Who is the entry-level king?
Over the last couple of years all of the major manufacturers have been taking up portions of Honda’s once dominant ATV market share. One company doing most of the damage is Suzuki. When Suzuki introduced the Z-400, 400EX sales took a dramatic dive. Then after the Eiger, Vinson and Ozarks were released, Rancher, Rubicon and Recon sales were affected. Suzuki’s latest assault is on the entry-level sport market and their weapon of choice is the new Quadsport Z250. It’s designed to take over sales of Honda’s three-year-old 250EX.
These two machines are based on entry-level utility models, the Recon and Ozark, which we compared in the Feb ’03 issue. Of course these two contestants are lighter, faster and better handling than their rack-equipped cousins. So another shootout is in order. From a manufacturer’s standpoint it is important to have a sought-after entry-level model to help build brand loyalty for future purchases.
AIMING AT YOUR WALLET
The two contestants are targeted at youngsters who are riding a full-sized machine for the first time. Or, someone may purchase one of these units as an extra vehicle for a wife or girlfriend, or someone that doesn’t require a lot of power and needs a machine that is easy to ride. Although a fully automatic machine may be easier to operate at first, it doesn’t take long to master the use of the auto-clutch five-speed transmission on these quads, making the step to a manual-clutch sport machine comes that much easier.
In this shootout we’ll compare power, handling, comfort and ease of use to help you decide which of these quads is better. In separate tests, we have found that both of these machines are quality built and very reliable, so each machine should last for many years of use with only simple maintenance. Also, the price tags on each machine are identical at $3899 so that shouldn’t be a factor either.
There are many other important similarities on the two machines as well. The chassis components are nearly identical. They both use dual A-arms up front and a single swingarm in the rear with shaft drive. Both have electric starters and the transmissions are equipped with a reverse gear. The braking systems are also the same using dual hydraulic discs up front and a mechanical (cable actuated) drum in the rear.
Most of the vehicle measurements are also very close with the widths at almost 42 inches and the seat heights at just over 31 inches. The overall length and wheelbase are again close at around 68 and 44 inches respectively. The overall height reading is about two and half inches taller on the Suzuki at 44.7 inches measured at the top of the handlebars.
The way you can mechanically tell these machines apart is by looking at the engines. Honda uses a longitudinally mounted, two-valve, pushrod four-stroke powerplant. On the other hand, Suzuki outfitted the Z250 with a standard overhead cam, two-valve four-stroke. Per cc at this level the different philosophies produce about the same power at the rear wheel. The Suzuki does have a displacement advantage of 16cc. A 22mm carburetor feeds the Honda’s engine while the Suzuki uses a larger 29mm unit. They both have easy-to-reach manual choke levers.
Suzuki also has a slight advantage in the suspension department with 6.1 inches of pre-load adjustable travel up front. The rear also has 6.1 inches utilizing adjustable preload while the Honda has 5.9 up-front and 5.7 in the back with no adjustment. Honda does have a pretty big advantage in the weight department with a 17-pound lighter reading on the scale, at 349 pounds.
Both machines have modern conveniences such as electric starters and reverse. On the Honda you can leave both hands on the bars to engage reverse while on the Z you must turn a knob on the right front fender to get things moving. As for starting the engine, the Z can be started in gear as long as the front brake is pulled in. With the 250EX, you have to downshift to neutral before the engine will turn over.
In the power department, the two contestants perform very differently. The Honda’s 229cc pushrod engine revs slower than the overhead cam equipped Suzuki. However, the Suzuki has a broader range between shift points. What this means is that on hard-packed terrain the Suzuki performs better, and on tacky or sandy situations the Honda gets up to speed quicker. On the top end, the Honda will pull slightly ahead at just over 50 mph. We did several drag races both on hard dirt and in the power-robbing Pismo sand. In both environments the Honda was consistently ahead the whole way.
The shifting on the Suzuki takes a little getting used to. You really have to pull your foot straight up to select gears where on the Honda a little nudge clicks it into position. Both machines wheelie extremely well and our riders Brett & Logan could ride them until the carbs ran out of fuel. Braking on both machines worked as well as the other.
Out on the trails both machines had very similar handling characteristics. They were very fun to race around on tight, bumpy terrain. The Honda rode smoother and felt a little lower to the ground than the Suzuki. In tight cornering, the Suzuki Z250 would tend to tip a bit more than the Honda. The Z250 has the added feature of preload adjustable suspension. However, the only adjustment we wanted to make was to soften up the ride for comfort.
Both machines jumped and landed as equals. They found their limits with any launches or drop-offs over four feet. Our test riders were both competent novice racers and excellent trail riders of very different sizes. The smaller one, Logan Holladay, stands about 5′ 6″ and weighs 118 pounds while Brett Hildebrand towers over 6′ tall and weighs 150 pounds. Neither complained about uncomfortable levers, bars or seats, proving both machines fit a wide range of rider sizes.
To pick an overall winner in this shootout is hard. Both machines perform well and are equal in many ways. Coming into this contest we thought Suzuki was going to take over another portion of the market from Honda. However, when we put both machines head to head, the Honda 250EX put up a strong fight.
Suzuki developed a great product with the Z250; however, it falls behind the 250EX slightly in the end. Even with the Z250’s noticeable power advantage and adjustable suspension, notchy shifting and rough ride hinders it.
Suzuki succeeded in making a very sporty entry-level machine with the Z250; however, ride comfort was sacrificed. And when you are trying to attract potential buyers to the sport and your brand, you don’t want them to get worn out in the process. Having pre-load adjustable shocks is a good idea; however, the valving in the Z250 shocks need to be softened up somewhat.
So, if you’re already brand loyal and want to stay true to one company or the other, then you won’t be disappointed with either machine. Now, if comfort and ease of use are issues that concern you and not name tags, then go with the Honda 250EX. It’s a slightly better machine.