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2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i Review

2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i Review

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Table of Content

I have come across them quite often through the years and they’re always hard at work. So much so that people tend to not even notice them all that much. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that we are surrounded by these green and yellow oddly shaped mechanical contraptions. I go to the local hardware store, a Deere, golf course, a Deere, even to the grocery store the other day, where I got a peek at one of them in the back of the store carrying a huge load of pumpkins. A Deere at the races on the weekends, pulling a kart packed with huge slick racing tires, cutting grass, carrying personnel, pulling a giant rake, loaded up in exaggeration, they are simply everywhere and they never seem to complain about being overused and abused. Of course, we are not talking about the cute animal here, or else this would clearly be a case of animal cruelty. No, we are talking about John Deere utility vehicles. Now feast your eyes on this particularly menacing and surprisingly sporty evolution of the Gator: the all-new 2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i.

John Deere is in its 25th year of manufacturing Utility Vehicles. In 2010 they celebrated their 500,000th Gator Utility vehicle sold. This year is the 20th Anniversary of the Gator brand. We are only making sure they get the recognition they deserve here. The very first off-road vehicle we today call UTV, or Side by Side, was not a Yamaha, like some of you might think. Yamaha’s Rhino did, however, popularize the recreational side of this type of vehicle a lot more, so much so that many still use the term ‘’Rhinos’’ to describe any and all of the Side by Side vehicles. All the while John Deere stuck to what they were best at and only manufactured Utility-driven machines. To see them venture into the realm of fun, with the recent addition of their XUV line, was a little surprising, but very much welcomed. This coming of a much sportier model like the 2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i, is way more significant to us; both unexpected and way too cool, if you will let me express myself in this boyish manner.

Truth is there is a very serious side to the fun factor these vehicles can provide. Not only can it directly influence a sale, but making these contraptions more recreational is what pushed them to a much higher performance level than was previously thought possible, which in turn, makes these much better also in a utility sense. Turning them into true trail-ready intense off-road recreational vehicles means more of everything; more power, more suspension, more safety features, all things that truly make a difference when you put them hard at work. Actually, more storage space, more towing capacity are all things the recreational type user will ask for also, so merging these two main objectives, namely the fact of being as fun as possible to ride, and working the hardest possible, is pushing this vehicle format to unforeseen heights in popularity. Simply put, now workers want more fun out of them and recreational riders want more utility capability. The customer wants, the customer gets: John Deere, like many other manufacturers, surveys its clients and uses that as a goal setter. From what they have discovered, more and more people are becoming outdoor enthusiasts and all of them ask mainly for the same things: more power, good terrain capability, safety, and of course, versatility. No other type of vehicle has ever been so good at bringing the best of both worlds to the customer.

So reliable are some of these odd-looking early green and yellow things, with only the ballooning of their tires serving as a suspension system, that you see the oldest ones, true ancestors of this newly flourishing so called Side by Side segment, still hard at work everywhere! Their toughness won’t need to even be discussed, but the welcomed features on this particularly fine model, worlds away in technology when compared to any of its predecessors, we are honored to share with you here.

Many of these new features have nothing to do with past Gator models. Nice shiny wheels, is something I never thought we would see on a Deere! Let alone seeing them wrapped up with Maxxis Bighorn tires, which are surely among the best off-road tires we’ve ever rolled on. The 2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i comes in three forms: the basic model, Sport and Trail. For our fun but serious conquering needs on the Hell’s Revenge trail near Moab, we were given the privilege of driving Sport models, which come with more importantly Fox 2.0 Performance Series Shocks. The Sport really looks best, enough to encourage people to wear matching green and yellow John Deere branded gear. Partly painted yellow alloy wheels come standard on the Sport model, as well as very comfortable sport seats. I would have liked the front part to be a bit higher though, to sort of help keep your bottom from sliding forward when braking hard or rolling down steep hills. I would have also liked the back to be a little less upright; I find it sort of takes away a lot of the sporty feel this vehicle is capable of. Then again, this position does favor focus and attention at all times on the driver’s part. I can see a lot of people with a lot of work planned preferring this type of seating which does make for easier getting in and out.

A few, in this large group of media representatives sat in the Gator RSX 850i Trail. I thought it was a good precaution, since those come standard with a 3000 lb. Warn winch. That version also gets the nice wheels but with some black instead of the yellow and the same Maxxis tires, superb sport steering wheel, seats and cargo box rails as the Sport model. After just the very first obstacle on our path, a huge almost mountain-sized rock, I figured we might not need winches after all. All the Gators were creeping up like there was a deer to catch and eat, over on the other side, in a confident, smooth and stealthy manner. The motor has a nice growl to it, but not one that projects too far out into the distance. The 4-cycle gasoline 839cc V-twin with 4 valves per cylinder, felt crisp and the 59.5 lb.-ft. of torque was palpable at the sole of your foot. The result of a partnership with the Piaggio Group and Transaxle Manufacturing of America, this 62 hp liquid-cooled engine features an exclusive electronically controlled engine oil cooler. This means overheating the engine is almost impossible. The EFI is also very advanced and closed loop system, meaning you have oxygen sensors in the exhaust that communicate with the ECM in regards to fuel delivery. In closed loop, when optimal running temperature is achieved, the O2 sensor information will be used along with the information from the Throttle Position Sensor and the Mass Air Flow meter to determine the injectors’ actions. Fuel injection generally increases engine fuel efficiency; less fuel is needed for the same power output. The vehicle also has great range. My unit only dropped one tiny square on the gauge, after smoothly riding the entire Hell’s Revenge loop; partly because the RSX has a large 7.4 gallon fuel tank. EFI also provides smoother and more dependable engine response during quick throttle play, more dependable engine starting, better operation at extremely high or low ambient temperatures and different altitudes, increased maintenance intervals, and increased fuel efficiency.

Known for their very strict standards, John Deere even worked in collaboration with Formula 1 and Nascar experts; studied the dynamics of many different high performance vehicles, to seek better off-road capability without compromising stability. I took it as my responsibility to be aggressive on the controls, just prior to attacking the menacingly named trail, on the searing hot Utah asphalt. Shoved it around even, with imperfect exaggerated moves on the steering, something no operator should ever do. Just like not wearing a helmet, and this was clearly stated by John Deere officials in all documentation for this vehicle, tags, warning stickers, etc… I give the RSX five stars in my bad driver test! The same goes for including automotive-style door as standard equipment. Its ability to keep all wheels to the ground was truly impressive for its size. The front suspension is a Dual, wide arch A-arm design and at the rear we find an exclusive multi-link semi-trailing arm that lets the wheels move rearward during compression, which significantly improves the ride. Both offer 23cm (9 in.) of travel. The RSX has solid front and rear anti-roll bars, which also do wonders for this vehicle. The FOX 2.0 Performance Series shocks with full spring and compression adjustability, standard on my RSX 850i Sport, did a great job too, of course. Exclusive aluminum body FOX monotube shocks with just the spring preload adjustability are standard on the Base and Trail models.

We also had enough of a little road to roll on, before reaching the starting point of our trail, to bring it to its top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph) which fits perfectly with the rest of this machine. The fun part is to reach 2/3’s of that speed in the first three seconds. That’s what I like to see on this type of machine; not too much top speed and great acceleration. This was a great time to test the twin-piston hydraulic brakes. Quite a bit of pressure was necessary to lock the wheels completely on the road and that turned into smoother braking on looser grounds. The whole area was actually like one big rock with a little bit of sand in some of its deep dimples and a whole lot of smaller edgy small fragments of it anxious to poke your tires. The Bighorn tire from Maxxis we knew to be a good choice for these unforgiving trail conditions, but we still knew it was important to pay close attention to what we rolled over. Some of those sharp edged rocks, no tire can survive rolling over.
I had never been challenged with such a steep grade to climb at a manufacturer’s media event. I feel the need to point out that this obstacle was part of Hell’s Revenge and marked with logos painted directly on the rock, so no loose soil to hinder grip, so no need for trajectory changes to look for more grip, and we all had the assurance that many others succeeded, from the deep black marks left on the surface of the rock by countless tires. There was nothing dangerous about the climb, as long as the driver remained calm and steady. Clearly, they wanted us to feel how firmly planted to the ground the vehicle remains despite the extreme angle.

They took time to stop and coach each of us, to make sure the 4WD knob was in diff-lock position, just slip it in low gear and give it a smooth but decisive press of the pedal for those first few feet. I admit feeling a bit weary when looking down the sides; trust me you don’t want to make a mistake here. Nor would you want the vehicle to stall or fail in any way. You just keep climbing and climbing, until anywhere you look is just deep void. The vertigo effect (even if I usually don’t get that) felt like it was squeezing in the vehicle into a very tight trail to slip through. Precision in front wheel placement was all of the sudden instinctively needed to calm me down. Concentrated on those blackened tracks, I was re-assured by the memory of the Deere guy mentioning that they had performed hundreds of systems tests here in some of Utah’s harshest regions. The RSX’s tight belt CVT, showed no sign of even a presence. It provided instant grip with just a tad of smoothness upon the first press of the pedal. Once engaged, it totally disappeared and I felt the engine was directly connected to my foot’s gentle modulations on the pedal. I was seriously impressed with the vehicles’ many qualities and had acquired most knowledge needed to highly recommend it, only minutes into our 2 days of fun in the sun, riding mountain tops that reveal views I wish I could wake up to every morning.

Coming back down the same giant rocks dinosaurs used to walk on, but in spots they dared not try to test the grip of their heavy paws, the Dynamic Engine Braking system took over control of the speed of the vehicle, in High it offered a fun pace that needed a few presses on the brake pedal before turns and in Low it settled to a high revving slow descent needing no brakes at all. I loved that the rear differential was locked full-time, which gives the driver even more control of how the rear end behaves.

The controls were easy to spot and use, I loved that big 4WD knob, all-alone right in the center of the console. Also nice to see all those precut switch holes, remember that all John Deere utility vehicles can become highly personalized right out of the factory and that their range of available accessories is huge. Over 70 aftermarket attachments are available. The digital instrument panel displayed very well in all light conditions. It has a system diagnostic light, engine oil pressure light, park brake light, seat belt indicator light, fuel level, and a 4WD indicator. The high-density polyethylene composite cargo box carries 8.9 cubic feet of storage space. It has a 400 pound payload capacity. The tailgate can be opened or removed and lifting a lever is all that is needed to get a good amount of assist to dump a full load. You also get access to 1.82 cubic feet of sealed storage space under the hood and in the glove box, with a little more storage in the center console and with cup holders. The seats tilt forward for ease of service. Finally the new Gator RSX850i is available in Realtree® Hardwoods™ HD Camo, olive and black or traditional John Deere green and yellow.

“The Gator takes a huge evolutionary step forward with the launch of the new Gator RSX850i,” said David Gigandet, Marketing Manager, Gator utility vehicles. “Gators have always been known for durability, utility and safety. The RSX maintains all these qualities at its core, but the incredible power, exhilarating speed and precision handling are what set it apart in our portfolio. It’s the Gator fully evolved.”

I think we can all agree that the coming of this sporty looking John Deere is meaningful. It indicates true love developing between humans and this awesome new type of trail riding device. Simply put, the demand for such versatile and fun vehicles is still exploding. John Deere engineers obviously had a talent for this sort of thing, but must have jumped for joy when getting this new mandate, to please this ever growing crowd of trail explorers. To think that this is just the beginning, of the John Deere Sport Side by Side! Simply the best-looking, smoothest riding, most powerful and capable John Deere ever seen!

With some tender loving care, a John Deere utility vehicle can serve you well for a lifetime and might even still be around to accommodate future generations following in your tire tracks. A bit more unexpected is its surprising performance when the going gets tough on the trail. Awesome stability, sufficient power to add control, and the same efficient torque generous feel we were already used to, for those long hot days of hauling stuff around. Long life to the 2013 John Deere Gator RSX 850i!

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Alain Assad

Alain Assad

Off-Road Powersports Journalist
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