The 4×4 quad world is going full speed in two different directions. At the high end, we have twin-cylinder, 1000-pound machines with more features and creature comforts than a Lexus. At the other end, we have renewed emphasis on 300cc, two-wheel-drive quads that focus groups say they want. That leaves the real bread-and-butter ATVs, like the Suzuki KingQuad 400ASI, somewhat neglected.
But “neglected” isn’t the same thing as forgotten, at least not in this case. The KingQuad 400 continues to sell well and is the backbone of the Suzuki line. It hasn’t received many updates in years because it already has arrived at its final destination. There’s a reason that the 400cc 4×4 once was considered the upper limit in the utility quad world—because as quads get larger, they simply become something else, more akin to little Jeeps. With increases in engine size come more weight, and with more weight comes the need for things like power steering. The Suzuki 400 remains true to the original utility quad vision. It’s inexpensive, simple, practical and, when it comes to conquering difficult terrain, it’s very, very good.
UNDER THE BODYWORK
We call the KingQuad 400 “simple,” but that’s only by comparison to the megaquads that command $10,000 price tags. The 400 actually has a sophisticated, fuel-injected, four-valve, overhead-cam motor that measures 376cc in real-world displacement. It’s air-cooled, which seems kind of old-school, but still lighter and perfectly practical for a quad this size. Back in 2011, Suzuki gave the 400 fuel injection but made it almost invisible. There’s still a “choke” lever on the handlebar in the same old place, and the motor starts easily and warms up quickly. This year, Suzuki gave the motor a new cam profile and a redesigned muffler. Back when the KingQuad was called the Eiger, it had a recoil starter as a back-up, but that disappeared some time ago and is not practical for EFI machines.
Suzuki gives you two options for the 400’s drivetrain. You can get the automatic version, which has a continuously variable torque converter, or you can have the manual (FSi) transmission with a five-speed gearbox, a centrifugal clutch and sub-transmission with high, low and reverse on a stick shift. The base price is the same for both models: $6499. In both cases, the power is fed through a driveshaft to a straight axle. The rear suspension is as simple as they come. There’s a swingarm that moves both wheels up and down at the same time. Each wheel gets its own shock, which is a very clean design compared to the more common single-shock approach that most straight-axle quads use.
Even though the Suzuki sounds very plain Jane against a backdrop of high-tech jumbo quads, it still has a fair number of features. The seat is large and plush, it has full-LCD instrumentation, there’s a cigarette-lighter-style DC outlet, and the racks are large with lots of bungee locations.
Our test unit was the ASi (automatic) model with the camo finish. Suzuki, like most other Japanese quad makers, has shied away from automotive-style paint for its premium models, citing the finish durability of color-impregnated, molded plastic. Suzuki’s value-up finish is a flat camouflage graphic layer that is applied through a very high-tech water-based process. We can say this: the finish is very, very tough. We have seen Suzuki camo quads that were left outside in the sun for months and years without fading. Crash damage is another thing, but garden-variety brush and branches don’t leave any scrapes. The finish adds $400 to the price of the Suzuki, which is cheap compared to other manufacturers that use the same process.
Likewise, the quad itself is very tough. The air-cooled motor is a marvel of low maintenance. There’s no coolant to check, and the oil level is easily checked on a dipstick. You just get on and ride. The power is exactly what it should be: somewhat modest. You don’t get off any 400-class quad stunned by the sheer acceleration. But the Suzuki has good torque and will perform as well as much larger quads when it comes to low-speed tasks. You can tow and park most mid-size trailers in a flat equipment yard with the standard hitch—if that’s what you need—and it will climb any hill that you should attempt. The only time that the Suzuki’s smallish engine is a limiting factor in normal use is at higher speeds. When you’re already going, say, 30 mph and you punch the throttle, not much happens. The Suzuki gradually picks up speed, but it’s a long process to bring it up to its max, which is around 55 mph in high range. When you have low range selected, the acceleration is crisp, but you get to 30 mph and that’s all you have.
To be truthful, we prefer the manual-shift version of the Suzuki, the FSi. We’re in the minority here, as most dealers report that the ASi sells better, but we still feel that manual gear selection gives you more options and even more performance. You can wring out any gear longer and suck out every last bit of performance, plus you eliminate the most common ATV maintenance problem. There’s no belt to burn up. Admittedly, most Suzuki 400ASi belts will never experience a failure, but it’s still possible that you will get stuck in a quad-hungry mud hole and overheat any CV drivetrain. The chore of manual shifting seems a small price to pay to eliminate the belt for extreme conditions.
The KingQuad 400’s relatively light weight actually encourages you to plunge into more extreme, wild and wooly terrain. This is where lightweight 4x4s have a distinct advantage over their big brothers. When a quad weighs less than 600 pounds (dry), it’s so much easier to handle. The Suzuki 400 gives you a lot of confidence on surfaces that aren’t nice and level. If one wheel comes off the ground, you can shift your weight to the high side and keep going, whereas bigger machines are more indifferent to body English. On the complaint side of the ledger, we wish the Suzuki gave you a manual front differential lock. The limited-slip front diff is enough 90 percent of the time, but you can still get into a situation where you only have one wheel on the ground and it’s not getting the power it needs.
COMFORT MY CREATURE
If you’re looking for a cruise ship with all the conveniences of a dirt limo, you’ll probably have to spend more and shop in a higher range than the Suzuki 400. The steering is very light, but the KingQuad 400 doesn’t have a power-steering option. The Suzuki is pretty comfy at low speed, but it’s not as cushy as a heavy quad with fully independent suspension. We’re kind of surprised at how good the ride is, but it’s still a straight-axle rear end with completely unadjustable shocks. When the speed increases, you feel big impacts and bumps.
The KingQuad 400 is more like “King Value.” There are very few 4x4s that sell for less and give you more sheer function. It’s indestructible and light. It’s no Lexus, but that’s okay with us. We’re not the Lexus type.