LAS VEGAS, Nevada—According to Albert Einstein, speed and time are relative. Take, for instance, what it feels like to travel over the smooth asphalt of Interstate 15 in a 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe Custom while towing a trailer carrying a pair of Polaris RZR Dynamix side-by-sides. The sensation is like that of the average commute—stale, boring, and seemingly endless. But pull one of those new RZRs from the trailer and gun it through the alien-looking environs of the Mojave Desert, and time evaporates.
On the face of it, Chevrolet invited us here to meet the aforementioned 2018 Tahoe Custom, a new $44,995 base-model version of the popular SUV designed for the active lifestyle millennials every automaker chases for sales. Although our time behind the Tahoe’s wheel was short and consisted of a single drive from our hotel on the Las Vegas strip to the middle of the Mojave, the new Tahoe is no less refined than its better-equipped siblings and makes a hugely compelling case for itself.
However, the real reason I drove four hours through 107-degree desert heat while hopped up on Vietnamese coffee was to get behind the wheel of one of those Polaris side-by-sides. This wasn’t my first time in one, as I drove its predecessor, the RZR XP Turbo EPS, as well as the rival Can-Am Maverick, out in the sand dunes of Glamis, California, back in 2016. I left that experience hugely impressed by the off-road machines and couldn’t see how the side-by-side formula of plentiful horsepower, copious suspension travel, and brick house-solid construction could be any more capable. Polaris, at least, found a way.
Like the XP Turbo EPS, the RZR Dynamix is powered by a turbocharged, 925cc four-stroke DOHC twin-cylinder engine pumping out 168 horsepower, and it features selectable four-wheel-drive and is capable of exceeding 80 mph. But the RZR Dynamix feels less like a generational leap forward and more like a real leap into the future thanks to its new Dynamix adaptive suspension. While select road-going automobiles have been offered with electronic adaptive suspension setups for quite some time, this is the first application in the world of off-road side-by-sides.
Codeveloped by Polaris and Fox Racing, a titan among the off-road racing community that also partnered with Ford for the F-150 Raptor, the RZR Dynamix uses Fox’s 2.5 Podium Live Valve with Bottom Control electronic shocks, which check driver inputs hundreds of times per second, as well as the state of the wheel, to change suspension settings to best suit the terrain.
This new setup—which has three drive modes, including Comfort, Sport, and Firm—gives the RZR Dynamix 16 inches of suspension travel at the front and 18 inches at the rear. It soaks up every bump, boulder, rocky rut, jump, and hard-pack dirt fissure abundant in the Mojave with ease, as I found out on the tortuous 30-mile trail that led us through a host of the desert’s most dynamic terrains. This included sections of almost talc-like sand that caked our jeans and lungs, boulders and granite ledges where slow and steady was still too fast, and rock- and crevasse-laden high-speed rally stages just across from where the Mint 400 rally takes place.
Although the initial briefing by Polaris was informative and thorough, nothing could prepare me for what the RZR Dynamix was capable of. The quickness of the throttle and the stability of the electronically controlled suspension gave me extra confidence as our convoy made its way through the BLM-controlled Mojave’s first obstacle: fine powder sand.
In a line of seven RZR Dynamix side-by-sides, one issue immediately arose—the virtual sandstorm kicked up by the RZRs ahead. Getting close to anyone meant visibility dropped to almost zero; on unfamiliar terrain that has a habit of falling away, turning, or plopping large boulders in your path, it becomes unsafe. Speed had to be kept down and following distance had to be maintained.
Past the sand, we entered a rocky area, our column lumbering from rock to ledge to boulder, moving slowly and steadily forward until the path flattened. Though far from racetrack smooth, it was far more level than the previously Grand Canyonesque route. More importantly, it allowed me to finally open up the tap on the RZR Dynamix.
The first time I buried the accelerator, I hooted and hollered. My adrenaline surged, my eyes widened, and a buzzy feeling swept over my body. The turbocharged engine spooled quickly, rapidly sending me speeding—nay, skipping—across some of the most brutally raw rocky paths. As the Polaris side-by-side hit comical speeds, the suspension ironed out the soil underneath its knobby off-road tires.
As we barreled across the desert alongside towering power lines, every second was devoted to keeping my foot to the floor and the two-seater rubber side down. There’s nothing quite like traveling at a sustained 76 mph over terrain that most wouldn’t consider even walking through—and here, 76 feels more like a blitz towards 240 mph in a Bugatti Veyron at Ehra-Lessien than a commute down Interstate 405. Everything passes the open windows so quickly, your brain never really gets the chance to process the path in front of you. Everything becomes instinctual. And yet, control over the RZR Dynamix never left my fingertips. The only word that accurately describes the experience, at least in polite company, is exhilarating.
Having driven other rally-spec vehicles before, I expected the buggy to wobble, sway, buck, and threaten to roll over while traveling over rough and uneven terrain at preposterous speeds. But Polaris and Fox did such an amazing job of tuning the RZR Dynamix’s adaptive suspension that it instills the supreme level of confidence needed to push beyond your limits and toward its boundaries. In fact, at the end of the day I went up to the man from Polaris and asked if it would be possible to enter an RZR Dynamix in the upcoming 400-mile Mint 400 off-road endurance rally.
Later, we later swapped into a standard RZR without the Dynamix suspension. As expected, it wasn’t nearly as good at dealing with the rancorous path. I quickly climbed back into the RZR Dynamix and pointed the nose back toward base camp, laying into the turbocharged engine once again.
Back at camp, covered in dirt and sweat, it struck me as honestly amazing that this buggy exists as it is. Between its knife-sharp throttle, 1970s Cadillac-soft suspension, mountain goat-like levels of off-road ability, and a cost of just $25,999, the Polaris RZR Dynamix is a major off-road deal. At the end of the day, after hours of baking in the 107-degree desert sun, with gravel in my hair and grit in my teeth, I didn’t want to escape the Polaris’ clutches, and neither will you.