Badlands Tour with Kawasaki Brute Force and Teryx 0

10_kawi_atv_utv_badlands-LEADRegardless if you ride on two wheels, four wheels, or even without wheels, you won’t find another manufacturer with as diverse line of performance-based powersports products than Kawasaki. Given the insane performance of the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R sportbikes and KX250F and KX450F dirt bikes, it’s an established leader in the motorcycle segment. We’re also in love with the water carving capabilities of its Jet Ski personal watercraft. And after a day spent piloting some of its ATV and side-by-side model line-up, including the Brute Force and Teryx 750 FI 4×4, we now have a greater understanding of how entertaining life can be on four wheels.

One of the best features of Kawasaki’s four wheelers is that they enable outdoor enthusiasts who don’t ride dirtbikes to explore Mother Nature’s wonders that otherwise would be difficult to reach by foot. One such place is Indiana’s Badlands Off-Road Park. Situated in Western Indiana, the Badlands offers hundreds of acres for your off-road riding pleasure. The park is unique in the fact that offers a huge variety of terrain, including: forested single and double-wide trails, huge rock climbs, sloppy mud pits, steep hills, and even some sand. There is also a dedicated motocross track to rip on. The best part is that the fee to ride at Badlands is reasonable and they’re open seven days a week.

Kawasaki Brute Force 650 and 750 4x4i

When it comes to selecting your next sport utility ATV there isn’t any shortage of options. Kawasaki makes a buyer’s decision easier by offering an extremely diverse line of utility vehicles. We tested its mid-level $7249 Brute Force 650 4×4 and premium $8699 Brute Force 750 4x4i.

The 650 machine is powered by a smaller-displacement 633cc V-Twin engine. It’s designed for those who don’t need excessive amounts of power or aren’t planning on pulling heavy objects, loads, or running up and down steep mountain faces all day. However, if you fall into the latter category, than you should consider the Brute Force 750, with its more powerful 749cc fuel-injected V-Twin engine.

Both motors are liquid-cooled and feature four-valve cylinder heads, each operated by their own camshaft. Intake air is routed from a snorkel mounted high in the machine’s chassis to minimize the chance of water entering. Air is mixed with fuel from the 4.8 gallon tank located beneath the seat via twin 32mm Keihin carburetors. The 750 gets electronic fuel-injection and 0.2 additional gallons of fuel capacity.

Despite the 650 not benefiting from fuel-injection, it started up immediately with a single push of the starter button and without the choke, even on a chilly Midwest morning. There’s also an auxiliary manual recoil start mechanism if the battery were to die. Strangely enough, that recoil isn’t available on the 750.

Push the throttle trigger and either quad scoots forward nice and controllably. Response is definitely on the gentle side, but that’s a good thing as it makes these machines less intimidating to ride regardless of how little seat time one has aboard an ATV. From a stop it’s easy to feel the added torque of the bigger Brute Force, though it almost seems overkill unless you were to be hauling something heavy.

An automatic transmission with high/low-speed range, neutral and reverse reduces the complexity of operation, with power routed to alloy wheels through a shaft-drive. Selectable four-wheel drive (4WD) is standard and can be activated with a handlebar-mounted switch. When 4WD is triggered a limited-slip front differential reduces steering effort. Furthermore, the front differential features a variable lockout which allows one to adjust the amount of power being directed to each wheel. This is a big plus for rock crawling.

Traction afforded by either quad in high-range with two-wheel drive was excellent. In fact, the only time 4WD was really necessary was during uphill ascents without carrying enough momentum, or blasting through a deep, soupy mud pit. It was also great for rock climbing, or any other limited-traction situation. Even then, we never felt the need to use the transmission’s low-range as it’s really only for use during towing or negotiating extremely steep terrain. Switching between drive wheels is as easy as pushing a button, even while moving, as long as you’re traveling less than 14 mph. Steering with the limited-slip front differential engaged does require a bit more muscle, but it still isn’t enough to warrant power steering.

When terrain gets really tricky the variable lock-out function will certainly be a life saver. To activate it squeeze the handbrake-style lever incrementally until you’ve reached the desired about of power dispersion. The more you lock you dial-in the harder it becomes to steer, so save this feature for the times when you are trying to climb something slippery or need maximum drive from the front wheels.

Still, even with 4WD and the locking front differential engaged it’s possible to get stuck… And we did. That’s why the one accessory that we recommend is the Warn electric winch. This allows you to yank yourself out of the mud or sand. I was forced to test it when I accidently buried myself in a mud pit, and trust me, it works great!

Although both machines feature a sturdy steel frame, they use entirely different suspension systems. The 650 get a simpler MacPherson strut front set-up offering 6.7 in. of wheel travel. At the back a single shock absorber works through an aluminum swingarm and provides 7.2 in. of suspension travel.

The 750 takes performance to the next level with the use of its fully-independent double A-arms front and back. The lower rear arms articulate with a combination of needle bearings and ball joints, said to improve action. All four shocks use progressive rate springs and are adjustable in the form of spring preload only, with 6.2 in. of movement available at the front and 7.9 in. rearward. Lastly, a torsion bar was fitted to help suppress body roll.

Turn the handlebar while dialing in a bit of throttle and it’s easy to feel how much more agile the smaller Brute Force 650 is. In fact, for a machine that only weighs five pounds less, it’s surprising how much more friendly it is to ride. As long as you avoid turning sharp with the throttle pinned, all four tires stay close to the ground and both vehicles offer an acceptable level of stability.

Suspension wise it’s easy to feel the variation between each model. As expected, the fully-independent set-up on the 750 does a much better job of absorbing holes in the dirt or crawling over logs and other big obstacles. But its improved damping ability does sacrifice a level of sport performance that comes with the simpler non-IRS set-up on the 650. This is far better for romping around in the mud and crossed-up power slides.

Both ATVs also share similar braking hardware. At the front, twin hydraulically-actuated disc brakes are controlled by a right hand handlebar-mounted lever. The rear brake consists of Kawasaki’s proprietary sealed, oil-bathed, multi-disc set-up, which is operated by a right-side foot lever. Furthermore, an auxiliary electronic braking control system uses the engine’s compression to help slow the vehicle during off-throttle deceleration.

There is quite a bit of engine braking, especially on the larger 750, which aids in minimizing the amount of brake lever input needed. When you do touch the brakes they aren’t grabby and are easy to modulate, though we weren’t really fond of how much the quad would pitch forward during spirited front braking. For aggressive stops it’s good to lean on the rear brake a bit harder than the front.

Size wise it’s surprising how much smaller the 650 model is compared to the 750. The seat height felt shorter but the location and general layout of the handlebar and footpegs was similar. Both seats are broad and offer a good amount of padding.

The digital instrument display is easy-to-read at a glance and displays a multitude of functions, including a speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, clock, hour meter, fuel gauge and warning lights. More creature comforts come in the form of an automotive-style 12-volt power plug and a small open-air storage slot on the right side of each machine that uses webbing to keep things from falling out. Additional storage in the form of a water-proof box is located on the left side of the 750 only. Both ATVs also have metal racks capable of carrying up to 264-lbs of gear on the front and backside. Kawasaki offers accessory bags that are made specifically for them. Lastly, a hitch receiver also comes standard and can accommodate towing loads up to 1250 lbs.

Although both machines are simple to ride, and offer a tremendous amount of off-road performance, we preferred the 650 model. Despite having a smaller engine it still had plenty of juice. It also felt substantially smaller, carved turns better and in general just delivered a sportier ride. Not to mention the added value.

Kawasaki Teryx 750 FI 4×4

During our Badlands adventure we also drove the updated $11,699 Teryx 750 FI 4×4. With its automotive-derived controls, it’s perfect for those who want to explore the wilderness but aren’t comfortable operating a a traditional-style ATV. We’ve been in love with Kawasaki’s four-wheeled tank ever since we first got behind the wheel back in ’08 (Find out more in our 2008 Kawasaki Teryx 750 4×4 First Ride and 2008 Kawasaki Teryx 750 4×4 Second Ride).

Last year it received an important upgrade in the form of electronic fuel-injection (read the report in the 2009 Kawasaki Teryx 750 UTV Review). Now, Kawasaki engineers have fitted it with a few more improvements, which should continue to help it keep pace with the competition.

Visually, it sports a new front fascia. This is courtesy in part to the reshaped headlights and hood, which now tilts up from the front. Not only does it look sleeker, it allows one to access the front suspension and cooling system more easily for maintenance or cleaning chores.

Jump into the contoured bucket driver seat and you’ll see that the cockpit is unchanged. There are no doors and the foot wells are fairly uncluttered so getting in and out is easy. A well-proportioned steering wheel is directly in front of you and is flanked by the headlight switch and the center console, which houses the transmission’s shift gate and front differential control. Similarly to the Brute Force ATVs, the automatic transmission offers high/low-range, neutral, and reverse. It also comes with selectable 4WD that’s activated by a dash-mounted toggle switch.

Above the steering wheel lies a legible digital instrument panel fitted into the dash. The display provides speed info, an engine hour meter, twin trip meters, clock, 4WD indicator, coolant temperature and fuel level. There are also warning lights including one for the transmission in case it gets too hot. Below are a retractable cup holder and a cigarette-style 12-volt power outlet. To the right of that is a large glove box.

Buckle your seat belt, turn the ignition key, notch the shift lever into ‘high’, release the foot-actuated parking brake and you’re rolling. If you happen to forget to release the parking brake an ignition cut-out prevents it from being driven until it’s released and this is a new feature for ’10. The Teryx can be started in any gear as long as the brake is applied.
The engine’s cooling system got some attention this year as well. A larger fan helps push more air through the aluminum radiator and the rubber hoses are now larger in diameter, increasing coolant flow and capacity. The overflow container was also relocated under the hood.

Mash the right pedal and the Teryx’s liquid-cooled 749cc V-Twin engine will surprise you with its acceleration performance. Although its engine is nearly identical to the one used in the Brute Force 750 and has to push more than twice the mass, it does so without issue. As speed increases, however, so does noise from both the engine and whine of the transmission. Some will probably complain about it, but for me it just adds to the thrill of driving.

Like the Brute Force, two-wheel drive can handle the majority of trails we encountered so long as you maintain momentum through sand or mud. But if you don’t want to worry about getting stuck when negotiating hills or blasting through deep mud or sand, simply slow down to 14 mph and flip the 4WD toggle and you’re ready to blast across any sort of terrain ahead. And blast is through obstacles is what the Teryx does best. It’s absolutely amazing the sort of terrain you can tackle with it—it’s like a common man’s version of an M1-Abrams tank. For climbing up or down really steep terrain slip the shift lever into low-range and off you go.

One of the coolest things about the Teryx is how that it only measures about a foot wider than the Brute Force ATVs. This allows it to tread on wooded ATV trails as well as fit in the back of a full-size pickup truck for transportation.

Roll-over accidents have plagued this vehicle segment since the beginning. Kawasaki addressed this problem by engineering the Teryx with a wider wheel track than other side-by-sides. The position of the powertrain and 7.4-gallon capacity fuel tank also aid vehicle dynamics. If an accident were to occur the Teryx features an integrated roll-over cage constructed out of large-diameter steel tubes. The automobile-style seat belts and the shape of the floorboards also help keep the operator from being ejected. We’ve seen Teryx’s rolled at places like the sand dunes of Glamis and the cage remains intact.

The Teryx is built on a metal frame with fully-independent front and rear suspension, offering nearly a foot of ground clearance. Kayaba gas-charged coil-spring shock absorbers keep each of the four Maxxis 26-inch diameter tires in contact with the ground and provide spring preload adjustability. The rear shock absorbers also add a remote gas reservoir, which helps maintain damping performance during hard rides. Lastly, a torsion bar was fitted to mitigate body roll. Suspension travel is 7.5 inches at each end.

Overall ride quality is phenomenal. Regardless of whether you’re blasting through a rock section or motoring through sand whoops at nearly 50 mph, the Teryx’s chassis soaks up bumpy earth exceptionally well. It also feels very balanced and resists pitching either fore and aft during aggressive braking or acceleration.

Pull the steering wheel in either direction and it initiates a turn immediately. Steering doesn’t feel quite as sharp as a new car or truck, yet it still works great and is stable as long as you avoid extreme steering wheel movements at speed. Without question the Teryx’s well-sorted chassis and suspension is one of its fundamental attributes.

Stopping duties are handled by a pair of 200mm drilled discs up front clamped by double-piston calipers. The set-up is recessed inside each front wheel in order to shield them from trail hazards. Similarly to the Brute Forces, a sealed and oil-bathed multi-disc rear brake controls the speed of the rear wheels. An electronic-engine-braking system has also been incorporated. The brakes are activated by a foot pedal just like on a car.

Overall braking performance was more than adequate and there didn’t seem to be as much engine braking effect on the Teryx as compared to the bigger Brute Force ATV, which was pleasing. We were also surprised by how resistant the brakes were to fading even after a succession of multiple aggressive stops.

When it’s work time the Teryx features a reengineered cargo bed that’s said to be stronger. It retains its ability to tilt up and down courtesy of dual gas-assisted struts and has fixed tie-down hooks at each corner. It comes with a cargo net so you can better secure your load and the bed has a 500-lb capacity. There is also a standard rear hitch that’s rated at 1300-lbs towing capacity.

Once again, the Teryx continues to keep us completely enamored with its performance. Sure, we wish it had a more secure safety belt system and some small doors, but besides those two minor wish-list features, it’s truly amazing what this vehicle is capable of. And in essence that is what’s so wonderful about Kawasaki’s four-wheeled line-up. They offer insane off-road performance packed into a machine that’s simple to operate and stone-ax reliable.

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