HIGH PERFORMANCE 650 SHOOTOUT
We have received a ton of letters and e-mails asking us to compare Kawasakiâ€™s newest high performance quad, the V-Force 700, to the top dogs in the sport ATV open class. We did our last high performance shootout in our March 2003 issue. In it we compared the Raptor 660, Polaris Predator 500, Cannondale Cannibal 440 and Suzuki Z-400. Since then a lot has changed in the upper ranks of this hot-bed of monster-sized quads.
Most recently, of course, is the debut of the all new Yamaha YFZ450 (see first test in this issue). While we did not get the new YFZ450 in time to include it in this shootout, you can be sure we will be taking a detailed look at it in another shootout.
MISSING IN ACTION
Another machine missing from our earlier March shootout was the Bombardier DS650. One of the problems of trying to get the latest shootouts to you is that we occasionally donâ€™t have all the machines on hand in time to include them in each and every comparison.
For this shootout we will be using 2003 test machines, plus one that is designated as an â€˜04 unitâ€”the Kawasaki 700 V-Force. We think it is fair to compare these models when they become readily available, and are on the dealers showroom floor. This is clearly the case with the Kawie V-force which has been available since late February. But rather than wait an additional month or two for this comparison, we opted to test our â€™03 Raptor and â€˜03 DS650 against the â€˜04 700 V-Force.
We also felt it was a good idea to stick to the top three machines in the open class for this particular high performance shootout. These machines are the big boys of this class, and all are over 650cc in displacement.
We will compare these units in a wide variety of track and trail conditions. Our job, as we see it, will be to see which one comes out on top as the ultimate sport and high performance monster quad.
WHICH ONE IS THE FASTEST?
This is the first question we get with a shootout such as this. When we lined the machines up and did a 300-yard drag race test, the quad crossing the finish line in front most often was the mighty Bombardier DS650. It edged out the Raptor and the Kawasaki V-Force 700 repeatedly in our series of speed runs.
Kawieâ€™s liquid-cooled, 700cc V-twin, four-stroke engine had instant throttle response and, thanks to its automatic transmission, it usually got the jump off the line. However, it wasnâ€™t long before the DS650, with its five-speed, manual shift transmission and DOHC, liquid-cooled, four-valve, single cylinder Rotax four-stroke motor, caught up and passed the V-Force.
The Yamaha Raptor 660â€™s, SOHC, liquid-cooled, five-valve head, single cylinder motor was also in the hunt. With its five-speed manual shift transmission it soon passed the V-Force in our drag race contests.
It stayed pretty much even with the DS650 until the end of the drag race straightaway, where the DS started to pull ahead by a quad length or two.
It was a close race between these two machines for top honors in the drag races with the Kawie lagging behind them by about three to four quad lengths at the end of the straight.
WHICH HAS THE BEST POWER?
We pitted our three contestants against each other to determine which one had the best power of the bunch. To do this, we set up a course over a winding mountain and desert trail which had plenty of off-camber turns, steep uphill climbs, and some fast, high speed sweepers. This would help us determine which machine had the best and most usable powerband.
After repeated testing, and lots of heated debate, the overall winner of our powerband sweepstakes was the Yamaha Raptor. It simply has a vast ocean of torque and horsepower to utilize. All our test riders found that you can lug it a gear high everywhere on the trail and never have a problem with its response.
While our test riders liked the high horsepower numbers on the DS650, with its high revving motor and strong mid-range hit, it did not seem to have the torque or extreme low-end pull that the Raptor enjoyed.
The Kawasaki V-Force, on the other hand, was a joy on the trail as its 697cc V-twin powerplant has a broad, easy-to-use torque and power spread. It actually makes riding fun. Even with a shaft drive instead of a chain drive like its competitors, the monster sized motor on this rig gives it a mega-powerband.
But the majority of the test crew felt that the Raptorâ€™s snappier powerband and manual shift transmission gave it the edge when it came to getting the maximum available power to the ground.
WHICH IS THE EASIEST QUAD TO RIDE?
Here there was no contest. The fully automatic transmission and broad powerband of the V-Force gave it the top spot. You simply point-and-shoot-it, akin to those simple-to-use cameras. Gas and brake, thatâ€™s all you need to know to make effective use of this machine. It also has a built in reverse to make backing it up much easier in tight woods riding situations. You couldnâ€™t ask for anything simpler to ride or operate.
Following in second to the V-Force in terms of ease of use was the Yamaha Raptor. While it took a bit more skill to use the manual shift gearbox, the fact that it has such a broad power spread and is much narrower than the DS650 makes it a lot more nimble handling and fun in the woods. Like the V-Force, the Raptor also has a reverse gear to make turn-arounds much easier on the trail.
The DS650 was voted the least ride-r friendly of the three units we tested. It does have a meaty mid-range but it is the largest in terms of physical size of the three machines. The widths of the three are: DS650â€“50 inches,
V-Forceâ€“47.1 inches, Raptorâ€“45.2 inches.
While the Kawasaki 700 weighs the most at 516 pounds dry, the DS650â€™s 470 pounds dry weight and massive size makes it feel even bigger and heavier than it really is. The Raptor is still the lightest and easiest to flick around of the bunch at only 398 pounds dry.
WHICH IS THE BEST HANDLING?
The battle of handling between these three machines was one of the toughest categories in our shootout. Each machine handles differently from the others. To say one is bad and the other good is not entirely accurate. They are different. One may suit a particular style of riding, while another does not. But the majority of use of all these machines will be for casual play trail riding, not racing. This, we feel, is the single most important handling category in our shootout and the one we will rate these machines at.
Our trail handling contest would entail running these three quads on our extensive test course. It consists of a series of high speed trail sweepers, a few steep downhill drop-aways, some hillclimbs, an off-camber turn or two, and several short, abrupt jumps. There were also lots of braking and exit bumps thrown in for good measure everywhere on the track.
In this environment, the light weight, and quick handling manners of the Raptor prevailed. It smokes the DS through the tight stuff and has the right type of power to make it a fun trail quad in all these riding situations. The Raptor turns extremely well and is very predictable, both sliding and jumping. You can wheelie it at will, while it is much harder to get the front end up on the DS. The V-Force also has a loftable front end but feels considerably heavier than the Raptor on the really tight stuff. Overall, we gave the agile and mobile Raptor the nod for best handling trail machine.
Taking second in our trail handling fest was the stable and surprisingly nimble Kawasaki V-Force. It responds well to rider input and tracks and jumps very predictably. Since it is so simple to operate, you can focus on your riding and the handling is confidence-inspiring.
Taking last in the trail handling department of our shootout was our DS650. The simple fact that it is so big and wide and is a handful on tight trails makes it the most difficult to control in these situations. It has beaucoup suspension, steers and jumps well, but unless we were on a desert or dune trail ride, we would pick the other two machines over it, most anyday.
WHICH HAS THE BEST SUSPENSION?
All three quads use some sort of double A-arm front suspension and a single shock rear suspension. The DS650 is the king of travel with 12 inches up front and 11.5 inches in the back. The V-Force has 9.3 inches in front with 7.9 inches in the rear, while the Raptor comes with 9.1 inches up front and 8.7 inches in the back.
The front shocks on all three have pre-load adjustments but sic compression or rebound adjustable. The rear single shocks on the DS and Raptor have pre-load, compression and rebound adjustments while the V-Force only has pre-load adjustments.
Shock action was rated the best on the Raptor and DS650 with the overall nod going to the DS650â€™s mega-travel. The Raptor suspension is excellent as well, and much improved over previous versions weâ€™ve ridden, but the all up numbers favor the DS in this instance.
Coming in last in the suspension department was the Kawasaki V-Force. While we liked the action overall, when you started to push the speeds up to the Raptor and DS levels you could tell the difference immediately. At medium speeds the Kawie 700 offers a plush and comfortable ride and will handle most anything you throw at it. But at higher speeds, the overly soft rear end will tend to hunt and bounce, especially when compared with its more stable riding competitors. For the DS650, this is clearly a case where more is actually better.
With triple disc brakes on all three machines there was no lack of stopping power in this shootout. Our testers felt that the DS650 has a slight edge over the Raptorâ€™s brakes. The V-Force disc brakes were progressive and easy to use but tended to be a bit mushy when used repeatedly. An advantage of the manual shift gearboxes on the Raptor and DS was that you could use engine braking by downshifing, but the automatic transmission on the Kawasaki 700 had no engine braking effect at all.
OVERALL FIT AND FEEL
This is one category where the individual natures of all three machines stood out. The DS650 is big, tall, and wide. Our larger sized test riders loved it, while anyone 5’10” and under hated it. The Kawasaki V-Force is also on the large side, but riders under 5’10” liked the comfortable ergonomics of this machine. It has a plush seat, good handlebars, and the footpeg location feels right whether you are sitting or standing.
The machine taking the overall fit and feel category was the svelte and comfortable Raptor. It also has a plush seat, good handlebars, comfortable footpegs and, due to its overall lightweight, has the best feel out on the trail. It also fits a wide range of rider types and sizes easily. We gave it the top spot in both these categories.
FINAL DECISION TIME
Here is where it gets even more dicey; picking a single winner to the shootout. Which of our high performance shootout contestants is the best overall?
The envelope please, drum rollâ€¦the overall winner of the Dirt Wheels 2003 650 shootout is the Yamaha Raptor.
While not quite as fast or as well suspended as the â€˜03 DS650, or as easy to ride as the â€˜04 Kawasaki V-Force 700, it has the right combination of ingredients to make it a clear top choice in this shootout of the biggest of the big bore high performance quads.
Unlike the Bombardier DS650, the Raptor comes with a reverse gear that is more than handy when the machine weight limits climb up into the 400-plus pound range. It also has a snappy, high revving motor, good overall suspension, and is almost 70 pounds lighter than the â€˜03 DS650.
We still feel the Kawasaki V-Force 700 is an excellent machine. For some of our testers, it WAS the top choice, as a fun, thrilling, and easy-to-ride open class machine. But it still is slower than its top competitors and the suspension is hard pressed to keep up when the speeds increase to the upper limits of the powerband.
We still think that when it comes to the ability to put a smile on your face, all these machines are winners. The one that puts the biggest grin on yours depends on what is most important to you. Decide for yourself and get to work on that grin.