You may wish to read parts two through eight of this review, also posted on this site.

Our EZ-Go has been an indispensable part of life on the farm now for two years.  It replaced a two cycle EZ-Go, a 1989 whose engine simply wore out.  Its predecessor was a Yamaha G1 rescued from a wrecking yard and resurrected with regular engine rebuilds.

What I learned from the series of carts is that 2 cycle golf cart engines have a life expectancy measured in hundreds of hours; four cycles run for thousands.

The EZ-Go has worked steadily for the last two weeks on the walnut harvest.  Each expedition would involve loading a large plastic tub onto the back compartment of the cart (where the golf bags go), and adding various pails as space provided.  Off I’d go, cheerfully picking my way over the familiar bumps on the road back to the walnut plantation.

A good morning’s picking would fill a twenty-gallon tub and a couple of five gallon pails.  Then would come a leisurely drive up the hill and back to the house.  The cart moved agilely along some rather rudimentary trails in the woodlot, its handiness greatly enhanced by a narrow track, short wheelbase, and rearward weight distribution.

The EZ-Go won’t carry a lot in its “trunk”, but the lift-over height of the back bumper is about fifteen inches.  Heavy stuff like rocks or a tub of walnuts can swing in there without much effort on the part of the labourer.

The EZ-Go’s two cylinder, 251 cc Subaru/Robin engine is the smoothest small gas engine I have seen.  It provides an ample nine horsepower and runs tirelessly.  Maintenance is very easy.

Then we come to the Polaris Ranger TM, a new addition to the farm.  It was too big for my 5X8 trailer.  This caused some consternation, but the dealer lent me a 6X12 for the delivery.  Something that almost broke the deal was the requirement that one remove six screws and a plastic plate in order to check the engine oil!  Polaris got rid of this abomination the next year, but it might account for why this brand new 2004 was still on the lot.

Like the EZ-Go, the Ranger has a Subaru/Robin engine, a selling point for me.  This one is a big, rumbling V2, shaped like a Harley’s.  The 653 cubic centimeters only produce 18 hp, so it’s not working very hard.  The other two wheel drive Ranger, the 2X4, digs 40 hp out of a 500cc single, but that model costs a lot more.  I read an online review which suggested that the larger engine is detuned in order that the top speed be kept under the 25 mph ceiling for low speed vehicles in the U.S.A.

Anyway, to get to the driving impressions of the new toy:  from the first trip across a meadow we all realized that the Polaris is a clear winner in the ride category.  The downside of life with the EZ-Go has always been its savagely harsh ride off-road.  Do the math:  the same back springs go into this 700 pound, gas engined machine as go into a four passenger, electric cart which weighs close to twice that amount.

On the other hand, the Polaris has adjustable back shocks to dial in ride stiffness.  In full soft mode for the test drive, the thing floated majestically over the rough fields, even when I used a burst of speed to encourage the neighbour’s cow to return home.  There is simply no comparison between the two in the ride department.  The Polaris seats three adults side-by-side on its tall bench seat.  My elderly mother quibbled a bit about its height because her feet didn’t touch the floor, but insisted that the ride was still comfortable for her while she drove.

As far as cargo hauling is concerned, the EZ-Go handles one large tub of walnuts, with perhaps a five gallon pail or two on the cockpit floor in front of the passenger seat.  That’s a lot of nuts, but the Ranger easily holds four tubs and a bunch of pails in its dump box.  The liftover height is a killer, though.  It’s too high for heavy items.  From now on I’ll set tubs of walnuts into the box with the loader or else tow them on a trailer.  The golf cart wins hands down in the ease of shuffling aboard a heavy object.  Another cargo advantage which goes to the EZ-Go is capacity to handle long objects.  I learned last winter that the easiest way to bring a few 16′ boards to the planer is to slide them through the cockpit of the cart from front to back.  They balance harmlessly on the dash coping and the rear sweater rack.  This trick has proven a real work-saver.

The other thing the EZ-Go is unsurpassed at is sanding an icy driveway.  In the fall I fill a few large plastic tubs with salted sand.  Under normal circumstances I carry two tubs in the loader of the tractor when sanding is needed, but if it is too icy to walk, getting on and off the tractor safely becomes a problem.  I have learned that one tub on the back of the cart is much more manageable than the tractor.  Getting on and off the cart is safe because of the handholds provided by the top, and the EZ-Go’s traction is more than adequate for use as a sanding vehicle.  The “trunk” is all plastic and I don’t think it has suffered at all from occasional sanding forays.

The Ranger’s plastic dump box isn’t pretty, but it seems well enough designed, apart from the liftover height.  Things don’t seem to fall out of it on a rough trail, it dumps easily, and of course it holds a great deal of whatever one sees fit to pile into it.

The Polaris handles the narrow golf cart trails quite well when you consider that it is 16″ wider than the EZ-Go.  Two wheel drive isn’t a problem at this time of year, though the differential lock is handy when the drive wheel spins on a rock or stump.  Both machines are good in the woods, as long as trails are halfway civilized.

Even with a roof in place, a golf cart is very easy to tow behind a mid-sized vehicle.  It feels as if it belongs back there.  The Polaris on the borrowed 6X12 trailer nearly stalled my four cylinder pickup truck until I figured out that the mesh grate below the Ranger’s roll bar was sucking power away.  I removed the grate at first opportunity, and then it towed well, though the extra weight and the roughness of the larger trailer were obvious.

As far as costs go, a good golf cart can still be found for around $3000, and all it needs is fuel.  Overhead is delightfully low on a golf cart.  The Ranger costs almost double that, requires $250 for liability insurance or about $450 annually for all perils coverage.  The license is a one-time $35 charge.

So why did I buy the Ranger?  It handles much heavier loads than a golf cart, the ride is terrific, and it can be used as a miniature truck.  When time for spraying comes, the equipment will likely mount on the Ranger.  While I still think an old tractor and trailer is the best rig for hauling out firewood, I can see the Ranger taking a larger role as I get too old to climb nimbly onto a tractor seat.  Certainly it will come in handy in the future for moving fuel from woodpile to boiler in my shop.  The Polaris Ranger TM is a long term investment, but I would probably have stuck with the golf cart if not for the bone-crunching ride over rough terrain.

Update: September 22, 2008

Today I ordered a portable garage to shelter the Ranger from the elements. It’s too much work scraping the frost off that seat in the morning, and it’s better to have the box dry for tools than to have to muck around the accumulated wet leaves to find something. On another level, the Ranger gives every indication of being around the farm for a very long time, so I might as well protect it from the UV. It’s finding its niche nicely, though I do a good deal more walking than I used to when served by a golf cart, most of the trips arising from a reluctance to sit on a cold, wet seat in the morning. The golf cart’s roof really did make a difference.

I almost forgot: the Ranger’s box makes a handy workbench. It’s a good height for that, at least. If I slide scraps of wood into the slots for racks (2003-4 only) they keep boards from sliding backward off the box when I balance a load across the back, though I need a wide, treeless lane when moving long stock to the planer.