John Deere RSX850i – The Test Ride     

Words & Photos by Joey DiGiovanni was lucky to have been able to lay eyes on the new John Deere RSX850i early in the year due to a race project we were working on.  Right away we knew John Deere was taking the sport SXS market very seriously and it was with great excitement that we were able to have our hands on this machine long before the industry would have their opportunity to see it.  Unfortunately for us we were not allowed to go out and play with the new RSX as it was to be used strictly for R&D of race products that we would use for our program.  So the down side to being privy to the machine long before other media outlets was that we had to sit there and stare at the machine not knowing how it would do in the wild!

Fast forward to early July and we found ourselves being taken deep into the canyon’s of Utah to the Sorrel River Ranch located just outside of Moab, UT.  Here is where John Deere would unveil their machine to the waiting crowd of media journalists, photographers, and a few select others.  It would be here where we would get out first chance to not only see the production units in all their glory but also get to finally get behind the wheel, buckle up and take them for a ride.  After a welcoming evening of dinner, drinks, and schmoozing we hauled our excited bodies off to bed eagerly anticipating the next days ride.  As I lay in bed pondering the travel day and thinking of the tasks we had as a media outlet I couldn’t help but take in the moment and think about how awesome it was to be staying in what was surely an expensive cabin style room that normally I would never be able to stay at and in one of the most amazing areas of the United States.

Sorrel River Ranch is a ranch style resort located a short drive outside of the town of Moab, UT.  The ranch is placed perfectly along the banks of the famous Colorado River and is encased by the amazing red rock mesas that Moab is famous for.  Sorrel River Ranch is hands down in the top 5 places I have ever stayed at and once again as I walked around the property I found myself wishing I had my family along with me to experience this beautiful and scenic facility. The ranch is themed perfectly for a resort placed in this part of the country.  Its rustic furniture and western themed décor really make you feel like you are in the old west.  The distinct smell of wood and the sound of running water really give you a sense of peace and tranquility as you sit and look at the sun setting and or rising over the majestic red rock mesas.  Even if we didn’t get to ride at all, I would have been happy just to be able to see and stay at this magnificent resort.  I highly recommend it!

Waking up the morning of the ride gave me the feeling of excitement that I get every time I am able to go on an adventure.  After mowing down a fantastic breakfast while sitting on the patio of the main building along the rivers edge we loaded our gear onto the busses that would take us to the ride site.  Our destination for the day would be 7 Mile Rim, a trail that has a good combination of rally roads, loose rock obstacles, and slick rock trails.  While 7 Mile Rim isn’t one of my favored trails when visiting Moab it still is better than a stick in the eye and when comparing it to other places in the world its pretty darn cool!  Upon arriving to the trailhead we were welcomed by a full staff of John Deere employees and a lineup of over 40 brand new RSX850i’s.  John Deere spared no expense and made sure we all had a machine to drive and its always funny to me, but one thing I notice at these events is the minute we get off the buses we (the media attendees) always seem to run to pick out the machines we want to shoot and drive first!  So as expected, we exit the bus and we all start to eyeball our machines.  After a brief orientation as to the days ride schedule we load into our machines are led out onto the trails of 7 Mile Rim.

Upon loading our gear into the machine I noticed that I really liked all of the tie-down access points in the bed.  The cargo box style dump bed which is made of composite allows for a lot of room and has a capacity of up to 400lbs should you want to strap in a cooler, some chairs, gear, etc. In our case it was a lot of camera equipment so having tie down points that are easy to access as we need to get into our gear over and over was a huge plus.  Under the hood there is a large dry storage area as well that you could easily put a small backpack in or soft cooler.  I could see myself stuffing it with tools and safety equipment.  More storage is located in the passenger side glove box. Our units were all factory equipped with molded plastic roofs made for the RSX850i.  These roofs were a must to help keep the hot summer sun off of us as we traversed the trails of Moab.

Getting into the RSX850i was easy due to the nicely designed factory doors.  The doors not only tie in well with the lines of the machine but also work well.  I did notice I hit my arm a few times on the doors when riding; I would probably put some sort of padding on them for my own personal unit.  Starting the RSX is very standard however the 2wd/4wd/4wd locked selector was on a knob vs. a rocker switch that to me felt kind of cheap, nevertheless it worked well and did what it was supposed to do when it was supposed to do it.  Gear selection wasn’t as good as it could be.  It felt odd having to push all the way down for LOW then pulling it up one notch for HIGH.  Going from Neutral or Reverse to HIGH at times was difficult as it seemed to not engage and would stay in-between gears. It seems this could be fixed with a better gear selector / shifter set up.  However once used to the way it worked it was fine and didn’t give us any problems and in defense of the RSX we have driven many UTV’s that have a hard time shifting in and out of gear.

Now we were ready to go, I had familiarized myself with the controls, the Go-Pro cameras were rolling and we were all set to kick up dust.  I started in 2wd – HIGH and stomped the throttle.  The 839cc Piaggio V-Twin engine came alive and all 62 ponies were revved up.  The machine felt stable when cornering and one thing we all noticed was the “on-rails” feeling the RSX had when trying to slide a turn.  4wd made the car stick even more and we soon realized that trying to get the RSX850i out of shape even for a photo op was a challenge.  This is a good thing for those of us who like to ride hard but a bit of a buzz kill for me personally since I like to swing the back end around any chance I get. However this handling characteristic would not cause me to give a negative point to the RSX, it just made me seem more responsible then I usually want to be!  (hahaha) The rear differential is always locked while the front is selectable limited slip and full locking. When put into full lock you can really feel the front tires pulling, as you should when in this mode.  When put into LOW gear you feel it even more.  We had NO problems when trying to climb Moab’s slick rock trails.  Gearing felt really good, in HIGH we topped out at 53mph, LOW around 30mph.  Reverse has a limit of 15mph, which only bums you out if you are a stunt driver or a lunatic.  Braking on the RSX is an area that could be improved upon in future models.  While we all agreed that it looked to have the calipers and rotors needed to make a good system it seemed that maybe the master cylinder just wasn’t set right or that the peddle needed adjustment.  When you really stomped the brake pedal the brakes did respond well but you did have to really jump on the binders to make it stop.  Trying to hold the car on a hill would wear you out but with the help of the floor pedal applied E-Brake you would be just fine.

Suspension on the RSX850i was very impressive.  While reading the numbers on paper may not impress you the 9” of front and rear travel do really work well.  Motion ratios seem to be really good in that the factory supplied FOX Shocks stand virtually strait up and down allowing them to work optimally.  The Sport model comes supplied with fully adjustable FOX 2.0 shocks that work like a dream and when adjusted for your personal riding style the sky is the limit.  Despite launching off of the rock shelves and hammering through some decent sized whoops the stock suspension seemed very agile and smooth.  The RSX was a pleasure to drive in all of the terrain we took on that day and we can only imagine how fun it would be with a proper aftermarket long travel kit!

After a long day of riding we retired back to the Sorrel River Ranch where we were treated to a traditional outdoor country style BBQ.  An open bar and feast fit for a king was served outdoors in an open lawn area on the ranch where you could practice your calf roping and / or play a game of horseshoes. Whipped from the hot sun and days riding I headed off to bed to pack up and get ready for our early morning departure from the ranch.  Day 3 kicked off much like day 2 with a riverside breakfast and bus ride to the trailhead, only this time we headed to the famed Moab trail called Hells Revenge.  Hells Revenge is the type of trail I think of when talking about Moab.  Its red “blue grooved” slick rock take you over some of the coolest rock trails you could ever imagine and it’s the perfect place to test a vehicles traction and get some good scenic photos in the process.  Speaking of traction we should mention that the Sport model RSX850i is equipped with 14” alloy wheels and 16” tall Maxxis Bighorn tires.  We all know how well the Bighorns work, and without a doubt they are the industry standard when talking tires.

Hells Revenge allowed us to get a good feel for the machine on solid rock and much like day 2 it was easy to see that the RSX has no problem when climbing the rocks.  The RSX850i has a respectable 10.3” of ground clearance and while we did slide that belly pan when going over some obstacles it never felt like it was too low.  However, if this is the type of riding you do on a regular basis then I would recommend a full skid protection system and maybe a taller tire or additional ride height cranked into the shocks.

The guys and I found a cool sandy berm to shoot some pictures at and it was here that I confirmed that the steering ratio could be a little better.  While lock to lock steering is really good, it feels as if you have to fight the wheel a bit when ripping around sharp turns or through switchback type trails. While it’s not a deal breaker by any means it’s definitely an area that could be improved upon.  Before heading back to the trail head for lunch and our departure to the airport we found a cool scenic area to snap some photos and have a few laughs.  Here is where we began to discuss the overall appearance of the machine and it was unanimous that the RSX850i was a winner in the appearance department.  It has a cool look to it, and it’s easy to envision the RSX850i with a cool cage, a long travel kit, a cool paint or graphics scheme and some customized accessories.  While many will always pigeon hole anything John Deere makes into the category of being a farm vehicle for those of us who have driven the RSX its easy to see that this is not your grandfathers John Deere.  I am confident in saying that the RSX850i is as sporty and nimble as the RZR 800 or Teryx 750 and I would not be surprised to see these machines flying through the deserts of California this desert season and beyond.

After a brief ride back to the trailhead we showered up (thanks to John Deere having portable showers brought in) and ate a quick lunch.  The John Deere staff graciously thanked us for attending and said goodbyes sending us on our way back to the airport.  After the journey home I found myself once again pondering life and the experience that just took place over the previous few days.  John Deere not only provided us another trip for the books but they also opened our eyes to the fact that they are here for real!  They aren’t just sticking their toes into the pool of the UTV industry but rather jumping in headfirst and bringing to the table a machine that holds its own amongst its competition and is a machine that they should be and are very proud of.  Don’t let the green and yellow fool you, this machine will hold its own, and let me be the first to say that I can’t wait to see what John Deere does next!


John Deere RSX850i Release Post

John Deere RSX850i Magnum Offroad WORCS Build

John Deere Official RSX850i Website

Sorrel River Ranch