Squinting at the group of XRs ready to hit the trails, I thought, “Can it really be that much different than the Ridge Limited?” Sure, it has a distinguishable color scheme, but apart from that, an untrained eye would need to have both models side by side—get it? GET IT?—to spot the differences. 

There’s stiffer suspension, bigger wheels, more ground clearance, bucket seats, grille accent lights, and a sport front bumper. But I wasn’t sure if those upgrades would amount to a perceptibly different experience. What I couldn’t see were the 24 extra horses on tap, 8 more lb-ft of torque, and the 74 mph top speed. 

The question was: did these visible and invisible upgrades over the standard Ridge make for a more exhilarating drive? 

My Garmin Forerunner had just told me I’d burned 877 calories taking the Ridge Limited on a morning rip through the West Virginian trails, so knowing that there was a Ridge XR outside with my name on it had me wondering how many more calories the supposedly “sportier” Ridge would consume. I slammed a coffee and an absurd number of pepperoni rolls and headed out.

Kawasaki Ridge XR

Well, according to my watch’s heart rate monitor, the answer to whether or not it was more exhilarating was a resounding yes. And by no small margin.

Raising My Heart Rate

The most enjoyable parts of the trails were preceded by a quick stop to inform the group of what was coming up. Photo ops of steep descents, flat-out runs, and hill climbs were on the menu throughout the day. 

None had made me nervous, that is, until I rapidly approached a near-180-degree hairpin turn on the crest of a massive elevation change just before a flat-out hill climb. And then I had to do it all over again while descending the mountain. Here, the objective wasn’t to get around the bend as fast as possible but to have as much fun as possible. “Well, if anyone’s going down, it’s here,” I said to myself quietly. But this turn was made to send it, so I put my nerves to bed and did just that.

kawasaki ridge xr

The run-up to the turn consisted of a string of sweepers and straights where I got the XR’s speed up, but what kept it going was the combination of 30-inch wheels and stiff suspension. In sections where I’d have let off in the Ridge Limited, I kept my foot firmly planted in the XR because that’s how it felt–planted.

With a gulp and a rising heart rate, I lay heavy yet progressive pressure on the brake pedal. And much to my delight, the nose didn’t dive too much–I was confident the tires weren’t going to dig into the soft dirt excessively upon entry. And mid-corner, too, it tracked. But laying down the power to spin some rocks on the turn's exit would be the true test.

Remember, the Ridge XR has a tall windshield and HVAC system. It isn’t what you’d call a “drift machine”, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to try it.

Kawasaki ridge xr interior

Once I’d made it around 70% of the bend, I stomped on the accelerator, which cocked the inside tires and made the steering wheel dance in my hands momentarily. After a little shimmy and spin, the inside tires hit Terra Firma before the XR’s range-topping 116 hp flung it up the hill. 


Putting the UTV on two wheels wasn’t my intention, which was confirmed when I glanced down to see my 169 bpm heart rate. But the unit handled it with far more confidence than it had any right to, considering this thing has a 1,000 lb cargo capacity and tows up to 2,500 lbs.

Of course, I sent it for another run, and decisions like this led me to burn 1,160 calories throughout the XR drive. This model is more willing than its shorter sibling, and rather than being peaky up top with its extra ponies, it produced a much heavier-feeling punch that pulls you up the rev range. It asks to be pushed more than the standard Ridge, and I happily obliged. 


Leader of the Pack

A standard Ridge or Ridge Limited will make a lot more sense for people seeking high-end utility and comfort but still like to get their ride dirty. However, if I were lucky enough to live by a trail system like Hatfield and McCoy, especially if my local trails consisted of fast-flowing tracks, the Ridge XR would be my choice of the lot.

Kawasaki ridge xr

You can do your best rally impersonation but still feel like you've made the mature choice because of how practical the XR is. And if you ever have to justify yourself for getting the sportier model, you can say it gets the job done faster, and you burn more calories.

So, right now, the ball is in all other manufacturers' courts to produce a sportier, more practical, HVAC-equipped UTV for less than $32,000. I can’t wait to see what happens.

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