2019 KAWASAKI MULE PRO-MX
— UTV TEST —
By the staff of Dirt Wheels
For the most part, the side-by-side world is split into three categories: sport, utility and recreation utility. Consumers are then left to play the role of Goldilocks and decide which category is just right for their needs and wants. Kawasaki kept this dilemma in mind when they created the Mule Pro series. While every machine in the series is highly capable, the Mule Pro-SX is the smallest of the bunch and the Mule Pro-FX is considered the largest. This year it was time for something in between that would fit the masses and be “just right.”
The Mule Pro-MX is the “extra-strong midsize” model. The MX is kind of the luxury sedan of recreation utility machines in that it is fun but practical, sturdy but stylish. Because it was made to fit a wide range of consumer needs, it was given a few upgrades that have not yet come to the SX and FX models. Six accessory packages offer even more luxury.
Sometimes with styling, the small stuff makes a big difference, so let’s start from the ground up. Duro Frontier radial tires are designed to be versatile in varied terrain and give the MX traction to match its torque. LE models also come equipped with 12-inch aluminum rims. Full, integrated doors help riders stay clean and dry in the elements. The MX’s automotive-style dashboard and adjustable tilt steering wheel really do make you feel like you’re driving a sedan rather than a rugged off-road vehicle. The entire cab is spacious and comfortable.
Unlike most bench-seat UTVs, the Mule Pro-MX has contoured seats to keep you planted and cushioned, and they have even added a large storage area underneath the seating. This is just the beginning of the storage options, with multiple compartments located in the dash, including a locking glove box, as well as a 2.4-gallon storage bin located under the hood. All models come stock with an injection-molded roof to again keep riders comfortable and dry. Diamond-plate steel floors add rugged durability, while each machine also has a sloped, diamond-plate steel dump bed. The bed has gas struts to make unloading cargo a breeze.
Claimed best-in-class lighting and a steep hood slope not only increase visibility, but supply the machine with an aggressive appearance. Convenience plays a big role in the Mule Pro-MX, as well with cup holders, a 12-volt power outlet, easy latch doors and even an independent parking brake.
JUST PLAIN RUGGED
As we mentioned before, many of the parts on the MX are steel for maximum durability, especially on high-load areas. However, there are a few other features that make this machine as rugged as possible. Kawasaki introduced a Shinari-tuned frame for the Pro-MX. “Shinari” is a Japanese term that encapsulates the concept of an object being able to bend without breaking and then return to its original shape. By allowing the frame to flex without breaking or becoming distorted, the machine’s durability, handling and ride comfort are all improved.
The durable CVT ensures smooth but lasting performance. The dedicated centrifugal clutch keeps the belt tight for smooth acceleration and less abrupt engine braking. The drive shafts are hard-chrome-plated for durability. The N7-grade belt maximizes reliability and peace of mind. A dual-mode rear differential allows for maximum traction when locked, while dashboard switches allow for simple changes between drive systems. Front and rear hydraulic brakes make sure that you and your cargo stop safely and smoothly every time.
THE BITE BEHIND THE BARK
It doesn’t matter how cool your machine looks if it doesn’t perform when it needs to. With a liquid-cooled, 695cc, fuel-injected Kawasaki engine, the Pro-MX has a claimed best-in-class 42.7 pound-feet of torque. The power and torque support the Pro-MX’s 1500-pound towing capacity. Every version comes standard with a 2-inch hitch receiver. After driving this machine, we have no doubt that it truly is capable of handling tough jobs. Whether it be a steep grade with the bed loaded to its full 700-pound capacity or towing for work or play, the Mule MX should do it all. Kawasaki has done some smart engineering to allow the MX to run stronger for longer. They placed the intake under the hood near the dash to take in cleaner, cooler air, along with a CVT exhaust to help the belt stay cool even when the machine is running hard.
ALONG THE BEATEN PATH
Whether you plan to drive around the ranch or over the river and through the woods, the Pro-MX will make your ride smooth and agile. Front and rear double-wishbone suspension lets the wheels drive over obstacles with minimum effect on the chassis. We were able to try some basic rock crawling on our test loop and found that with nearly 11 inches of ground clearance and full skid plates, we were able to get over some decent obstacles. On smaller chatter along the trails, the adjustable twin-tube shocks delivered a surprisingly smooth ride with 8.6 inches of front-end travel and 9.1 inches in the rear. With a 60-inch width and a 79-inch wheelbase, this machine was engineered to be well-balanced for improved handling and maneuverability. The dimensions of the MX were planned to make it feel planted yet nimble, which is apparent with its 13.8-foot turning radius.
We had the opportunity to get behind the wheel to investigate Kawasaki’s performance claims for ourselves. In the rugged hills of the Ancient Peaks Winery in Paso Robles, we set out to test the capabilities of the newest Mule. A winery may not sound like the ideal place to put an off-road machine through its paces, but Ancient Peaks is famous for having five kinds of distinctly different soils, and it is also home to quite a few head of cattle. From rocks and sand to shells and silt, we had plenty of terrain to sample. The start of our ride was an easy access road to get a feel for the machine. We noticed that the centrifugal clutch in the CVT really made for smooth acceleration and far less jerky engine braking than most utility-type machines exhibit. Once we reached the start of the more technical trails, we began climbing. Even in 2WD, on the more gradual ascents there wasn’t any wheelspin. The steeper grades required 4WD low, and with help from the diff-lock, the Pro-MX climbed hills with ease. Rather than feeling slow and rumbly like some machines, low gear on the MX gained traction without feeling like power is being lost. While the midsize Mule was only able to go 21 mph up a steep grade with pedal to the metal, we never felt like it was a struggle. Hill descents were effortless and didn’t have the rumble and lag of the CVT reengaging at the bottom. One commendable feature that the Mule Pro-MX offers for hilly terrain was the parking brake. When stopped on an incline, peace of mind that we were staying put was a bonus.
When we headed out for our second loop of the day, we had a chance to really open the throttle body a bit. Because, after all, this machine is all work and all play. We took a narrow twisty trail under the trees that really gave us a feel for the maneuverability and stability. Although the Mule series looks a bit more like a traditional utility machine, the carefully engineered frame structure and dimensions make it feel more like a recreational machine. The torque combined with the concise steering makes corners feel controlled even at speed.
The Mule Pro-MX proved to be “just right,” and performed well above the standard that we expected. From the frame construction to all the comfort and convenience, this machine has it all. With six accessory packages including: open range, adventure, and utility, there are plenty of options to choose from. At a starting price of $11,999, the Mule Pro-MX is a machine that truly gives you your money’s worth.
KAWASAKI MULE PRO-MX
Engine Liquid-cooled, SOHC four-stroke, single-cylinder
Fuel system DFI (digital fuel injection)
Fuel capacity 9.5 gal
Starting system Electric
Final drive Shaft
Front Double wishbone/8.6”
Rear Double wishbone/9.1”
Front Duro Frontier Radial 25×9-12
Rear Duro Frontier Radial 25×11-12
Ground clearance 10.6”
Curb weight 1,594 lb.
Colors Timberline Green, Bright White
MSRP $11,999 (starting price)
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