Under the Radar

Off Road with the Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT

Kawasaki just announced its MULE PRO-FXT line, a signficant upgrade to its Mule side x side utility vehicles. The new models offer a lot more pickup, excellent power steering and an innovative Trans Cab function that collapses the rear seat and turns a six-seater with a 350-lb. payload into a three-seater with a half-ton payload.

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I know all of this because I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska last week for the product launch, toured the Kawasaki factory and spent an afternoon driving a PRO-FXT at a private motocross farm outside of town.

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The company wanted to make two major points with this product launch:

The Kawasaki factory just celebrated its 40th anniversary in Lincoln. It's got over 1200 employees and the new Mule's frame and the steel wheels on most models are fabricated on-site and a lot of the components in the assembly come from American vendors located nearby. Kawasaki UTVs have been built in Lincoln since the first Mule was introduced back in 1988.

The new Mule has been designed to take on the competition and make Kawasaki the leader in a market segment the company invented. The PRO-FXT offers a combination of power and features that the Polaris Ranger, John Deere XUV, Honda Pioneer-4 and Yamaha Viking VI.

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The American-made message is a big deal. Polaris may be an American company but their engines come from Subaru's parent company in Japan and they've moved a lot of their production to Mexico. Kawasaki's Nebraska factory currently builds all of their ATVs (including the Mule and the Teryx), Jet Skis and rail cars. Over the facility's history, they've also built robotics, motorcycles and snowmobiles. There are a handful of employees who've worked at the plant since it opened and the average time of employment is over 11 years.

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The plant is over 2 million square feet. If you're in Lincoln on a Thursday at 10am, you can take a 1-hour tour. It's worth a trip if you live anywhere close. With each product launch, the company has refined its assembly techniques. The PRO-FXT production line is controlled entirely from below and the vehicles can be moved to a height that optimizes each worker's comfort and productivity. They've even made ergonomic upgrades to the tool shelves and cabinets.

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There's a lot to see at the plant, including a 3000-ton fiberglass press used to mold Jet Ski bodies, lasers that cut and trim the metal that goes into the vehicle frames and a robotic arm that bends the metal before assembly. Point made: Kawasaki combines Japanese engineering with American manufacturing.

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There are over 60 accessories available direct from Kawasaki at launch, so there are thousands of configurations available, but ther are 4 basic models. The entry-level model (starting at $12,999 and only available in black) doesn't include the EPS power steering. After driving it for a couple of hours, I can say you want the power steering. You can get the power steering model for $13,999 and it's also available in green.

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The LE model ($15,599 and available in green and red) adds a set of LED headlights, a second pair of 12-volt DC outlets for the rear passengers, a sun top and aluminum wheels (which aren't made at the Lincoln plant like the wheels on the other models). The Camo model (also $15,599) loses the sun top but comes with a Realtree camouflage finish. Each set of lights has hi- and low-beam settings, allowing a lot of flexibility in adjusting the headlamps in a variety of conditions.

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The parking brake is next to the steering wheel, something that should remind your easily distractable cousin that he needs to set the brake before he exits the vehicle. The dash-mounted switches make it easy to control the lights, locking rear differential and the 4WD settings.

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Kawasaki is hailing its Trans Cab as having a "1-1-1" feature: one person can move the seat in less than one minute with just one pass around the vehicle. If you're trying to justify the purchase to yourself, the extra cargo room and hauling capacity is substantial and the PRO-FXT can really handle the double duty as a work vehicle and a people mover for hunting trips.

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There's a electric lift option available for the bed if you're really looking to haul a thousand pounds back there. If you've got a lot of property that's not really accessible by truck, the Mule can get in those tight spaces.

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The Camo edition that I drove didn't have any trouble with hills or rough terrain. I barely needed the 4WD on the toughest ascent and it easily hit 30 mph in open field.

There's a hard cab option (with removable doors) and heating units if you live in a cold climate. There's also a snowplow and a recreation package with a plastic windshield, rearview mirror, roof and brushguard.

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The PRO-FXT really does carry six adults comfortably and the hard side doors really do a great job of keeping dust out of the cab. There's a 3-year warranty on all models. If you've got a large piece of property, whether it's a farm or a hunting or fishing camp, the Mule PRO-FXT is a no-nonsense and versatile workhorse that represents a big step forward for Kawasaki.

Here's a few more details from the press release:

The Kawasaki MULE PRO-FXT is a leader in torque with a new 812cc, three-cylinder engine that produces a stump-pulling 48 ft-lb(2) and is mated to a specially tuned Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). In addition, the MULE PRO-FXT has a short overall length and wheelbase, making it more maneuverable than the competition. This new chassis delivers a tight turning radius, large bed capacity and outstanding towing ability. With its roomy interior and Roll Over Protective Structure (ROPS), the MULE PRO-FXT will keep passengers secure and comfortable on the farm, worksite or trail.

SPECIAL FEATURES OF THE 2015 KAWASAKI MULE™ PRO-FXT™ • Class-leading 48 ft-lb(2) of torque from new 812cc three-cylinder fuel injected engine • Independent front and rear suspension, disc brakes, CVT, Electric Power Steering • Short wheelbase and overall length • Haul up to 1000 lb (where permitted by state law) in steel cargo bed • Tow up to 2000 lb (where permitted by state law) with 2” receiver hitch (using optional draw bar) • Trans Cab allows one person to quickly convert from three- to six-seat capacity • Cockpit features tilt steering (except non-EPS model), bench seat, multi-function LCD display and multiple 12V outlets powered by high-output alternator • ROPS-certified Roll Over Protective Structure and full doors • Non-EPS, EPS, EPS LE and CAMO models available • A vast range of Kawasaki Genuine Accessories available from launch • Kawasaki STRONG Three-Year Warranty

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