ATV Test: 2012 KTM 525XC

By -



In the event that you’ve been living in a cave these past few decades, Austria’s Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen (that’s KTM to you and I) have gone to great lengths to go from an off-beat alternative to the Japanese OEMs to a venerable off-road powerhouse manufacturer.

After years of development in the two-wheeled world, 2007 witnessed KTM’s entry into ATV business with a pair of manual clutch XC models (cross-country): The 450 and 525XC. The next year (released as 2009 models), they followed suit with a pair of motocross-specific quads: The 450 and 505SX. The prime difference between the designations? Aside from the SXs being slightly wider for MX regulations, they make use of dual cam engines for more snap while the XCs use the proven single cam setup – in fact it is the same engine found in the Polaris 450 & 525MXR models.

Don’t be confused by all of these designations, the bottom line is the XC quads, like the 525 tested here, live up to their namesake by being slightly narrower for the trails and boasting more linear power spreads for the variety of conditions an off-roader may encounter. Of course, any one of the quartet of ATVs include KTM’s tireless attention to detail- if that doesn’t mean anything to you, read on.

What’s It All About?

The KTM 525XC is all about throaty performance. What’s that mean? It means there are two types of riders who will consider this machine: Performance hungry recreational riders (be it trail, desert, or track) and dedicated cross-country racers. In either case KTM designs the 525XC to get where it’s going in a hurry and to do so without any further modifications required after purchase. Sure you can throw time and money on it if that’s your bag but make no mistake, this is as close to showroom ready race equipment as you will find anywhere.

Engine Department

Powering the 525XC is a liquid-cooled 510cc, single overhead cam 4-storke with four titanium valves mated to a 39mm Keihin FCR carburetor.

The transmission is a manual clutch 6-speed (5-forward & reverse), and starting is push button electric only.


In these days of aluminum obsession, KTM sticks with their tried and true steel chassis designed for work in conjunction with high-end Ohlins shocks all around. The remainder of the machine reads just like a machine any racer could build up if money were no object: Douglas wheels, actually developed specifically for this quad, mate to Maxxis RAZRs. Magura hydraulic disc brakes and oversized Magura aluminum handlebar. While we’re on the subject of Magura, they also get the nod to provide the hydraulic clutch. That axle out back is both heat-treated and adjustable to four widths.

Unlike most stock quads, the KTMs come standard with tether kill switches (mandatory equipment for most race facilities the world over), an aftermarket-style front bumper and aluminum exhaust. While plastic heel guards are standard as well, only Can-Am’s DS series go the step further to include genuine nerf bars.

In the Saddle

Climbing into the cockpit of the KTM 525XC is an immediate reminder as to what this machine’s all about. The saddle is nice and firm, the suspension barely budges when you put down your weight and the bars are low and wide; demanding an elbows-out stance. The rear is high, the junction between seat and tank narrow and the entire chassis feels light and nimble.

The machine fires up with a nice hardy rumble with only a bit of choke and stab of the left-side mounted button. Grab that hydraulic clutch, which pulls far smoother and lighter than expected, step the gearbox down one and hold on!

The Ride

Getting the 525XC up to speed is strictly a matter of nerve as big 5-hunny makes abundant grunt and somehow manages to hook up pretty well in the process. The power comes on nice and low with snappy, usable torque and pulls steadily to the very upper reaches of each gear. Essentially we achieved a top-speed of around 76 mph with the stock gearing and managed to get there from a dead stop in a matter of seconds on one particularly long straightaway. If drag racing is your bag, you’ll have very little trouble keeping ahead of all but other KTMs on the straight-aways.

Not to worry if your definition of a good ride involves a lot of twists and turns, the 525XC is very nimble on its feet! That abundant torque on tap makes throttle-steer an absolute snap and the geometry is such where hardcore leaning or counter weighting the inside wheels isn’t a necessity. That stiff suspension is remarkably adept at reducing squat or the sensation of the machine leaning even when hard cornering.

While the quad is undeniably fast, there is certainly enough usable torque on hand to make performance woods riding a definite possibility. However if slippery rocks, roots, deep mud or overly technical exploration are your bag, this probably isn’t the best choice of ATVs on the market. It’s a high-performance machine and makes no apologies for the purity of its purpose. It’s only a change of tires away from being a desert/ dune terror as well.

Odds & Ends

The chassis and Ohlins suspension that may feel a bit harsh and uncomfortable at low speeds (or say a stand-still on the dealership floor) do not come into their own until the speeds start to increase and believe it or not- the harder you push the 525XC, the better it all comes together!

The position sensitive shocks are unbelievable at taking the spike out of boulder-sized whoops and cushioning even the ugliest flat-landings. It took a few hot laps around our favorite loops before our testers began to let go and really trust in the KTM’s abilities. Once they did so, however, it was unanimously decided that this is a machine literally designed for the hideousness of wide-open woods racing.

The brakes are straight factory-level performance right out of the box. What that means is that they bring even a machine this fast down from speed in an alarming hurry. Grabbing a handful can easily send an unprepared rider for an impromptu trip over the bars but that’s a risk we’re glad to accept in exchange for the confidence that comes with such powerful, well-modulated braking.

Finally, the quad’s overall weight of 357-pounds goes a very long way in cutting down on rider fatigue after long days in the saddle. This is one of few machines that manages to combine high-speed stability with flickable maneuverability.


Just like with our last KTM-powered ATV test (2010 Polaris 450MXR); we hated having to return this one to the dealership. It really makes riding in fresh terrain a blast and reinvents the joys of visiting well known loops.

The only downside to report is the machine’s MSRP, which, at $10,998 can hardly be considered chump change- especially in this rough and tumble economy. However, you’d be hard pressed to build up such a competent machine yourself for less and experiencing KTM’s impeccable attention to detail is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Comments ()