In a previous post I discussed our purchase of a utility vehicle, and the many benefits of a UTV over the 4-wheeler I was previously using. In that post I briefly touched on the process of narrowing down the choices to the Kubota RTV500, but didn't go into any great detail. In this post I will discuss the factors that led us to choose the RTV500 over the other offerings.
Once I started looking at UTVs I quickly realized that, for the most part, they could be divided into two classes: those designed for trail riding and those designed for work. Of course nearly all models offer both trail riding and working capabilities, and some are a compromise of the two functions. I knew that what we needed was a machine that we could work. Since I planned to keep the 4-wheeler, I could always use it for trail riding. In hindsight, I'm very satisfied with my decision to focus on the more work-oriented machines, as I would guess that less than 10% of the hours on the RTV have been from trail riding.
Even though I wasn't looking for a trail riding machine, I didn't automatically rule out the models available from ATV manufacturers. I visited Honda, Yamaha, Kawaski, and Polaris dealerships to look at the available options. I've long been a loyal Honda ATV user, going all the way back to the days of 3-wheelers. I wanted to give the Honda Big Red a fair chance, but once I saw one in person I know it was too big for my needs. The woods around here are tight, and even the old logging roads do not have much extra room. I wanted something fairly small, and the Big Red just didn't fit that description. The price tag was also a bit more than I was hoping to spend.
Next on my list was the Yamaha Rhino. At least in this area, the Rhino is the side by side. Many people think of them all as Rhinos, regardless of the make or model. Based on my research and what I saw of the machine in person, the Rhino is much more of a trail riding machine. I'm not suggesting that it can't be worked, but it is designed for the trails. Also, like the Big Red, the price was a little more than I wanted to spend. The Yamaha dealer also carried Polaris, so I looked at those while I was there. The dealer tried to steer me in the direction of a Ranger, which I had read some positive information on. One of the big factors that I disliked about the Ranger was the CVT transmission, which many of the other machines have as well. I have heard from enough people who have had problems from belt driven vehicles for it to worry me a bit. Many people report years of trouble free use from CVTs, but I just didn't want to risk it. I wanted a machine that would take a beating, with minimal repairs, and didn't like the idea of having to replace belts, even if only every couple of years.
The Kawasaki Mule was the only machine offered by a ATV manufacturer that we seriously considered. Kawasaki also makes the Teryx, which is purely for trail riding, but the Mule is known as a serious work horse. They have been around for years, and I'm told that they are built like a tank and just keep going. The Mule 610 4x4 is also one of the cheapest options, which made it attractive. There were some things we really liked about the Mule, but I wasn't crazy about how it felt when we sat in it. It has a fairly small engine as well, which concerned me since I wanted to be able to drag logs with it, etc. Still, based on the reputation of the machines, it made it into my top 5 list.
After looking at the machines made by ATV manufacturers I started looking at those made by the tractor manufacturers. It seems that most of the major manufactures make a UTV now, so there were many options. I focused on those with local dealers (meaning within 30-40 miles), so limited my search to Kubota, Cub Cadet, New Holland and John Deere. I actually didn't look at the New Holland very seriously, as it seemed to be out of our price range.
The John Deere Gator has a reputation as good as, if not better than, the Kawasaki Mule, so I knew a JD would be something to strongly consider. I was surprised to see how many options John Deere offers in the UTV world. There is the XUV, the HPX, and many Gator models to choose from. The HPX seemed like the best fit for our needs. We found, though, that it was not comfortable for us. Although in hind sight, this may have been primarily due to the bucket seats, and I now realize that bench seats are available. I made the mistake of assuming that since every one we saw had bucket seats, it was the only option. They did have a used 2-wheel drive Gator at the dealership we visited, and we briefly considered taking it for a test drive. Had it been 4-wheel drive, we very likely would have. The price was less than half of what we were looking at for a new model, but the lack of 4-wheel drive was a deal breaker for me.
As I mentioned in the previous article, the Cub Cadet Volunteer 4x4 is the machine that we came very close to buying. I really liked the Volunteer when I first saw it. I test drove it multiple times, and the only complaint I had from the test drive is that it was a bit uncomfortable for my left leg, as there didn't seem to be a good place to put my left foot. The way the cab is made, there is a piece of metal that comes down from the dash to the floor there, which made it cramped. The salesman at the dealership did move the seat back for me, which helped a bit, but even to this day I wonder if I would have regretted buying the Volunteer for this reason.
I read every review I could find on the Volunteer, and watched every video you YouTube. There seems to be remarkably little information available, as it just isn't as popular as many of the other UTVs. Some of the things that were in the plus column for the Volunteer were the larger engine, larger bed, and the lower price tag (compared to the RTV500), although the price comparison was misleading as I was looking at the carbureted model, not the EFI. I believe the price difference was around $500. I liked the doors on the Volunteer, especially since I knew Luke would be riding with me and I didn't want to have to worry about him falling out. In hindsight, I realize I probably would have ended up taking the doors off, though, since I tend to be in and out a lot when doing certain tasks.
The negatives for the Volunteer included the fact that it was not EFI (Andrea worried about the difficulty with starting it in the cold), the larger size, the increased weight, and concerns about reliability. The lack of information available online from owners was a concern. I did find a few people who owned them, but it was far less than the information I could find on the RTV500. Also, the available information was very mixed as to whether the Volunteer was actually made by Cub Cadet, or by MTD. During my research I saw that Cub Cadet had a very good reputation at one point, but the reputation had suffered as many of the lower end models began being by MTD instead of Cub Cadet. It seems that the larger tractors may still be made by Cub Cadet, but I wasn't able to find information specific to the Volunteer. I did manage to find a recall notice for the Volunteer that had the MTD name, which made me worry that it was MTD produced. Ultimately, I'd glad that I chose to go with Kubota, as I have zero doubts about the reliability of Kubota products. When spending several thousand dollars on a piece of equipment, piece of mind is a very important factor.
Even though we chose to buy the RTV500, it wasn't the only Kubota model that we considered. The RTV900 was a possibility, and it appears to be the most popular model in the RTV lineup. At the time, I considered the larger size of the 900, the fact that it was diesel instead of gasoline, and the increased price as major draw backs. Looking back, however, I'm not entirely sure that I made the right decision. There are times when the extra power of the 900 would be very welcome. The 500 will run out of power when trying to pull large logs or trying to pull up some small trees. If I were making the purchase today I have a feeling that I might very well buy the 900, which means I would also look at some of the John Deer models more closely since they are in a similar price range. Just looking over the specs of the new RTV900XT makes me wish we could justify owning two RTVs.
Even though I sometimes wish I had bought a 900, I'm very happy with the RTV500. It is, without doubt, the best purchase we've made since moving here. I can't say enough about how useful it has been. When we bought the RTV, it was a base model, with no accessories. Since then I've added a 3,000 lb winch, a rear view mirror, and the long-handled tool carrier that I just finished. I would like to come up with some sort of tray to fit under the hood for hauling gloves, a trailer hitch, etc. I would also like to eventually construct some bed rails that could be fit into the square tubing at the corners of the bed to extend the bed height. Usually the bed is big enough, but when hauling light material, such as mulch or straw, it could be nice to extend it a couple feet so I could pile more material on without it falling into the cab.
Aside from accessories, I've done minimal maintenance. I did have to let some air out of the tires, as they were filled well beyond the suggested pressure. I wish I had figured that out sooner, as I was having some serious traction problems in mud, which are pretty much resolved now that I'm running the suggested PSI. I still sometimes considering dropping the pressure down a bit more to improve traction a little more. I've also done the 50 hour maintenance, with the help of my Dad. I'm not sure how much Kubota charges, but based on the cost of materials I wouldn't be surprised for it to cost close to $300. The oil and filters cost me around $120, if I remember correctly, with the bulk of that being the hydraulic oil for the hydrostat transmission. While doing the maintenance we did make an adjustment to the transmission, which does seem to have given me a little extra low-end power.
Now that I've had the RTV for more than a year, I'd like to check out some of the other models I previously looked at to see how they compare now. The only thing I've really looked at recently are those cheap UTVs sold by farm stores, and the difference is significant. After getting use to the build of the RTV, I can't imagine buying one of those cheap built machines. Maybe I'll drop by the Cub Cadet dealer one day and see how the Volunteer feels now that I have so much experience with the RTV. My guess is that I'll be very satisfied with choosing the RTV over the Volunteer.