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ATV, UTV, SXS: Know the OHV Differences

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

OHV, or Off Highway Vehicle, is a vehicle that's primary purpose is to do tasks in areas best suited for a smaller and more maneuverable vehicle. ATV, UTV, SXS all represent variations of Off Highway Vehicles.

One of the most commonly asked questions I receive as a tour guide is "what is a UTV?". This continual question gives cause for reflection. How do you describe a tour in advertising when the meaning of 'UTV' is somewhat ambiguous? Off-Road vehicle designations have changed over the years as technology and designs have advanced, and conversely, peoples perception of these machines has changed. Here I will try to give a clear description of the different off-road vehicles used in recreation and as tour vehicles.

ATV (All Terrain Vehicle)

ATVs are generally considered single seat, single rider machines. Think of the typical 4wheeler or its sometimes smaller counterpart, the quad. As all encompassing as its terms suggests, when ATV is used in conversation or in advertising, it is almost always about a 4wheeler. It's easy to look at this with criticism, but one must understand that 4wheelers were the first non highway vehicle to be called an ATV. Certainly there are more vehicles these days that are all-terrain. From Jeeps, to SXS/UTVs, to custom dune buggies, there are all kinds of vehicles that fit this category. But it is my opinion that the 4wheeler still deserves the historically accurate definition of ATV. Due to its small size and light weight, it is the most all-terrain of all ATVs and the description fits. Unfortunately, this description though accurate, is cause for confusion. If a tour is described as a ATV Tour, many people think they will be riding single seater 4wheelers. If a tour is called a UTV Tour, many people think the tour will be slow and they will be driving in an old under powered utility vehicle. Keep reading to discover more about this oddly difficult problem with terms.

UTV (Utility Task Vehicle)

The UTV acronym represents a multi-task, multi-passenger vehicle that that was originally designed for farm and utility work, plus mild recreation and off-roading. If you had a job in the yard care business, needed a bail of hay hauled to the barn, or maybe you wanted to take a drive out into the country and play on the backroads, the UTV has always had its niche as an all purpose work rig. These days however, the modern UTV has experienced some changes. In the picture viewed above you can see two Polaris Rangers and a Polaris RZR. The Polaris Ranger is more of what you would expect out of a typical UTV. Its more along the lines of a traditional utility workhorse, with its capable frame able to hold 5 passengers and its wide bed for hauling loads. But despite its traditional design, don't let this rig fool you. This Ranger XP1000 machines are much faster and more off-road capable than their ancestors.

The Polaris RZR is a prime example of UTV change. This is where much confusion on UTV definition is derived. The Polaris RZR and its competitive counterparts are more along the lines of a fun dune bashing buggy than a UTV. Very capable off-road, these ever evolving OHVs are taking over the trail riding market all over the world. Which takes us to our next acronym, the SXS.

SXS (Side by Side)

A SXS is a more modern term used to describe UTVs. Though it's a more accurate description of todays UTVs, it's also relatively new and unfamiliar to those that aren't already off-road enthusiasts. As the term suggests, instead of having a single occupant such as an ATV, a greater number of passengers can sit 'side by side' in a larger but still off-road capable vehicle. SXS is taking over as the definition for these vehicles as the term UTV is is becoming more obsolete in the off-road market. This at least is the attempt in advertising. After all, as a manufacturer, you wouldn't want people to think your new sand busting, rock crawling machine is supposed to be used for changing sprinklers and other medial tasks on the farm.


Too many people have a different familiarity of the terms, or lack there of. It's complicated further by online search engines and algorithms not knowing what the intention of the advertiser. All of this adds up to a question that might not have an answer. And issues for tour company advertising that may never be resolved completely. As word definitions change and technology advances, the only thing we can do is learn as much as we can and try to keep up. I hope that this information was helpful to that understanding.


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