A week ago I had the chance to spend a day experiencing the all-new Prowler Pro utility side-by-side from Textron Off Road (TOR)
The occasion was a media event at a massive hunting ranch in California, where TOR provided a half-dozen Prowler Pros to ride, photograph and use to hunt pigs. Yes, pig hunting.
For 12 hours I rode passenger, drove and occasionally shot… photographs… of the new machine. Here are my six categories of feedback on the machine.
As I noted in the previous posts about the Prowler Pro, this machine sets a new standard for smoothness and quietness.
If I have a complaint about previous side-by-sides, it’s that they’re too loud. As in, everything about them is too loud, from the intake to the exhaust to the rattle-and-rumble as they cruise down whatever path they’re on.
I’m pumped that the Prowler Pro has fixed ALL of that. It’s nearly automotive in its quietness. I’d bet that, if it had an engine encased in sheet metal the way a car or truck is (rather than open on two sides beneath the bed), the Prowler Pro would be as quiet as a car.
Getting there wasn’t easy, as engineers Ted Bettin and Mike Morris talked at length about the very long and deliberate process of removing sound during the design phase over the past several years (fittingly, they talked about it during a walk-around with some journalists with the engine idling, just to prove the point). The company sourced the 3-cylinder 812cc DOHC Chery engine (yes, the same engine in the Deere Gator 825 and Kawasaki Mule), yet developed their own rubber-isolation mounting (in partnership with Roush Engineering!), intake, exhaust and ECM calibration.
With a whisper-quiet engine, Cat/TOR engineers started chasing and correction myriad other sources of noise, from door and bed latches to clutches and tires, suspension attachment points and more. Wherever sound was emitting, engineers worked to eliminate or quiet it.
And wow, what a monumental improvement it’s made. But I realize that my talking about how quiet the Prowler Pro is doesn’t mean squat. The proof is when you listen for yourself. So if your local dealer has a Prowler Pro (many do), check it out.
A secondary complaint I have about side-by-sides is that they’re too unrefined. Specifically, I think they launch (er, lurch) too easily if when you get on the gas (I experience this every time the Mrs. drives one and it drives me crazy). I also want shifting between gears to be more positive, without so easily being slightly off with shift lever and being in-between gears. These nuances were okay and acceptable earlier in their existence, but much, much less so now.
Like quietness, TOR engineers slayed the smoothness dragon for the Prowler Pro via clutch calibration, ECM calibration and a dedicated effort at overall refinement.
Stand on the gas pedal and it smoothly accelerates, without any whiplash, whether in High, Low or Reverse. Go bouncing over a series of bumps and holes, and there is zero herky-jerkiness from unintended foot bounce on the gas pedal (just one virtue of throttle-by-wire, thank you very much).
Some people might complain about the lack of significant engine braking, but I’m not one of them. The four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes with heavy-duty cast rotors are fully, completely capable of slowing down the machine in situations where engine braking might be desired, with easy modulation.
Whether it’s plowing, hauling a bed full of stuff or towing, the Prowler Pro’s smoothness will be appreciated and loved.
Three: Fast (Enough)
The Prowler Pro is not fast. It will not win any drag races. It will not break the rear tires loose around corners. It is not a performance machine.
Nor should it be or do any of these things.
On flat terrain at just above sea level in California, I saw 49 mph on the speedo. And truthfully, the overall smoothness and quietness probably adds to the sensation that you’re just cruising along rather than powering along.
There will be people who want this machine to do 55-60 mph. And if some time in the future this machine is coaxed to go another 5-10 mph faster, some of those same people will want to see 70 mph.
You want sportiness in a utility side-by-side? Then hunt pigs with a Havoc or Stampede.
If you want that peaceful easy feeling of linear power delivery absolute smoothness in a utility side-by-side, then please test-drive this machine.
There are all kinds of smart engineering ideas incorporated into Prowler Pro. For instance:
* A programmable speed limiter. Utilizing the functions on the digital gauge, you can limit the Pro’s speed from 25-50 mph (in 1-kmp increments). You can also give it a security code for its programming.
* There’s 2.7 cu.-ft. of storage space behind the seats, which is great just because. But the engineers went one step further with the modular 40/20/49 bench seat: you can remove the bottom portion of the middle and passenger seats and securely store them behind the seat backs, opening up additional storage space on the floor next to the driver. The process takes 20 seconds. So smart!
*More than 50 different accessories were designed concurrent with the machine itself (rather than an afterthought). The result is some smart accommodations, such as the roll-formed ROPS with indented shape to easily and precisely fit accessories like windshields and cabs. (I’ll write a separate story on some of the accessories sometime in the future, because it’s worthy of its own post.)
* Integrated nook-and-cranny storage locations on the dash and doors.
* Column-mounted shift lever. Just like your truck (or at least your old truck).
* A super-low 13.5-inch high floor and low 32-inch seat height make getting into and out of the Pro easy-peasy. Oh, and it’s 10.75 inches of ground clearance (with a full plastic skidplate) is 0.75 inches more than the old Prowler HDX.
* The clip-on clutch cover offers simple toolless drive belt inspection..
* The engine air filter is conveniently located under the seat, enabling quick and easy filter changes, and the two-stage air filter system minimizes the chance for dust and dirt ingestion into the engine.
* The oil filter is conveniently located under the seat, with simple toolless access.
* The fuse box, coolant level and brake reservoir are conveniently located under hood, with simple toolless access.
* The engine fan has an automatic resettable fuse for simplified resetting.
* Sealed spherical bushings on the chassis-side of the suspension arms eliminate the need for maintenance, while a grease zerk on the wheel-side of the arms means a quick fix to potential squeaks.
If I could only use one word to describe how the Prowler Pro drives, I’d use “predictable.”
It’s not plush like a Wildcat XX, which speaks to the Pro’s ability to haul 1,000 pounds in the box and another 500 pounds on the bench seat AND still feel stable around corners and over uneven terrain.
A front swaybar gives it a well-planted feel when cornering.
Ten inches of front and 9.5 inches of rear suspension travel feel practically suited to work chores. More travel isn’t needed.
The steering wheel features infinite adjustability, while the driver’s seat has a few inches of fore/aft adjustment.
I easily spent 3 hours riding three abreast on the bench seat, in each of the three seat positions, and it’s spacious enough to be comfortable and truly not awkward with medium-large build bodies.
I think it’s important to note that Prowler Pro has been in development for several years in partnership with Caterpillar. Last fall Caterpillar was the first to announce their version of the machine (it’s almost identical, save for a steel bed (instead of high-impact plastic) and the option of diesel engine. The Caterpillar machines were designed and are built in Thief River Falls.
The partnership with Caterpillar brought great opportunities to test and develop the machine (many prototypes were utilized at various construction sites), as well as different standards of evaluation. Caterpillar’s testing protocol includes achieving 1,000 hours of duty cycle, a duration that is FAR greater than typical UTV standards.
In addition to Caterpillar, TOR tapped the expertise of Roush Engineering to co-develop the rubber isolation mounting of the Pro’s engine and exhaust system, underlining the company’s seriousness about exceeding industry standards of smoothness and quietness.
And about that engine: Chery might not be a widely known brand in North America, but it’s one of the largest and most respected brands in China. In fact, this engine has been powering untold numbers of automobiles in Asia for more than a decade. It is proven and robust.
All this adds up to a Prowler Pro that is fully designed and proven and ready for the world.
Final thought: I’m convinced the Prowler Pro will exceed customer expectations. It’s gonna be a hit.
I also believe it will catalyze the emphasis on smoothness and quietness on future vehicles coming out of Thief River Falls. Major kudos to the men and women who conceived, designed, tested and built this machine!
Thanks for reading.