ATVC Test Drive: 2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 750 4x4i EPS
Brute Force or Race Horse?
Words by Adrian Harris, Photos by Alfonse Palaima
For 2012 Kawasaki have completely overhauled their top of the line Sport Utility ATV, the aptly named Brute Force. There are few parts of the machine that Kawasaki’s engineers didn’t touch and ATV Connection was at their launch event to see how this large array of improvements fared in real world conditions. It is exciting to see a Japanese manufacturer bring such a large array of updates to the table, in the past couple of years the industry has really been reliant on the North American manufacturers for fresh products.
The biggest changes to the Brute Force this year are standard Aluminum wheels, the introduction of Electric Power Steering (EPS), improvements to the engine with an increase in the Compression Ratio and the CVT, new bodywork and updated suspension. Like we said, there were few parts of the quad that Kawasaki didn’t enhance.
Initial impressions reveal an ATV that has gone to the Teryx school of styling – and looks all the better for it – the wide set headlights with bulging panels, cast aluminum wheels and an aggressive front end, provide it a very modern and assertive appearance. There are 3 price points for the Brute Force, starting at ,299 for a unit without EPS, ,999 for a unit in Green or Black with EPS, and ,349 with Realtree™ camouflage paint or silver with machined wheel centers (that look good!).
Sitting on the machine we found the seat to be suitably padded for our posterior’s, and all the controls to be located in logical spots – although we found the dead position for the front brake to be a little too much of a stretch for this riders dainty fingers. There is a nice covered cubby bin on the left fender, and an open one on the right fender – both suitable for a couple of small drink bottles each – there are also small bins built into the front and rear rack which provided further covered storage, although would be inaccessible if you had items mounted to the racks. Speaking of the racks, they are thicker at the front and rear with an increased rating of 88 and 176lbs respectively, and have tie down loops for lashing down heavy loads (why don’t other manufacturers do this?) – they look strong and sturdy although the welding on our test units looked like it had been performed by a welding class, not a Japanese OEM. A handy 12v electrical outlet is mounted just below the handle bars, and would be useful to power a GPS or air pump. For what is a large V-twin engine bike, the seat front was narrow and comfortable for standing up through the tougher sections. The instrument panel is a large multi-function LCD displaying important information prominently like speed, whether the bike is in 2WD or 4WD, how full the gas tank is and time. Standard equipment also includes a tow bar rated for 1250lbs, and a very effective adjustable Limited Slip (but not 100% lockable) Front Differential. Other practical items include a high, reverse facing air intake and CVT breather and easy oil drain access for the engine and transmission. Winches, full Aluminum underbody guards, front and rear cargo boxes fill most of the option list, and while neither a Snow Plow or a Snow Plow rating is available from Kawasaki, we are sure that with the engine’s low down grunt and traction that a 54” blade would not be a problem.
The location chosen for the event was just outside of Southern Oregon’s largest town, Medford, and provided a good mix of tight technical wooded trail, snow for those people that like to live where you get 4 seasons, mud, elevation changes, rocks and fast dirt roads.
Kawasaki’s previous Brute Force models have sat at the sportier end of the utility atv spectrum, and the updated Brute Force builds upon that. We have always been a fan of the Brute Force, light weight, stiff suspension, short wheelbase, narrow track and ballsy engine being a great tool for blasting along fire trails and through the woods, but retaining strong front and rear racks and decent towing capacity if your idea of a good day out is towing hay bales.
The Brute Force has never been a slow coach by any standards, but by raiding the parts bin and stealing the heads from the smaller capacity KVF650F to lift the Compression Ratio up to 9.3:1 (it still runs on regular though), changing the camshafts to increase duration and lift and re-mapping the engine’s fuel injection to bring more power and torque all through the rev range. You can say what you want about Fuel Injection, but if all Fuel Injected engines are going to perform like this you can put us in the “fan” camp. The engine never stumbled, it would pull from low rpm’s without a murmur, response was instant and the power would hit harder than the Pittsburg Steelers linemen after they have finished a case of beer each. All this is channeled through an updated and uprated CVT with improved clutch, thicker Belt, and a longer gear reduction (2.884:1 final drive). Good for wheelies you say? Sure thing. The front axle will come up to say hello without much provocation and it will hold a 30mph power wheelie like a KX450F, unlike any of the other heavy automatic offerings from other manufacturers. The powerful v-twin will propel the machine to the industry standard 40mph quicker than any of its competitors, and we never found as if it was wanting for power, delivery was both seamless and unrelenting with electric throttle response – which is a-typical of most CVT equipped machines, although the transmission will whine. We really wondered why one would want an 800, let alone a 1000cc machine as it would be no quicker in any real-world scenario.
Going through tight forest trails highlighted the best aspects of the machine, it’s agile dimensions, light weight, and the new EPS. It definitely felt more like a 400cc machine until you hit the light throttle (which, let’s face it, was often) and its powerhouse engine would have you hurtling towards the scenery at a rapid rate of knots. The Brute Force is lighter than any of the American made ATV’s, and has the equal shortest wheelbase and narrow width of any of the large v-twins on sale. Kawasaki is one of the last manufacturers to embrace EPS (Honda being the last), but it feels like the weight was worth it (pardon the puns). The EPS has been tuned to provide maximum assistance at slow speeds and dial out assistance as the speeds rise, it means that it is lightweight when doing a 3-point turn but retains good feel for drifting the bike through wide open gravel. After a days (hard) riding we felt like we should be heading back out on the trail not to the massage parlor, and while I am sure the bike might lose some steering feel over a non-EPS equipped unit (of which there were none available to compare to), it more than re-gains in a lack of kick-back and ease of use. Kawasaki was that confident in the system, they anticipate that 90% of customers will fork out the extra 700 dollars for an EPS equipped bike.
Traversing over large granite rocks, we found the strong (carry-over from the previous year) brakes to provide more than adequate stopping power, the revised softer suspension to provide better traction and the fully guarded underbelly (plastic – aluminum is a worthwhile option) to be an absolute necessity. The ATV has the least ground-clearance of all the big utility bikes, and while it didn’t halt progress the guards got dragged regularly. With the engine’s power the low range wasn’t necessary for any of our climbs, but might be useful for towing something like an Airbus.
In the faster and slipperier mud and snow the bike would get Caterpiller like traction and when we tried to get it sideways in 4wd we found ourselves going sideways off the machine with an “o-sh#t” look on our dials. We kept the bike in 2wd in all but the sloppiest of areas, and found it much easier to steer on the throttle, and much in keeping with our preference to stay on top of the bike rather than underneath it. Being in 2wd displayed the engine/transmissions impressive engine braking, often locking up the rear wheels on steep descents without touching the rear brake. The softer suspension no-doubt helps to keep all 4-wheels attached to the ground, and it’s malleable rear end ensured ours didn’t have to be. However, like a lot of ATV’s with independent suspension at the back, and despite Kawasaki increasing the thickness of the Anti-Roll Bar, we found the body roll to be a bit excessive for our preference.
In a nutshell?
The big Kawi took everything we threw at it, and came back wanting for more. We loved its great power, agility and compromise between fun and practicality. It amazed us that only a handful of years ago the biggest and best quads came with a live rear axle and 400cc singles – fuel injection and power steering on an ATV could only be something seen on The Jetson’s.
If you only want to have one ATV in your garage and don’t mind handing over 10 gorilla’s, we could recommend you no better unit than the Brute Force.
To check out more Kawasaki products, visit their website: http://www.kawasaki.com/Products/ATVs.aspx
What do you think of the 2012 Brute Force? Voice your opinion here!