Lately in the side-by-side industry we are seeing so much innovation and growth. There are many things to be excited about and one part of our industry that has turned the corner with a ton of new ideas is the working side of the UTV. Reinventing a product to adapt more to the consumers needs has always been a process that takes time but Kawasaki is onboard with change and with their newest addition to the fold it is surely a big one.
Kawasaki invited us to see not only the assembly process of many of their off road products, but also briefly ride the next generation of their stable called the Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT. Everyone was very excited to see just how this leader in the industry would build a better horse!
Arriving into the town of Lincoln Nebraska, we first made our way to the massive facility where the magic happens for Kawasaki! Kawasaki came to Lincoln Nebraska back in April of 74’, setting their sights on the 332 acres to begin its mission to start producing motorcycles from this assembly plant. The facility has stretched out over the years and now more than 1257 employees work in and outside the walls of this plant every day. We were also stunned to find Kawasaki making anything from robots to railcars, as the plant is widely used in many different production processes. The one process we had come to see though was the building of the next generation Mule for Kawasaki’s working line of Strong vehicles.
For model year 2015, Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT is the bigger and tougher brother to the older working class machines from the same company. The Kawasaki strong Mule is powered by a fuel injected, 812cc triple cylinder engine that is liquid cooled and geared for your hardest days work. Quite possibly the most innovative part of the new PRO-FXT Mule is the 3 to 6 passenger seating. We will get to that in just a second.
Details on the new Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT range from 46 ft. pounds of torque for incredible pulling power to the towing capability of up to 2000 pounds (900 kg). The steel cargo bed in three-passenger configuration will hold up to 1000 pounds (450 kg) like a boss. The integrated 2-inch receiver hitch makes hooking to any standard work trailer very easy. The stack of options for the Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT includes power steering as well. Although it can and will be debated by some, I feel power steering should be included from the factory, especially when many will be working this new equestrian to its intended capabilities. As for Kawasaki’s EPS units, rider input determines steering assist and the same assist is regressive as the speed picks up to give the driver a confidence-inspiring ride while maintaining control.
The look of the new Mule is stylish and focused at the brand segment it represents. From the working class ranch to the professional hunter and even your recreational trail riders, the new Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT has a new classy appearance that shows it means business. This vehicle is built strong and the focus is on its ability to get the job done. Halogen headlights illuminate the night on the base model Mule PRO-FXT for those late evening jobs and if a consumer buys into the LE model of the Mule they will notice additional twin LED auxiliary lights as part of the Limited Edition package. A quick note about auxiliary power for this Mule would be the 60 amps available at 2000 rpm from the high output alternator. This extra voltage can be used to power devices from the machine itself. Two twelve-volt power outlets can be found in the cab of the standard models while LE and Camo models will have an additional pair of outlets.
The cab of the new mule carries three in the front on a soft bench style seat. Of course three point seat belts are included for each rider and the three additional seating positions in the rear have these as well. If you simply need more passenger, space converting the bed to a six-passenger cruiser is simple. According to Kawasaki it should only take one person about a minute to convert the cab for an extra three riders. The cargo guard slips along the bed easily and locks into place with the seating rising up and locking into position. The steering wheel tilts up and out of the way to make the driver’s entrance to the cab a breeze. Small items include a cup holder on the driver’s side and an accessory switch panel in the center of the dash topside is just a few ways Kawasaki has thought this ride through. The large gear selector is very user friendly and mounted close to the steering wheel on the right side. A true parking brake is also included on the left side of the steering wheel. Dash and under seat cargo storage is plenty in the Kawasaki Strong Mule for 2015.
We spent a good portion of the morning making our trip through the plant where the Mule and other machines are made. We were then off to a separate ride site to get a little time under the wheel of this machine. Kawasaki had arranged for our ride to be at a private facility just outside Lincoln. After a short bus trip we were climbing into the cab of our 2015 Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT LE and it was time to study the new machine as best we could. Slipping in onto the bench style seat was comfortable and I had the big triple fired up with just a quick twist of the key. The engine of the 2015 Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT LE sounded off and we rolled in behind a few other Kawasaki employees to get a quick trip around the trails. The first thing I noticed was how balanced the engine sounded and when pressing the throttle down the power delivery was also very linear. The engine is pretty quiet to those in the cab and the 46 ft-lb of torque reared up as we climbed the steep hills around this property. Electronic power steering is a great thing when it is done right and I sure love it on this machine. The trails that had been laid out gave us time to realize the ability of Kawasaki’s electronic power steering. Slow cornering through tighter trails and up over rooted landscape proved to be simple with the help of EPS.
The new Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT’s turning radius had been tightened up and it was nice to experience as this longer Mule creeps its way through tight trails like nobody’s business. With 4WD engaged the big 812cc power plant grunts its way up steep off camber sections and the machine feels super stable during the process. The 2015 Kawasaki’s Mule PRO-FXT’s suspension travel, measuring now to a user friendly 8.7 inches (22 cm) of independent wheel travel both front and rear, is surely a big help to this. In the past we have not known the Mule line to be extremely fast but getting up to 45 mph (72 km/h) now is nice in comparison to the older models. Rolling on six spoke cast aluminum wheels and twenty-six inch tall tires the LE model had plenty of traction for our test track. A sportier look with performance to boot was indeed refreshing. The tires on our test Mule were Duro Frontier tires, which grabbed at the ground and moved the big Mule along without hesitation.
We had seemingly limited time in the 2015 Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT but the time we did have was fantastic. The improvements to this line of work machine are getting better and better. If I could have it my way I think the only things I would improve more on would be molded seating to give each rider support individually, and maybe some fuel injection tuning to get the Mule up and rolling a little better from the bottom. The flat bench allows driver and passengers to slide around a little too much and the engine has way more in it than you can actually feel from the starting gate.
Kawasaki the company was founded by inventor Showza Kawasaki way back in 1878 and this company is growing with great success in many markets. I wonder what Showza would think of his humble company today! The fact that Kawasaki has moved to build a better working machine really excites us. Great companies like Kawasaki have begun to really excel in every direction even though some consumers grow impatient and feel “their” thoughts of a machine were not fulfilled. All I can say is that we are excited to see movement in any direction and I would be proud to own a Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT!
For more information on the Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT, please visit the Kawasaki Website.