Test: Kubota RTV-XG850 Sidekick

By: Brent Lilley, Photography by: Brent Lilley


The Kubota RTV-XG850 Sidekick is the all new side by side that’s well positioned to cross over between utility and recreational users. Brent Lilley reviews.

When Kubota New Zealand launched several new products at a media showcase last year, the one that really caught my eye was the Kubota RTV-XG850 Sidekick: an all new side by side that’s well positioned to cross over between utility and recreational users – a popular market and something Kubota hasn’t catered for before. 

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The Kubota RTV–XG850 Sidekick is ideal for rolling Coromandel terrain

While I got a taste of what this new machine has to offer with a quick test-drive on the four-wheel drive track at last year’s launch in Cromwell, I was keen to get it out on the farm to see how it performed in the real world.

Luckily for me, Hamish Lim from Kubota bought one to Whitianga to promote Kubota’s sponsorship of a local game fishing competition, and then delivered it to my beef farm for the weekend so I could put it to work and see what it has to offer.

Engine

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The responsive 851cc engine is mounted low in the chassis, with easy servicing access

In the past, Kubota side by sides have either featured smaller petrol engines or larger diesels. The Sidekick slots itself in between these, with a powerful yet economical petrol engine.

Although Kubota are one of the largest manufactures of smaller diesel engines in the world, they also know their limitations and have used a longstanding arrangement with Subaru to source the 851cc twin cylinder, liquid cooled engine to power the sidekick.

The engine is mounted low in the chassis under the rear cargo tray, giving a great balance of weight over the rear wheels. Cooling is via a large radiator under the front bonnet. With the tray up, there is easy access for daily checks and servicing.

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The cooling package is accessed under the large single-piece bonnet

This engine has plenty of power to weight, putting out an impressive 48hp. Equally notable is the torque the motor produces, especially at lower engine RPM. Out on the farm, the race climbs a fairly steep hill that’s my usual testing ground for side by sides.

The Kubota handled it with ease, powering up with two of us on-board in high gear. Acceleration from a standstill is also good and with plenty of top-end speed, the limiter kicks in at around 65km/hr.

Transmission 

As you would expect, the engine is coupled to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) unit, which is built in-house by Kubota. It runs a double cogged drive belt for responsiveness and longevity.

Also included in the transmission is a centrifugal clutch in the drive line. This keeps constant tension on the drive belt, giving engine braking at all speeds, something that’s vitally important in my opinion.

In practice this worked quite well coming back down my steep test hill. I could feel it holding the machine back, although, the foot brake was still required to hold the decent speed on the steepest sections. Luckily, the four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes can pull the machine up to a halt.

To hold the machine stationary when parked, the handbrake is more than adequate, as well as quick and easy to use. There’s no park lock on the transmission, something that will be missed by some when stopping on steeper slopes.

To ensure the CVT unit is cooled with the cleanest and driest air, a large fan on the unit draws it in through the ROPS frame. This is great to see and will help extend the lifetime of the belt.

Cargo tray

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The steel cargo tray can be tipped manually or optioned with electric over hydraulic

The large sturdy steel cargo tray is built tough and rated to carry 454kg. It features a locking rear tail gate and also steel tie down points, which make it easy to secure a load.

A higher headboard at the front of the tray is well designed to help stop anything moving forward. The tray is tipped manually with the help of gas struts and can be upgraded to electric over hydraulic for effortless tipping from the cab.

While I didn’t carry anything around with me other than Finn the dog (who thought it was a pretty good place to ride), I’m told the suspension set-up handles distribute the weight when carrying a load so well that the ride height barely changes when loaded.

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Independent suspension on all corners gives a smooth ride

It uses fully independent suspension at the front and rear for a smooth ride with plenty of ground clearance. The Sidekick also provides ample pulling power and is rated for towing just over 900 kg; more than adequate for this size machine, but something people should keep in mind before hitching up the fully loaded palm kernel trailer.

Controls

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All controls are within easy reach of the driver and the steering wheel tilt is adjustable

Up in the cabin there’s plenty of space. Comfortable upright seats give a good driving position with plenty of legroom. To keep you securely in the cabin where you should be, the seats are sculpted with seatbelts and there are half-height side doors and shoulder guards.

The steering wheel is adjustable and all other controls are in easy reach of the driver. An easy-to-see display panel features warning icons to alert the operator of all major vehicle functions, and an LCD screen shows the vital stats, including engine temperature and RPM, the gear selected, and current speed.

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An easy-to-reach gear shift allows shifting between high, low, neutral, and reverse

The inclusion of a fuel gauge is great to see and probably the only thing missing is a clock (yip. I’m old school like that).

Storage is well thought out, with cup holders and cubby holes in the dash as well as a decent-sized glovebox on the passenger’s side. Flip up the seats and you’ll find plenty more storage with two large plastic bins.

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Both seats flip forward to give access to handy storage compartments underneath

Speed-sensitive Electronic Power Steering (EPS) is also worth a mention. At slow speeds, you get the full benefit of EPS, making the machine highly manoeuvrable with little effort. As the forward speed increases, the effect of the EPS decreases, giving a more positive feel to the steering. This improves handling and increases stability, even under heavy load.

Accessories

Bolting on accessories is a great way to customise your UTV to match your intended use. Like most other manufacturers, Kubota offers a huge range of accessories, with choices of roof types, front and rear windscreens (in acrylic or glass), and full height doors allowing you to make a completely sealed cab. The premium roof allows for the mounting of radio and speakers.

For the exterior, there are winches, extra lighting packages, additional guards, and a cargo tray extender. The entire machine can be ordered in a choice of two colours, obviously including the traditional Kubota orange but also in black.

Verdict

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The Sidekick is an excellent crossover from a utility workhorse to a recreational machine 

In the past, Kubota has built no-nonsense utility machines designed for work. While they definitely haven’t strayed too far from that, the Sidekick does offer a lot for recreational users as well, providing a versatile crossover machine.

The engine offers plenty of power for acceleration and shifting decent-sized loads. The CVT transmission is well designed with a good cooling system and it’s great to see a second clutch to provide engine braking. The machine handled well on the hills, with the quality suspension providing a smooth ride over rough terrain.

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The digital display panel uses a combination of clear warning lights and an easy-to-read LCD screen showing all the vital stats of the machine

All round, the Kubota Sidekick is an exceptional machine that’s practical yet fun, and I’m sure will be well received and prove itself in the New Zealand market.

Kubota RTV–XG850 Sidekick specifications

Engine

851cc, twin cylinder, liquid-cooled

Transmission CVT belt-drive transmission with high/low range, neutral and reverse
Drive system Selectable 2wd/4wd, limited slip front and locking rear differential
Fuel capacity 33L  
Front suspension   Independent with dual "A" arms with 229mm of travel 
Rear suspension  Independent with coil over shock with 216 mm of travel 
Tyres  25 x 10-12 6 ply 
Brakes  Four-wheel hydraulic disc 
Ground clearance   249mm
Dimensions  L x W x H 3093mm  x 1605mm  x  2020mm 
Cargo bed capacity   454kg 
Towing capacity  907kg 
Curb weight  799kg
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The Kubota sits on 25x10-12 tyres on all four corners

Pluses

  • Responsive 851cc engine delivering 48hp
  • Well-designed CVT transmission with downhill engine braking
  • Sturdy steel cargo tray with almost a half a tonne payload
  • Speed-sensitive Electronic Power Steering
  • A huge range of bolt-on Kubota accessories to customise your machine

Minuses

  • No park lock on the transmission 

Watch the Kubota RTV-XG850 Sidekick in action

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