Honda Recon 250 vs. Kawasaki Brute Force 300

Okay, we’ll admit to being a little jaded. The last two shootouts we conducted were for 450cc sport quads and big-bore 4x4s. So to be honest, we may not have had all the youthful enthusiasm we should have had when loading up these two small-bore 2WD utility machines. And we have no good excuse, because it was a sure bet we’d have fun. We had already been using them around the farm, and we knew they could do the job. We had played with the Recon on our rock-filled local trails, and we hit the Hatfield-McCoy trails on the Brute Force 300 last year. Our final question concerned whether they deliver fun on a longer run. We started to get some anticipation generated when we headed for the base of the San Bernardino Mountains and Lake Silverwood. Our plan was to ride from the lake at the northwest base of the mountains to near Lake Arrowhead high in the pine trees. This turned out to be the ideal day ride for a couple of smaller quads. There is really just one main route for most of the ride, and it starts out climbing and just keeps gaining altitude. Despite the quantity of climbing, both little quads worked great, and the fun meters remained near redline.

NO NEWS, GOOD NEWS
The Recon has been in the Honda line for quite a while. If the longitudinally mounted engine looks familiar, it should. It is basically the mill that powers the 250 EX, but on our ES model without the foot-shift feature. The engine is friendly tech air-cooled with a nearly maintenance-free shaft drive. The suspension is basic as well, but there is enough travel to take the curse off of challenging terrain despite having no preload adjustment. Naturally, starting is electric, and on our machine the five-speed is shifted via buttons on the left-side handlebar switchgear. Just hit the up arrow to shift up and the down arrow for downshifting. Press the reverse button and the downshift button at the same time for reverse. The machine must be in neutral to start. Like the 250 EX, the overall riding position is compact and best suited for smaller riders. The brakes are three sealed drums: one on the solid rear axle and one for each front wheel.

Kawasaki works with Kymco in Korea to get the Brute Force 300. Kawasaki claims that the Kawasaki-badged machine has a different spec than a regular Kymco. Whether there is any difference in actual specification or not, the 300 is a quality unit with a lot to offer. It is physically larger in feel than the Honda with a much more natural standing/riding position, but the size comes with a 100-pound weight penalty. Like the Recon, it has electric starting and a recoil backup. In a marked change from the Recon, the little Brute’s engine is liquid-cooled, and a CVT gets the power from the motor to the driveshaft. For the brakes, it has discs front and rear. Both machines have racks for work or carrying things when you play, but the 300’s racks seem a bit larger. It also boasts a drink holder and some enclosed front storage.

MOVING ON
Though the engines in both machines are on the smallish side, they handled everything we threw at them. At times the speeds were low as the engines lugged down on the climbs, but both machines always kept moving and without a lot of drama. You can tell that the Recon shares parts with a sporty model like the EX. You are able to loft the front wheels relatively easily to clear dips, logs or rock steps. In the lower gears, you can even play at wheelies. The Recon doesn’t have any sort of low range, but when you shift it into first gear, it pulls down low enough to tackle anything you should attempt on a quad this size. Bump it up through the five speeds and the 250 grabs each gear with no hesitation, and there is a decided jump in acceleration with each shift. The engine and transmission operation is quiet for an air-cooled model. Starting is good, and while we needed to play with the choke a bit when cold, we turned it off quickly and felt no need to use it if the engine was not dead cold. There is no doubt that the EPA has demanded a lean setting. The response actually improved at altitude. We didn’t hit any truly deep water, but roughly a foot of standing water caused no drama. You will need to find a pretty slippery surface to worry about radical slides with the Recon.

Despite being in the same class at nearly the same price, there are significant differences between the Honda Recon 250 ES and the Kawasaki Brute Force 300. Both are a bunch of fun on the trail and useful at work.

Despite a significant displacement advantage and specs considerably more modern than the Recon, the baby Brute’s performance feels pretty close to its rival. You would think that push-button shifting would be a luxury on a quad, but it feels like busy work after the completely painless ride with the 300’s CVT. The engine looks cobby and a little industrial, and having part of the shift linkage run diagonally across the right side of the engine doesn’t help. Fortunately, this isn’t a beauty contest. Like the Recon, the 300 requires little choke, warms quickly and runs without any odd lean carburetor issues. The Kawasaki does have a high and a low mode, and we were happy to have both during the test. There is no “snap” to the throttle response with the CVT. Getting the front wheels up requires an obstacle to use and a lifting point. When the going is technical, the smooth and perfectly tractable response is a boon, but if wheelies factor heavily into your idea of ATV fun, a small-bore CVT quad is the wrong choice.

Kawasaki put storage up front, and we like that it opens through the rack. The Kawasaki racks are a little larger than the Honda.
You would think that a liquid-cooled engine would look more modern than the air-cooled Honda, but the Brute Force 300 is a little industrial-looking.

LIVING ROOM
As far as chassis fit, finish and riding position go, we have some distinct traits. The Honda is surely for smaller riders. The seated position is fine for those over 6 feet, but scrunchy when standing. That smallness lends a low center-of-gravity feel that is highly desirable. The Recon feels planted and not tippy at all. The steering is light, and it maneuvers easily in tight spots. The drawback in tight situations is the reverse gear. It just takes more movements to find it, and it takes more time than the Brute’s simple shift lever. We credit the tires for some of the Honda’s manners. We ran 5 psi in all four tires on both machines, and the Recon meats displayed little bounce and didn’t sway from side to side.

Honda opted for storage in the rear. You can get at it even when you are using the racks. The Honda racks are smallish.
The Recon has no suspension adjustments and hydraulic drum brakes. It gets the job done.
The Recon has no suspension adjustments and hydraulic drum brakes. It gets the job done.

By comparison, the Brute Force is comfortable to ride standing, with ample room for a rider over 6 feet tall or taller to feel completely at home. We didn’t note any advantage in actual rock clearance between the two machines, but the Kawasaki has a high CG feel, and you want to watch your cambers more carefully. Again, tires come into play. If you rode the quads without looking at them, you would swear that the tires on the Kawasaki are twice as tall as those on the Recon. They squish, bounce and sway more. That actually aids the ride quality in choppy bumps or chatter ripples. Cambers are still handled well enough, but you are a little more cautious on the 300.

Like the Kawasaki, the Recon pops the front end up easily with some help, but the Honda will loft the front wheel on demand in lower gears.
You can get the front wheels of the Brute Force off the ground, but you need some sort of obstacle to help pop them up.

THE VERDICT
There are some definite touch points here to help choose a fun, budget utility quad out of this pair—your size, how you feel about the manual shifting versus CVT, and how good the local dealer is. Certainly the Honda feels a little more playful, and if the riding position works with your height, then it is hard to go wrong with the air-cooled simplicity of the Recon. For taller riders or adults ,the fit of the Kawasaki is a big deal, but only if you ride standing. If your riding conditions have covering trees and vines that minimize riding while standing, let the shifting be your guide. The controls on the Kawasaki are just easier. The parking brake is a simple flip of a lever, and you just put it in drive and go. For work or play, that can be a great advantage. There were times we preferred the control of being able to pick the gear we were in on the Recon, but even with these small-bore engines, the CVT has much to recommend it. While switching machines during testing, we never heard any complaints either way. Our riders and photo models were happy shifting or not. After all, we were sitting in front of handlebars and not a desk.

When the going gets tight, you will be happy that you are on smaller machines that fit where larger ones will not.

HONDA KAWASAKI
RECON 250 ES BRUTE FORCE 300

Engine type………………229cc air-cooled OHV………….271cc liquid-cooled,
longitudinally mounted four-stroke,
single-cylinder four-stroke single cylinder
Bore x stroke……………..68.5mm x 62.2mm…………………72.7mm x 65.2mm
Fuel system……………….22mm carburetor…………………Keihin CVK32
Fuel capacity……………2.4 gal…………………………………..3.2 gal.
Starting system…………Electric w/ recoil backup …….Electric w/ recoil backup
Final drive………………..Shaft…………………………………….Shaft
Suspension/wheel travel:
Front………………………..Independent………………………..Double wishbone/5.2”
double-wishbone/5.1”
Rear………………………..Swingarm w/single……………..Swingarm/5.6”
shock/4.9”
Tires:
Front………………………..22×7-11………………………………….Maxxis 22×7-10
Rear………………………..22×10-9………………………………….Maxxis 22×10-10
Brakes:
Front………………………..Dual-sealed hydraulic drum.Dual 148mm discs
Rear………………………..Sealed mechanical drum……Single 148mm disc
Wheelbase………………..44.5”……………………………………..45.8”
Length/width/height…75.0”/40.7”/42.1”…………………….75.3”/42.5”/46.1”
Ground clearance…….6.0”……………………………………….6.1”
Seat height……………….31.2”……………………………………..33.3”
Turning radius………….8.5 feet………………………………….N/A
Total rack capacity…..33 lb……………………………………..110 lb.
Towing capacity……….66 lb……………………………………..500 lb.
Curb weight*…………….432 (wet) lb…………………………..535.8 lb.
Colors………………………..Red, olive……………………………..Vibrant Blue,
Firecracker Red
Price………………………….$4199…………………………………….$4299

Playing in the water is a blast no matter what, and the Kawasaki handled the chore fine while keeping the rider dry.

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