feet underneath the seat. In other machines, there’s a wall there so I feel cramped. In the Defender, I felt like I could get in a more comfortable position.”

Within the cab, Fred also appreciated the amount of storage. One of the unique features about the Defender is a removable glove box that can be used as a toolbox.

The Defender also came equipped with multiple accessories, including a flip glass windshield ($1,229.99), a rear window glass with a sliding panel ($724.99), LinQ tool holders ($49.99), and a rear cargo light ($134.99). “The full glass windshield kept me out of the weather, even when conditions weren’t ideal. But it hinges open so I can get some airflow going through if I want. The rear window has a sliding window, too, so I could get some cross ventilation going through there,” says Fred. “The tool holders in the bed were nice for shovels, because otherwise I’m throwing shovels in the back and they are always sliding around.”

While Fred enjoyed those accessories, he found the rear cargo light to be particularly valuable. 

“I would never guess that it would be so handy, but anytime I was operating in the dark and flipped that on, it was almost as bright as the headlights. I could see what I was doing in the back or even if I was just backing up in the dark.”

When asked to rank the machine, Fred gave the Defender an almost perfect score: 4½ out of 5 stars.

“Overall, I feel like it can’t get much better for the money,” he says. 

There were a few things he’d adjust to get the Can-Am to 5 stars. 

“When I changed the engine oil, I noticed the oil filter was a cartridge with three removable screws. It wasn’t necessarily too hard to access, but normally I think of a spin-on as being the most convenient type,” says Fred, adding that it would be nice to have an RPM and an engine temperature gauge. 

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