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ATV vs SxS/UTV: Differences, benefits and everything in between

We cover all there is to know about two of the toughest off-road vehicles.

Life is full of difficult decisions, and choosing the right off-road vehicle is one of them. As a rider, any ride is bound to get the adrenaline pumping, but there’s always one that brings the excitement to a whole other level. When faced with two options like an ATV or SxS/UTV, what people really want to know is the difference between them, the benefits one has over the other and what makes them unique. That’s why we’ve narrowed down the information for you so you can find the perfect ride.

Practical definitions of an ATV and a side-by-side vehicle/UTV

Starting off with clear definitions of each vehicle is the best way to get things rolling. 

 

What is an ATV?

"ATV" is short for all-terrain vehicle. Designed for going off-road, ATVs, also known as "quads" or "four wheelers", typically have four wheels, a straddle seating position and handlebars for steering. Rough paths, narrow trails, deep mud and steep inclines are usual terrain for many ATV riders. These vehicles are built to handle it all with low-pressure tires, tough suspension, the ability to maneuver through tight turns and increase to high speeds. ATVs have proven very useful in both work and recreational environments. They are capable of towing big loads for heavy-duty farm work and provide all the thrills you might expect when you let loose with it in nature. These versatile vehicles are available in a variety of models and can be customized to your liking. 

If you’re interested in learning more about ATVs and what to look for when buying such a ride, take a look at our ultimate ATV buying guide.

What is a Side-by-Side vehicle or UTV?

A side-by-side vehicle (SxS) is an off-road vehicle recognized by its 4-to-6 wheel design, its unique side-by-side bucket seat set-up (hence its name), and its steering-wheel and foot-pedal driving system. It often comes with similar features to a car like a roll bar or cage, and wind protection that creates an enclosed look. Designed with a sturdy protective exterior, these vehicles are a top choice for recreational adventuring outdoors; however, they have proven to be equally dependable when on the job. That’s why they’re also referred to as UTVs (utility task vehicles), which are technically designed for accomplishing work tasks. Today, farmers, ranchers and hunters make the most of a side-by-side’s ability to haul big loads and carry impressive amounts of cargo from one destination to the next. With models like the Maverick X3 performance-first vehicle, the Defender capable vehicle and the Commander vehicle for work and play, as well as the many modifications available for them, finding a SxS that fits your lifestyle is a cinch.

If you want to know more about types of SxS/UTV, their pricing and more, take a look at our side-by-side and UTV buying guide.

What are the main benefits of an ATV?

ATVs and SxS/UTVs both offer incredible value. Here are the main benefits that an ATV may have compared to a side-by-side vehicle.

Compared to a SxS/UTV, an ATV is much more maneuverable due to its small size and ability to make nimble movements. With most of the models no bigger than 50 inches wide, they are the perfect vehicle to face narrow spaces and extremely tight turns often found on off-road trails. If you expect to adventure through dense forests, a quad is your best pick.

When on a budget, an ATV is the right choice. At its most basic level, a SxS/UTV is more costly due to the safety features included in its design. Plus, when it comes to customizing the side-by-side vehicle, the variety of modifications possible—such as audio system and LED lighting—increases the price tag significantly.

The beauty of an ATV is that it’s small enough to bring along with you, anywhere you go. No need for large trailers, here! You can effortlessly set it up in the bed of a pickup truck and store it away just as easily.

In terms of weight, an ATV is lighter than a SxS/UTV. This makes all the difference when it comes to the type of turf you plan on riding on. If you’re riding on a strong turf, both vehicles run great. But when it comes to soft turf, you’ll maybe want to have a vehicle like an ATV, which has a little bit less of an impact on the terrain below it.

An ATV’s size and design make it easy to hop on and off. This is super handy when it comes to doing tasks that require you to stop and go often. Compared to a SxS/UTV, where you need to set yourself up before rolling out, a four-wheeler takes no time to get on and get moving.

In short, if you want a ride that’s active and affordable, that can be enjoyed solo, and that is versatile enough for a variety of terrain and activities, an ATV is your answer.

What are the main benefits of a SxS/UTV?

Now let's bring out the main benefits of side-by-side vehicles and UTVs.

Cargo and storage space are a big advantage for side-by-side vehicles. Though an ATV can also carry its share of a load, SxS/UTVs are designed with compartments all over the vehicle, such as under the seats and in the cargo bed. That’s even before all of the modifications you can add to the vehicle to create extra storage space.

Compared to an ATV’s one-to-two seating capacity, SxS/UTVs are designed to have more people along for the ride. With its side-by-side seating, it allows for two to three passengers at the front, and depending on the model, a couple more in the back thanks to a second row of seats.

Due to its large size and bigger engine, side-by-side vehicles have a heavier payload capacity, which allows these rides to carry not only more equipment, but bigger and heavier ones as well. Depending on your use of the vehicle, having a ride like the Can-Am Defender that has a towing rating of 3,000 lb can be a game changer.

If you plan on making modifications to your off-road vehicle, the side-by-side vehicle is the way to go. Not only does its design make it easy to add on more accessories, but there is much more of a selection of customizations available for this type of vehicle. Many SxS/UTV riders spend a great deal of cash on ways to personalize their ride and enhance its performance to their liking. Can-Am has an awesome accessory lineup for side-by-side vehicles, too! You can test out what a customized SxS looks like with accessories right away with our Customize Your Own tool.

If you have safety at the top of mind, then a SxS/UTV is what you want. Compared to an ATV’s open design, side-by-side vehicles are more closed with a barrier. SxS/UTV are also commonly known to have features like a roll cage, seat belts and windscreen that protect riders and passengers from the elements. Plus, you can add on many more safety customizations that match your comfort level.

A SxS/UTV’s car-like design and driving controls make it a comfortable choice that caters to all riders, no matter the skill set or body capability. Quads, on the other hand, are more physically demanding to drive and require a lot of balance to control the vehicle. If comfort is an issue for you, then it’s a side-by-side vehicle all the way.

Basically, if you’re looking to have a vehicle that you can personalize, with which you can explore the outdoors comfortably and safely, and that allows you to bring along as much equipment or passengers as you want, a SxS/UTV is made for you.

ATV vs SxS/UTV: The best ride for each use

Now that you know the definition of an ATV and side-by-side vehicle and understand the main benefits that set them apart, let's figure out which of these off-road vehicles is best for certain uses. Is an ATV better than a SxS/UTV for hunting? For family riding? Here is what we think!

ATVs and side-by-side vehicles are both useful hunting vehicles for different reasons. It all depends on the terrain and the type of hunting you expect to be doing. If you’re planning on hunting in areas with dense timber and brush or that require passing through unpredictable terrain, a four-wheeler is your ride of choice. On the other hand, if you’re looking to hunt big game with a group of people and need to lug around equipment, a SxS/UTV is much more suitable. Learn more about how to choose the best ATV or SxS/UTV for your hunting style.

There is always use for an off-road vehicle on a farm. An ATV and SxS/UTV are great utility options for this type of work environment. But depending on the situation, one proves to be more practical than the other. For example, if you need to carry along large cargo, haul equipment or tow heavy loads like trailers, a side-by-side vehicle is definitely the way to go. If your idea of farm work is moving around from one job to the next with minimal cargo in tow, a quad will do the job nicely. Learn more about how to choose the best ATV or SxS/UTV for farm use.

If you plan on taking an off-road ride with family or a group of friends, a side-by-side vehicle is what you want to aim for. Its ability to carry up to six passengers and multiple safety features not only makes it an optimal choice, but a safe one too. Even older adults can join in on the fun! SxS/UTVs definitely make it possible to share outdoor adventures with others.

Both vehicles are designed to ride off the beaten path, so trail riding is no issue. It just depends on what kind of trail you expect to ride on. If hard-to-reach areas with narrow gates and obstacles are more up your alley, then an ATV would be best. If you’re into adventuring in the wild more comfortably with equipment and any other objects you might need, you’ll find that a side-by-side vehicle is better suited to your needs.

No matter what vehicle you decide to get, you’ll want to go out into the snow much more often. Both ATVs and SxS/UTVs are awesome tools to use in the winter season. They’re fun and powerful, have great traction and definitely get jobs done. If you’re not a fan of the cold, a side-by-side vehicle like the Can-Am Defender Limited may be more your style, as its cab enclosure can shelter you from frigid wind and snow. If you don’t mind the outdoor elements one bit, then an four-wheeler like the Can-Am Outlander will do you just fine. Learn how to choose the best ATV or SxS/UTV for plowing snow and winter riding.

If you want to feel the thrill by riding in some deserts or rocky hills, you’ll want an off-road vehicle that can handle it. Side-by-side sports models are designed for these types of terrain as they have powerful engines and innovative suspension. The Can-Am Maverick X3 SxS models are made for these fun and wild environments, with trims and all.

It’s plain to see that ATVs and SxS/UTVs can be designed and customized to the activity and environment you have in mind. There are definitely plenty of models and accessories to do so. Some vehicles like the Can-Am Outlander ATV or the Can-Am Commander SxS specialize in both work and play, so you can get the best of both worlds!

ATV vs Side-by-Side/UTV? Only you have the answer!

When debating whether to get an ATV or a SxS/UTV, know that they’re both great vehicles to have. They each have their own pros and cons depending on a variety of factors like environment, activities and logistics. So at the end of the day, it’s all up to you. Your ride, your decision. Many people decide to own them both, which covers all of their bases. There’s no harm in skipping the decision process and doing the same!


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