Field and Trail Tested – Gator Sports

Field and Trail Tested – Gator Sports

2013.john-deere.gato-rsx850i.front-right.green_.riding.on-rocks.JPGJohn Deere’s Gator RSX 850i isn’t just another model in the Gator family, but an entirely new branch of the tree.  If the utilitarian model Gators of the past never appealed to your sporty nature, you’ve got a lot to discover with the all-new John Deere Gator RSX 850i.  It’s a world away from any previous Gator, and the aggressive, sporty new design is meant to carry Deere much further into the recreational segment than they’ve ever been before.  Saddle up!

Deere Sighting

Last summer we got our first ride on the Gator RSX 850i in the rocks, canyons, and desert near Moab, Utah.  Our first impression was that there is a lot to like about the new Gator, but extended time with a new machine on our turf is the best way to learn all about it.  This year we brought a Gator back to our territory to try on the farm, around the yard, and on the trails.  It’s the little details that can make or break a model and there was plenty to discover on the new Gator.  

John Deere did an outstanding job with the styling of the new Gator.  Bodywork on the new RSX 850i is stylish and sporty, yet ready for work as well.  Body lines flow from front to back with integrated doors and rounded corners on all surfaces.  We found the plastic bodywork to be tough yet pliable, and Deere added a textured finish in high wear areas such as the sides of the dump box to keep it looking great.  We love how the front hood flows down towards the bumper, and cut into the hood is an air duct to allow more air to reach the front mounted radiator.  Underneath the hood is a large front storage bin and we can never have too much storage for tie-downs, tools, camping gear, etc. on any machine.

No part of the Gator RSX 850i speaks more to the designer’s intent and its intended use than the cab area.  Everything has been styled for comfort and usability with two well padded, form fitting bucket seats.  They’re extremely comfortable and adjustable!   Once settled down into the seat, three point shoulder and lap belts keep the driver and passenger in place, and sturdy doors close snugly to give you a secure feeling at any speed.  The passenger also gets two sturdy hand holds.  Down below the floor feels solid and not flexy.  Between the seats is the gear shift lever, and the parking brake is right next to the brake lever just like it is on your truck.  On the dash are the light switch, the key, the 2wd / 4wd / Diff lock knob, a dry, secure glove box, and a 12V accessory outlet; yet the best feature on the dash is the digital instrument cluster.  

The digital instrument readout on the RSX 850i is found right in front of the driver and is easily read through the very stylish steering wheel.  We love this readout – it’s clear, easy to understand, and easy to read while underway.  It’s the best in the sport!  The display shows speed, engine temp, hours, fuel level, a clock, and just about anything else you need to know.  In case of a problem, there are a few warning lights as well.   We do have one pet peeve with the digital display, however; it does not show gear readout despite the fact that you can sometimes see the LCD is already equipped for it.  That means it’s only a program change away.  We’ve seen Deere do this before with both construction and farm equipment and from a customer’s standpoint, it’s hard to understand why the feature is there but the programming was left out.2013.john-deere.gato-rsx850i.close-up.air-filter.JPG

A Solid Chassis

Deere went all out with the chassis on the RSX 850i, and it’s super strong.   Main chassis members are a combination of beefy steel tubes and formed plates all welded together in a frame that is more than capable of taking any abuse you can give it.  Consider it a dual perimeter frame laid on its side, and the main frame members are square formed tubes with uprights welded between.  All suspension points, components, and bodywork are mounted on heavy duty brackets built off the main tubes.  Weld quality is excellent, and everything is powder coated for corrosion protection.  It wouldn’t be a Deere without the ability to haul a load though, and at the rear is a sturdy receiver hitch.  A tough composite dump box with a dump release handle on both sides (Thank you Deere engineering) makes it easy to haul all the dirt, bales, and cider blocks you can pile in it, and a drop style rear tailgate makes unloading quick.  The pivot points on the box are also located near the balance point so it can be dumped even with a load.  This chassis is also shared with the Gator XUV

Suspension is everything to a sport machine.  All A-arms are either forged aluminum or cast steel and they look as strong as the rest of the chassis.   The rear suspension does have a very unique axle and spindle design though, and rather than a simple upright and axle through the center, the rear upright looks very much like a front steering knuckle.  In fact, it even has the ball joints top and bottom, but the toe-in is fixed thanks to an adjustable tie-rod.  Ground clearance is listed at 10.3 inches with 9 inches of wheel travel at both ends, and a small diameter disc brake is tucked inside each wheel (More on the brakes later).  To help control the ride in the roughest terrain, Deere went all out on the shocks.  All three models of the RSX 850i come with FOX Shocks which are the standard for performance in the Off-Road world.

Power & Performance

Unlike most of the other Side x Side manufacturers which have a stable full of ATV and Motorcycle engines already in their fleet, Deere has to source its small engines from other suppliers.  For the RSX 850i, Deere partnered with Italian company Piaggio and the engine is a liquid cooled, 837cc, 4-stroke, V-twin engine mated to a closed loop Electronic Fuel Injection system.  The Piaggio engine churns out a claimed 62 hp (59.5 ft-lb torque) with 53 mph listed as top speed, and that puts the RSX right on par with other models in the class.  As with all UTVs, the RSX gets up to speed with a CVT style transmission.  Deere gives the RSX 850i a 7.5 gallon fuel tank and estimates mileage at 150 miles.  The fuel tank fill neck is right outside the driver’s door, but we wish the angle was a little different to avoid any spills, especially when filling from jugs. 2013.john-deere.gato-rsx850i.close-up.cabin.JPG

Some of the first things we look for on any machine are the oil and air filter and both are readily accessible on the RSX 850i.  The spin-on oil filter is on the right side of the engine and on the opposite side of the engine is a handy dip stick and oil reservoir right under the rear dump box.  Thankfully, the air intake for both the engine and the CVT is located high in the chassis, and the round, cartridge style fiber filter is inside a housing that looks very much like a gun scabbard behind the seats.  If you get this filter wet, you don’t need a seat belt, you need a life jacket!  

Farm & Trail Time

We’ve used our Gator RSX 850i for hauling dirt, cinder blocks, landscaping projects, maintaining a baseball field, and for play riding on the trails.  Basically, we’ve lived with it and in doing so there is quite a bit we’ve learned about the RSX 850i.2013.john-deere.gato-rsx850i.close-up.skid-plate.JPG

Mechanically, Deere has made a few service updates our dealer (Bader’s Equipment) has happily installed.  We have experienced zero problems with the RSX though, and it has always started and run perfectly.  Shifting has also been precise with positive engagement.  Inside the cab area the RSX 850i is extremely comfortable and the seats do a great job of cradling you in place.  Visibility over the hood is excellent and it’s easy to see what is ahead.  For most riding, we never use 4wd, but when crossing heavy, sticky mud, sand, or climbing steep hills, a quick twist of the dash mounted knob gets the front tires grabbing at the ground.  The Maxxis tires definitely get a bite, although they also can tear sensitive turf out just as easily.  They work on everything from snow to sand to rocks, but they do wear a little quicker than we prefer and expect to wear the edge off the lugs rather quickly.  Required steering effort is about the same whether in 4wd or 2wd, but steering is slightly heavier than some competing models, especially at slow speeds.  When underway, however, it feels very good and it responds well to input with precise action, although a slightly more aggressive steering gear ratio would be a welcome addition to a sport machine where instant turning is often a necessity.  Turing radius is also extremely tight and on par with some full-sized ATVs.  2013.john-deere.gato-rsx850i.close-up.a-arm.JPG

Engine throttle response and clutch engagement is generally excellent at any RPM, although some riders feel it is a little too sensitive off idle or when backing up.  As Deere engineers promised though, it gets up to speed quickly and is happy to stay at top speed all day.  This brings us to our biggest complaint with the RSX 850i.  It’s louder than necessary due to the engine noise reverberating from under the cargo box through the open area behind the seats.  No doubt our roof and even the doors contribute to containing the noise, but additional engine compartment baffles and a dedicated firewall could definitely reduce the noise level and would be a welcome update for future models.  

The RSX 850i bodywork does a good job of protecting the driver and passenger from splashing water and flying mud.  Most of the bodywork is attached securely and about the only rattle or noise we noticed is from the cargo box pins and attachment system, and from the doors, although they can be adjusted easily.  The only other major concern we have is with the brakes.  As a result of a very small rotor, the brakes don’t have much stopping power.  We like the brakes to be very responsive on a sport machine, but the brakes on the RSX 850i are often mushy and not able to slow the machine as quickly as we would like or even need at times.   With the rated load in the bed or being towed behind, you’ll definitely want to leave yourself plenty of time for stopping.  A much larger rotor and more aggressive calipers and master cylinder would surely help.

One area we found outstanding on the Gator RSX 850i is the shocks.  The FOX 2.0 shocks did an awesome job of controlling the ride regardless of how hard we charged into the whoops, with no side to side swapping or anything that would worry our loved ones, other than the excessive speed.  The shocks are also highly adjustable and we backed two clicks off the rear compression to effectively balance it with the front end.  We’ll continue to experiment with them on our next weekend trail ride.  

Overall fit and finish on the RSX 850i is excellent, and the bodywork seems resistant to scratches and is holding up well.  If you prefer a camo color scheme, Deere offers that in a Realtree Hardwoods™ HD Camo pattern and they’ve got a long list of accessory items to deck out your Gator exactly as needed.  

New Sports

John Deere’s Gator RSX 850i is a far different machine than any Gator before it.  It’s quick, comfortable, it feels very safe and stable, and it’s a lot of fun on the trails.  Like its hard working brothers in the Deere family, however, it still has the ability to do about any job you ask of it.  The work will have to wait though – we’re ready to ride!

Three RSX 850i Models

There are three different Gator RSX 850i models with the differences generally based on option packages.  All three share a common platform, body, and engine and here is how the packages stack


  • Sport Seats
  • 14” Cast Aluminum wheels with Maxxis tires
  • PreRunner Bumper
  • Cargo Box Rails
  • Sport Steering Wheel
  • Fox 2.0 Performance Series shocks with Piggyback reservoir


  • Sport Seats
  • 14” Cast Aluminum wheels with Maxxis tires
  • 3000lb. Warn Winch
  • Front Brush guard
  • 2in. front receiver hitch with recovery loops
  • Fox Shocks – Internal floating piston – preload adjustable
  • Rear Bumper
  • Cargo Box rails

GATOR RSX 850i Base Model

  • 12” Cast Aluminum wheels with ANCLA tires
  • Fox Shocks – Internal floating piston – preload adjustable
  • Standard bucket seats

August 24, 2013

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