2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300
For years the entry-level two-wheel-drive utility segment has been pretty stagnant, and with the same players that haven’t been updated much—the Honda Recon 250, Suzuki Ozark 250, Kawasaki Bayou 250, Polaris Trail Boss 330 and Kymco MXU300. Yamaha didn’t even have a player in this category until September with the release of their new Grizzly 300 automatic. Kawasaki was hot on the heels of Yamaha with their release—so why did two different manufacturers build competing machines so close in size, weight, displacement and price at the same time?
The all-new 2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300 retails for only $4199, which is a price many of us can afford without stressing too badly. It’s an entry-level machine that brings big performance at a small price—and that we like. To achieve this, Kawasaki left Japan to build the Brute 300 as a joint venture and to keep the cost down. Yes, the Brute Force 300 is built in Taiwan, and quite a few of its parts are sourced directly from Kymco. While not as large as the big-name brands here, Kymco builds a high-quality machine at a price the Japanese OEMs can’t match, and Kawasaki thought cost was a very important part of this segment. Thus the joint venture birthed what you see here—the 2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300.
While it isn’t a true 300, the Brute displaces 271cc with the new liquid-cooled engine, offering more horsepower than the smaller engines in its class. Liquid cooling also ensures that the Kawi won’t overheat during low-speed, high-load situations. Engine internals have been changed around slightly from the Kymco mill to produce more power—especially in the midrange pull where the riders will spend most of their time. While it is based entirely on the Taiwanese single in the Kymco MXU, the engine feel, exhaust note and seat-of-the-pants feel are much different. Suspension tuning is also much different. In fact, if you couldn’t spot the difference in the hardware, you may not ever know this wasn’t a 100 percent Kawasaki product. The one downside: it costs $400 more than the MXU300.
The heart of the new Brute is this 271cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke mill. It uses a single overhead cam and two valves, with a 32mm Keihin carburetor supplying the fuel metering. Bolted behind it is a dual-range CVT transmission complete with “high,” “low,” “neutral” and “reverse” tagged on the shifter gate. The continuously variable transmission is the easiest type to use for novice riders, and it keeps the engine in the meat of its power spread for a sporty feel on the trail. The engine is all aluminum, with the exception of the painted steel cylinder, and features a recoil pull-starter on the left side in case the battery dies. The pull-starter is easy to use and effective, but we never wore the battery down enough to have to rely on it solely during our testing. Kawasaki claims the 271cc mill makes 20-plus horsepower, and compared to the 18-horse Kymco, it feels quite a bit stronger in the midrange pull. The Brute Force 300 had enough power to conquer the toughest hills we could find at the Mines and Meadows Park in Pennsylvania, and we had a ton of fun doing it.
The Brute Force’s twin-tube, round, steel frame is strong and relatively lightweight and pulls no expensive tricks; it just gets the job done. Up front, dual A-arm suspension provides 5.2 inches of travel—a modest number, but comfortable nonetheless. The single rear shock allows the swingarm to cycle 5.6 inches of travel, which keeps the chassis well balanced from front to rear. As usual (per Kawasaki), travel numbers are tame, with stiff spring rates to fight body roll. It works well for blasting down the trail and doesn’t kill you on low-speed bumps. The shock valving is well rounded, soaking up big bumps rather well, and allows the Brute to haul a combined 110 pounds of gear on the racks. On the bottom of the rack tubes, the 300 sports tie-down pegs that make securing cargo a breeze, which we appreciate. The frame also sports a standard tow hitch, although you will have to supply the ball. It will tow up to 500 pounds, which we believe to be a conservative estimate, seeing how Yamaha claims a 727-pound towing capacity from a very similar machine.
Kawasaki chose to use the same-size disc and caliper for all three brakes on the Brute Force 300, which was a great choice in our opinion. The 148mm hydraulic disc brakes are operated via separate hand levers; left-hand side stops the rear, right-side stops the front. There is also a right-side foot pedal for the rear brake, ensuring that no matter where you are on the machine, you have a place to grab the brake (demonstrated well by one of the test riders at the press introduction). The braking quality is great once the pads are broken in, and they grab enough to allow the Brute Force to pull stoppies if you grab the front brake hard enough. We found ourselves locking up the rear brake and sliding into corner entrances, getting back on the power early and powering out for a fun powerslide. When you ride it aggressively, the Brute shines; its flat handling, surprising amount of traction and awesome brakes really let you drive it in hard. The best part is, for a rider who has never thrown a leg over an ATV, it’s perfectly suited for slow-paced learning.
For an ATV barely over $4000, the Brute Force 300 packs a ton of technology. Electric start, dual 35-watt headlights, a good-sized front storage compartment, right-side fender pocket, full-digital instrumentation, a 12-volt power port and well-sealed fenders are some of the highlights. The front storage compartment houses the owner’s manual and tool kit and still leaves enough room for a water bottle, some snacks and a sweatshirt. The right-side fender pocket has a cutout for a water bottle as well, and drinks stay put on the trail. The digital dash is well lit and elegantly laid out, with a temperature gauge on the left, speed/clock/trip in the middle and the fuel gauge on the right. The white backlight makes it easily visible even in direct sunlight. Kawasaki went to great lengths to get the plastic fitment and sealing as tight as possible, upping splash protection wherever they could. The end result is a well-sealed, tight feel that keeps most of the water and mud away from the rider, keeping you dry and happy. We flogged the Brute through some deep mud and didn’t have any problems with splashing, but its 22-inch tires let it hang up on some mud ruts. Luckily, the aggressive tread pattern of the Maxxis tires, coupled with the machine’s relatively light weight, allowed us to shake it out of the mud without having to get off and wade in the muck.
COMFORT ON THE TRAIL
The Brute Force offers up a lot of cockpit room for such a small vehicle, namely in the area of peg-to-seat height and the height of the bar bend. With a taller bar, riders have more room to move around, and the large, padded seat is comfortable for long rides—even on rough terrain. The riders in our group ranged from 5-foot-1 to 6-foot-4, and none of them had any trouble finding a comfortable spot on the Brute. The half-waffle grips and heavy-bar inserts cut down on vibes, and all the controls are well placed and ergonomically positioned. Even the parking brake is clever; it swings in the way of the left-hand grip to ensure you don’t drive out with it on. It’s a lever-type brake similar to the one found on the Yamaha Raptor 700, which is a great design and requires little adjustment. The midsection (between the footpegs) is a little on the wide side, but once on the trail, you really don’t notice it much. Honda’s Recon, however, makes it feel like a heavyweight.
ON THE TRAIL
The Brute Force 300’s looks may attract some buyers, but it’s the ride and ease of use that will keep them satisfied. From the first time you start up the 300 (we never even had to touch the choke), its smooth-idle purr and comfortable cockpit will have you hooked. The stock exhaust is quiet, but has a decently nasty-sounding bite when you’re on and off the throttle, which will please many riders of all skill levels. The acceleration is smooth off the bottom and won’t get anyone in trouble. The clutching is set up soft out of the hole to keep traction and straight-line stability smooth for novice riders, then rolls into a meaty midrange that will leave you grinning no matter how great your skill level. Even expert riders will have a blast slinging the Brute around the trails, as its handling, acceleration and braking performance are perfectly matched in a blend that is just plain fun. There aren’t any unnerving qualities about the Brute 300’s performance; it’s just a well-rounded, fun-to-ride ATV for the masses.
One thing we would have liked to see was a real 55-watt headlight on the Brute; in the deep, dark mines of Pennsylvania, lighting output was a little scarce. Honestly, other than that, we haven’t come across anything we can complain about in our short time with the Brute. Check back in a few months for the Grizzly-versus-Brute Force 300 shootout to see if we encounter any problems with our long-term unit!
A lot of us don’t have a ton of money right now, but that doesn’t mean you should cut the fun things out of your life. Riding ATVs is a great stress-relieving activity, and for sport-utility ATV owners, it can help get jobs and chores done faster with less effort. Kawasaki’s new Brute Force 300 reminded us just how fun a well-designed ATV can be—regardless of how much horsepower or suspension travel it possesses. For those who need a strong utility workhorse that will go ages on a 3.2-gallon gas tank, or novice riders looking to get a foot into the sport, the Brute Force 300 is a mighty fine choice that won’t disappoint its owner.
Engine Liquid-cooled w/ fan, 4-stroke,
SOHC, 2 valves
Bore x stroke 72.7mm x 65.2mm
Compression ratio 11.0:1
Carburetion 32mm Keihin CVK
Transmission 2-speed CVT w/ reverse
Final drive Shaft (2WD)
Front Double A-arm w/ prel.-adj.
Rear Swingarm w/ prel. adj.
Front 22×7-10 Maxxis
Rear 22×10-10 Maxxis
Front Dual 148mm hydraulic disc
Rear Single 148mm hydraulic disc
Seat height 33.3″
Fuel capacity 3.2 gal.
Rack capacity (fr/rr) 44/66 lb.
Towing capacity 500 lb.
Ground clearance 6.1″
Wet weight (ready to ride) 535.7 lb.
Colors Red, black