These fun off-road toys are known by many names and can be confusing to someone who is first getting into the sport. I was trying to explain what they are to my wife and mom and realized how messy it can be with all the different acronyms and such so I wanted to write an easy helpful resource to help clarify things.

Here are a few of the names commonly associated with Side by Side vehicles:

  • UTV (utility task vehicle or utility terrain vehicle)
  • Side by Side (sometimes written as SxS)
  • RZR (a specific model of a UTV)

And here are some of the not commonly used names that are used by machines, encyclopedias, and the government:

  • ROV (recreational off-highway vehicle)
  • MOHUV (multipurpose off-highway utility vehicle)

And What it’s not:

  • ATV (This is a 4 wheeler that you straddle like a horse also known as a quad)

So what are side by sides and what does a UTV look like?

A Side by Side is a small to medium sized off-road vehicle that generally consists of a body frame that includes a roll cage to protect its passengers. They can seat anywhere from 1 – 6 people and the majority of SxS’s are powered by motorcycle sized engines.

They can include four-wheel independent suspension and can be set up for long travel shocks and springs to take some very large jumps and not take any damage. Most have doors of some kind and some have the option of a fully enclosed cab.

Side by sides or UTVs are small vehicles that are designed to handle off-road terrain like dirt, mud, and sand. They can be used for fun camping trips in the mountains or everyday working scenarios like on a farm or job-site.

Recreational UTVs are a mix of a quad and a dune buggy. They have the portability of a four-wheeler which gives you the option of trail riding. Like four wheelers, you can take them on a much narrower path down skinny winding trails that larger 4×4’s can’t go down. But with the option of taking more people in the vehicle with you.

Work UTVs have a cargo bed in the rear and are more of a mix between a golf cart and a truck. They are good for transporting heavy loads and have more utility purposes such as hunting, mowing, plowing, and transporting materials crews and tools.

What does UTV stand for?

I mentioned above that there are two different UTV acronyms: Utility Task Vehicle and Utility Terrain Vehicle.

For me, a Utility Task Vehicle conjures up an idea of a job site vehicle with a small truck bed on the back that can move heavy tools or materials to a different part of the work site much easier and faster than doing it by hand. These types of UTVs would most likely be geared lower to have more low-end torque and less overall speed.

A Utility Terrain Vehicle is more of a recreational toy that you would see flying up a sand dune or down an off-road trail. These can take jumps and handle corners at high speeds as they have the necessary suspension. The engines have more horsepower and are designed for higher top speeds.

Why is it called a side by side?

So why are side by sides called by Side by Sides? The easy answer would be that most of them have two seats that are literally sitting side by side or left to right versus sitting in a row front to back like a motorcycle or quad.

What is the difference between a UTV and a Side by Side?

A UTV is a Side by Side. They are the same vehicle but just two different names. These are the two most common names for this type of off-road vehicle. While the term Side by Side is the most commonly used name as it refers to two seats sitting side by side, the seating arrangements can vary greatly from just one seat right in the middle of the cab all the way up to six passenger seats.

Is an RZR an ATV or UTV?

The RZR (pronounced “razor’) is a specific model of UTV/Side by Side made by Polaris. Because of the popularity of this specific make and model, some people started referring to all Side by Side models as a ‘razor’. This would be like referring to all tissues as a Kleenex or all tablet computers as an iPad. An RZR is just one example of a Side by Side. There are many brands/manufacturers, see an example list further down below.

Are side by sides considered ATVs?

Side by Sides and ATVs (or quads or 4 wheelers) are definitely not the same class of vehicle. While they may be used similarly for work or play, they have very different design features.

Here are the 4 biggest differences:

SteeringSteering Wheel
(like a car)
Handle Bars
(like a motorcycle)
Gas & BrakeFoot Pedals
(like a car)
Hand controls
(like a motorcycle)
SeatingBucket seats or bench seating
(like a car)
Straddle seating
(like a motorcycle)
SafetyRoll cage, seat belts, optional doors
(like a car)
Open air design
(like a motorcycle)

ATV & UTV Similarities:

The reason these two vehicles could be mistakenly grouped as the same besides the acronyms have just one letter off from each other (ATV and UTV) is that they are also used very similarly and have similar mechanical parts.

They both have multiple different names for the same machine as an ATV or All Terrain Vehicle can also be called a quad, 4 wheeler, 3 wheeler, or quadricycle.

You can take both on narrower paths and smaller tracks which make them more versatile than larger Jeeps and 4×4’s.

They are made by some of the same manufacturers/brands and have similar parts such as off-road knobby tires, A-arm coil over suspension, and comparable engine sizes.

Both ATV and UTV have models that are designed just for a hunting application with extra cargo space and optional gun racks & mounts.

ATV & UTV Differences:

The UTV and ATV may have some overall mechanical similarities, but they are totally different driving experiences. A UTV/Side by Side handles more like a car, and an ATV handles more like a motorcycle.

When riding an ATV, throwing your body weight around is a big part of controlling the vehicle. You’re going to be leaning into corners to not fall off or roll the 4 wheeler.

You’ll stand for bumpy terrain and jumps and then correct any balance issues in the air by shifting your weight around. Because of these riding nuances, it can limit the number of passengers as having someone behind you will limit your mobility.

In contrast, driving a UTV or side by side your body weight has less impact on the overall driving experience. Your passengers can enjoy the full experience of taking corners at high speeds and hitting jumps without you being held back or wondering if the passenger is still holding on.

Because you are strapped into a seat in a UTV, you have less ability to use your weight to correct any sort of aerial balance issues. Once you hit the jump, you are fairly fixed in which way the scenario plays out.

Do side by sides have seat belts?

The quick answer is yes. In fact, the majority of new UTVs that come off the assembly line have a very similar seat belt to a car that has a lap belt and shoulder strap in one that clicks down into a quick release receptacle. In a more custom off-road vehicle like a dune buggy, you might see everything from 5 point harness systems all the way down to just a lap belt.

Side by Side Examples

UTV Manufacturer Examples

  • Arctic Cat
  • Bobcat
  • Can Am
  • Cat
  • Coleman
  • Hisun
  • Honda
  • John Deere
  • Kawasaki
  • Polaris
  • Suzuki
  • Yamaha

Similar Vehicle Examples

Wrapping things up

Now you have a good idea of what a Side by Side is and looking at the pictures above you can probably tell that the UTV didn’t just appear out of thin air as a brand new idea, but evolved over time from many different off-road vehicles.

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