The UTVUnderground 2021 Polaris Ranger XP1000 NorthStar Ultimate Shakedown
Hey guys it’s Josh with UTVUnderground and today we’re going to shake down this brand new 2021 Polaris Ranger XP1000 Northstar Ultimate edition. But before we do that – you guys know we’re big on history lessons so let’s dip back a few decades and talk about this flagship vehicle. Polaris built their first snowmobile in 1954, and they spent thirty years riding the snowmobile craze until ATV’s captured market growth and they produced the Trail Boss ATV in 1985. They built their first nearly 15 years later. The Ranger debuted in 1999 and it was a 6X6 with a top speed of 25mph. It was not the only Utility Vehicle on the market at that time, but Polaris had nearly fifty years of manufacturing experience and it showed.
By the Mid 2000’s the Ranger had evolved into a very capable machine with the addition of a dual a-arm rear suspension, electronic fuel injection, and the Lock & Ride accessory system. By 2009, dual a-arm suspension was added to the front of the vehicle and rider ergonomics were improved. Power and capability continued to improve as well with still larger powertrains introduced. And a mere four years later in 2013, the all new Ranger XP 900 was released with 10” of suspension travel, a ProStar 900 engine, and a host of ergonomic improvements and accessory options. But it’s really been the last four years that Ranger has evolved into the most advanced, powerful, and capable UTV on the planet. We’re talking major engineering improvements, major comfort and ride inspired upgrades, as well as things like 14” wheels, 29” tires, LED headlights…the Ranger is King right now and the NorthStar Ultimate edition is the cream of the crop. If Edgar Hetteen – one of the Polaris founders were still alive today he would be extremely proud of how far the team in Minnesota have taken this once humble hay hauler.
So that is how we got here – sixty seven years of innovation, testing, manufacturing excellence, and yes some bumps in the road. But if you walk into any Polaris dealership today you can still pick up a Ranger 150 for the kids, three two-seat models including the Ranger 500, 570, and Ranger EV. Three three seat models ranging from the 570 Full-Size to the Ranger 1000 and ground breaking Ranger XP 1000. There are four CREW size Ranger starting at the 570 level and going all the way up to the Crew XP 1000 level. And if that wasn’t enough there are FIVE, count them five special editions available in 3-Seat and Crew configurations making the total Ranger line something like 57, or maybe 80…! You get the idea. They have every price point, seat configuration, engine package and accessory package platform covered. So whether you’re looking for a low cost solution with less power for daily tasks or you need a full blown workhorse with a 2,500 pound towing capacity, it’s all right there in the Ranger lineup. Now again up there at the tippy top is the model we’re reviewing today, the XP1000 NorthStar Ultimate, and I’m telling you – this thing feels more like a well equipped truck or SUV than a UTV. So pay attention because this might be THE best UTV for your scenario.
This 2021 XP1000 NorthStar Ultimate is technically the 22nd model year for the Ranger. The Ranger XP1000 line was introduced in 2018 and it received rave reviews when it launched – especially in the midwest because of the increase in power, torque and towing capacity of its XP900 predecessor. Despite the fact that the specs seem the same and the appearance hasn’t changed too much these machines have received extensive upgrades for 2021. We’ll get to those in a second. But in terms of the XP1000 NorthStar lineup – these 82 horsepower machines – are available in four color options, come in a crew size for four people, and have tons of accessory package options for hunting, winter work, extra lighting and kick ass audio. It’s now easier than ever to put the right package together right on the Polaris website or at the dealership.
Back in March Polaris shipped us a nicely broken-in Ranger XP1000 NorthStar Ultimate with about 250 miles on it – in “Pursuit Camo”! We parked it next two our old 2008 Ranger Crew and man could you see the difference 12 years makes! The 29” 6-Ply tires and 65” wheel base really go a long way in improving the look of these machines and they seem more capable than ever right off the trailer. The 4,500 pound winch mounted to the front bumper is something that would have only come as an aftermarket add-on a few years ago. When you peek under the car you get a look at the full body skid plate and 14” of ground clearance which is four more inches than the days of old. That makes the Ranger more than just a ranch hand, It’s a trail boss too. The fact that you can slam 1,000 pounds into the bed – which by the way has been tweaked to hold 5 gallon buckets and has tie downs for all your tools – is fantastic. Using the dump feature is a breeze by the way. But what really stands out for this model is the enclosed cab including the poly doors with power windows, and the tip-out windshield. For those of us who work in the heat, the rain, snow, and around bugs – the NorthStar is nothing short of a refuge from the wild! Yes there is kick ass air conditioning and heat – we’ll get into that in a second. Suffice to say every element of the exterior of this vehicle has been carefully designed, redesigned and redesigned again for maximum comfort, workability, and longevity. And to top it off it has a very reasonable footprint. It’s small enough to maneuver around the shop, warehouse or barn – but doesn’t feel cramped when you’re inside on longer rides. If we had to add or change one thing on the exterior we would add exterior power options, maybe to the rear bed like a traditional truck. DC or even AC plugs would really help round out the rear bed of the Northstar Ranger.
MOTOR + TRANS
The Ranger XP1000 has a 999cc, 4-stroke engine with dual overhead cams and twin cylinders. It’s the same tired and true electronic fuel injected 82 horsepower motor and automatic on-demand all-wheel drive transmission that Polaris has had so much success with these past ten plus years. Most of the competition in the category is at or near 82 horsepower – but Polaris is less concerned about leading the specs in these categories and more focused than ever with making a more versatile and usable machine. We’ll get into how the motor feels in a minute, but suffice to say this vehicle has plenty of power and is incredibly responsive. It’s number one competitor currently is the Can-Am Defender Limited HD10 – but they still have them beat on things like ground clearance, Ride Command and some other great Polaris only features.
Utility UTV’s aren’t really the suspension monsters their sporty sisters are – but it is worth talking about suspension for a minute. If you’re going to hop in the cab of a NorthStar Ultimate with another adult and slam 1000 pounds of payload in the bed or tow 2,500 pounds you need to know what the limitations are on the suspension. This Ranger is not a full blown RZR XP Pro with Dynamix shocks. It’s a very straight forward 10” Dual A-Arm setup on the front and rear. But the combination of the 29” tires and the 14” of ground clearance really make for a comfortable and usable ride.
We’ve been using this machine both here on our ranch and out in the wild to suit a whole variety of needs. Everything from hauling trailers, stone, hay and wood around the yard to loading it up with crew and gear – to get our guys out to film sports in the woods and desert. Only in the most extreme locations on the Mint 400 race course did we ever come across ruts or g-outs that were too much for this Northstar Ranger. 95% of the time we had plenty of clearance to power through anything in our way.
OK so what’s going on with the interior of these machines? They are comfortable and damn near indestructible, and that’s a good thing! One of the most overlooked and underrated features of any utility UTV is comfort. There was a lot of effort put into the Northstar Ranger cockpit and they improved that even more for 2021. The adjustability of things like the seat – both the slider and the angle adjustment, and the tilt and telescoping steering are the first thing you notice when you sit down. It can be tough to accommodate guys who are pushing 300 pounds and well over six feet tall as well as those half our size, but somehow Polaris has done that. The overall seat comfort and storage are great. There are nice sightlines, it’s a really comfortable steering wheel size…It’s just a comfortable car to sit in. It’s just one of those machines that feels more like a small truck than a UTV at this point.
The Northstar Ranger now comes with Ride Command with integrated 7-inch touch display and the option of adding a MB Quart audio package. This is by far the best in-cab audio system in the industry and it features a factory-installed 7-way audio system with sound you can feel, plus 300 Watt Overhead Audio Visor speaker and subwoofer. That is only available only on NorthStar Ultimate. Speaking of Ride Command there are a host of new features with the recent software update including some slick WiFi compatibility, Group Ride Messaging, Auto volume Control, AND updated gauge indicators. There are now configurable gauges and the new “Follow Mode” function for Group Ride. Again that makes this Ranger as versatile on the trail as in the work yard.
Obviously the other big interior attribute on these machines is the enclosed cab and true locking solid poly doors with power windows. This is a kick ass system and it works because both the heating and the AC in the machine over deliver. Climate control has never been part of the UTV experience but Polaris has this nailed with the Northstar. The real glass tip-out windshield is really an added bonus too – because at any point if you’re too hot – you just flip that bad boy up and you’ve got a nice breeze coming in. Little things too like windshield wipers, charging ports, cup holders, and rear view mirrors all complete the package. Our one gripe is that at this point, folding side view mirrors should also be included.
To do a proper shakedown on any vehicle you really need to use it for months and months and work with it in a variety of conditions. So we’re excited to keep this bad boy through the summer and see how much we can throw at it. But as of right now we’ve put about 500 miles on this machine, between local California trails, our 5-acre ranch, shooting in Las Vegas, and pre-running out in the Lake Havasu area.
We’ve loaded this bed to the hilt with coolers, camera gear, and all kinds of construction equipment – and driven for hours through sand, silt, rocky washes, and up and through narrow canyons. Here’s the thing – out on the trail what the Ranger lacks in power it makes up for in comfort. We found ourselves rotating between our RZR’s and this Ranger to help our bodies recover from all the shenanigans in our sport machines. Not to mention the AC for cooling the body down on those hot days. This Northstar Ranger is the equivalent of the pack mule that carries all the important stuff the cowboys need to actually survive! It’s really really capable. We even used the winch to recover a few stuck vehicles and change some flats. This thing is a mini UTV chase truck! Gas, tires, tools, it has room for all of that – freeing up space on the two-seat RZR’s. We also loved being able to use Ride Command with the group since they were outpacing us. We never got lost, and it was easy for our crew to drop back if they needed anything off the Ranger.
With a MSRP of $26,999 the Northstar Ultimate is the most expensive two seat Ranger in the Polaris arsenal and on the market when compared to other high end utility machines. The Can Am Defender Limited is priced at $25,499 for example, and has a similar powerband. But it has smaller tires, less ground clearance, and no answer for Ride Command. For now – Polaris is still sitting on top.
So what’s the verdict on the new 2021 Ranger XP1000 Northstar Ultimate? We love it. In fact it’s changed how we feel about the entire Ranger platform. We have been die hard sport model UTV guys since the old RZR 900 days but more and more we have come to respect the Ranger and General as essential tools in the UTV arsenal. The fact is the Northstar Ultimate is the perfect heavy duty solution for farms, factories, trails, race support, hunting, camping, and a million other scenarios because it is so versatile. The small wheel base and footprint combined with all wheel drive AND the enclosed cab heating/cooling system make it a better alternative to a small truck or SUV. The Ranger does more, with less, and that makes it a really cool machine.
- Most refined and loaded utility UTV on the market
- Plenty of power – especially under load while towing
- Comes stock with an enclosed cab, 29” tires, Ride Command, and Stereo
- Interior well finished and laid out perfectly
- Pricier than other utility machines on the market
- Some minor refinements still needed – such as power in the bed
- Additional cost for things like audio packages and additional lighting
The 2021 Polaris Ranger XP1000 NorthStar Ultimate is the perfect machine for those looking to buy the very best of the best in the Utility UTV category. It’s incredibly powerful, agile and nimble and has the best turning radius in class. It’s a well built evolutionary step for Polaris and has lots of features that make it trail ready and tons of fun to drive in the sand, mud and rocks. For those who want a Swiss Army knife utility machine with lots of comfort in a ready-to-ride package this is it. This is by far the best 2-seat utility UTV on the market right now.
Appearance – 5
Interior – 5
Ride Comfort – 5
Power – 5
Reliability – 5