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2017 UTV Evaluation: Kawasaki Mule PRO-FX

Kawasaki brought the first Mule to market in 1988 after a couple of engineers started doodling on a napkin over lunch. Their idea for a Multi-Use-Lightweight-Equipment (MULE) vehicle came to be the first UTV as we know them today. One of the first Mules off the production line in Lincoln, Nebraska, is still in use around the factory, with well over a million hours of use and going strong. Today’s flagship of the Mule line is the PRO-FX, and as you would expect, the Mule is ready to work as was shown during Successful Farming’s Ultimate UTV Evaluation.

In 2017, Successful Farming magazine conducted its third extensive UTV evaluation to provide you with information about how UTVs perform in ag applications. During the evaluation, seven of the newest utility vehicles were put through four rigorous tests

Powering up

Kawasaki designed the PRO-FX to be capable of every job you can come up with. To handle that, Kawasaki went with an 812-cc., dual overhead cam, three-cylinder, four-stroke engine that is closer to an automotive engine than a standard UTV. Sound familiar? John Deere uses a similar engine in the Gator 825i. The Kawasaki engine makes a ton of usable, low-end power. Top speed is in the mid-40s, but the Mule wasn’t designed for speed; it was made for work.

The Mule has a simple four-wheel-drive system with a locking rear differential for maximum traction when you need it. The transmission runs off the industry-standard CVT belt system that most other manufacturers use in some form. The engine has a healthy grumble.

The chassis

Let’s face it, the real star of the Mule is not the engine; it’s the chassis. Kawasaki puts a lot of emphasis on the construction of the frame and to say it is sturdy is like saying a Ferrari is fast. Kawasaki forms the frame from high-quality steel using a ladder design for the initial frame. This makes for a stiff chassis. Kawasaki compensates for this with softer shocks in the suspension.

The cargo box is a massive 54.1 inches long and 53.3 inches wide. You can put a full pallet back there with room to spare. Capacity is 1,000 pounds, and fully loaded you couldn’t tell a difference in the handling. The Mule pulled in 19.6 points out of 25 for this part of the Ultimate UTV Evaluation. The only complaint was the same healthy grumble heard whenever the machine starts. It gets a little loud when you’re working it.

In most regards, the Mule PRO-FX isn’t a trail machine. You can drive it on trails and have fun, but it isn’t meant for trail rides. The longer 92.3-inch wheelbase had it scraping bottom over some of the trail obstacles, even with the 10.4-inch ground clearance. Still, the Mule scored a healthy 28 points out of a possible 35 on the trail tests.

Fit and finish

In the end, the Mule PRO-FX is what it is: a Kawasaki. The fact that one of the original Mules from back in 1988 is still in use is no accident. It isn’t like Kawasaki keeps it going for PR purposes. The original Mule is being used day in and day out. That’s what makes a Mule a Mule. The overall fit and finish scored the Mule high, with 26 points out of 30 by the evaluations. The Mule PRO-FX is well thought out and designed to last for years of hard work.

About the Author: Derrek Sigler is an ATV/UTV journalist and was one of three evaluators during the UTV testing.

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