Polaris Ranger shootout: 2WD vs 4WD in snow

March 10, 2013

Yesterday Tony brought his 2003 Ranger 500 to the farm and drove it around the trails in the woods I had established with my Massey Ferguson 35 and winch for hauling out logs. The wide body on full-sized Rangers may be a pain to fit onto a trailer, but the wheels fit nicely into a tractor track through deep snow. In anticipation of sugar making activities I had dragged the blade on the winch through the trails where the snow was very deep to provide ground clearance for the Rangers. Tony’s new to offroad driving so he wasn’t as impressed as I was by the 500′s ability to navigate sections that had stuck my 2004 2WD Ranger TM during the previous week.

Then we used the 500 to do something none of my toys could handle: move sugar-making equipment from the basement of the stone house up to the sugar shack. The 500 could move around in/on corn snow that had left the TM royally stuck. Just for the record, a standard 3/8″ dock line of the sort I use in summer is not strong enough to tow a Ranger when it won’t go any more on its own power. I stretched one past its breaking point twice with my Bolens 4WD tractor, then went with a prefab towing line out of yellow nylon which worked fine.

The first thing I tried with Tony’s Ranger was a slide down the hill. Why not? At full throttle off the top of the hill by the brick house we planed 600 feet down the slope until I could pick up a tractor trail back to the barn. Tony was a bit wide-eyed during the descent, but the machine worked fine in the granular snow.

After loading the gear in the deep corn around the south side of the house the 500 couldn’t back up the slope to get to the driveway, so I just booted it back down the hill and picked up the previous track across the field and up by the barn. It was an exhilarating ride for two guys, a dog, and a precious and fragile bit of kit, the boiling pan.

Eight 16 litre pails of water made another trip. Well, nine, but one didn’t have a lid, so Tony only filled it 2/3 full. Away we went. It was still more than half-full when we got to the shack. We didn’t get wet because of the rear windshield/stern cover. Pretty good ride with a partial load. Interestingly, with the extra 300 lb in the bed the 500 didn’t plane over the corn snow. The back wheels had to dig their way through. The 30 hp engine seems well suited to the chassis in tough going. I remained in high range throughout these adventures, of course, with the throttle pegged to the floorboards.

This week I plan to keep the 500 in the shed as a tow-truck and gather sap with the TM as long as it will do the job. If previous experience is any indicator, it will get through the syrup season just fine, floating over soggy turf which would bury heavier vehicles — even my little compact tractor, while carrying 14 pails of sap or up to nine volunteers per trip.

The TM is only 90% as capable as the 500, but its drivetrain is so simple I think it’s a better choice for multiple, inexperienced drivers.

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