As we get to the front of...
As we get to the front of this comparison, less and less protection comes on the bottom of these quads
The Prairie was yet another...
The Prairie was yet another quad with both brake and gear-locking Park features. Here's another digital gauge for ya.
We've gone on about the motor...
We've gone on about the motor that almost won the shootout for the Kawi long enough, but the transmission is second only to the Yamaha Grizzly of the belt-driven ones.
Hermetically sealed within...
Hermetically sealed within this housing is the Prairie's multiplate rear brake. Not only does it work better than any other, it requires the least amount of maintenance.
Witness the difference power makes. Kawasaki's Prairie 360 4x4 is a virtual clone of the Prairie 650. Same basic suspension, same basic geometry, same cool brake setup, about the same weight; however, the 360 finished fifth (of six) in our December '02 400cc comparison, while the 650 sits in second here. The reason? The 360 uses an air-cooled powerplant that was a bit underpowered in our 400 test, while the 650 literally smokes every other big-bore engine here for outright performance. And in the Open class, that's what it's all about.
On day one of our test, tight woods and flat track were the setting, and neither suited the Prairie particularly well. But in the tightest portions of the course, the Prairie was a scalpel in the right hands. A tight turning radius and the ability to kick the back end around got it through the technical sections well, though less skilled riders had issues with the amount of power on tap. In rougher terrain the suspension didn't particularly soak up the ripples, and when deflecting off bumps, the big motor wasn't available to really scream through the trees. In the tight woods it was bested by the Rincon and ran neck and neck with the Vinson. While the Vinson precisely and confidently blasted through the tight woods, the Prairie overhauled them with brute force.
On the grass track the Prairie's motor was far more appreciated, making for fun times for some. Others thought the soft, nonadjustable front suspension kept it from settling into the corners as a swingarm-equipped ATV should. The Prairie was capable of blistering straight-line acceleration, but other more stable quads would fly past in the corners.
In the loose, steep, power-sapping trails of the Smoky Mountains, the Kawie was a real ringer. When forging up freshly snowed-on passes or checking out if a trail was passable, there was only one machine that led the way: the Prairie. Between the easy-to-use differential lock and power that never quit, if the Prairie wasn't getting up a hill, nothing was--except the tanklike Quest. It's not just the amount of power that thrilled, it was the smooth delivery through the very responsive belt tranny. The powerband of the big motor is remarkable, hitting hard on the bottom and carrying that torque all the way to the top of the rev range.
In the mountains the suspension worked better also. Up hills, the Kawasaki would soak bumps almost as well as the Grizzly. Down hills, the precise and powerful brakes were appreciated, but the overzealous engine-braking was not. Some testers found the front a little too willing to roll over in off-cambers. But all was forgiven when they rolled on that smile-inducing engine. Prairie-philes would find a way to make the power work for them.
In the end it was the Prairie's power that helped it overcome merely decent handling in a crowd that prides itself on control. You feel like a hero when you can command forces like the Prairie's big 650 twin with the flick of a thumb. But you feel like a god when you can leave the motor pinned and float through truly hairy terrain, as you can with the Rincon.
+ Big robust motor
+ Innovative brakes and differential lock
- Lackluster chassis, suspension
- A handful in technical riding
= Might makes right
|Kawasaki Prairie 650 4x4|
|Retail Price||$6999/$7299 Realtree Camo|
|Type||V-twin, four-stroke, SOHC|
|Carburetion||Dual Keihin CVKR 32mm|
|Starting||Electric with pull-start backup|
|Drive System||Shaft, 4x4|
|Transmission||Automatic CVT with high/low range, reverse, Kawasaki Engine Brake Control|
|Front||MacPherson strut/6.7 in.|
|Front||25x8-12; rear 25x10-12|
|Front||Dual hydraulic discs; |
|Claimed Dry Weight||604 lb|
|Ground Clearance||7.6 in.|
|Seat Height||33.7 in.|
|Fuel Capacity||4.5 gal.|
|Front/Rear Rack Capacity||88/176 lb|
|Hitch Tongue/Towing Capacity||NA/1250 lb|
|Headlight||Dual 45-watt high/low beam|
|DC Outlet||Cigarette-style at base of handlebar, trailer-type connector at rear|
|Instrumentation||Fuel gauge, speedometer, odometer, hourmeter, clock, dual tripmeter; neutral/reverse, high-temperature indicators|
|Colors||Aztec red, Hunter green; Realtree Advantage Classic Camouflage|