Driving Kawasaki’s Teryx4 on the Gorgeous Trails of Mount Shasta
July 9th, 2012 by John Coyle
On the short-list of phrases I like to hear before my morning tea, “Coyle, you are going to die,” isn’t near the top. But that’s exactly what my colleague Sullivan said when he learned I’d be attending Kawasaki’s demo for the Teryx4. Given the chance, who wouldn’t spend a day flogging a UTV at the Chappie-Shasta Off-Road Vehicle Area? I was pumped! So I took a deep breath and explained that try as we might, someday, we’re all going to die.
Sullivan was unfazed. “We sent Adrian on one of those things, and he nearly killed himself—Adrian.” He was referring to our buddy Adrian Harris, a crazy Australian bloke who’d just completed a three-month motorcycle trip through South America, completely with treacherous terrain, food poisoning and corrupt cops. This made me slightly less pumped. But a quick call to Kawasaki’s John Rall set me straight. There weren’t going to be any Travis Pastrana-style antics, we were just going to have a great time checking out some killer machines on some beautiful trails. I was in.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we headed over to the off-road area, and the scenery on that drive alone could have qualified as a tour—this is some of the most gorgeous country in the Golden State. And as ATV Connection members know, the only thing that makes amazing country like this better are high-powered ATVs, and the new Teryx line was gassed up and ready to go.
As he walked me over to an orange Teryx4, Jon told me he was going to put me in the “grand piano,” and I was a little intimidated. At this point, I should probably mention that I’d never driven a UTV before. While I’ve owned a couple of street bikes—a cruiser and a crotch rocket—my experience with four-wheeled off-road machines was limited to some farm hooning in a battered ’70s Corolla wagon and a rock crawling demo I did, like, five years ago. But the Teryx couldn’t have been more welcoming.
From the steering wheel, to the seatbelts, to the key start, to the shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive switch on the dash, anyone even remotely familiar with a car will find the controls completely intuitive. I felt the same way about the Teryx’s “cabin”—there are doors, after all—as I did about the Lotus Elise’s. Basically, everything has the feel of very nice Fisher Price toy. All the really great bits are under the hood.
Motivation comes from a 749cc four-stroke V-twin, and to compensate for more passengers and heavier loads, the intake, heads and cam profiles were tweaked, which means power is up 15 percent over the two-seater. The engine is purpose-built for the Teryx, and doesn’t see duty in any of Kawasaki’s street bikes. To insure reliability, there’s a beefy radiator and big fan to keep the power plant cool, and the electronic fuel injection makes for easy starts without having to mess with a choke. While Jon was giving me the rundown, I have to admit I kept thinking about how fun it would be to terrorize a retirement community—the kind where everyone rolls around in golf carts—in one of these babies. I also kept picturing my 90-something grandmother rolling up to the Clubhouse and being like, “what up, y’all?”
My lone concern with the specs of the Teryx? Three letters: CVT. Coming from an automotive background, there are few things I hate more than the continuously variable transmission. Generally speaking, it’s a abomination on par with the atomic bomb, Farmville or American Idol. And I don’t want to mention names here but Nissan—oops!—absolutely ruined the Maxima, Altima and Sentra by fitting them with these odious, fun-sapping pieces of garbage. That said, my fears about the Teryx’s “gearbox” were completely unfounded.
Our trip into the mountains took us along a trail which wound toward a vista at the top. As I did for most of the trip, I left the Teryx in two-wheel drive/high gear, and I thought the CVT performed beautifully. There was none of the hunting and pecking crap I’d experienced in road cars, and when I wanted to pound the gas to make the back end step out during the corners, there was no hesitation whatsoever. As expected, the V-twin made a proper noise, and the linear power delivery and crisp throttle response made driving the Teryx4 a joy. At one point, while I was getting sideways around a switchback—there was a bit of a drop—my passenger asked how this compared to other UTVs I’d driven. I replied that I’d never driven anything like this before. He got out at the next stop.
My passenger’s lack of confidence was fortuitous, and the guy who dropped into the shotgun seat turned out to be Sky, one of the park rangers. He knew every inch of the trails we were traveling, and if he was concerned about my driving, it didn’t show. Most of his instruction entailed pointing out which bumps would get us airborne. Our ascent had been on relatively smooth trails, but as the day went on, we tackled some pretty treacherous terrain, and I was frankly amazed at how well the Teryx’s suspension handled it.
To be honest, I expected I’d feel beat up at the end of the day, like you’d feel after the first snowboarding trip of the season. But that wasn’t the case. At all. When transitioning from a “smooth” trail to a path filled with large rocks, there were obviously a couple of jolts, but after the transition, it’s almost like the suspension started to float over the obstacles. But this wasn’t an uncomfortable float, like the kind you’d get trying to take a ‘78 Fleetwood around a bend in the rain. It was an almost hovercraft-like feel which communicated the terrain without assaulting you with it. And the faster I went, the smoother things seemed to get. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
Over the rest of the day, I took the Teryx4 down ferociously steep declines, across a snowy trail, and along a rocky creek bed and it never lost its composure. While I was driving through the stream, I actually forgot to switch it to four-wheel drive. It didn’t care. As I’ve said before, I don’t really have anything to compare it too, but I can say with certainty that bombing through Chappie-Shasta in a Teryx is some of the most fun you can have with your pants on, and I was bummed when we got back to the staging area—I could literally have kept doing this for weeks. Fortunately, the fantastic short ribs and bourbon Kawasaki treated me to after the ride took away some of the sting. Big time thanks to Jon and Agata from Kawasaki for showing me such a great time!