Kubota RTV-XG850 review

By: Barry Ashenhurst

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Kubota’s new RTV-XG850 Sidekick is a petrol-powered ‘cross-over’ with good looks and more engine muscle

Kubota RTV-XG850 all models offer optional electric-over-hydraulic tray tilt
All models offer optional electric-over-hydraulic tray tilt

Kubota, more than any other Japanese manufacturer, has till now persisted in the belief that UTVs, side-by-sides, RTVs, whatever you want to call them, are for work not play. That’s not following market trends though. Just about everyone these days makes a so-called ‘cross-over’ utility vehicle with a petrol engine and a lot more performance than your average humpy-dump diesel.

To catch up with the rest of the mob then, Kubota had to break with tradition to tempt those who associate the company with tractors and nothing else. And it’s done a pretty good job of getting recreational riders as well as property managers interested in its latest side-by-side.

The 851cc Sidekick is actually made in the USA, near Atlanta (Georgia) and has already been released worldwide. Three models are available here: two orange ones with the choice of ATV or worksite tyres and steel wheels, and a spiffy-looking black model with black alloy wheels and a black spray-on bed liner. In some parts of the world they get a RealTree Camo or a green paint-job as well but we don’t get those. The orange models retail here for $23,500 and Black Bert for $25,000.

The Sidekick has much in common with Kubota’s diesel-powered 1120 utility vehicle. The chassis, suspension, steel tray and 60-40 seating arrangement are the same, so all the heavy lifting is being done by a proven platform.

The big difference is that the Sidekick has a two-cylinder, liquid-cooled petrol engine from Subaru.

Two standard models come with either road-oriented or AV tyres
Two standard models come with either road-oriented or AV tyres

The powerplant drives the 4x4 system through a ‘CVT Plus’ transmission, the same as that used in Kubota’s smallest utility vehicle, the RTV400.

The suspension layout is what you’d expect, independent front and rear, but this model gets larger shock absorbers for longer wheel travel and a superior ride over rough ground. Ride quality turned out to be pretty damn good. It can vary wildly among manufacturers from Taiwan, Korea and China, in fact the whole suspension thing can be a bit dicey from that part of the world, but the Sidekick gave a plush ride with no lumpy bits. Kubota says that even fully loaded this suspension should not bottom-out. 

All models get speed-sensitive power-steering as standard equipment, not the hydraulic design used on diesel models but electric-over-hydraulic. Being speed sensitive means the steering feels lighter at low speed and firmer at high speed.

Inside the cab there’s a sporty steering wheel and gear selector, and a new LCD instrument cluster with white backlighting. This multi-function display comments on all the major operational parameters, with warnings for seatbelt buckle-up and overheating. It’s small but bright and lets you know what’s going on ‘down there’.

A DC outlet charges all the electronic devices from which you’ve become inseparable – phones, iPads, your favourite sausage warmer. There are cupholders – though drinking and driving in one of these vehicles would be almost impossible – and storage space aplenty, with a passenger-side glovebox and large bins under the seats.

The black model, with alloy wheels, CV guards, extra work-lights, brush bumper and flip-down windscreen. Image: Altered Images Photography

Recreational users tend to spend big on accessories so the Sidekick has its own line of aftermarket goodies. Among them are brush guards, bumpers, full doors, cab extenders, extra LED lights, headrest kits, electric tilt for the cargo-bed and three types of windscreen. The model comes with half-doors but optional full doors totally enclose the cab, making it a more capable all-weather unit where extreme conditions are common, like Tassie in winter or Tassie most of the time.

One accessory that I thought was really practical was the poly windshield where the top half flips down over the bottom half. I’m a big fan of windscreens on UTVs, to not just to keep the wind off you but also to keep you more or less dry in driving rain.

GET IN THE DIRT, BERT

We usually test off-road vehicles at ‘Fat Camp’ on a cattle property near Ipswich (Queensland) to which we have access, thanks to the generosity of the farmer, but this time we did all the driving and filming at the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground near Mount Cottrell. Or tried to. We intended to shoot a creek crossing, as we normally would, but conditions made it impossible. With practically half New South Wales under wildfire conditions, in Victoria we got violent thunderstorms, torrential rain, high wind and creek up to our elbows.

We’d planned a four-hour shoot that day but I would have been lucky to get behind the lens for an hour. At one stage there was an almighty explosion of thunder and lightning right above me while I was standing in a paddock holding a metal tripod. ("Police found the charred remains of a geriatric photographer today" … and so on and so forth).

So we never got anywhere near the creek. Pity. Kubota told me the transmission is fully sealed against dust and water, so it would have been a good opportunity to test that theory, but I lacked the bravado to drown a $25,000 4x4 limo in a creek that was rising as I watched.

That Kubota describes this machine as ideal for towing a boat or trailer, and is ready for work as a hunting vehicle, suggests there’s more to the Sidekick than merely hauling dirt around the joint or towing portable sprayers. The Sidekick brochure puts an emphasis on performance and enjoying the great outdoors. "Jump in your Sidekick and hit the gas," says the brochure and that’s language we don’t normally hear from conservative Kubota.

So we jumped in and hit the gas. Power output is said to be 48hp (36kW) and top speed around 40mph. Naturally enough we pushed the digital needle around the dial to confirm top speed and it turned out to be a thin slice off 70km/h. This is important. Recreational vehicle operators don’t like plodding around in lumpy diesels so Kubota did the smart if obvious thing by giving them more speed and acceleration. This should also satisfy pasture and stock managers who have to cover large distances every day, or turn on a button to head off errant cattle. A faster petrol engine gives this machine a much spiffier performance when hauling loads uphill.

Digital display with white backlighting and plenty of operational info
Digital display with white backlighting and plenty of operational info

The tow rating on flat ground has been upped to 907kg. This will appease Kubota fanciers who reckon the upgrade is more overdue than a tax refund.

Given the awful conditions we were working in I didn’t spend as much time with the Sidekick as I would have liked. Still, you don’t have to be a mechanical genius to see that the new compass heading for Kubota will start to pay off, once word gets around that there’s a new cross-over in town, and from a trusted manufacturer.

 

SPECS: Kubota RTV-XG850 Sidekick

Engine  2-cylinder petrol

Capacity  851cc

Engine manufacturer  Subaru

Output  36kW (43hp).

Tested top speed  67km/h

Fuel tank capacity  32.7L

Transmission Continuously Variable (CVT)

Suspension  Independent front and rear

Steering  Electronic power-steering

4WD system 2WD/4WD with locking rear diff

Weight  799kg

Tray capacity 454kg

Price: Orange model with steel wheels: $23,500;

           Black model with alloy wheels and bed-liner   

           $25,000

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