Trail Test: 2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

The crew at Polaris are an astute bunch. Long before their competitors clued in, they figured that just because a machine is made for work doesn’t mean it needs to look uglier than a flea-ridden subway rat. Witness the parade of hopeless looking off-road workhorses from other brands which vacillated somewhere between sorta dorky and flat-out ugly. After the restyled Polaris Ranger dropped, it didn’t take long for the likes of Yamaha and particularly Can-Am to rethink their styling choices in this segment.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

For this model year, the Ranger is once again available with numerous powertrain choices and in a myriad of trims – not to mention several seating configurations. Shown here is the three-seat Ranger XP 1000 Premium, a machine sitting roughly smack dab in the middle of the Ranger lineup which currently stretches from a $16,369 Ranger 570 Base up to a $63,569 Ranger Crew XD 1500 Northstar Edition Ultimate that has space for six in an enclosed climate-controlled cabin.

Yes, it is quite possible to spend F-150 money on a side-by-side these days.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

Our test rig was very representative of machines to which real-world work customers tend to gravitate. Priced at $26,369, the single-row Ranger XP 1000 Premium promises space for a trio of buds whilst packing the sort of kit one needs on a jobsite: easy-to-use dump box, a wealth of practical and useful storage solutions, powerful engine, and more towing capacity than some road-going lightweight crossovers.

We’ll start under the hood, I mean under the box, where we find a four-stroke twin-cylinder engine displacing 999cc and making 82 horsepower. Modern tech like liquid cooling and fuel injection are expected and present in this segment these days, binning any notion of difficult operation or maintenance, even for newbie owners. Given its workhorse mandate, power is delivered like a yoke of oxen: steady and reliable. This isn’t a RZR, nor even a General, and it doesn’t pretend to be. The Ranger is designed for work and is tuned far more for grunt work more than high speed running. All the same, we did press it into triple-digit rips up rural dirt paths when appropriate, keeping (mostly) pace with faster machinery.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

The typical powertrain quirks of just about any vehicle in this class are present, such as a transmission which needs a goose of throttle before engaging the selected direction. This is a trait of most continuously variable belt transmissions in these rigs and a world away from the instant engagement of a road-going automobile. Those new to powersports ownership may take a minute to acclimate having to poke the go pedal after engaging drive or reverse, especially if they’re just trying to creep around a garage or navigate around an obstacle. Pro tip – two foot the thing and leave yer left gam on the brake until the selected gear engages; this will avoid a sudden and often unwanted jolt of movement.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

Hewing to its lot in life on jobsites, the Ranger’s cargo box can be tilted skyward to unload gravel or inattentive farmhands. There are release handles on both sides, saving a walk around the thing if backed into the tight quarters of a cow shed, and the hydraulics make for easy one-handed use. This is helpful if trying to simultaneously wrangle an unruly Welsh Pony that’s hungry for lunch. Absent that strangely specific example, the dump box also gives unexpected benefit of providing unencumbered access to the engine area for servicing and inspections. An automotive-style handle resides on the drop tailgate in yet another nod to how close these things are getting to road-going machines.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

Its box dimensions of roughly three feet by five feet may be encumbered by up to 1,000 pounds of payload, whilst its standard 2-inch towing hitch can haul a maximum of 2,500 pounds. It’s worth doing the math, as this ute’s overall payload capacity is 1,500 pounds – meaning maxing out both box and towing capacity leaves just 250 pounds for passengers. Still, that’s enough for one well-fed good ol’ boy (or girl) to drive this Ranger fully loaded and get the job done.

A total of 13 inches ground clearance outstrips just about any road-going pickup truck or SUV on sale today, explaining why so many companies in the oil patch or farming industry choose these things for work instead of a Wrangler or small pickup truck despite its similar price point on the second-hand market. Without sideview mirrors, its 62.5-inch width is just fine for navigating most trails and an overall length of ten feet means it can be poked into the corner of a barn without consuming too much real estate.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

This trim means the cabin is more spartan than some, leaving occupants open to the elements but featuring gear such as let-them-eat-cake seats and logical controls, particularly the shifter which is up and out of the way. Grab handles are present where you need ‘em, though Can-Am does a better job creating covered storage spaces in its dashboard. Here, we find dual gloveboxes, one of which is weather resistant, ample cupholders, and cheap but effective bins under the dash at ankle level. The passenger seat flips up to reveal an ingenious spot which can be used as an upright armory during hunting season but also has grooves in the floor to help secure a five-gallon bucket. There is also hidden storage space under the driver seat.

2023 Polaris Ranger XP 1000 Premium

That 62.5-inch width which makes the Ranger XP 1000 conveniently sized on the trails means its single-row of seats can house three people in a pinch but don’t expect it to accommodate a trio of Large Humans for very long. On longer journeys, our middle passenger would complain bitterly about the shape of the hard plastic centre stack and its ability to bash knees. The netting which serves as doors is fine for what it is, though the oft-used plastic clips eventually gave up the ghost and were replaced with field expedient zip ties.

Buying advice? Ensure your Ranger is fitted with a roof and, for the love of all that’s holy, spring for a composite windshield. For the sake of around $700 it’ll make runs a lot more comfortable, keeping cold rain off the driver’s hands and forestalling hypothermia at least until you get back to the cabin and find there’s no wood for a fire (another strangely specific example).

With all those attributes in the bank, the Polaris Ranger XP 1000 proves these machines don’t have to look like a mule to work like one.

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