Funny how things work in the ATV business. Kawasaki sells a sport quad (the KFX400) that's made by Suzuki. And Arctic Cat sells a utility quad whose engine is made by Kawasaki. But you know what? We?re not complaining, because the 2004 Arctic Cat 4x4 650 is one heckuva good quad! There are two models available: the regular automatic 650 4x4 and a 650 Limited Edition. The LE has a bright lime green paint job with matching green racks, bumpers and handguards, a 2600-pound Warn winch, and chromed wheels. You can also get Arctic Cat?s Multi-Rack Platform system (MRP) with the 650.
ENGINE MADNESS How did the Minnesotans end up with the V-Twin 650 engine from Kawasaki? Basically, they asked if they could license them for sale in their machines, and Kawasaki said yes. As it turns out, with its Prairie now stepped up to a 700, Kawasaki decided they may as well let Arctic Cat use the smaller and proven 650 V-Twin mill. The powerplant is essentially the same as Kawasaki?s original 650, an engine that had powered the Prairie 650 to many a top spot in our big-bore utility shootouts. It makes great power, it?s reliable, and the transmission is good. The Arctic Cat 650 keeps all these good features. It?s still a liquid-cooled, single-overhead cam V-Twin that displaces 633cc. The big V-Twin uses the same dual 32mm carbs found on the Kawasaki engine. The auto CVT tranny is also the same. Hey, if it ain?t broke, don?t fix it. Arctic Cat wisely left well enough alone and didn?t fiddle with the transmission. One thing they did change was the airbox. It requires the removal of screws to access the box. It?s a minor annoyance, but one we noted anyway. We like quads that are easy to service and work on.
GETTING YOUR DRIVE ON Unlike some Arctic Cat models that have that annoying back-and-forth foot shifter (does anyone really like that setup?), the 650 is a belt-type, auto CVT. That means you take the gear lever, put it in gear and get going. There is a low and high drive range, neutral, and reverse. When you want to go into four-wheel drive, all you have to do is punch a thumb button on the bars and power is now at both ends. For those hardcore moments when the absolute maximum of traction is required, you can flip a handlebar-mounted lever and the front differential is locked for serious traction. You?ll be getting power to both front wheels, which means steering gets a little heavier, but it?s not unmanageable. Still, it should only be used for really rough sections because it makes turning an already big quad that much harder. Tires on the Arctic Cat 650 4x4 are 26-inch Goodyear Rawhide MT/R radials.
I?M NOT FAT, I?M BIG BONED Speaking of weight, the Arctic Cat 650 4x4 weighs in at a 644 pounds claimed dry weight. By comparison, the Kawasaki 700 V-Twin is a claimed 602 pounds, and the now-history Prairie 650 was a claimed 604 pounds. It?s not a lot more, and it shows that the Arctic Cat 650 4x4 is indeed a different beast than the Prairie 650. Plus, remember that a Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O. is 677 pounds. It?s Arctic Cat?s own chassis and suspension which is the biggest difference. With the Honda Rincon 650 weighing in at a claimed 600 pounds, the Arctic Cat has a bit of a weight disadvantage over similar big-bore utility quads.
SHOCKING NEWS The Arctic Cat 650?s biggest difference from the Kawasaki is the rear independent suspension. Arctic Cat has always been a big user of IRS and sure enough, they put it on this Cat. Frankly, we love it. It?s got an excellent ten inches of travel as well as the ten in the front. What this translates to is the Arctic Cat 650 4x4 is a real off-road champ. If you like crawling through rocky creek beds, over big logs and stumps, and up off-camber hills, you?ll love the independent rear suspension. It keeps the quad connected to the ground and adds stability and confidence to riding. If you absolutely love to go jamming down fire roads, the IRS won?t let this quad slide as easily as a quad with a solid rear axle, like the Kawasaki. It?ll slide, but you?ll have to throw a little more body weight into the maneuver. Either way it?s a total blast to ride over intense, rugged terrain. The suspension has adjustable preload settings. Ground clearance on this big cat is a whopping 13 inches. Like we said, this is a real rock crawler.
GIVE ?EM A BRAKE Arctic Cat gave their 650 4x4 hydraulic disc brakes front and rear. Floating brake calipers are also standard. Arctic Cat added a new aluminum brake master cylinder for improved performance. A single front lever activates both the front and rear brakes, while the right foot lever activates the rear. The big kitty?s engine braking is also good. If you have the machine in low and start to go down a hill, things stay slow and under control. It?s much better than, say, the Rincon 650, where engine braking is minimal (read: scary).
OTHER COOL FEATURES One nice feature on this quad that makes it stand out as a serious work machine is the addition of a real, truck-style two-inch receiver hitch for trailers. Just like the type that?s on your truck to haul your quads, this is the full-meal deal receiver hitch. Towing capacity is 1050 pounds. If you want to make that sound more impressive, that?s half a ton of weight this thing can pull. Naturally, the 650 has racks front and rear, with a 100/300 carrying ability. A huge 6.5 gallon fuel tank would make a Baja 1000 racer jealous, and lets you go on long trips or keep working all day.
RIDING THE CAT First off, the power is great. The V-Twin 650 gives great acceleration and torque. Going up hills in low range was a snap, and it could handle most inclines in high range. It?s not quite in line with a Grizzly 660, or even the original Prairie 650. If you want to get the front end light, you?ll need to have the help of a little bump or jump in the trail. We think the added weight is a factor in this, but overall you?ll have more than enough juice for trail and work needs. It?s fun to get on the gas on this big utility quad. It?s not the best in corners. The front end wants to push, rather than carve into the corner. Add to that an independent rear suspension which is resistant to sliding, and cornering is not as crisp as the Kawasaki. It?s not as nimble quad, as the Prairie seemed to be. Remember, these are big machines, so if it feels as big as it looks while you?re riding it, it?s going to tire you out more quickly. You had to push hard with your foot to get any real stopping power from the rear brakes. The single bar-mounted brake lever managed to do a better job, since it operates both front and rear brakes.
EATING UP THE ROUGH STUFF It?s great in rough terrain. During one ride, an editor was trying to navigate up a steep, off-camber, narrow trail. Worse, there was a deep rut on the left side. In a word: nasty. Sure enough, the quad slipped into the rut. He put the Arctic Cat 650 in low, flipped on the diff lock lever, leaned waaay over to the right and got on the gas. The Arctic Cat motored out of the trouble spot easy as pie, the independent rear suspension helping keep all four tires connected to the ground. It was awesome. The high ground clearance was superb, and we never got high-centered on anything. The big 26-inch Goodyears did a reasonable job keeping us out of trouble in mud holes. The trend these days is towards less aggressive OEM tires, but these did a fine job.
OVERALL CONCLUSIONS If you want to get a V-Twin utility quad, it?s the Arctic Cat 650 or the Prairie 700. The main difference, besides 44cc of displacement, is the rear suspension. Do you want independent or solid? Both have their pros and cons. The Arctic Cat is an excellent off-road explorer, ranch worker, or mud hole player. Power from the Kawasaki-supplied 650 V-Twin is excellent, as expected, and the rear IRS is plush. Although the Prairie 650 was better in corners, this Arctic Cat stands on its own four wheels as a unique and very proficient quad. We can?t wait for the upcoming big bore shootout! It?s going to be a bruiser of a contest.
WARNING: Much of the action depicted in this magazine is potentially dangerous. Virtually all of the riders seen in our photos are experienced experts or professionals. Do not attempt to duplicate any stunts that are beyond your own capabilities. Always wear the appropriate safety gear. Copyright 2008 Hi-Torque Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Console Login