Test Ride – Team Player

Test Ride – Team Player

2014.kawasaki.brute-force300.red.front-right.riding.on-trail.JPGIt’s easy to overlook smaller displacement machines in favor of much larger, more powerful models. The old saying, “Good things come in small packages,” certainly applies to ATVs as well, and one of the best examples is Kawasaki’s Brute Force 300. It not only looks great, but after our last ride on the 300, we knew it was something special. We needed to get one on our turf for some extended weekend trail time.

Inspection Time

Recognizing that there are a huge number of potential riders who aren’t comfortable with a much larger, more powerful machine, Kawasaki wanted a model that would be less intimidating and more user friendly, but with many of the same great features. They’ve got one – the Brute Force 300 is definitely that machine! Kawasaki’s new Brute Force 300 was designed to be stable, confidence inspiring and easy to ride for new or less experienced riders, yet to provide more features, power, and fun than any other machine in its class. The new engine was designed for good, low end and mid-range torque, while the ergonomics and suspension were meant for all day, trail riding comfort, all for around $4300 bucks!

We give any new ATV or Side x Side a thorough inspection long before we ever head out to the track our trail, and our first impression of the Brute Force 300 is that it is an extremely well-built machine. The fit and finish is second to none. Mating surfaces fit together perfectly and seams are extremely tight. The bodywork is styled very much like its big brothers in the Kawasaki lineup with muscular yet sporty lines, but overall size is slightly smaller. The plastic is also pliable enough to take abuse without cracking or crease marks. Under the bodywork, the chassis components on the new Brute Force 300 are well designed and constructed, and the engine shows all the trademarks of quality manufacturing with no extra tooling marks and clean, smooth castings. Both the engine and the chassis are powder-coated for corrosion prevention as are all fasteners. Most of the bolts and screws are a combination 10mm hex and Phillips head screw coated in zinc oxide. Overall, we give the Brute Force 300 perfect marks for fit and finish!

It should be easy to keep the Brute Force in top working condition. Underneath the seat are the battery and an easy access airbox. Inside the airbox is a washable, reusable foam filter which should get the job done. On the right hand side of the engine, there is a clear sight glass for quick oil checks before each ride, but there is no spin-on oil filter to replace. The Brute Force 300 engine has an internal screen that’s easy to pull out and clean.2014.kawasaki.brute-force300.top_.parked.on-grass.jpg

Body, Chassis & Motor

The Brute Force 300 may be slightly smaller than most of the full-sized machines we’re used to, but it is comfortable. This is one smaller machine that doesn’t make you feel cramped! It’s easy to reach all the controls, handlebar bend is very good, and just ahead of your right knee is a smooth shifting, gated shift lever featuring High, Low, Neutral, and Reverse. At the center of the steering column is a small digital instrument cluster, and on the left handlebar are a choke lever and parking brake lever. A comfy seat helps smooth out the bumps, and down below, the 300 features foot pegs that are raised above the floor boards which help keep your feet anchored for aggressive riding, but allow them to pivot when you shift your body position. We really like that they also have a tube structure beneath that makes them feel solid. Overall footing and ergonomics is very good. When it comes time to haul any gear to camp or tow a trailer, the Brute Force 300 is ready with a set of front and rear steel racks, and a tow hitch. Kawasaki also gave the racks plenty of little tie-down “nubs” just like on their top-of-the-line machines. The little projections keep tie downs from sliding along the racks. Nice touch guys! It’s another example of thinking about all the details. Since the 300 is a smaller machine, storage is limited to a compartment on the front end, but there is an open pocket on the right fender capable of holding a water bottle as well. A bonus, though, is the front winch mount which is already welded into the frame!

Kawasaki gave the Brute Force 300 a steel frame with dual A-arm suspension at the front, and a swingarm suspension at the rear. As expected for an intro level machine, suspension travel is pretty limited, with less than 6 inches at each end, and 6 inches of ground clearance under the swingarm as well. It’s not meant for serious rock crawling or long, motocross style whoop sections, but then again, less experienced riders weren’t looking for those types of obstacles anyway. Kawasaki did have the foresight to give the 300 disc brakes at both ends and in our experience, they always stopped well, even when wet whether using the foot brake or the handlebar brake levers. Thankfully, Kawasaki again came through with a separate brake lever for both the front and rear brakes, and because of the unique CVT system, there is considerable engine braking as well.2014.kawasaki.brute-force300.bottom.skid-plates.parked.on-grass.jpg

Power for the Brute Force 300 is from a 271cc, liquid cooled, single cylinder, 4 Stroke engine that spins a CVT style transmission. While larger machines often have EFI, the 300 engine uses a 32mm Keihin carburetor and it always started well during our outings. In fact, we rarely needed the choke. A twist of the key and a stab at the green starter button easily brought the Brute Force engine to life, but just in case you have a battery problem, there is a recoil backup. Kawasaki even came up with a unique locking mechanism to keep grit out of the recoil unit and we were able to start it easily with a couple pulls of the handle. Throttle angle and pull is very good and the little engine responds quickly with a burst of power.

Days on the Trail

After a couple minutes to let the engine warm up, we slipped the shifter into gear. We love the shifting on the Brute Force 300. In fact, it shifts better than many top-of-the line machines costing more than twice as much! With a stab at the throttle, we were off. The Brute Force 300 doesn’t really have a big “hit” off the bottom, but it does pick up speed quickly and smoothly, and it’s very easy to control.

The trails we had picked for our first day were primarily sandy logging trails that wound through a northern forest, but lately the timber company had been harvesting some of their planted tracts. The heavy trucks had really been beating up the trails, especially with all the spring rain, so this would be a much better test of the Brute Force 300’s capabilities and handling. The truck ruts were best handled by straddling them, and the log loading areas presented logs to hop over and plenty of ruts to cross. Rather than just powering over obstacles like we would on a larger, more powerful machine though, the Brute Force 300’s strength is its maneuverability. We found ourselves riding it more like a point & shoot sport quad. When you do cross deep ruts, it doesn’t take long to eat up the limited suspension travel, but because its overall size is shorter and lighter, you pick your line and ride through it. It feels nimble and precise, and it was fun! The Maxxis tires do a good job of finding traction at the rear, and providing stability and steering at the front. Steering effort is light, not requiring too much input while providing good feedback, but again it can get a little twitchy when we pressed it hard over rough terrain. We were also happy to find the rear rack doesn’t smack you in the butt like it does on some other machines.2014.kawasaki.brute-force300.red.front.riding.over-rocks.JPG

With plenty of rain, there were numerous water holes along the trail and we eagerly dove right in. We never had a problem requiring a buddy and a humiliating tow strap of shame, but you’ll need to remember the Brute Force 300 is only a 2wd machine, so plan your water crossings carefully. We do love how the floorboards drain quickly though, and Kawasaki had another clever idea when they included a splash baffle in the frame. This keeps water splashed from one front tire from soaking your leg on the opposite side. It’s another example of thinking of all the details.

Off cambers and steep hills are the obstacles that give less experienced or new riders the most trouble. We were pleasantly surprised with how the Brute Force 300 responded in both cases. It was possible to tackle the hills in both High and Low gear, and it never gave us a tippy, unstable feel. It’s easy and fun to ride and handling is predictable!

It was hard to find anything we didn’t like about the Kawasaki Brute Force 300. In fact, about the only thing we would like to see in future models is a little more storage – under the rear fender deck would work – and the larger digital display from the Brute Force 750 would be a little easier to read while underway.

Ride Wrapup

We had an absolute blast out playing on the Kawasaki Brute Force 300. It responds well to rider input, power delivery is smooth and doesn’t overpower the chassis, it’s completely confidence inspiring, and it works well as a package. The Brute Force 300 performs and delivers features of high-end machines at an intro machine price point. In nearly every way, it’s an overachiever! Great job Kawasaki!  

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July 29, 2014

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