Polaris Xpedition ADV 5 Proves There’s a Price For Pace


The San Juan Mountains in Colorado are among the most beautiful natural formations in the States, and provide some of the best-looking off-roading anywhere. The diversity of the terrain makes any trip to the San Juan range worthy of a full-blown expedition. That’s why I headed out to Silverton, Colorado, in order to meet up with Polaris and take the all-new Xpedition ADV 5 Northstar on a brief overlanding run across the Alpine Loop.

I am not a UTV person, but that’s not to say that I dislike them. My grandfather used a Polaris Ranger to get around our hunting property when I was a kid, in which I had some of my first driving experiences. This latest side-by-side forgoes some of the outright focus on performance and dynamics of the sportier RZR models, aiming to blend a bit more usability and truck-like overlanding capability into one package.

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

The first thing you’ll notice is the enclosed cabin, which comes bolstered by a proper HVAC setup in the top Northstar trim. The cab itself takes notes from automotive design, providing a much better fit when compared to accessory cabs of the past. The windows on my tester were quiet, and offered watertight protection when mountain weather started to come into play. My main gripe with the layout comes from the A-pillars, which make it difficult to see out the front without a head nod. I often found myself pulling my upper body towards the center of the cabin for an improved view out, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for climate controlled off-roading.

Tucked beneath that enclosed bodywork sits the brand’s 999-cc ProStar 1000 engine, the same second-generation powertrain as the one found in the new RZR XP. The parallel twin is rated at 114 hp, which is plenty for a sub-3000-lb rig. That engine comes mated exclusively to a CVT gearbox, which supports a true on-demand four-wheel-drive setup. I rarely took the UTV out of the four-wheel drive modes, but the rear-drive setup is good fun in more open, fire road situations.

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

Of course, you don’t want to get too sideways in a side-by-side, as over-the-limit handling isn’t exactly their strong suit. Polaris and other manufacturers will say that there are no inherent design reasons as to why people constantly roll these things over, but it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel to understand. The 117-inch wheelbase of my four-door tester falls just behind the 118.4-inch wheelbase of the four-door Wrangler, but it sits nearly 10 inches narrower than the Jeep. Combine the narrow track with a relatively high center of gravity, add in a bit of overexuberance, and things can go wrong quickly. That’s only exacerbated by the fact that the buggy was entertaining to get up to speed in the flat sections. Be sure to keep your hands and arms inside the cabin should your talent run out, an easier task now that windows are part of the equation.

The Xpedition has some tricks under the skin to help it feel more planted than its predecessors, including its slick suspension setup. The SxS employs a long travel dual-arm setup up front, which works with a dual-arm independent rear suspension to soak up abuse. The system is bolstered by a set of Fox 2.0 Podium QS3s up front and Fox 2.5 Podium QS3s out back. The dampers feature Position Sensitive Spiral technology, which uses a corkscrew bypass valving setup instead of traditional windows.

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

Rates can be adjusted with a knob on the shock, but I left my tester in its softest setting throughout the trek. Power gets routed through a set of Polaris Pro Armor Crawler XP rubber, measuring in at 30 inches. The setup provides plenty of climbing capability, with up to 20 inches of usable travel and 14 inches of ground clearance.

The ADV 5 Northstar is being touted as an overlander’s ideal side-by-side, for which Polaris has made some solid arguments. Polaris began developing this enclosed cab 4×4 going on a decade ago, with the express goal of some real off-grid capability. As such, the 4×4 gets the largest fuel capacity of any Polaris product: 12.5 gallons. That should give you more than 200 miles of range off-road, though fuel consumption will vary with terrain. I was not overly sympathetic with my test truck, and finished the two-day ride without nearing the end of my supply.

The rooftop tent found on top of this particular unit is also a factory option, and has proven popular enough with buyers to create a several-month backlog. The tent itself mounts up to a set of roof rails, and weighs around 150 lbs. That wasn’t enough weight to disrupt the handling of the Xpedition, and is an accessory I’d opt for in a heartbeat. Setting it up is relatively easy once you have an idea of how it works, though I wouldn’t recommend attempting it for the first time in the dark. Also be sure to get your truck on the most level bit of ground you can find, or you might find yourself waking up to some rather cold toes (as I did).

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

The tent itself was roomy, and could sleep two adults, though you better be comfortable with one another. There’s a handy integrated lighting system inside the tent, which plugs right into the UTV’s front bumper for power. Polaris says this setup is the only roof-top tent to go through a manufacturers safety and validation testing, which should bring some additional peace of mind. The manufacturer has a ton of other accessories and hardware available for this thing, which can be rolled into the pricing of the truck à la the Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler. I was fortunate enough to avoid using the on-board winch or recovery boards during my trek across the Alpine Loop.

The Alpine Loop is a set of glorious trails first used by miners in wagons back in the 19th century. It’s the sort of scenery that feeds into the ingrained American fixation on the West, and the hardship and horrors involved in that conquest. The loop runs between the towns of Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City, and packs two high-alpine routes in Cinnamon and Engineer Pass. It also happens to be home to some of the most beautiful mountain scenery this side of Zermatt, and contains a smattering of perfectly patinated ghost towns.The trails on the Loop are certainly more aggressive than fire roads, with frequent obstacles, but technical Moab wheeling this was not. Still, navigating the beautiful mountain passes required thoughtful line selection. The trail and vehicle combo was approachable enough to allow me to actually enjoy the views outside. I’m not sure I’d say the same in a larger machine, particularly on the many cliffside switchbacks.

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

Our group was able to move along at speeds in excess of 12 mph for large chunks of the trail. That might seem terribly slow to many, but that’s a significant improvement over the 6-mph wheeling I’ve done in a few fully-prepped half-tons and HDs. That increase in speed is enabled by the lighter weight and smaller footprint of the vehicle, as well as that trick Fox setup under foot. The oscillation and boat-like rolls that you can fall into in an often overly stiff overlanding truck did not exist in the Xpedition, nor did the excessive head and neck movement.

Not only did that mean we were traveling faster than most actual trucks and SUVs we ran into, but I felt like I could stay in the seat for much longer periods of time. There is a reason owners refer to the act operating these machines as riding, however. There is no escaping the powertrain noise, which falls into a constant groan as the CVT meters out torque. The volume makes it impossible to ignore, with conversations between helmeted passengers requiring some light shouting. Many buyers will simply opt to ditch a helmet altogether, but that’s not advisable nor legal.

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

Polaris installed a bumping JBL sound system to help try and alleviate some of that commotion, but I personally found little relief in it. If I turned it up loud enough to hear over the engine, it was also loud enough to give me a headache. That said, the stereo makes the cab a kick-ass place to spend time when you’ve stopped moving. Pop the windshield down and you have a great sound system at camp, which cuts down on the need to haul a speaker around inside the cabin.

Speaking of the cabin, the ADV 5 Northstar doesn’t have the same level of refinement as a production SUV or pickup truck inside. That said, it is undeniably functional and proved easy enough to wipe clean. The large central screen setup provides all the phone connectivity functions you’d want, as well as the sublime Ride Command system. This bit of off-roading software allows you to communicate with other riders in your group, as well as gauge their speed and distance ahead on the trail. Our group was able to pre-load our intended route into the system, and the graphics on screen made sticking to the route very straightforward. I’ve used other off-roading software, and Ride Command ranks right up there with the best of them. The system is easily one of the best features that Polaris offers its customers.

polaris xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop

Polaris

After the first day of passing every vehicle that we came into contact with on the trails, the idea of a dedicated UTV started to make more sense to me. The pace at which these UTVs can scramble down a trail is immense. That in itself makes for a different sort of off-roading experience, but one that’s equally enjoyable. Spend any time out on trails and you’ll find that I’m not alone in that thinking. There were many Polaris, Can Am and Honda UTVs tackling the Alpine Loop alongside us, outnumbering traditional off-road machines in droves.

The accessibility and performance on offer is undeniable, but the price is steep. My test rig had a base price of $44,999, with some additional extras thrown on top to get it into ideal overlanding spec. For reference, a two-door Wrangler Rubicon starts at $47,590. A Ford Bronco Black Diamond actually starts $400 cheaper than the Xpedition ADV 5 Northstar. Most UTV buyers are going to also need a truck and trailer to get out to the trails. There’s no denying that the Xpedition would likely make it through the same trails with much less stress than those similarly priced 4x4s, but you can’t drive this one home at the end of the trip. I struggle to justify spending Wrangler money on a vehicle like this even with its performance front of mind. If I lived somewhere where access to the trails was easier, the debate would be much more difficult.

xpedition adv 5 northstar on alpine loop water splash

Polaris

Headshot of Lucas Bell

Born and raised in Metro Detroit, associate editor Lucas Bell has spent his entire life surrounded by the automotive industry. He may daily drive an aging Mustang, but his Porsche 944 and NB Miata both take up most of his free time. 



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