Are ATVs or UTVs Better for Off-Roading?

ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) is an acronym employed loosely in the off-road world to describe four-wheeled off-road vehicles that are not automobiles. While the UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) or SxS (Side by Side) is a more recent segment that’s seen tremendous growth over the last 10-15 years. With all the acronyms being thrown around, the result can be confusion about what makes each unique

What differentiates an ATV from a UTV? Which is best for solo driving? How about when you want to carry multiple passengers? The following article discusses the differences and similarities between ATVs and UTVs. We’ll compare the strengths and weaknesses of each, the pros and cons, and suggest which type is the best for each use scenario. That way, when you head to your local dealership, you’ll know before you go if an ATV or a UTV is the best vehicle choice for your off-road adventures.

two different images of an ATV and a UTV

Photo credit: Boyd Jaynes (left), Brett Lueders (right).

What are the Differences Between ATVs and UTVs?

The primary difference between an ATV and a UTV is the seat position and how each is ridden/driven. An ATV uses an upright seat position and controls similar to a motorcycle and is ridden steering with handlebars in combination with foot-controlled shift and brake pedals. ATVs can be ridden solo or two-up with a passenger. 

A UTV (or Side-by-Side) uses a car-like seat position with side-by-side bucket seats; hence the often-used “SxS” acronym is used interchangeably with “UTV.” Like an automobile, a UTV uses a steering wheel in combination with a shift lever and gas and brake pedals. Depending on the model, they also enable one to carry up to six total passengers.

ATV Specs

  • Seating Capacity – One or two-up with a passenger.
  • Controls – Motorcycle-like handlebars with hand levers and foot controls.
  • Fuel/Power Supply – Gas-powered internal combustion or battery-powered electric.
  • Suspension – Long-travel off-road shocks front and rear.
  • Width – Range from 30 inches (Youth models) to 50 inches wide.
  • Drive Train – 4×4, AWD, or 4×2. Most use 4×4 or AWD, but sport/racing, economy, and youth models use rear-only drive (4×2).
  • Load Capacity – Up to 1,650 pounds depending upon model and terrain.
A picture containing grass, outdoor, sky, field

Photo Credit: Jessy Nelson

UTV Specs

  • Seating Capacity – Auto-type seats for up to six, depending upon the model.
  • Controls – Car-like steering wheel with shift lever and foot pedals.
  • Fuel/Power Supply – Gas-powered internal combustion or battery-powered electric.
  • Suspension – Long-travel off-road shocks front and rear.
  • Width – Range from 50 inches (single seater) up to 80 inches (multi-passenger).
  • Drive Train – 4×4 or AWD.
  • Load Capacity – Up to 3,000 pounds depending upon model and terrain.
A picture containing sky, outdoor, ground, car

Photo Credit: Jessy Nelson

ATV vs. UTV — Pros and Cons for Each Use

Off-Roading – An ATV or UTV is an excellent choice for off-roading. If you come from a motorcycle background, you may feel more at home on an ATV with its handlebars and upright seating position. But if you are more inclined to feel at home with a steering wheel and bucket seats, then a UTV is for you. Remember, most states only allow a maximum vehicle width of 50 inches on motorized trails, as determined by the U.S. Forest Service. So unless the vehicle is under 50 inches wide, you will not be allowed on the trail.

Trail Riding – With their motorcycle-like feel, handlebars, and much narrower width, ATVs are an ideal choice for solo or two-up exploring on narrow two-track trails and fire roads. The UTV, on the other hand, provides a more car-like experience with more comfort, the ability to carry multiple passengers, and a higher load capacity. The drawback is that they are limited to wider roads and trails because of their size and width. 

Riding with Family – If you are looking to go off-roading with the family, the first thing to determine is whether you want to all ride in the same vehicle or separately. An ATV is ideal for solo experiences where family members can each have their own vehicle, and the family can ride together as a group. But if the objective is to have a family experience together, in that case, a multi-passenger UTV is ideal for taking the entire family in one vehicle.

Hauling Things – ATVs and UTVs offer users a significant level of towing and cargo-carrying capacity, the primary difference being size. An ATV with front and rear cargo racks and a hitch receiver can haul a substantial load. However, the UTV, with its larger overall size, provides substantially more carrying capacity than an ATV.

Hunting or Fishing – ATVs and UTVs are ideal for hunters and anglers looking to enter the rugged backcountry. An ATV allows one to navigate farther in rough terrain than a UTV due to its smaller size. While UTVs are ideal when hunting or fishing with a group, thanks to added passenger and cargo carrying capacity. 

Farming – ATVs and UTVs are ideal for farmers, ranchers, and other landowners with large land areas to tend to. Those with smaller farms or with livestock often choose an ATV because of its smaller, more agile size. At the same time, UTVs are ideal as proper work vehicles for day-to-day chores and property maintenance. 

Snowplowing – Clearing snow during the winter is another great use for an ATV or UTV. Like other uses, the size difference between an ATV and UTV can help determine your choice. In the case of snowplowing, the smaller ATV will be much more nimble and easy to maneuver. A UTV, with its larger size, is less maneuverable but can push snow easier.

Which is the Better Off-Road Vehicle?

The easiest way to answer this question comes down to the type of off-roading you intend to do. If you are more inclined to stick to fire roads, two-track trails, and open range, and you want a more car-like experience where you can carry multiple passengers, you can’t go wrong with a UTV. If you want a solo motorcycle-like experience, an ATV is ideal. 

UTV on a sand dune


Are UTVs the same as Side by Sides?
Yes. ‘UTV’ and ‘Side-by-side’ (SxS) are used interchangeably.

Are UTVs safer than ATVs?

Both ATVs and UTVs are inherently dangerous. However, the UTV provides more direct protection from rollovers thanks to a roll cage and seat belts.

Is a UTV better than an ATV for hunting?
Both are popular with hunters and provide the ability to haul game from the backcountry. While the ATV will enable one to get farther into the bush, the UTV has a much higher hauling capacity and can carry more passengers and equipment.

Dale Spangler

Dale Spangler is a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast introduced to two wheels at the age of eight and began racing motocross at 12. After chasing his dream of being a professional motocross racer through the mid-90s, he moved on to a career in the powersports industry, where he’s spent the last 28+ years as a marketing specialist, writer, and content creator.