Dec 27, 2023

First Ride: 2024 Polaris Xpedition Spins Dirt into Overlanding Luxury

There's a reason side-by-sides have become such popular vehicles for off-road recreation. They’re big enough for a family of four, capable of going just about anywhere on the planet, and far more forgiving than rolling a massive and exorbitant overlanding rig into a ditch, tree, or boulder. That said, as much as side-by-sides have improved over the last decade, highway vehicles have retained a crucial advantage over even the most premium recreational rigs out there: They’re quieter, more comfortable, and (most importantly) climate controlled. The Polaris Xpedition now aims to change all that.

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With a fully enclosed cab, a factory HVAC system, room for five, and an accessory catalog bursting at the seams with everything from rooftop tents to mountain bike racks, the wait for a high-performance factory overlanding rig may finally be over. Can Polaris’ new "groundbreaking" overland vehicle really do the dirt, or is it just another shiny toy for dentists to pull behind their RVs? I took a 135-mile romp from St. George, UT, to the Grand Canyon's North Rim to see for myself.

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I went into Polaris’ launch event in St. George, UT, with serious skepticism. Any way you look at it, the four-door Xpedition ADV Northstar model I tested is tall and boxy, weighs in around 2,800 pounds before you start adding things like gas, spare tires, and recovery equipment into the mix, and sits on a fairly long, 117-inch wheelbase to boot.

Adding insult to injury, our test model was also outfitted with Polaris’ optional rooftop tent accessory, which adds another 130 pounds or so to the highest point on the vehicle. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a top-heavy (and therefore rollover-prone) runabout, but I can confidently report from behind the wheel of the Xpedition that this rig is shockingly capable.

Polaris fitted the Xpedition with the latest iteration of their ProStar 1000 Gen 2 motor, a 999cc parallel-twin engine that cranks out a healthy 114 hp through its automatic CVT transmission. That's the same engine and output as the new RZR XP, and while the added weight and modified gearing of the Xpedition don't deliver as snappy a response as their sport-focused machines, there's always plenty on tap and the Xpedition has remarkable hustle for its size.

Where the Xpedition really shines, however, is the chassis. I had my reservations about whipping a rig this big through the rocky canyons and gnarly desert two-track Polaris set out for us, but the Xpedition simply eats up anything you throw at it.

Related: Camp RZR: Wildest Off-road Dunefest of the Year

I really can't say enough about just how good the Xpedition's Fox Podium QS3 shocks are. With 14 inches of travel up front and 15 inches in the rear, the Xpedition has plenty of squish for tackling big hits. The damping is excellent, and the Xpedition had no complaints charging full gas up loose rocky hills or down and out of three-foot G-outs without drama.

The overall feel is incredibly solid. Just point the Xpedition where you want to go, put the gas pedal on the floor, and watch it dance over the choppiest terrain with rhythm and composure. It's not exactly a monster when it comes to corner speed, but compared to your typical utility rig, body roll is surprisingly low and you can get away with all sorts of inappropriate behavior at considerable speed, especially after clicking the shocks into the firmest of their three settings.

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Another highlight of my ride was just how well the Xpedition handled the slow and technical stuff. We had a solid two-mile section of rock crawling headed up toward Whitmore Canyon, and with the Xpedition dropped into low range, muscling up and over steep shelves and loose boulders was as simple as picking a line and hitting the gas. I found the limits of the suspension on a few of the gnarlier hits here—but once again, the Fox Podium shocks took the lion's share of the sting out of the big impacts.

I’d also like to take a moment to remind you that all of this was happening with a 100-plus pound rooftop tent attached to the Xpedition's optional Rhino Roof Rack system. Polaris says they designed the Xpedition's chassis and suspension to perform with an extra 150 pounds of static weight, and it works well enough that I actually forgot there was a tent on the roof.

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High-performance side-by-sides are nothing new, so the real headline here is the unprecedented level of comfort inside the cab amidst the chaos happening outside. UTVs are good fun, but they’re also exposed to the elements, which means the inside of the cab usually matches whatever is going on outdoors.

When it's hot and dry out, you spend the day sweating and eating dust. When it's cold and rainy, things get downright miserable, and even with a windshield in place, it doesn't take long for mud to find its way in and cold water to pool up around your crotch.

Inside the Polaris Xpedition, however, you’re in your own little climate-controlled bubble. Our test day ran the gamut in terms of weather. In the morning, it was warm and dusty. By lunchtime the temperature peaked at a whopping 99 degrees. By the late afternoon, it was pouring rain. Despite all that, my entire day was spent relatively sweat-free, and my clothes were nearly spotless by the time I got into camp. The cab isn't as airtight as a highway vehicle, and trace amounts of dust and moisture can find their way in around the windshield, but it's good enough to make goggles optional and raingear obsolete.

Related: These Side-by-Sides Can Handle the Desert, Woods, or Nearest Monster Jam

The Xpedition even includes an automotive-style windshield wiper system, which allowed me to clean mud and rain off the windshield on the fly without slowing down.

Combine that blissfully comfortable cabin with Polaris’ damn fine JBL Trail Pro surround sound audio (complete with a 10" subwoofer) and you’ve got the perfect recipe to have your cake and eat it too. Crank the tunes and the AC, and put the pedal to the floor. Who said aggressive off-roading couldn't be as luxurious as it is exciting?

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Polaris’ stated goal with the new Xpedition was to bring the comforts of traditional overlanding into the side-by-side market. It's a concept they refer to as the "72 hour weekend," a prototypical three-day holiday spent enjoying all the outdoors has to offer. Load up all your favorite people, a few mountain bikes, a couple of kayaks, and go get lost in the woods in style.

After using and abusing the Xpedition myself, I’m convinced they absolutely nailed that goal. That said, if you’re considering picking up an Xpediton, a few caveats are worth mentioning.

The first is noise: The high-performance engines and CVT transmissions of traditional side-by-sides have always made for a noisy ride, but the Xpedition is one of the louder ones I’ve driven.

The main culprit here is the Xpedition's high-revving nature. Because this rig is built for hauling people, gear, and ass in equal measure, the engine defaults to a higher rev range to accommodate for its added weight. It sounds busy and surprisingly loud at cruising speeds, although inside the enclosed cab, it's still noticeably quieter than your typical fire-breathing sport model.

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My second gripe with the Xpedition is range. Polaris claims the Xpedition's 12.5-gallon tank is good for 200 miles of exploration, but my low-fuel light started flashing around the 100-mile mark. Granted, I was driving in sport mode all day (with the exception of our rock crawling section) and I spent most of my time either fully on the gas or brakes, but it would take an awfully gentle foot to actually coax 200 miles out of this machine.

It should also go without saying that the Xpedition isn't a street-legal vehicle, which means it may be a tough pill to swallow unless you live in states like Wisconsin or Utah that allow side-by-sides to drive on public roads. This isn't a major issue for folks already trailering their UTVs out for trips with family or friends on the weekends, but it's still a big investment for an off-road-only toy.

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Speaking of which, I’ll address the elephant in the room and point out that although the Xpedition starts at $28,999, that cash will only get you a base-model two-seater, which shares all the same performance underpinnings of the top-tier model, but lacks most of the creature comforts.

For most prospective buyers, the main draw of the Xpedition will be the enclosed cab and climate control, which means you’re looking at the Northstar trim and a minimum of $39,000 to get out on the trail in comfort. If you want to step that up to the five-seat ADV Northstar model I tested, you’ll have to part with $45,000 before taxes and fees, which is about $10,000 more than a base model Bronco or Wrangler.

Of course, the Xpedition is also vastly more capable than any highway vehicle money can buy, and thanks to its 64-inch width and outstanding chassis, will take you more places than any street-legal four wheeler ever could. It’ll also get you there much faster too, which means you’ll spend less time tip-toeing your way around rough terrain and more time around camp hanging with family and friends.

My first question upon seeing the Polaris Xpedition stuck out like a sore thumb: Who is this thing for?

On its face, the Xpedition is big, heavy, and expensive. It's part SUV and part sport side-by-side, but falls somewhat short of both either in terms of cabin comfort or outright performance.

After spending some time with one myself, I think the answer is simple: It's for anyone who (a) can afford it and (b) wants a comfortable ride without sacrificing on high-speed thrills.

Off-roading is a surprisingly family-friendly hobby. Everywhere I’ve ridden from the sands of Glamis to the woods of Wisconsin has been littered with big, four-door side-by-sides, loaded down with kids and coolers out enjoying the outdoors together.

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The Polaris Xpedition is the ideal family rig. As fun as off-roading is, dust, heat, rain, and cold aren't everyone's cup of tea. The enclosed cab and air conditioning solve that issue, while also delivering a just-quiet-enough ride for conversation without resorting to shouting and impromptu sign language.

I also dig that the Xpedition is burly enough to pull solid utility duty, but also delivers the goods for aggressive driving better than any rec-ute rig I’ve tested. It's a shuttle for mountain bikes that holds its own on the downhill. It's a kayak hauler that's built for water crossings. It’ll get your rock climbing gear out to the crag then rock crawl back home.

The cost of entry is high, but this combination of versatility, capability, and performance is undoubtedly an industry first. Time will tell how well the Xpedition's overlanding chops perform on the showroom floor, but out on the trail, this one truly does it all.

[From $29,000;]

Related: These Scenic UTV Trails in America Are Endlessly Entertaining Related: Camp RZR: Wildest Off-road Dunefest of the Year Related: These Side-by-Sides Can Handle the Desert, Woods, or Nearest Monster Jam