Whether an ATV or UTV is the better choice for you depends on several factors, including what terrain you will be riding in, your primary purpose with the vehicle, and your budget.
ATVs are typically better for those that prefer solo riding and ride in more technically challenging terrain or on narrow trails. UTVs are the better option for those that want to bring passengers, need to haul more cargo, and are looking for a safer and more comfortable off-road vehicle.
This post aims to make your choice easier by highlighting the pros and cons and unique properties of each. Ultimately, you will be the one that needs to determine which one is better for you.
What Are the Main Differences Between ATVs and UTVs?
Before diving into which is better in certain situations, it’s a good idea to determine what characteristic design features are used to determine what an ATV is and what a UTV is. If you already know the difference, please feel free to skip down to the following main heading.
There is no worldwide official definition of what makes an ATV or UTV, which sometimes can be confusing. We typically follow the industry norm on this site to keep things simple and predictable.
What is an ATV?
ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle. Other common terms for this type of vehicle are four-wheeler and quad (quad bike).
Characteristic ATV design features:
- It’s a motorized vehicle designed for off-highway use.
- It has four (or six) low-pressure wheels.
- It has a straddle (motorcycle-style) seating position.
- It uses handlebars for steering and hand levers for throttle control and braking.
Related: Here are eight vehicle types that are similar to an ATV but do not fit the industry standard of what makes an ATV.
What is a UTV?
UTV is short for “Utility Terrain Vehicle.” Other common terms for this type of vehicle are side-by-side and SxS.
Characteristic UTV design features:
- It’s a motorized vehicle designed for off-highway use.
- It has four (or six) low-pressure wheels.
- It has a protective roll-cage-like enclosure with an automobile-style bench or bucket seats.
- It uses a steering wheel for steering and foot pedals for throttle control and braking.
Check this post to learn more about different ATV and UTV types.
ATV vs. UTV – A Quick Compare Guide
Which is better?
Which is more affordable?
Which is bigger (Length, Width, and Height)
Which weighs more?
Which accelerates faster?
Which has a higher top speed?
Which has the better ground clearance?
Which is more nimble?
Which offers more safety features?
Which is easier to transport?
Which is more capable off-road?
Which can tow more?
Which is more comfortable?
Which can seat more passengers?
Which has the most convenient passenger seating arrangement?
Which is easier to get in and out of?
Which can fit through tight spots better?
Which is more fun?
Which is physically more challenging to operate?
Which is more reliable?
Which is easier to store?
Which has more cargo/storage space?
ATVs Cost Less to Buy and Own
While a UTV can set you anywhere between $12.000 to $28.000, ATVs are significantly cheaper, with a typical price range from $5.000 to $15.000.
As you can see, the price difference between the base and high-end models is quite extensive, but this applies to both ATVs and UTVs.
You can expect to pay $7.000 to $13.000 more for a UTV than a comparable ATV.
The main reason why UTVs are more expensive is, simply put, because you get more of everything. UTVs are bigger, tend to have bigger engines, and are equipped with more expensive components and equipment.
The difference in cost of ownership is not that large but expect to pay slightly more for service and maintenance, and insurance for a UTV.
And, with a bigger engine and higher vehicle weight, you also get a higher fuel consumption. The poorer mileage is particularly noticeable in the most powerful sport SxS models.
UTVs Have More Protective Safety Gear
One of the drawbacks of ATVs is that the rider is fully exposed with no real protection in an accident.
There is no roll cage, seat belt, roof, or doors to take the hit. And that is by design. It is not like the manufacturers wouldn’t add more safety features if it would help prevent injuries. More than anyone other, they would like to see a decrease in ATV-related accidents.
ATVs do not have such features because operating an ATV safely in rough terrain and fast cornering requires a very active riding style. The rider uses his body weight to stabilize the vehicle and prevent it from tipping. The rider must move freely from side to side and front to back with nothing restricting body movement.
UTVs, on the other hand, with their more stable design, have a more passive riding style where body placement does not play a significant role in vehicle stability. This enables adding safety gear such as a roll cage and automotive-style bucket seats where seatbelts keep the driver firmly in place.
ATVs Are More Prone to Tipping
With a higher center of gravity, the weight of the rider on top, and a narrow track width, ATVs are typically more prone to tipping than UTVs.
Typical scenarios where tipping may happen:
- Failing to utilize rider body weight properly when riding in uneven terrain.
- Cornering too fast
- Applying too much throttle or when the wheels unexpectedly regain traction when climbing a steep hill.
However, it’s essential to know that UTVs can also tip.
Due to the 50-inch width restrictions on many trails, several manufacturers offer 50-inch wide UTV models. Remember that these models are no wider than the biggest ATVs and need to be ridden accordingly.
UTV tipping accidents can happen if the rider overestimates vehicle stability and the protection offered by the roll cage and seatbelts and go flat out. Landing a bad jump or hitting a bump or a rock on the trail at high speed in a 50-inch UTV may send you spiraling into the ditch.
Another typical scenario where UTV tipping can happen is when people attempt climbing too steep hills, only to find themselves flipping back down to the bottom of the hill.
Top Speed and Acceleration
Top speed and acceleration largely depend on factors such as engine size and vehicle weight.
ATVs typically accelerate faster due to the significantly lower overall weight. Even the smaller-sized utility ATVs offer thrilling low-end acceleration. However, ATVs are not really designed for higher speeds due to the narrow track width and lack of rider protection.
UTVs, on the other hand, are typically geared towards a higher top speed due to improved stability and suspension. Some more powerful sports UTVs can accelerate just as fast as any ATV.
UTVs Are the Better Option for Passengers
ATVs are primarily single-rider vehicles. While two-person (or touring) models are available, it’s crucial to understand how adding a passenger negatively affects vehicle ride characteristics.
With the added weight of a passenger, the bike becomes harder to keep stable and more likely to tip. Two-up ATVs are primarily intended for trail use, hence the touring name.
Passenger capacity is where UTVs come to shine with seating arrangements for two, four, or even six people. Some utility models have a single-row bench that can fit three people in front.
The passengers are provided individual seats with seatbelts to keep them in place. This makes a UTV a much safer option for children passengers, people with disabilities, or older people who struggle to hold on to an ATV.
UTVs Offer Better Rider and Passenger Comfort
Not only do UTVs offer more rider and passenger protection, but they also offer much more comfort features.
On an ATV, the rider sits straddled over a hot engine, with just a small windscreen and possibly handlebar guards for protection against the elements.
UTVs, on the other hand, are often packed with comfort-enhancing features such as
- Half or full front windshield/wind deflector.
- Rear windshield.
- Doors and roof.
- Stock or aftermarket full cab enclosure.
- Cab heater.
- Stereo sound system.
- Air conditioning, AC.
Depending on the vehicle equipment level, it’s possible to achieve close to automotive-level comfort.
ATVs Are More Nimble and Maneuverable
One of the main disadvantages of a UTV is its bulkiness and lack of maneuverability. They offer a bigger turning radius, lesser agility, less precise handling, and poorer ground clearance.
Regarding rider-vehicle connection, an ATV resembles a motorcycle or snowmobile, whereas a UTV is more like a car.
The more agile and maneuverable properties of an ATV prove a significant advantage in situations like
- Maneuvering tight spots on challenging off-road trails.
- Passing through narrow 50″-inch gates or less.
- Making tight turns.
- Maneuvering dense forest grounds.
ATVs Are More Physically Challenging to Operate
The more engaging and higher rider-vehicle connection with an ATV does not come without disadvantages.
Operating an ATV in rough terrain for extended periods is fairly physically challenging and may cause fatigue in less experienced riders.
Arm cramps are the first sign that it’s time for a break, although the introduction of eclectic power steering has reduced this issue considerably.
A UTV is like driving a car with a more passive riding style and not as physically operating controls. Most people can drive a UTV for hours without any issues.
ATVs Offer Better Off-Road Performance
While both vehicles can handle terrains like dunes, rocky grounds, and general rough trails, ATVs got the upper hand in certain situations.
The added ground clearance, lighter weight, and superior agility make an ATV unstoppable in more rugged terrain.
Where a UTV may end up high-sided on a large rock or bump, the ATV may successfully maneuver itself around.
And in wet and muddy spots, the lighter ATV is more likely to come across where the UTV tends to sink in.
Recovering a stuck UTV in a mud-hole is just one of many cool ATV winch uses.
UTVs Can Fit More Cargo
Provided we are talking about utility UTVs and not dedicated sports SxS, you get a vehicle with lots of room for cargo and storage. The large cargo bed can carry loads of gear and offer quick and easy access. In addition, you get various storage compartments around the vehicle.
Utility and most recreational ATVs come with front and rear cargo racks. These can typically not carry as much as the cargo bed on a UTV. To improve storage capacity and convenience on an ATV, you can install aftermarket front or rear cargo boxes or bags.
UTVs Have a Higher Towing Capacity
Besides passenger capacity and comfort, an increased towing capacity is one of the significant benefits of UTVs.
While some ATVs offer a generous towing capacity, you should also consider how the added weight diminishes vehicle handling capability and agility more than it does to a heavier and more stable UTV.
Which Is Better for Utility Work Depends on the Task
Both ATVs and UTVs are potent utility vehicles that can offer great help around the farm. Depending on the task, each has its pros and cons to consider.
A utility UTV with its higher towing capacity makes for the preferred choice for tasks such as heavy towing, plowing, pulling a harrow, pulling a scraper, and more. It’s not that an ATV cannot do these tasks, but a UTV offers better capacity, almost compåarable to a sub-compact tractor.
Then there is the benefit of having a large cargo bed to carry tools or commodities such as hay bales or seeds into the fields.
However, an ATV may be the better choice when collecting firewood in more challenging terrain or performing tasks that can benefit from an agile operation, such as plowing snow, spreading salt and sand, or maneuvering narrow fence gates.
ATVs are quicker to hop on and off, which can benefit when doing fencing. However, a UTV with a removable door panel and a bench seat is also quite convenient.
Also, remember that ATVs, with their lower weight, will not sink in as much on wet or soft ground.
ATVs and UTVs benefit from a large selection of aftermarket tools, implements, and accessories tailored specifically for most small-scale farming tasks.
Which Is Better for Hunting?
When it comes to hunting, the terrain you are riding in and the condition of the trails you are using is typically what determines whether you should choose an ATV or UTV.
Assuming you are hunting in smooth, open terrains or somewhere with a fully developed grid of accessible forest roads, you may want a UTV. Reasons for choosing a UTV would be the ability to haul big game strapped to the rear cargo box and the comfort and weather protection the cab offers.
However, when navigating more challenging terrain and dense forest grounds, the superior maneuvering capabilities of an ATV make it a better alternative. You can tow the game behind the ATV down to the nearest road for shorter distances on soft grounds. Or, you could attach a small trailer, enabling almost unlimited game-hauling capability.
A track kit is an excellent addition when navigating soft or wet grounds. They greatly improve traction, and flotation significantly reduces the marks you leave behind on the forest floor.
Which Is Better for Trail Riding?
ATVs and UTVs are great for trail riding, but they serve different rider types and applications.
An ATV is better for those who prefer solo riding and a very active riding style. The average ATV trail rider is not too concerned with comfort and doesn’t mind the physical challenge. An ATV can be the only alternative of the two on some trails due to width restrictions.
With a UTV, you can bring passengers, carry more gear and supplies, enjoy added comfort, and endure even longer rides without suffering from driver fatigue.
As long as you stay away from the roughest and more technically challenging trails, you should expect to have a fantastic time trail riding with your UTV.
ATVs Are Easier to Transport
An ATV will fit in the bed of most full-size pickup trucks. Add a truck deck, and you may even accommodate two ATVs. This eliminates the need to use a trailer to transport your bikes out to wherever you are riding.
With their bigger dimensions, UTVs typically require using a trailer for long-distance transport. Alternatively, you need a specialized truckbed designed for UTVs, as they likely won’t fit in a standard truck bed.
Still Not Sure Which Vehicle Type Is Better for You?
The first question to ask yourself when deciding between an ATV or UTV is your primary purpose with the vehicle. What type of tiding will you mainly be doing?
The second but just as important question is what the terrain is like where you’ll be riding. This can be of decisive importance to what type you should choose.
Finally, you need to find an option that fits within your budget. If your dream machine is not attainable, maybe consider going one step down in engine size, or look for a used vehicle in good condition.
When is An ATV better?
- When you prefer solo riding.
- You frequently ride in more technically challenging terrain with narrow passages and want a nimble vehicle with superior maneuvering and off-road capabilities.
- When you don’t mind a physically intensive, more active riding style.
- When you don’t mind being more exposed to the elements.
- When you’re on a budget.
When is a UTV better?
- When you have family and friends who enjoy off-road and trail riding and want to bring passengers.
- When you want to bring passengers.
- When you value comfort more than an active riding style with a high level of rider engagement.
- When you want a safer, more stable vehicle with more protection for the driver and passengers.
- When you need more cargo space or towing capacity.