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BLAST FROM THE PAST: May 2009 Honda 700XX vs. Kawasaki KFX700 Shootout

Kawi vs Honda 700
August 10, 2016
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When you get two of the biggest and baddest high-performance sport quads on the planet engaged in battle, you can expect a fight to the finish. While taking a look at the Honda 700XX in recent comparisons, we matched it against the class leading Yamaha Raptor in our July 2008 issue, and then in our October ’08 magazine, we ran it against the Polaris Outlaw 525IRS.

In both cases, the Honda 700XX lost out to its competitors. In the Polaris Outlaw 525 IRS’s case, it was because the Polaris had a much better overall ride. The Honda was faster on the flat but the Outlaw had the edge battling up hills or in very tight woods, a tribute to its improved turning ability.

In the case of the Raptor 700R, the Yamaha was judged to be the better-handling, quicker-accelerating, and more-responsive machine overall. The Raptor 700 had an added edge especially when riding in the sand.

It wasn’t that we did not like the Honda 700XX. We do. Unfortunately for Honda, the competition stepped up their game and made vehicles that were, in our opinion, better performing. Honda’s 700XX was outmatched and somewhat hindered by its high weight numbers. The other quads felt sportier, turned better, and were better-equipped for overall trail and dune riding applications.

Honda's 700XX and Kawasaki's KFX700 are fun-to-ride Open class ATVs that have distinct personalities and aim at different types of riders.
Honda’s 700XX and Kawasaki’s KFX700 are fun-to-ride Open class ATVs that have distinct personalities and aim at different types of riders.

WHO’S LEFT?
To be fair, the four-wheel, independent suspended Honda 700XX is a robust, reliable, and fun-to-ride high-performance ATV. In the big bore sport ATV market, there are still a few other machines that the Honda 700XX would be comparable to.

One of those is Kawasaki’s KFX700. It is a V-twin powered sport quad, which was introduced in 2005. This powerful, full-figured machine has been a popular play and recreation quad for a few years now.

With a MSRP of $6849 (versus $7999 for the Honda 700XX) the KFX700 is $1150 less expensive than the red rider. The question is, how does the V-twin, fully automatic transmission equipped Kawie, with its swingarm rear suspension, compare to the single-cylinder, IRS, manual-clutched, five-speed transmission equipped Honda?

On the trails, the Honda is fast, agile and has killer suspension. The Kawie is easy to ride, has a great sound due to its twin cylinder powerplant, and is versatile.
On the trails, the Honda is fast, agile and has killer suspension. The Kawie is easy to ride, has a great sound due to its twin cylinder powerplant, and is versatile.

HONDA vs. KAWIE CREATURE FEATURES
The new Honda 700XX ATV sports a double A-arm Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) system with 10.6 inches of travel. The Kawie uses a single shock swingarm, solid axle rear suspension, with 7.9 inches of travel. Give the Honda the award for most rear suspension.

Both quads run conventional double A-arm front ends with the Honda offering up 9.3 inches of travel up front and the Kawie sitting at 9.25 inches of travel. This works out to a tie in suspension numbers for the front ends of both machines.

Honda runs a unique centered chain drive system on the 700XX while the Kawasaki 700 uses a protected shaft drive.
Honda’s all-new motor features a 686cc, single cylinder, SOHC, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, four-valve, four-stroke engine. Kawasaki runs a 697cc, V-twin, DOHC, liquid-cooled, dual 32mm carb equipped, with four-valves (per cylinder), four-stroke engine.

Transmission-wise, the Honda utilizes a manual clutched, five-speed tranny with reverse, while the Kawie comes with a fully automatic, CVT-style transmission with reverse gear.

Both machines utilize dual disc front brakes with the Honda using a single rear disc brake, located alongside the centered drivetrain, while Kawasaki uses a sealed oil bathed multi-disc rear brake.

Dimension-wise, the Honda sits at 72.6 inches in length, 46.3 inches width, and has a height of 45.4 inches. The Kawie 700 has a length of 78.1 inches, a width of 47 inches, and a height of 46.1 inches. Wheelbases are similar at 50 inches for the Honda 700 and 50.6 inches for the Kaw 700. Weight-wise, the Kawie tops even the portly Honda with a wet weight of 551.3 pounds versus the Honda’s wet weight of 505 pounds.

In our dune sand drag competition the CVT tranny on the Kawasaki would get the holeshot almost every time
In our dune sand drag competition the CVT tranny on the Kawasaki would get the holeshot almost every time

HOW THEY COMPARE IN THE SAND AND ON THE TRAIL
We took our two big-bore competitors to two different extremes in the off-road world. The Buttercup Sand dunes, located near Glamis, and then to hard-packed and loamy trails near the mountains. Both environments are exactly what these machines were designed to do, and we came away with mixed feelings on how these two completely different quads worked in these differing terrains.

...but it wasn't long before the five-speed, manual clutched Honda 700XX reeled it in and smoked by it.
…but it wasn’t long before the five-speed, manual clutched Honda 700XX reeled it in and smoked by it.

First the sand results. In our impromptu level-terrain sand drag races, the Kawasaki, even with its shaft driven rear end, always seemed to grab the initial lead off the start. Thanks to its CVT tranny, you can nail it, and not have to worry about shifting at any time. That allows it to grab the holeshot and immediate lead. But the Honda’s five-speed, manual clutched transmission and chain drive, soon caught up and zoomed by the Kawie 700 early in the run. By the end of a 150 yard straight, the Honda pulled the big Kaw by at least several quad lengths at the finish.

We ran the Honda and Kawie up a fairly steep sand hill climb to compare torque as well as acceleration. The Honda 700XX pulled out ahead of the Kawasaki from the get go, mainly due to the extra heft the Kawie has to pull.
We ran the Honda and Kawie up a fairly steep sand hill climb to compare torque as well as acceleration. The Honda 700XX pulled out ahead of the Kawasaki from the get go, mainly due to the extra heft the Kawie has to pull.

Score the level-terrain sand drag race wins to the Honda 700 over the Kaw 700. Next we went to a sand hill climb to see how the machines compared in this situation. Again, the Kawie gets off the line first, but the Honda catches it even sooner, and starts to pull away. Both quads are torquers and have plenty of power throughout the powerband. The Honda simply requires you to do more to utilize it. You have to be on top of the shifting on the Honda or the smooth pulling CVT power of the Kawie, wins out. After all, the guy on the Kawie does not have to bother with shifting at all. You make one mistake and he’ll gun right by you. Still, give the sand hill climbs to the Honda 700XX over the Kawie 700 as well.

We liked the sleek front grille work on the Honda and also how the independent suspension soaked up the rough stuff
We liked the sleek front grille work on the Honda and also how the independent suspension soaked up the rough stuff

SLIP SLIDING THE DUNES
Both machines are full-figured ladies and on the heavy side. The Kawie being the heavier of the two with two gallons of fuel on board, while the Honda still weighs in on the heavy side.

Turning-wise, the Honda, when ridden aggressively, did a pretty good job. It does push on the front end, and has a more pronounced body roll in the corners than the Kawie, but it doesn’t feel as sluggish, and portly in the sand, as the heavier Kaw 700 does.

The ITP Holeshot tires on the Kawie allow it to turn quicker in sandy conditions, and these tires hold their line well, but Honda’s Dunlop radial tires are a better overall sand tire than the Holeshots. The problem with the Holeshots is that they can hook up too good sometimes, and are less predictable when sliding than their radial Dunlop cousins.

The Kawasaki 700 front end looks very transformer-like. It appears ready to mutate into a robot and start chomping on you. Suspension is plush and comfortable, as long as you keep the speed level down.
The Kawasaki 700 front end looks very transformer-like. It appears ready to mutate into a robot and start chomping on you. Suspension is plush and comfortable, as long as you keep the speed level down.

On more than one occasion, we had the Kawasaki 700 hook up suddenly and stand straight up, when we thought it was going to slide through a corner. It one case, it pitched the rider, clean off the machine. The harder you ride the Kawasaki 700, the more you have to pay attention.

In the sand, we felt the Honda responded better to a more experienced rider’s throttle hand, while the Kaw was a much simpler, easier to ride machine overall. Simply gas it and go on the big Kawie. You don’t have to worry about shifting or what gear you are in. The CVT tranny and shaft drive on the Kaw offer surprisingly good hookup in sand and on hard-packed terrain. We give the ease of use award for duning to Kawasaki’s CVT powered big twin over the perkier, but more demanding Honda 700XX.

A centered chain drive is standard equipment on the back end of the independent rear suspended Honda 700. Wheel travel is 9.3 inches in the back and 10.5 inches in the front.
A centered chain drive is standard equipment on the back end of the independent rear suspended Honda 700. Wheel travel is 9.3 inches in the back and 10.5 inches in the front.

ON THE TRAIL
On the hard-packed, narrower confines of the mountain trails we rode on, we felt the Honda’s clear edge in suspension travel stood out. It gave it a decided advantage over the heavier, lower ground clearance, and less suspended Kawasaki 700. Honda did their homework in building a smooth, high ground clearance machine that can skip over boulders, roots, stumps, and other trail obstacles with ease. The Kaw 700 felt nimble on the trail, and with its easy-to-use CVT tranny and broad V-twin power was fun to ride, but the Honda could clean its clock when the going got rough and tight.

The single-shock swingarm suspension on the Kawie 700 offers up considerably less travel at 7.9 inches than the Honda. Note the cable actuated rear "wet" rear disc brake that resides in the rear axle pumpkin.
The single-shock swingarm suspension on the Kawie 700 offers up considerably less travel at 7.9 inches than the Honda. Note the cable actuated rear “wet” rear disc brake that resides in the rear axle pumpkin.

The tougher the terrain, the more the advantage the Honda 700XX has. The IRS rear suspension is the clear winner here. While there is still some push in the corners with the front end on the Honda, it keeps the wheels on the ground and gets traction in situations that the Kaw 700, with its solid axle rear end, does not. The extra heft of the big green machine can be more readily felt on tight, narrow trails over the Honda’s nimbler feel. Score the Honda 700XX as the better overall trail machine, in tight, technical, rough terrain trail riding.

THINGS WE LIKE ABOUT THE HONDA 700XX
• Centered-chain final drive system.
• In-gear starting in forward or easy-to-use reverse.
• High ground clearance. With 10.5 inches there is a lot of room to maneuver over rocks, stumps and other trail obstacles.
• Honda ergos. Honda has always been known for building ATVs that FEEL right. The 700XX is no exception. It has good seat/bars/footpeg positions.
• While not big fans of the odd-ball 11-inch rear wheels, we do like the removable mud scrappers mounted on the inside to keep mud from building up on the brakes on the front end of the Honda.
• Radical new-style bodywork. The front grill on the Honda 700 looks tight.

THINGS WE DID NOT LIKE ABOUT THE HONDA 700XX
• Body roll in the corners and a distinct push on the front end in the sand and on hard pack turns. The wheels stick and offer good traction in tight spots but the body roll does hinder the turning ability of this machine.

THINGS WE LIKE ABOUT THE KAWASKI 700
• Excellent ease of use and plenty of horsepower and torque.
• CVT tranny that allows you to concentrate on the trail not shifting.
• We love the sound a V-twin engine makes.
• Good overall feel on the trail and in the sand.
• Marble red plastic option.
• Protected shaft drive. No need to worry about sand or mud getting at the chain.

THINGS WE DID NOT LIKE ABOUT THE KAWASKI 700
• Excess heft. The Kawie suffers from its girthyness. It makes the Honda look light and needs to go on a diet and loss some of the excess baggage.
• Low ground clearance, especially when compared to the Honda’s massive 10.5 inches, the Kaw has 6.3 inches (measured at the rear axle) and will not clear rocks, roots, and stumps as easily as the the big Honda.

A couple of our German buddies took our Honda 700XX and Kawie 700 out for laps on a practice track and trails. Micheal Gemballa (left) and Kaye Kay Koch thought both machines had their merits but the Honda responded better to a more aggressive rider, while the Kawie was easier to ride overall.
A couple of our German buddies took our Honda 700XX and Kawie 700 out for laps on a practice track and trails. Micheal Gemballa (left) and Kaye Kay Koch thought both machines had their merits but the Honda responded better to a more aggressive rider, while the Kawie was easier to ride overall.

OVERALL CONCLUSIONS
This contest, is actually a matter of preferences even though the Honda 700XX was judged to be the sportier of the two machines in both the sand and trail environments, There are riders out there who will still prefer the Kawasaki’s big V-twin sound and feel it is more than the Honda 700XX’s better overall all-terrain versatility.
Older riders, who want a simpler, easier to ride machine will appreciate the simplicity and ease of use the Kawasaki 700 offers. It’s fun to ride and lets you concentrate on the trail, not shifting and worrying what gear you are in. The sound is as much a factor in the purchase of the Kaw V-Twin as much as anything else. It is sweet. There is plenty of oomph there for trail or duning, and it can be made even better with a set of front and rear sand tires and an aftermarket exhaust.

But when it comes to out and out performance, the Honda 700XX is still the master of these domains. It has beaucoup power, more and better suspension action, and rewards an aggressive riding style with better handling and faster speeds. For a true off-road purist, the Honda 700XX wins this shootout.

SPECS

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KAWASAKI KFX700
Engine…Liquid cooled, SOHC, V-twin, w/four valves per cylinder, four-stroke
Displacement…697cc
Bore and stroke…82mm x 66mm
Carburetion…Dual Keihin 32mm carbs
Starter…Electric
Transmission…CVT auto w/forward, reverse and neutral
Final drive…Shaft
Suspension/wheel travel:
Front…Double independent A-arms, shocks /9.3 in.
Rear…Single shock swingarm/7.9in.
Brakes:
Front…Dual hydraulic discs w/two piston calipers
Rear…Sealed, mechanical oil-bathed multi-disc
Tires:
Front…ITP Holeshot AT22X7-10
Rear…ITP Holeshot AT22X11-10
Length/width/height…78.1″/47″/46.1″
Ground clearance…6.3″ (measured at rear axle)
Wheelbase…50.6 inches
Wet weight…551.3 lb.
Fuel tank capacity…3.2 gal.
Color…Lime green and metallic marble red
Price…$6849

HONDA 700XX
Engine…Liquid-cooled, SOHC, four-valve, four-stroke
Displacement…686cc
Carburetion…44mm throttle body fuel injection
Starting…Electric
Transmission…Five-speed w/reverse
Final drive…Chain
Suspension/wheel travel:
Front…Independent Double A-arm/10.5″
Rear…Independent Double A-arm/9.3″
Brakes:
Front…Dual hydraulic discs
Rear…Single hydraulic disc
Tires:
Front…21x7R-10 Dunlop radials
Rear…22x9R-11 Dunlop radials
Length/Width/Height…73.9″/46.3″/45.4″
Ground clearance…10.5″
Wheelbase…50 inches
Weight…505 lb.
Fuel tank capacity…3 gal.
Color…Metallic black, black/silver, or black/red
Price…$7999

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