— Secret new stuff being developed & tested —
By Joe Kosch
For me and many UTV enthusiasts, seeing a new UTV model for the first time brings a rare kind of excitement. When you think about it, UTVs deliver a lot to your senses. They can be great to look at, and they deliver all kinds of speed and adventure to enjoy, as well as memorable times with friends and family. You can also experience a lot of pain, loss and humiliation if all your friends’ UTVs are better than yours, but that’s a different story. Most UTVs are also great examples of engineering. I can’t help but wonder about the many choices that bring a vehicle from someone’s basic concept to the complete, drivable vehicle we get to enjoy. Every detail of a machine’s styling, performance and construction involves decisions and creativity. Sometimes, the results of those decisions make me wonder, “How did they think of that?!” Other times I find myself asking, “What were they thinking!?”
Recently, I was allowed inside the Polaris Wyoming product development center, a sort of dream factory where many of the decisions that bring the concepts for new Polaris UTVs like the new Ranger 1000 and the RZR Pro XP to reality. As you’d expect, the development center is a highly secretive place. Even the name and location of the facility were chosen with security in mind. As a deterrent to spies, the Polaris Wyoming product development center is in Minnesota, not Wyoming. Of course, no photos were allowed, so I only took video, which I surrendered to Polaris in exchange for a lifetime supply of UTVs, a generous salary and comfortable waterfront homes in Malibu, Martha’s Vineyard and on Lake Minnetonka.
The development center is a modern, state-of-the-art place where difficult engineering questions are answered, and it is eye-opening to see how those answers are found. Engines, with their complete intake and exhaust systems in place, can be left to run for days on end in automated test cells to provide performance and reliability data. Suspension- and chassis-testing robots cycle suspensions through terrain programs mapped by data-acquisition-equipped vehicles test drivers have taken through riding conditions in every part of the country. A vehicle can be run continuously in the west’s most brutal whoops and the east’s tightest, roughest trails without ever leaving the test stand. In the cold-temperature cell where engine cold-start performance and cold-temperature durability of body parts and interior materials are tested, temperatures can be reduced to the point where even people from Minnesota can’t stand it, or to 55 degrees, the lowest known temperature California UTVers will drive in. There’s also an anechoic chamber, an insulated, sound-absorbing room where the sounds from engines, suspensions, and other parts can be isolated and measured. Equipment and fabrication facilities for part prototyping provide a steady stream of updated parts for testing. Just outside the development center’s buildings are test tracks where engineers and test drivers hammer endless laps, claiming to be “testing.”
The only thing more astounding than Polaris’ product development center’s testing facilities is the fact that every major UTV manufacturer has to have similar technology to compete in today’s sophisticated, fast-paced UTV market—and even with all this stuff, no manufacturer has produced a perfect UTV.