After riding your first UTV, you may have thought; this thing was LOUD! Why can’t they make these things a bit quieter?
In this post, we’ll examine why some side-by-sides appear unnecessarily noisy. After all, there are touring motorcycles, jeeps, and ATVs out there that run a lot quieter.
So why are UTVs so loud? UTVs are loud because of the combination of high performance and keeping weight and costs down. Most UTVs do not have the insulating materials and silencers a car has. The non-insulated cab acts as an echo chamber that amplifies the sound rather than eliminates it.
There is definitely a market for quiet UTVs.
Ask any hunter riding to their deer stand or a family trying to enjoy a Sunday trail ride. These riders will likely prefer their vehicle to be as quiet as possible, or at the very least, quiet enough to maintain a normal conversation without the need for excessive shouting.
UTVs aim to be both high-performance and lightweight vehicles, but this combination is hard to achieve without making compromises.
While more relevant for high-performance trail ride machines than the pure workhorse models, the following principles affect all UTVs somewhat.
Excessive Cab Noise
Having a roof and a windscreen is one of the significant upsides of UTV riding. These components ensure the rider and passengers are well protected against the elements and flying mud.
But as it turns out, this benefit also has quite an annoying downside.
The problem is that these surfaces tend to reflect the sound into the cab and enhance any vibrating sound the bike makes.
On an ATV or motorcycle, the sound would spread directly to your surroundings. The 5-seaters are usually the worst because of the bigger roofs.
The UTV panels and screens are usually smooth and relatively thin materials like plastic sheet metal. Nothing is there to break the sound waves or prevent the panels from vibrating.
Many UTV owners experience a noticeable improvement when they remove these panels. But this defeats the purpose of having a cab in the first place.
While dump beds are handy, they sometimes cause unwanted extra noise. The metal sheets or plastic they are made of reinforce any vibration, clang, or other harmonic sounds the UTV makes. It’s almost as if having a speaker back there that cannot be turned off.
Try removing the bed to see how much it adds to your sound issue. It’s usually a pretty straightforward procedure.
Loud Exhaust Noise
Quieting the exhaust noise from a four-stroke high-performance engine is not easy, at least not without potentially messing up the bike’s performance or adding too much cost and weight. Even some stock systems are painfully loud when you hit the throttle.
Suppose you compare a UTV exhaust system with car exhaust; you will notice some significant differences: The car has multiple catalytic converters, a couple of resonators, and then a vast muffler to finish off.
You would struggle to fit all this into a UTV while keeping it high-performance and lightweight.
So as long as the emission regulations permit it, many UTV exhausts are likely to remain less complex and less effective when it comes to dampening the noise when comparing them to car exhausts.
Another important aspect that plays its role is what the market wants to buy. Many riders still believe that more noise equals more power. This may lead the manufacturers to make their high-performance machines a bit louder than strictly necessary.
But thankfully, the market of aftermarket mufflers seems to be changing to more quiet yet powerful systems.
In recent years, Europe has focused on developing exhaust systems that make the machines quieter without compromising performance. Many manufacturers have succeeded in developing such systems.
The American market has followed this trend, with many manufacturers offering quiet exhaust systems.
Mechanical Engine- and Transmission Noise
UTV noise is more than exhaust noise. All of the components moving inside the engine and the bike’s transmission also make quite a lot of noise.
Let’s start with the transmission and drive train.
The manufacturers usually opt for CVT transmissions as they are both lightweight and can handle a lot of torque.
They are also relatively cheap to produce compared to more traditional gearboxes that use metal gears. This helps to keep the overall costs of the UTV down.
But these systems come with one (more than one actually) major downside. And that is the noise they produce.
External clutches and belts use friction to move the bike forward. This does not happen quietly and contributes quite a bit to the total noise level of the machine. Add the noise from the grinding gears inside of the diffs and gearbox, and you get a ride that is far from silent.
Then you have the engine itself. Camshafts, pistons, and other moving components make a lot of noise each time they turn. The big bore single cylinders often used in UTVs do not help the situation either.
These are common because of the same reasons why they opt for CVT transmissions: low cost, low weight, and high power.
Multi-cylinder engines generally produce less vibration and noise but are more expensive and weigh more.
The mechanical noise from the engine, transmission, and gearboxes makes up at least half of the total noise the UTV makes.
Engine Exposure and Lack of Engine Insulation
Some believe that exposing the engine, like on a motorcycle or ATV, is the loudest setup as there is nothing to cover the sound. But somehow, UTVs turn out more audible than the open designs, even with the engine hidden behind covers.
The explanation for this is pretty simple.
UTV engines are usually boxed in by plastic or metal covers for looks and aerodynamics. But these covers are typically made of thin, non-insulated material to keep weight and cost downs.
Unlike a car, every piece of plastic and sheet metal is not covered with sound insulation and vibration-dampening materials.
So instead of dampening the sound, the covers on the bike act almost as a resonance chamber that enhances the sound. The engine sound does not get distorted by hitting dampening materials like on a car, but instead, it bounces back and forth from hitting the smooth surfaces inside of the covers.
On a motorcycle or ATV, the sound goes straight out and into the free air. Remember that when you are outside, you are in the world’s greatest sound absorbent; the atmosphere.
Nothing on earth absorbs sound better. When you put a box around the sound source, you’re effectively keeping the noise closer to you for longer. This makes a UTV sound louder.
When covering up an engine, you must also add plenty of insulation. If not, you’re just making matters worse regarding the noise it makes.
Which is the Quietest UTV?
The Honda Pioneer 1000 and 1000-5 come with an all-gear driven transmission instead of the more common CVT friction-based systems. Its 72hp 999cc engine won’t win you any races, but with a top speed of 67mph, you should be covered in most situations. Its moderate power outtake and decent exhaust make it one of the quietest UTVs ever.
The roofless model is even quieter than the ones with a roof and windscreen. Be aware that its little brother, the 700-4, is not as quiet as the big model.
The Kawasaki mule and Polaris Ranger XP 900 are also good options, yet they are not as quiet as the Honda.
But according to a long list of user reviews, the 2019 Textron Offroad Prowler Pro XT is the clear winner this time. It is the first UTV entirely made by Textron after they bought Arctic-Cat a while ago.
Anyone reviewing this machine is astonished by how quiet it is. Its 50hp engine runs as quietly as a small car; you will barely notice it’s running when idling.
It is a workhorse, not a trail racer, but the 3-cylinder in-line engine produces a lot of torque. It has no problems reaching its top speed of 50mph, which should be plenty for most utility tasks and the occasional trail ride.
The Bottom Line
UTVs often produce significant noise due to the focus on high performance, lightweight, and cost-effectiveness, with compromises on sound insulation and quieter components.
Elements like non-insulated cabs, dump-bed noise, loud exhausts, and mechanical engine and transmission noise all contribute to the overall loudness. However, manufacturers are starting to address this, and certain models, such as the Textron Offroad Prowler Pro XT, stand out for their quieter operation.
The market also shows rising demand for quieter, high-performance UTVs, opening up opportunities for future improvements.