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TEST: KAWASAKI MULE SX 4×4 XC

May 6, 2017
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In the world of UTVs, the big names come with some big prices, but there are still some very affordable machines from major manufacturers, like Kawasaki’s new 2017 Mule SX that starts at just $7299! We got to test some of the first Mule SXs shipped from Kawasaki’s factory in Lincoln, Nebraska, to see which users and uses it serves best.

Kawasaki’s Mule SX isn’t built for speed, but it can bring people and supplies to places only UTVs can reach.
Kawasaki’s Mule SX isn’t built for speed, but it can bring people and supplies to places only UTVs can reach.

 

WHAT IS A MULE SX?

It’s a compact utility UTV with a bench seat for two aimed at adventurers, hunters, ranchers, property managers and workers who need a vehicle that can handle challenging terrain and has plenty of carrying capacity. The Mule SX is an upgraded version of the Mule 610, with more rugged styling like Kawasaki’s Pro-FX Mules; tilt steering; a restyled, more functional dash; a rectangular-tube cargo guard; and steel bumpers. All Mule SX models have tilting steel beds that can carry 400 pounds, and they have 1100 pounds of towing capacity. There are six versions, starting with the $7299 2WD Mule SX, which comes in Timberline Green or Dark Royal Red. The Mule SX 4×4 is $8099 and also comes in Timberline Green or Dark Royal Red. For $8299, the Mule SX 4×4 SE comes with a trailer hitch and is available in Sunbeam Red. The Mule SX 4×4 XC gets 26-inch tires on 12-inch wheels rather than the 24-inch tires on 10-inch wheels on less expensive models. It comes in Vibrant Blue. The $9049 Mule SX 4×4 XC Camo is all that with Realtree Xtra Green Camo bodywork and LED headlights. For $9399, the top-of-the-line Mule SX 4×4 XC SE comes with Super Black bodywork, 26-inch tires on 12-inch cast-aluminum wheels, a roof, under-seat compartment and LED headlights.

The Mule SX’s fan, air-cooled, 401cc, push-rod, single-cylinder engine is simple, rugged and quiet.
The Mule SX’s fan, air-cooled, 401cc, push-rod, single-cylinder engine is simple, rugged and quiet.

 

HOW COMPACT IS IT?

Small enough to fit in the bed of most full-size pickups. That kind of portability adds convenience for crews that have trucks but not trailers, and saving the cost of a trailer makes operating the Mule SX more economical than many UTVs. The Mule is 52.6 inches wide, so it can’t go on 50-inch OHV trails.

HOW DOES COST COMPARE?

The Mule SX starts at $7299. Our Mule SX 4×4 XC test machine is $8399. The Honda Pioneer 500 is $8999. The Polaris Ranger 500 is $8999. Kymco’s UXV 450i is $7999. Hisun’s HS400 is $6999.

MacPherson-strut front suspension provides a comfortable ride at relaxed speeds even in rugged terrain, but its 3.1 inches of travel isn’t enough for a fast pace in rough-going.
MacPherson-strut front suspension provides a comfortable ride at relaxed speeds even in rugged terrain, but its 3.1 inches of travel isn’t enough for a fast pace in rough-going.

 

WHAT POWERS IT?

A 401cc, air-cooled, single-cylinder, two-valve, pushrod, four-stroke engine with a 26mm carburetor. The Mule is outstandingly quiet, a plus for hunters or anyone who cares to communicate while driving.

WHAT KIND OF TRANSMISSION DOES IT HAVE?

A fully automatic belt-type continuously variable transmission (CVT) with high and low ranges, neutral and reverse. There’s no automatic engine braking, but the Mule’s transmission stays engaged and provides engine braking any time the engine is above idle.

Truck-like solid-axle rear suspension doesn’t squat under loads and lose ground clearance like independent rear suspension.
Truck-like solid-axle rear suspension doesn’t squat under loads and lose ground clearance like independent rear suspension.

 

WHAT’S THE 4WD SYSTEM LIKE?

Four-wheel-drive Mule SXs have selectable 2WD/4WD and a lockable rear differential. Unlocking the rear differential allows tighter turns and protects delicate turf. There is no front differential lock.

HOW FAST IS IT?

As fast as most other pure-utility UTVs, which is not very fast. The Mule SX’s 25-mph top speed won’t let you chase down any sport UTVs, but it’s plenty for many trails and enough for trail riding, exploring, hunting and chores. Driving the Mule SX is more like four-wheeling in a jeep than being in the more sport-focused UTVs we’re used to. It’s fun, but at a slower pace. For a 400 utility UTV, the Mule accelerates pretty well.

HOW DOES THE POWER WORK ON THE TRAIL?

Surprisingly well. The Mule makes enough smooth, low and midrange power to climb hills and claw through difficult terrain. It’s great for slick conditions and technical obstacles, because the power delivery is gentle and throttle response is precise. Engine rpm is fairly low, even with the throttle wide open, so the Mule feels relaxed at speed in open terrain.

The compact, affordable Mule SX fits tight budgets and tight spaces easily.
The compact, affordable Mule SX fits tight budgets and tight spaces easily.

 

WHAT KIND OF SUSPENSION DOES IT HAVE?

MacPherson-strut front suspension and truck-like swing-axle rear suspension with 3.1 inches of travel at both ends. The suspension is non-adjustable.

HOW DOES THE SUSPENSION WORK ON THE TRAIL?

For suspension with about 3 inches of travel, it’s pretty good. This is a pure-utility UTV, so the Mule’s suspension is tuned for comfort at sensible speeds on decent terrain. If you respect what it was designed for, the ride is impressively smooth, but it’s not as luxuriously plush as Kawasaki’s Pro-FX Mules. Fail to adjust your speed for big bumps or really rough-going and it will bottom.

HOW IS IT IN WATER AND MUD?

Surprisingly well prepared. The Mule SX’s engine uses the cage as a snorkel, drawing air for the engine and transmission above the driver’s head! The engine and transmission exhaust aren’t snorkeled, so you can’t get too crazy. Ground clearance on the base 4×4 is just 6.7 inches. XCs have 8.1 inches. The 4WD system doesn’t offer front differential lock, but the Mule will motor through most crossings just fine without it.

You can lock the rear differential for extra traction or unlock it for tighter turns or to protect turf.
You can lock the rear differential for extra traction or unlock it for tighter turns or to protect turf.

 

HOW IS IT FOR HILLS?

Hills on normal trails are no problem, but don’t try to follow faster UTVs up everything they climb. As long as you remember the Mule SX is a 400, hills will be as fun as the rest of the trail. Going down steep grades with the Mule calls for some awareness from the driver too. The transmission doesn’t have automatic engine braking, but it engages just above idle, so it’s easy to keep the Kawasaki from freewheeling. There are hydraulic drum brakes at all four wheels, and they have enough power to stop the Mule easily in steep terrain, even when it’s hauling or towing a load.

HOW ARE THE DETAILS?

Very impressive. The Mule SX comes with the same three-year warranty as the Pro-series Mules, the longest in the industry. This vehicle is also remarkably refined, especially for a pure-utility UTV. The range selector and other controls have a smooth, solid action. The engine, exhaust and driveline are outstandingly quiet. The snorkel intake adds water resistance and extends air-filter service. There’s lots of storage space under the seat and under the hood.

The engine and transmission air intake is located high at the top of the cage.
The engine and transmission air intake is located high at the top of the cage.

 

WHAT IS OUR FINAL ANSWER?

Kawasaki’s new Mule SX proves a big-name UTV doesn’t have to be big money—and how varied the users and uses of UTVs are. The Mule SX’s low price and small size are ideal for those who want or need a machine or two, or three, to get people and supplies into tight trails and tough off-road terrain but don’t want or need a ton of speed. It’s a perfect fit for anyone who needs a basic, rugged UTV on an ATV budget, and the fact that it fits in a full-size pickup adds to the savings.

KAWASAKI_8_KWP_9473

2017 KAWASAKI MULE SX 4X4 XC

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION

Engine type Four-stroke, OHV, 2-valve, fan air-cooled

single

Displacement 401cc

Bore x stroke 82 x 76mm

Compression ratio 8.6:1

Carburetion Nikki 6C1026

Air filter Snorkel-type with two-stage dry

replaceable element

Transmission CVT w/ high and low range, plus reverse

Drive system Selectable 2WD/4WD, lockable

rear differential

Tires:

  Front 26×9-12 Duro

  Rear tires 26×9-12 Duro

Suspension/wheel travel:

  Front MacPherson strut/3.1”

  Rear Unit swing axle / 3.1”

Brakes Four-wheel hydraulic drums, triple sealed

Fuel capacity 4.2 gal.

Weight 1,082.7 lb.

Length/width/height 106.7”/52.6”/73.4”

Wheelbase 70.1 in.

Ground clearance 8.1 in.

Cargo bed capacity 400 lb.

Towing capacity 1,100 lb.

Instruments Fuel gauge, oil temp meter, hour meter

Lighting 2 35W headlights, taillight and stoplight

Color choices Realtree Xtra Green Camo, Green,

Red, XC Vibrant Blue, XC SE Super Black

MSRP $8399

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