Field Test: Electric Off-Road Hunting Vehicles
November 22, 2016
Is it time to ditch the gas-powered off-road vehicles for electric?
When the first all-electric UTVs hit the scene approximately a decade ago, they were quite the rage — even with a lot of bugs that needed to be worked out, like battery runtime, overall battery bank life cycle, frame durability, and rattle-free operation.
However, manufacturers have had ample time to adjust these issues, and electric field vehicles now have a lot going for them, including lower operational costs, less maintenance and upkeep, and immediate and ample torque. Today's models are dead silent, including the vehicle platform; no more squeaks, rattles, and clinks as you ghost silently down trails.
Batteries in all-electric vehicles have improved dramatically over the years and now offer longer operational lifespans, up to twice the range, faster recharging, more even performance through the entire battery charge, and, purportedly, better cold-weather reliability. Of course, good batteries come at a price, and we wanted to test a range of vehicle options for outdoorsmen in real-world conditions.
To stray from the usual ATV/UTV test, we reached out to manufacturers to test three very different electric vehicles, including a sport/hunt crossover, a side-by-side UTV, and a three-wheeled hybrid bike for an in-field comparison.
TORQ Suppressor VLE Solo
At first glance, you may think the makers at TORQ are mixing their thrill for hunting with a midlife crisis (and maybe they are). But what they've created is as fun to drive as it looks and, best yet, capable.
The midget-racing/dune buggy-inspired design has users sitting in a steel roll-cage frame, low to the ground, with pedals that sit inches apart, making drivers use both feet to accelerate and break. The steering wheel sits close and tight for the racing feel, but it has a quick release to come on and off. Otherwise, getting in and out of the Suppressor is a bit tight. Sitting in a bucket seat equipped with a 4-point racing-style harness, it took some time to get used to the tight-to-the-body steering wheel and the closely spaced foot pedals.
However, what the Suppressor did performance-wise quickly wiped away the confining racecar cockpit feel.
Starting the Suppressor and putting it in gear is as simple as it gets. A small control box sits to the left of the steering wheel shaft, and with a push of a button, you go either Forward or Reverse. Adding to the simplicity, the control box's only other features are a keyhole, battery life gauge, and a switch to toggle between High and Eco. The simplicity and ease of use added to the appeal of this backcountry buggy.
We considered this vehicle the "sporter" as what it lacks in cargo hauling, it makes up in terrain capability and, of course, fun. The Suppressor VLE is available in either a solo-ride or a side-by-side. Both vehicles boast a 48-volt, 18-horsepower motor to reach a top speed of 25 mph. Sitting 10 inches above the ground, the vehicle technically can navigate the same terrain as a typical UTV — you just have to be prepared to take on Mother Nature as you sit low and close to brush and high grass.
Featuring a Dual A-Arm suspension in the front, A-Arm in the rear, and tires that measure 25 and 26 inches high, the Suppressor was designed to travel over tough terrain with ease. The racing-style design has the TORQ measuring wider wheelbase-to-wheelbase at 78.5 inches, which is important to keep in mind when attempting to get this vehicle through tight spots. However, the turning capability of the Suppressor was impressive to say the least.
A cargo box sits on the back of the vehicle, and an adjustable gun or bow holder is attached to the roll cage. The cargo box is spacious enough to hold your pack, a hang-on stand, minimal camping equipment, or a B&C buck.
The Suppressor is ghostly quiet thanks to eight Crown AGM Batteries that sit behind the driver's seat. After 2.5 hours of use, and at times running it in circles to drain the battery, we were only able to get the battery down to the halfway mark.
Depending on use, hauling weight, and terrain, the folks at TORQ promise a runtime of three hours, give or take, and a charging time of five to seven hours, depending on your battery depletion. Battery removal is not necessary to charge the unit. A simple 110-volt plug is easily accessible with a charging screen to indicate when a full charge is reached.
Small but mighty, the Suppressor VLE is for sportsmen looking for a fun, yet reliable ride into the backcountry.
At 78.5 inches the TORQ measured wider wheelbase-to-wheelbase than the other vehicles in our test. Although wide, the handling of the vehicle was superb, with a tight turning radius. With Dual A-Arm suspension in the front, and A-Arm in the rear, the vehicle had a smooth ride when traversing rocky terrain. Fenders over the wheels have been added to this year's models to cut down on flying debris.
Built with a racing-style body in mind, riders sit in an open roll-cage design. A racing-style steering wheel sits low and close to the driver, while a control panel features switches for Forward/Reverse, front lights, Hi or Eco power, and a battery life indicator screen. A removable front window is also available for the unit. We chose to ride without the window for our testing.
A rear cargo bed sits on the back of the TORQ and is large enough to hold equipment such as a hunting pack, hang-on stand, camping equipment, cooler, and even deer-sized game. A padded bow or gun rack sits above the bed and is easily adjustable if needed.
The Batteries & Charging System
Charging the TORQ Suppressor requires nothing more than plugging the unit into a standard three-prong, 110-volt extension cord. Eight Crown AGM Batteries sit in the back of the vehicle, and a display panel on the side of the batteries indicates when a full charge is reached. The TORQ is promised to run for three hours, give or take, on a full charge depending on terrain and payload.
Polaris Ranger EV Li-ion
Polaris has always been a leader in the ATV/UTV world, and they have not wavered with their electric line. The Ranger EV Li-Ion is a silent but deadly workhorse that sportsmen are going to want to add to their equipment arsenal.
Not to be confused with the Ranger EV that runs on lead-acid batteries, the EV Li-Ion runs on two lithium batteries, reducing overall weight by nearly 500 pounds. The UTV boasts a 48-volt, 30-horsepower electric motor that is completely silent. No sounds were emitted when turning the vehicle on, and it sped silently down the trail when the pedal was pressed.
A panel of buttons sits on the dash of the UTV, allowing riders the choice of Forward, Reverse, and, what I considered one of the best features of the Ranger EV, the option to choose between AWD, 2WD, and what Polaris calls "VersaTrac Turf Mode." Essentially, VersaTrac Turf Mode is for use when you want to make tighter turns without messing up your lawn and sending your wife into rage mode. A simple click of a button and the Ranger EV Li-Ion switches drive systems in silence without the thunk heard on gas-powered UTVs.
We labeled this electric vehicle the "workhorse" because of its all-around versatility. It features a 500-pound cargo capacity bed that dumps by the pull of a lever and 1,500 pounds of towing capabilities with a standard two-inch receiver.
Additionally, the Ranger EV Li-Ion sits 10 inches from the ground and has a full nine inches of suspension in both the front and back. This is your go-to vehicle when searching for a stealth-mode UTV that will reliably get you into and out of the backcountry, haul four quarters of a 6x6 bull, and carry bags of seed for your early-season food plots.
We ran the Ranger EV Li-Ion over a weekend on different Midwestern terrain, including grass-covered hills, thick brush, and rocky inclines. Estimating a total time of 2.5 hours of use, we weren't able to run the battery down past the three-quarter mark. The folks at Polaris tell us the Ranger EV Li-Ion will last up to 50 miles on one charge, and that was apparent after our days spent afield driving the electric wonder. Charging the unit is as easy as lifting the hood and inserting the standard 110-volt plug into an extension cord.
That's it. No removing the seats, unhooking batteries, and finding multiple outlets — it's all done through the use of one cord.
As standard on most side-by-side UTV vehicles, the Ranger EV Li-Ion comes complete with a 500-pound cargo capacity bed. The spacious bed dumps with the pull of a lever and features a Lock & Ride cargo system that accommodates accessories. The dump box features a bed gate that opens and closes with metal latch handles.
Two lithium ion batteries sit under the driver and passenger seats and power the Ranger. Completely silent, the batteries are promised to run for up to 2,000 charge cycles and, depending on terrain and load capacity, will run for 50 miles before a charge is needed.
A speedometer with a digital gauge sits on the driver's side dashboard of the EV Li-Ion. It features a digital gauge that displays battery life, miles traveled, AWD/2WD/VersaTrac engagement, and other LCD indicators.
Drive System Controls
To shift the vehicle into drive, or to change the drive system, a panel of buttons sits on the dash of the Rancher. A simple push of a button sends the Polaris silently into Forward or Reverse, while another switch quietly allows you to choose between AWD, 2WD, and VersaTrac Turf Mode. All four wheels engage automatically when needed and revert back to 2WD when extra traction isn't necessary. The VersaTrac Turf Mode unlocks the rear differential for tighter turns. The third switch allows users to choose between three modes of operation: High, Low, and Max range.
Access for charging the unit is as simple as unhooking two rubber latches that hold the UTV's hood in place. A standard three-prong, 110-volt plug is easily accessible, and a power box indicates when the battery is fully charged.
QuietKat 72V Rancher AP
If you've noticed your hunting buddy storing a three-wheeled electric vehicle in his barn, don't get confused and think you've walked into Walmart and are waiting to be greeted. Changing pace from your typical four-wheeled UTV, QuietKat is rising in the market with the 72V Rancher AP, and it's turning the heads of the young bloods.
The Rancher AP looks like a souped-up mix between a scooter and a tricycle. And that's exactly what it is. The Rancher AP boasts a 72-volt, 10-horsepower motor that reaches a top speed of 32 mph, so you should be prepared to hold on because this Kat has a ton of get-up-and-go. Acceleration is controlled by a handlebar throttle, and it took time to get used to easing the Rancher AP into motion without burning rubber.
We labeled this vehicle the "athlete" because despite having a bicycle-type seat, the vehicle is made to ride standing up. Learning to ride the Rancher AP takes practice as turning is done through a very athletic lean that initiates the back suspension to the left or right. With that being said, the Rancher AP is made for the very agile and nimble hunter; don't expect to master this vehicle on day one in camp.
Powered by front-wheel drive, a 20-inch knobby tire serves as your main wheel to conquer tough terrain, while 13-inch knobby tires make up the rear. We ran the Rancher AP over rocky terrain and brush with no problems. Hills required a head start as the high power from the front-wheel drive tended to spin the front tire as you made your way up. That could be conquered by easing the throttle and making a slow traverse or by torqueing the vehicle down. A small rack on the rear of the Rancher AP is big enough to fit items the size of a pack, small cooler, your gun or bow, or a hang-on stand.
A small analog screen sits on the handlebars of the Rancher AP and allows you to change the power of the vehicle or see battery life, miles traveled, speed, and more. The folks at QuietKat push you to their YouTube channel for how-to videos on changing the settings and how to ride the vehicle. Plan on studying these.
After a weekend of use, the Lithium battery on the Rancher AP still had about a quarter of its battery power left, which was surprising considering how much power is put off from its motor. QuietKat promises 30 to 50 miles per full battery from eight hours of charging time. A simple lockbox stores the lithium battery, and a separate charging pack is included with your purchase. Simply plug the charging box into a standard outlet and then to the lithium battery through a three-point connector.
We gave the Rancher AP extra points for mobility as its small frame, measuring 65x32 inches, makes it easy to transport in a truck bed or the back of a large SUV. The handlebar stem folds down, and the entire vehicle weighs only 145 pounds.
The QuietKat 72V Rancher AP boasts plenty of power for your next hunting adventure. It is a very capable vehicle but keep in mind before purchasing that it requires practice and an agile body to steer and control the power put out by this machine.
Motor & Analog Control Screen
The 10-horsepower, QK TC65 motor of the QuietKat is found in the front wheel of the vehicle. A max speed of 32 mph can be had on the three-wheeler, and because the vehicle is front-wheel drive and so powerful, the front wheel would often spin out. To fix this situation, users must ease in on the throttle or torque the vehicle down using the analog screen found on the vehicles handlebars.
To assist in steering the Rancher AP, users must use an athletic lean to the left or right. The "Swingarm" is found on the back axle and allows users to adjust for either a "more stable or aggressive ride," according to QuietKat. The Swingarm is controlled by three bolts: with three bolts in, the Rancher has almost no give when leaning; with two bolts in, the vehicle leans at eight degrees; and with all three bolts out, the vehicle has a 15-degree lean on each side.
The QuietKat Rancher AP was considerably smaller than the other units in our test, weighing 145 pounds. The handlebar stem of the unit folds down with the use of a metal clasp and hinge to allow for additional storage space when moving the vehicle, which can easily be done in the bed of a truck or a large SUV.
The Battery & Charging System
The lithium battery of the Rancher AP is found in a metal lockbox that sits on the platform of the vehicle between the rider's legs. To charge, an external battery charger is included that plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet and then into the lithium battery via a three-point connector. Depending on use, a fully charged battery on the QuietKat 72V Rancher AP will travel 30 to 40 miles.