John Deere Gator RSX850i. John Deere recently entered the sport UTV Market with the all new Gator RSX 850i. Years of successful sales with the utilitarian, yet trail capable Gator 825i has led to the development of this whole new species of Gator. Many don’t know it, but John Deere actually started the UTV movement with 3 and 5 wheeled (AMT) All Materials Transport vehicles back in 1987. The AMT was followed by their first side by side seated Gator UV in “92”. John Deere has steadily built a reputation on durability, utility, and safety. With promises of advanced level power, higher top speed, and precision handling, we couldn’t wait for the chance to test out this new machine.
The media’s first introduction to the all new sport Gator RSX850i was in Moab, UT this summer. I was especially excited to see the finished project, as I had actually already experienced the pre-production model in 2011 while working on their TV commercial. The machine had some pretty cool features in 2011 and they were still finishing up the details before public release.
What is The Gator RSX?
The Gator RSX850i is a two seat sport UTV, designed to do it all. While extremely capable on any trail, it’s not limited to sport use, as it has a fully functioning 8.9 cubic foot dump bed with a 400 lb. payload. Whether you’re working the farm during the week, camping in the back country, or thrashing through the desert, the RSX850i can do it all. John Deere collaborated with Fox Shocks and design and engineering consultants from Nascar and Formula One, looking for a platform that would be stable and comfortable at speed, corner well, and still deliver the payload they were looking for.
The 850 engine is new to John Deere, yet has been proven in the motorcycle world. The 839cc V-twin motorcycle engine produces 62 HP and pushes the RSX to a top speed of 53 mph. A highly advanced, closed loop EFI system provides easy starting, idling, and throttle response. The EFI and electronic controls are designed to also provide top notch performance at altitude and in cold weather.
The new sport inspired Gator RSX is available in three different factory equipped models. The BASE RSX comes with non-reservoir Fox shocks, 12 inch steel wheels, and basic seats. Yet, it can be factory customized to taste, with over 70 available factory options. The TRAIL Model is developed for hunting, fishing, and exploring deep into the back country. Comfortable, bolstered sport seats, alloy wheels with Bighorn tires, a Warn winch, brush guard, and a 2 inch front receiver hitch with recovery loops make the Trail version one of the most well equipped trail vehicles you will find. The SPORT model was designed for abusive terrain such as the rocky, sandy deserts, and comes with sport seats, alloy wheels with Bighorn tires, a pre runner bumper, sport steering wheel and top of the line FOX 2.0 Performance Shocks with adjustable compression reservoirs.
Moab is an amazing area to test UTV’s. Known for its famous slick rock trails, one might think it would be limited to rock crawling, but this couldn’t be further from the truth as the Moab area terrain is incredibly diverse. Our first day was spent about 20 minutes out of town in what I would describe as super scenic, high desert terrain. It was complete with fast sand washes, dirt roads, long whoop sections, and rocky/shaley hill climbs. Day two would have us experiencing the typical Moab slick rock trails, and testing the Gator RSX’s rock crawling abilities.
The first thing you notice about the new RSX is the sound. At idle, the engine is slightly louder than most other stock UTV’s on the market. Under acceleration, the v-twin engine provides an exhaust note that really lets you know that you’re not driving a farm tractor anymore. In the cab, some of the more utilitarian type drivers might find it a little on the loud side, but the performance enthusiasts in us couldn’t hold back the smile, every time it throttled up.
The most impressive thing about driving the new Gator RSX is the handling. It literally corners like it’s on rails. The RSX’s unique suspension design and dual sway bars allow minimal body roll and little to no push in the corners. With proper technique, the RSX can be thrown into a corner at any speed and will barely lift a tire. It is incredibly stable and predictable. At ultra slow speeds, the suspension feels a little rigid, but when pushed even the slightest bit, it performs very well. The suspension is really impressive when you consider that it only has 9 inches of travel. In the whoops, it is definitely not a RZR XP, but it will hammer through the whoops as well or better than any other machine in its class. Extremely deep whoops or g-outs can reach the suspension limits and bottom the shocks. Even under extreme abuse, the Gator RSX remained pretty straight and manageable. The sport version, with FOX 2.0’s was even more impressive in the rough, and allowed for more aggressive users to dial in compression to their liking.
The RSX also excelled in rocky, loose terrain, where traction is limited. Maxxis Bighorn tires have proven to be the tire of choice, when looking for traction and they are super durable as well. We pounded the RSX through multiple, high speed laps through the rocky terrain and the machine proves to be as tough as the tires. Day two on the slick rock trails, the Gator found traction everywhere. Two wheel drive would have made it through our entire guided trail ride, but why struggle when the easy access 4WD system will conquer anything you put in front of it with ease. 4WD is accessed by merely turning a dash mounted knob. 4WD will even engage at a moderate speed, and you can get a true differential lock by slowing down and turning the knob one more click. Differential lock on the RSX is a fully locked front end, and can conquer nearly anything you put in front of it. Without power steering, you should limit Diff Lock to slow climbs or getting out of a sticky situation as steering requires quite a bit more effort.
Moab in the summer did not offer much opportunity for testing the Gator’s mud prowess, but we were recently able to take our test unit out in the sloppy stuff. The Bighorn’s pattern is self cleaning and traction is impressive, even in really slippery clay. The floorboards and door system provide good protection for the driver’s legs and feet during minor water crossings, but we couldn’t stop there. On a late night (really cold) excursion, we managed to get the completely stock RSX submerged in nearly three feet of mucky water. With the water running through at knee level while seated, using diff lock, we were able to rock the RSX back and forth out of the creek and it’s nearly vertical edge line. While it took a few very cold minutes to get out, the engine never as much as coughed from water ingestion and the RSX needed nothing more than a bath in the morning.
What Could Be Better?
As we mentioned before, in-cab noise might be a little on the loud side for some, but others will brag about it. The other thing that could use some improvement is the brakes. The brakes are sufficient and will stop or slow the machine when needed, but they just aren’t impressive. To me, one of the most impressive things about nearly all other UTV’s has been the brakes. Many other machines such as the RZR, Teryx and even the Rhino have excellent feel and stopping power. They feel like you could stop on a dime, and at a moments notice, and the Gator does not exhibit this brake feel. The pedal requires more force than we would like, and the pedal feel just isn’t there. Aggressive driving on Moab’s rocky terrain required occasional quick braking, and the RSX brakes got the job done every time; they just weren’t as impressive as we’ve come to expect.
John Deere was looking to jump head first into the sport UTV market, and with the new RSX850i, that is exactly what they have done. The RSX is not a RZR XP, Wildcat, or Maverick… but it will be a strong competitor, if not dominate the more utilitarian/sport crossover UTV lineup. The new Gator is without a doubt one of the most stable, planted UTV’s available, and it turns incredibly well. We can’t wait to see what the aftermarket will come up with for it. Two days of abusing it in Moab’s incredibly abusive terrain didn’t phase it, and that speaks handfuls to its reliability. The Gator RSX850i will fit the needs of anyone looking for a single machine that has the bed space and payload for serious work, yet handles well enough that you will want to recreate in it on the weekends. The RSX850i is going to be great for the hunting, fishing, and camping crowd as well. Give one a try, you won’t be disappointed.