First Ride: 2015 Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT
The side-by-side industry is seeing incredible leaps in innovation and growth across the board. There are so many new machines coming to market, and one portion of the industry that is bursting with new ideas is the working UTV segment. Kawasaki enters the 2015 model year with its all-new Mule PRO-FXT, which focuses on buyer who wants to do it: hunting, trail riding and working in the field or yard.
Just a few weeks ago Kawasaki invited us to see the massive facility where they build the next generation of off-road products. We were also given the opportunity to get a quick test of the new Mule PRO-FXT. Aside from getting behind the wheel of the next-generation Mule, I have to say it was very exciting to see how they would build a better horse!
Driving to the town of Lincoln, Nebraska, we made our way to the ever-growing facility where the dream happens for Kawasaki! Kawasaki came to this small town back in 1974 with its sites set 332 acres that would help begin its mission to produce motorcycles in the U.S. The factory has spread out over the acreage and now employs more than 1250 employees. It was no secret, yet amazing anyway, that Kawasaki is making railcars as well as its own manufacturing line robots, as the plant is widely used in many different production processes. It certainly was a treat to see the creative process of Kawasaki in producing its newest vehicles.
For 2015, Kawasaki’s new Mule PRO-FXT is bigger and tougher than its prior working-class machines. The Kawasaki Mule has always been a great worker, but for 2015 the Mule PRO-FXT is powered by a fuel injected, 812cc triple cylinder engine that is liquid cooled and geared for labor. There are many things to be excited about with the new ride, but we found the 3 to 6 passenger transformation of this new machine to be the most interesting.
The new Mule PRO-FXT boasts a number of highlighted features, including 46 lb.-ft. of torque for incredible pulling power and a rating of tow loads up to 2000 pounds. That has to be an industry record! The steel cargo bed in three-passenger configuration will hold up to 1000 pounds like a boss. The integrated 2-inch receiver hitch makes hooking to any standard work trailer very easy. The stack of options for the Mule PRO-FXT does include power steering as well, which I personally feel should be included from the factory on any machine capable of carrying more than three riders, and especially when many consumers will be working this new Mule to its intended capabilities. As for the “how does it work” on Kawasaki’s Electric Power Steering (EPS) units rider input determines steering assist, and the same assist is regressive as the speeds progress to give the driver a confidence-inspiring ride while maintaining control of the machine.
From the working-class farm hand to the professional outdoorsman to the recreational trail rider, the new Mule PRO-FXT has striking new appearance that shows it means business. This vehicle is built strong with a focus on its ability to get the job done. Halogen headlights illuminate the night on the base model Mule PRO-FXT for those late evening jobs, and if a consumer buys into the LE model they will get additional twin LED lights as part of the package. A quick note about auxiliary power for this Mule is the 60 amps that is available at 2000 rpm from the high-output alternator. This extra voltage can be used to power devices from the machine itself. Two twelve-volt power outlets can be found in the cab of the standard models, while LE and Camo models will offer an additional pair of outlets.
The cab will carry three full-sized adults in the front bench-style seat, and of course three-point seatbelts are included for each rider. If you need more passenger space simply take the 1.1.1 challenge and convert the rear section to hold three more passengers easily and quickly. According to Kawasaki it should only take one person about a minute to convert the cab for an extra three riders. The cargo guard slips along the bed easily and locks into place with the seating rising up and locking into position.
Slipping into the cab is made easier for any sized rider, as the adjustable tilt steering makes the driver’s entrance a breeze. Other in-cab items include a cup holder on the driver’s side and an accessory switch panel in the center of the dash. The large gear selector is very user friendly and is mounted close to the right side of the steering wheel. A true parking brake is also included on the left side of the steering wheel. Dash storage and under-seat cargo storage is plenty in the Kawasaki Strong Mule for 2015.
We spent a good portion of the morning making our trip through the plant where the Mule and other machines are made. We were then off to a separate ride site to get a little time under the wheel of this machine. Kawasaki arranged for our ride to be at a private facility just outside Lincoln. After a short bus trip we were climbing into the cab of our 2015 Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT LE and it was time to study the new machine as best we could.
Slipping onto the bench-style seat was comfortable, and we fired the big triple to life with a quick twist of the key. We rolled our 2015 Mule PRO-FXT LE behind a few other vehicles and set out on the trails to get a ride impression. The first thing we noticed was how balanced the engine sounded and when pressing the throttle down the power delivery was also very linear. The engine is pretty quiet in the cab even as we climbed the steep hills around the property. Electronic power steering is a great thing when it is done right, and we sure love it on this machine. Slow cornering through tighter trails and up over rooted landscape proved to be simple with the help of Kawasaki’s EPS, and on a machine of this size it’s something we think is a necessity.
The new Mule PRO-FXT’s turning radius has been tightened up compared to previous models, and it was nice to drive this longer Mule through tight trails like nobody’s business. With 4WD engaged, the big 812cc powerplant steadily pulls its way up steep, off-camber sections and the machine feels very stable during the process. The 2015 Mule PRO-FXT’s suspension travel, measuring now to a user friendly 8.7 inches of independent wheel travel both front and rear, is surely a big help with its capability. In the past we have not known the Mule line to be very quick, but we’re happy to report a vast improvement in accelerating up to 45 mph in the new PRO-FXT. The six-spoke cast-aluminum wheels and 26-inch tall tires on our LE model had plenty of traction for our test track.
Although we only had limited time in the 2015 Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT, it was still plenty of time to feel the improvements to this line of work machine that are getting better and better. Overall the reinvention of the Kawasaki Mule is a leap in the right direction, and maybe only a couple of things stood out in my mind as possible items to work on. The flat bench is really thin and maybe too smooth, which allows driver and passengers to slide around a little too much in rough terrain. A sculpted foam insert under the vinyl covering of the seat would give each rider a little more form fitment and more stable seating positions. The engine has way more in it than you can actually feel from the starting gate, and it could use a little remapping for that throttle-on punch.
Kawasaki’s move to build a better Mule working machine should really excite everyone, because it shows the company is beginning to build new product again and start new growth in our market. Great companies like Kawasaki have begun to really excel in every direction, and this working-class UTV is a huge part of overall sales in the U.S. and around the world. It’s great to see big anchor companies like Kawasaki continue to invest in off-road, as it means even more people can Let the Good Times Roll!