2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 750 EPS First Ride 0

Power steering is the hottest thing in utility ATVs these days, and it’s become a must-have for big quads like the 2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 750 4x4i. This year the BF gets the steering aid as an optional feature along with a long list of small revisions that have a big effect on this sport-utility. Kawasaki introduced the new model by bringing out a fleet of machines to the Timber Mountain/John’s Peak OHV area just outside of Medford, Oregon. MotoUSA uses the area weekly for our regular testing and play-riding sessions so we knew it would be perfect for sampling the benefits of EPS with all of its roots, rocks, stumps and steep terrain.

The Brute Force 750 uses a muscular V-Twin engine that cranks out enough torque for hard working jobs and enough high-revving spirit for recreational use. For improved torque, this year the engine uses cylinder heads from the Brute Force 650 to shrink the volume in the combustion chamber and boosts compression from 8.8:1 to 9.3:1. Revised camshaft profiles offer increased valve lift and the timing is changed. The fuel injection system is largely unchanged except for some slight mapping adjustments and the throttle body has a revised heart guard. A burly engine is only as good as its cooling system, so Kawasaki increased the length, width and height of the radiator, mounted a larger fan and clamped on a larger-diameter hose. The engine coolant reservoir is relocated to inside the front wheel housing for ease of access. Electrical output is boosted with at 33.5-amp alternator to feed the power steering, new lights and any accessories. Non-EPS models will have the same output.

Low-speed riding requires more input from the EPS to help steer the heavy handlebars, and there is less input at high speeds to avoid a nervous feeling.

Low-speed riding requires more input from the EPS to help steer the heavy handlebars, and there is less input at high speeds to avoid a nervous feeling.

We did notice the fan kicking on quite a bit as we dinked around for photos and stopped to check out the awesome scenery. Getting to the vantage points was no problem for the big Twin, clawing up steep, slippery hills without breaking a sweat. It rips up inclines with a full head of steam and will just as easily drop into low range and crawl around to pick its way around ruts. There’s always plenty of power on tap and the awesome rumble of the V-Twin arrangement is one of our favorite things about the Brute Force. A healthy stab at the revised thumb throttle brings out a roar that is satisfying to the rider yet unobtrusive to neighbors. The exhaust pipes have been massaged for 2012 also. Front and rear pipes are stainless steel, the header and muffler are separate pieces for easier maintenance and the exhaust can is now rubber mounted to help dampen vibrations and increase durability.

The electronic power steering actuator is made by Kayaba and offers variable-assist based on vehicle speed and feedback from the torque sensor. The EPS ECU uses information from the sensors to direct the EPS motor. Low-speed riding requires more input from the EPS to help steer the heavy handlebars, and there is less input at high speeds to avoid a nervous feeling. Kawasaki has the KYB system tuned well and one of the best compliments we can pay is that it’s hard to even tell the system is working. Obviously EPS helps make it easier to steer, but it also serves as a steering damper to minimize negative feedback. Whenever we smacked a big rock or clipped a stump, instead of having our throttle thumb ripped off or getting the bars jerked from our grip, the Brute Force stays under control. This continues to be one of our favorite things about EPS. Not only does it make the ride more comfortable, but the safety factor increases substantially and riders have more confidence to attack terrain. Technical climbs become much easier to muscle the big ATV through and we’re not worried about those surprise jolts nearly as much. The base model EPS costs $9999 and the non-EPS Brute Force retails for $9299 – the extra money is definitely worth it for us.

The continuously variable transmission uses high, low and reverse gears. The high gear ratio is changed to lower the engine rpm at top speed, and the CVT has a new belt almost 1mm thicker and constructed of more durable material. It also uses a new converter weight and different drive spring settings for increased acceleration and better throttle response. This is easily felt out on the trail. With such an awesome engine, getting that power to the ground is important and the new CVT settings work great. There’s no lag and the rider’s thumb feels more connected to the wheels than ever before.

Selectable 2WD or limited-slip 4WD is managed by a thumb switch on the right handlebar. Abundant torque and a claimed curb weight of 695 pounds means there’s plenty of traction. The Brute still uses the variable front differential lock which is a small lever mounted above the rear hand brake on the left-side controls. Even though our ride had snow, mud, roots, rocks and slime, there wasn’t anything that the standard 4WD couldn’t handle. We toyed with the diff lock only a bit and it still offers some unique pros and cons compared to a standard full-lock option. In general, we like having the extra level of control. We rode in 4WD almost exclusively after testing both settings in the morning. One of the traits that come with the V-Twin is a high amount of engine braking on deceleration. The BF is capable and likes to go fast, but it’s moving a lot of weight so letting off the throttle engages some serious back torque. This will lock up the rear wheels in 2WD and it takes a blip of the throttle to get them freed up again. The sensation becomes normal after a while, but even when expecting it, having the rear wheels skidding and hopping down a rocky descent isn’t the best way to go about it. When the engine braking is applied to all four wheels, the skidding does not occur even on wet surfaces and the rider has enormous control over the ATV.

Softer suspension does a good job of soaking up trail debris and the independent setup keeps  clawing for traction.

Softer suspension does a good job of soaking up
trail debris and the independent setup keeps
clawing for traction.

Another reason we stayed in 4WD is the revised suspension. Single-rate springs are used on the front and rear suspension. These make for a more comfortable ride overall and feel softer on the trail. Our test loop had a lot of technical off-camber corners, many of which were downhill, and this is where the soft suspension shows a bit of weakness. The BF has a top-heavy feel in this particular situation and there is some noticeable body roll. Interestingly, it doesn’t exhibit this once the speeds pick up. For a nearly 700-pound ATV with fully independent suspension, the 750 does a good job of staying level in fast corners and through fast, rough terrain. We had no problem hammering through rocky sections and it behaves well on mismatched whoops. Both ends will bottom out but the front handles it all in stride. The EPS helps keep the steering under control when the 6.7 inches of travel reaches its end. The front shocks are also mounted slightly different for a changed geometry. When the rear shocks bottom out the back end rebounds quickly and springs into the air. We never got really spooked by it, but there were a few water-bars that could have been hairy with a little more speed.

Braking is the only area where we aren’t completely impressed. The rear unit is a fully sealed, wet multi-plate brake that will last forever. Performance out back is fine, and the linked foot pedal and hand lever make it easy to access stopping power regardless of body position. The front brakes are 200mm discs pinched by dual-piston calipers. These are underpowered for such a heavy and capably fast ATV. It takes a hard squeeze on the lever to get serious bite and the BF doesn’t haul down from speed. More aggressive ATV tires would help all around, particularly to take advantage of the better rear brake, but in general we’d like to see Kawi pump up the braking system to match the rest of the quad.

The Brute’s double-cradle steel chassis gets beefed up with reinforcements at the front A-arms and rear stabilizer, engine and footpeg mounts. We like that the front end has pre-routed tubing and a mounting bracket designed specifically to house a winch so accessorizing the Brute Force should be simple. Stock skid plates come in handy and we bashed them despite 9.4 inches of ground clearance and a 50-inch wheelbase. A drop-pin style tow hitch is standard and towing capacity is rated at 1250 pounds.

Just glancing around Brute’s updated skin shows a much sharper-looking package. Six-spoke cast aluminum wheels wrapped in 25-inch tires are blacked out and are our favorite styling cue. The hood, front bumper and headlight surrounds are revised and are much more angular. Rather than the bright Kawasaki green we’ve come to expect from the brand, a new Scout Green is much less neon and tones it down. This color will be popular for enthusiasts, farmers or hunters, and suits the Brute Force’s personality. Other colors are the Super Black and a special edition Metallic Tungsten Gray which uses automotive paint finish and brush-finished aluminum wheels. Kawi also offers a Camo edition. Graphics are updated and clean and the seat cover is new. Beefed up utility racks are powder-coated and made from one-inch tubing (previously ¾-inch), and now include long-overdue tie-down anchors. This small feature carries serious weight in our book and is honestly one of the things that we’re most thankful for.

Kawasaki not only updated the look, but added a host of mud guards and covers to help protect the machine from heat and nasty elements. The air intake cover is reshaped and the air filter housing has new covers at the front fender to keep water out. The rear CV joint gets a new cover, the neutral switch gets a heat guard and the muffler cover is revised. There’s also a new shield over the 2WD/4WD actuator. The bodywork does a great job of splash protection for the rider. We bombed into all types of puddles and scrapped through mud-filled ruts with hardly any getting on our clothes. There is one chink in the Brute Force’s considerable armor, however. The bulk of the CVT cover blocks water from coming through on the right side, but there is a gap between the engine and the floorboard on the left side that allows water to splash from the inside-out. We didn’t notice it with our Sidi Crossfire boots, but riders with shorter footwear like the Thor 50/50 boot and Alpinestars Tech 2 boots were filled with water.

On the trail this machine is even more impressive than ever with easier steering and better control when the going gets rough. The EPS does its job so well that it’s not something to think about on the trail, the pilot just focuses on enjoying the ride. Kawasaki has done a magnificent job of making a big-bore ATV that is capable of being pretty sporty when desired and equally happy tractoring along at a more comfortable pace. With selectable 4-wheel-drive, a massive V-Twin and tough exterior, the host of upgrades for 2012 adds up to an impressive machine. Power steering was a big omission, but now that it’s here and works flawlessly, there isn’t much more to ask for with the Brute Force 750.

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