250cc Sport ATV Comparison: Honda TRX250X vs. Kayo Jackal 200 vs. Can-Am DS250 By the staff of Dirt Wheels
250cc SPORT ATV COMPARISON
There was a time when 250cc sport quads were considered big and powerful. Basically, the lead dogs in the industry. That was many years ago now, though. Currently, 250cc-class sport quads are considered mild and civilized.
In reality, the performance is every bit as good as any ATV before the advent of 250cc two-strokes or 450cc performance four-strokes. They are fun on play tracks of all sorts, and they are capable of surprising trail adventurers as well.
In some ways, the Can-Am DS250 is a thoroughly modern sport quad, since it is the only one to employ a CVT transmission. It is physically the largest of these three machines, as well as the heaviest. It is the least happy on a play track but is great on trails since it is smooth, roomy, and comfortable to ride.
HELP ME HONDA…
For this shootout comparison, we gathered a diverse mix of machines. One, the Honda TRX250X, has been with us for literal generations. It remains a popular seller with private owners and rental fleets. It is unique with the engine mounted longitudinally (basically sideways from normal). This in order to lose less power, while still operating shaft drive. The engine is actually 229cc, but it makes fun, snappy, and responsive power. The Honda is the only sport model here with shaft drive and a sealed, wet, multi-plate rear brake like those more commonly seen of 4×4 machines.
Next up is the new-to-the-U.S. Kayo Jackal 200, and it is a traditional sport quad. It has a peppy, 199cc engine with a typical transverse layout common for chain-drive machines. It looks sporty, with the lowest profile tires in the group and standard nerfs with webbing under the pegs. It is the lightest and has the most compact dimensions of the three machines.
In addition to being physically larger, the Can-Am DS250 engine looks double the size of the other two. It is liquid-cooled, so without fins, it should look smaller, but it doesn’t. With the CVT providing the variable ratios instead of using a gearbox, the power unit is also wider than the other two.
Like many early sport machines, the Kayo engine is very compact. While it’s a “new” engine in the U.S., it draws a lot on early Honda two-valve XR and ATC engine design. We would not be surprised to find that it would bolt right in a Honda ATC 200. It is a 4-speed with reverse and a manual clutch. It only has electric starting.
All three engines are single-overhead-cam in design. Aside from the engine mounting, the Honda has a SportClutch that is unique to the brand. It has an auto clutch, but you can override it with the handlebar-mounted clutch lever. That is perfect for new riders. It is impossible to stall, yet riders can learn the basics of a clutch. Honda designed this engine for small-displacement utility quads, but it has the most sporty and energetic power in this group.
We aren’t in love with the sealed rear brake for a sport quad, but in terms of maintenance, both the rear brake and the shaft drive are winners that will keep you riding instead of wrenching.
Can’t we all just get along? Apparently, we can when it comes to suspension. Everybody is marching lockstep here with double A-arms in front, and a swingarm in the rear, with a single shock. Kayo doesn’t have claimed suspension numbers, so it looks like the Honda has the most front-wheel travel, and the Can-Am has the most rear-wheel travel. Of the three, Kayo has the firmest feel to the suspension, and you feel a lot of the terrain, particularly on the chop and small bumps, but you can push it hard on the track, and over jumps as well.
Honda has had a long time to get the suspension working well on the 250X, and it marches the line between trail-supple and sport-firm pretty well. At reasonable speeds it works fine, but part of the smooth ride is thanks to the tall tires. There is a lot of sidewall to better absorb chatter. Push it hard, and the tires have enough bounce to hinder control. Few riders will push the little machine that hard.
Can-Am has the most rear suspension, but the soft, even pillow-like seat makes it feel even better than it is. If you just sit in one place, the seat compresses until it is nearly flat, but standing or even bouncing a little allows the foam to recover.
Like all three machines, the DS250 is not compliant with small, sharp bumps or chop. Braking bumps, rocks, or even other vehicle tracks in the sand, or soft dirt will chatter your hands. Look for smooth trails on any of these three to have the most fun.
Can-Am is the only machine here with two handbrakes. It is rated for riders 14 years and older, and there are riders that age who will like the levers. They are on the large size for smaller riders. There is also a rear foot brake.
Both the front and rear brakes take a firm squeeze. You won’t be using one finger to stop. Fortunately, the thumb throttle didn’t bother anyone. None of our five riders even mentioned it, and we see that as a good sign. Behind the footpegs are heel guards, but they don’t leave a lot of room. Some riders felt like their feet were getting pushed off the pegs in bumps.
Honda has long been praised for paying attention to control efforts and comfort. The thumb throttle is great, for a wide range of riders, with smooth actuation. The brake and clutch lever is likewise nice to manipulate, and the braking in front is powerful but controllable. The rear brake has less power, but enough, and it lets the rider feel the available braking traction.
Compared to many Chinese manufactured machines, Kayo has a few issues with controls. The brakes are powerful but don’t have the feel that the Honda does. The rear is particularly prone to locking and requires a delicate touch.
We also got the brakes to squeal at times. The clutch lever has a nice bend, but there is a vagueness to the engagement. This could be related to cable quality or the finish on the actuation mechanism. It only bothered discerning riders. The thumb throttle and front brake didn’t work for small hands. We would install a Honda thumb throttle or switch to a twist throttle. The electric start worked well, but it is hard to see the neutral and reverse lights in the bright sun.
Comfort is another area where the Honda shines. For sporty riding, the handlebar has more sweep-back than we like, but otherwise, every part of the quad is where it should be. You aren’t catching on the plastic or slipping off the footpegs. While the seat isn’t as lush as the DS250, it is better overall. It has a good shape while seated or standing, and the foam density is near perfect. It can be ridden by a wide range of rider sizes and skill levels.
For taller riders, the DS250 has notably more room for riding seated or standing. It is just a relaxing machine to ride. More power for the brakes and fixing that heel-guard-space situation would help, but for the most part, there isn’t much that will bother you on the Can-Am.
Kayo made a machine that is quite compact, to begin with, and it is designed like a true sport quad. The seat is low to keep the rider’s weight low, and the low-profile tires keep the machine low as well.
All three machines use the same-size wheels (10-inch fronts, 9-inch rears) but the Kayo Yuanxing tires are 2 inches shorter in the front, and 1 inch shorter than the Can-Am Kenda rears, and a whopping 3 inches shorter than the balloon-style Maxxis rears on the Honda. No doubt the short sidewalls add to that crisp feel that the Kayo has on the small chop.
As a result, the Kayo attracts smaller riders or those accustomed to and limber enough to make it work. That isn’t a criticism. We would say the same about a Yamaha YFZ450. A compact machine with a low center of gravity is best for quick turns. Still, riders over 6 feet tall will need to watch their knees while hanging off for turns. They can bump into the front fenders.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
All three of these machines will work fine for play riding and trail riding. Kayo has the least amount of ground clearance for rough trails, with rocks and roots. As a plus, it is the only machine with protective nerf bars, with nets under the footpegs. Some riders will find that the manual clutch is a hindrance as well. Conversely, if you like to look and ride like a racer, then the Kayo is fun. It slides controllably and has little tendency to stand up in turns. The initial turn-in is good, but the steering geometry quickens up as you approach full steering lock.
Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, the Kayo is the lightest machine by 20 pounds (claimed) at 364 pounds. The Honda is 384 pounds, and the Can-Am is 429 pounds. At $2899, the Kayo is $1400 less than the DS250 and $2000 less than the Honda. Our Kayo has a lot of hours on it ridden by fast and aggressive adults that likely pushed the machine harder than most will ever be ridden.
One of the battery cables came loose on the Kayo, and the fuel petcock had a drip. The fuel tank is steel, surrounded by protective plastic, but the petcock is in the center of the machine. Which makes it a pain to reach. It never seemed to affect performance, but the air boot is quite flexible like it could even collapse under hard riding.
Under the rear fenders are metal supports, but the fenders are shaped so that leaning back to wheelie, or power through whoops, bends the supports. That reshapes the fenders for a little more room, so we left them that way. There is nothing about the Kayo that couldn’t be finessed by a good mechanic. It has been strong for us so far, it hasn’t used any oil, and the oil still looks pretty clean.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE
In this group, the Kayo has less low-rpm pull than the Honda, though it initially sprints away from the DS250. It has plenty of power to have fun, though. Even though the Honda engine began as motivation for utility machines, it has excellent power from right down low. It pulls up hills without a run-up. It is sparky but never abrupt. It is also fun to wheelie.
The Honda doesn’t slide like the Kayo, and it is a bit more prone to standing up in turns. It often feels the lightest. It is the most expensive, but we feel safe in saying that Honda will outlast several generations of riders if given some care. Change the oil and clean the air filter and it is nearly indestructible. Given the power, overall performance, and the obvious quality of the fit and finish, it is certainly worth the price. Millions of happy owners can’t be wrong.
Then there is the Can-Am. The word that comes to mind is “easy.” The seated position is almost easy-chair luxurious. When we were playing on the tracks, the Honda and Kayo sprinted away from the stop, while the CVT-motivated Can-Am eases away. In the open, the Can-Am gets along just fine, and the CVT makes any sort of terrain easy. There’s no shifting to worry about. The machine has the most room as well, so that makes it feel even easier to deal with.
For casual trail riding, the Can-Am is hard to beat. The more interested you are in jumps and wheelies, the less the Can-Am will appeal to you. It is the perfect gateway for riders who haven’t or won’t come to grips with a clutch or shifting. But, even our experienced riders chose it when it came time to head out on the trails.
WHO ARE THEY FOR?
We have here a play racer, a trail companion, and a machine with well-proven quality and longevity and all-around performance. The Honda is so good that it has a somewhat vanilla feel like a committee was involved in its design.
We are happy to have all three in the stable, but if you must choose just one, figure out what sort of rider you are, and grab the one that suits you.
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