The Suzuki's digital gauge...
The Suzuki's digital gauge featured big, easy-to-read numbers, and the gear display was a crowd favorite.
One of the less-protected...
One of the less-protected quads, the Vinson featured a frame-covering plastic skid but not much under the rear axle or on the front arms.
In addition to its five-speed...
In addition to its five-speed manual transmission, the Vinson has both low and high range, although first gear in high was low enough for the riding we did.
The Vinson's styling was universally...
The Vinson's styling was universally praised, but in the case of this swoopy light, it actually performed with the top lights in the test.
With 650 and 700 twins inhabiting this class these days, you might wonder how a 500 single ended up so highly regarded. Simple: price and ability. The Vinson delivers maximum performance for minimal outlay. Despite our faulty premise of getting the "shifter" Vinson instead of the auto, testers really warmed up to the "little 500 that could."
The words most used to describe the Vinson were "best buy." Referring to how little drop-off in performance there is from the big scary monsters of the "true" Open class, folks were impressed, and even surprised, by the Suzuki.
The lynchpin of the Vinson's overachievement is a well-engineered package of engine power, suspension and chassis design that give it a well-balanced attack that's both fun to ride and capable in a variety of situations. From prior testing of the Vinson automatic, we know that rock crawling and sloshing around in deep mud are relative weak points for this machine, but neither came much into play in this test.
In woods testing, the Vinson's quick handling and responsive motor made for big fun. Its relatively narrow profile allowed it to slip through tight spaces easier than many of its peers. While the Grizzly and Cat had problems negotiating off-cambers, the Suzuki tracked very accurately and predictably in awkward terrain and rarely set a wheel in the wrong place.
In fast, easy terrain the yellow machine was among the favorites. A low center of gravity aids the Suzuki in feeling as different from the Arctic Cat as is possible, despite sharing the same powerplant. While the Kawasaki was faster in a straight line, the Vinson could carry far more speed around a bend with more stability. Even on rougher fast curves its suspension was tuned well for such duty; you'd have to try hard to upset the Vinson chassis. Not that we didn't try in the mountainous remainder of our test.
Only in the truly hard-core terrain did little flaws appear. When flogged on huge ascents and taxed trying to keep up with the bigger machines, vibration began to be a problem for some. And while most considered the suspension plush yet very controlled, others judged that taking the continuous hits of mountain riding got you beat up a bit more than on the more comfortable Kawasaki, Honda or even Polaris.
With four-wheel-drive constantly engaged, overall steering effort was increased significantly, and while confident and predictable, the Vinson wore out its rider in 4WD more than most. A final beef would be the fade in the otherwise excellent brakes during hard mountain riding.
However, all the things we found charming about the Vinson in the woods were just as true in the rarefied mountain air. Predictable handling is a must when scampering up sheer surfaces and crisp and plentiful power--while not among the fastest--was useful in dealing with big hills. When one day of testing became an evening, the Suzuki stole the show with the best lighting of the bunch.
Suzuki's Vinson may not have the suspension actuation that the independently suspended models have, nor the outright grunt of the bigger motors (although it comes close), but neither does it have any of the design quirks the others seem to possess. Supreme balance and economy in design yielded Suzuki a 500 that falls just short of the pinnacle of the Open class. We're almost afraid of what the people who created this quad could engineer given a higher price point to work under--maybe adding independent suspension and a bigger motor to the mix along with higher-spec components.
+ Surprising power
+ Exciting yet predictable handling
- Fragile plastic parts
- No-frills nonlocking differential
= Best value in class
|Suzuki Vinson 500 4x4|
|Type||Single-cylinder, four-stroke, SOHC|
|Carburetion||Keihin CVK 36mm|
|Starting||Electric with recoil backup|
|Drive System||Shaft, 4x4|
|Transmission||5-speed auto-clutch with high/low range, reverse|
|Front||Dual A-arms/7.1 in.|
|Front||25x8-12; rear 25x10-12|
|Front||Dual discs; rear disc|
|Claimed Dry Weight||604 lb|
|Ground Clearance||9.9 in.|
|Seat Height||33.9 in.|
|Fuel Capacity||5.0 gal.|
|Front/Rear Rack Capacity||66/132 lb|
|Hitch Tongue/Towing Capacity||NA/992 lb|
|Headlight||Dual 30-watt high/low beam|
|Instrumentation||Fuel gauge, speedometer, odometer, hourmeter, tripmeter; high beam, neutral/reverse, high-temperature indicators|
|Colors||Green, red, yellow|