Polaris engineered a few new tricks into its lineup for 2019, not the least of which include new toys for those who like to wheel in the mud. Are the High Lifter versions of the RZR and Ranger able to claw their way through the sticky Louisiana swamp? Buckle up; we’re about to find out.

The battle for consumer dollars continues to rage in the side-by-side segment, with manufacturers rushing to outdo each other in every measure, from horsepower to wheel travel. Save for the rapidly climbing sticker prices, it’s never been a better time to be a powersports gearhead.

The High Lifter Proving Grounds sit just outside Shereveport and is operated by people who very well could’ve written the book on mudding. The park’s owners started installing lift kits on UTVs over 20 years ago, culminating in a 2007 collaboration with Polaris to create high-performance mods and accessories for the then-new RZR. With nearly 600 muddy acres on which to play, it’s safe to say Scott Smith and his team know a thing or two about the right type of gear needed to plow through the mud.

Enough of history class. Let’s ride.

High Lifter gear jacks these Polaris rigs skyward and prepares them for the mud. This year, it is available on XP 1000 versions of the 3- and 6-passenger Ranger, 2- and 4-place RZR, and Sportsman rigs. The latter can also be had in 850 guise. Ever the shameless extrovert, your author made a beeline for the RZR.

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Getting into the seat of a RZR XP 4 1000 High Lifter, whose full official name is literally longer than the trail on which we are about to ride, is a bizarre mix of navigating a slightly higher entry point and falling into a deep bucket seat. The former is thanks to the HL’s elevated suspension while the latter is a RZR trademark.

Mashing the brake pedal and twisting the ignition key fires the 999cc liquid cooled 4-stroke twin, a mill that makes 110 horsepower in this application. That’s more than enough shove to effectively fling this 1700lb RZR through the mud in anger. Even in low gear, you’ll not want for power.

And fling it we do, immediately dunking this 64-inch wide machine into a deep mudhole with the same abandon that a kid dunks McNuggets into sweet & sour sauce. More than simply taller, the High Lifter suspension was made to perform in the most challenging and mud-laden terrain. With arched front A-arms and rear radius rods, the vehicle towers over the deep Louisiana ruts with 15 inches of ground clearance, 1.5 inches more than a standard RZR. Unique shock calibrations & stiffer springs keep proper ride height.

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In fact, Polaris engineers made sure to account for an extra 200lbs of muck during those calibrations, ensuring the rig handles well even when overburdened with mud. Steering is typically overboosted, like most EPS units, but is certainly better than the hernia-inducing tillers of the Bad Old Days.

The RZR at my command was shod with 29.5-inch Outlaw II tires mounted on 14-inch aluminum wheels. Measuring 149 inches in length and riding on a 117-inch wheelbase, those high clearance lower control arms and the 21 inches of travel proved their worth, hauling driver and passenger right through one of the deepest muddy water pits your author has ever navigated.

With water pouring over the RZR’s hood and into the cab, the lower half of the rig and everything in it – gearshift levers, storage bins, water bottles, the works – disappeared into the Louisiana muck. This is where the snorkel breather system pays for itself. Heavy application of the loud pedal prodded the RZR created a huge bow wave before cresting the other side of the pond and bouncing out of the water.

If you’re looking for a street address to all this fun, it’s located squarely at the corner of Yee and Haw. Polaris absolutely pegged the grin meter with the RZR XP 4 1000 High Lifter.

Compared to a RZR, sitting in the Ranger High Lifter is like sitting in church. A bolt upright seating position with a near 90-degree angle between the backrest and seat bottom definitely lend a “Dad’s rig” vibe to it but, to be fair, the Ranger line is meant for work. In the High Lifter edition, Polaris has redesigned its half doors so they now have one-inch water drains, allowing for quick evacuation of water from the cabin. This is a Very Good Thing.

The doors also have a new easier-to-use latch system, replacing the older latches Polaris used that were a weak link. Adding a couple of drain holes to the door pockets wouldn’t go astray, Polaris, if you’re reading this. Polaris also includes a rearview mirror, which is a nice feature. It also relocated the fuse box to a higher location on the frame, keeping electrical connections high and dry.

Ranger High Lifters are equipped with the familiar 999cc twin, tuned here to make 82 horsepower. Departing the hilarity of that water hazard and heading into muddy woods trails, the 28-inch Outlaw II tires and arched A-Arms, combined with 13.5 inches of ground clearance, got us through some tough mud pits. On occasions when it did not, the 4500lb winch – mounted to tall bumpers specific to High Lifters, got us out with ease. The Ranger only has 11 inches of suspension travel compared to the RZR’s 21-inch stretch. Choose your path wisely.

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It must be noted that the Ranger we chose overheated on the way back to camp, its radiator caked with mud, sending the rig into limp mode. In fairness, the Ranger had been pushed by a series of drivers into thick swamps through which most sane owners would not tread. A smartly designed access port on the front grille allowed for quick access to the rad where a dose of water cleaned things right up.

Putting one of these machines in your toy shed will dent your wallet for at least $20,000. That sum will net buyers a three-passenger Ranger XP 1000 High Lifter but be sure to add $1500 to that figure if one wants a two-row Crew model. The RZR XP 1000 High Lifter commands $21,699 for a two-place machine and $24,899 for a four-seater.

Bottom line? High Lifter additions – the superb fat-paddled tires, winch, suspension tweaks, and extra clearance – are absolutely worth the cash for those riders planning on taking on tough mud conditions. If you’re doing so for utility, consider the Ranger. Everyone else? Be sure to check out the RZR.

Is this a great time to be a powersports fan? You bet it is.