The rolling hills near Paso Robles, California, covered with ancient oak trees and occasional masses of eucalyptus plants, were the setting for a recent trail ride showcasing Kawasaki’s latest Mule offerings, the 2016 Mule PRO-FX and PRO-FXT Ranch Edition. The Santa Margarita Ranch we were on, which was nearly 15,000 acres in size, was part cattle ranch, part vineyard, and part agri-tourism destination. It proved to be a great place to show what the Mules were all about.
The Mule PRO-FX
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXT. As a person who spends a great deal of time field hunting geese, it is a nearly perfect machine, with a large passenger and cargo capacity. So when I saw the new Mule PRO-FX, my initial reaction was, “Oh, they just removed the back seat.” To an extent, that is correct—the PRO-FX is a three-seat machine, with a front bench seat and a full-size cargo bed that holds up to 1,000 pounds of stuff. When you look at the machine, it’s easy to see that Kawasaki altered the ROPS cage and reconfigured the frame to take away the Transcab rear seat system. What you end up with is a cargo bed that is over 54 inches long and over 53 inches wide!
Power comes from an 812cc three-cylinder, automotive-style engine. The engine is the most powerful in the Mule lineup. Getting that power to the wheels is Kawasaki’s CVT transmission, one of the shining spots on the machine. You get really good throttle response, but not a lot of wheel spin, when you get on the gas. The engine braking is really good, too. This is the same basic setup that Kawasaki ran last yet in the PRO-FXT, with a few refinements. The Team Green guys massaged the engine and transmission to coax a little more from them in terms of power delivery.
I could go through everything, bit by bit, kind of like they do in the technical presentations. I’ll spare you some of that and go on to the ride instead! The trails we rode were basically ranch roads, which were wide enough for a big truck, so there was plenty of room for the Mule’s 64-inch-wide frame. These trails were also extremely dusty, thanks to California’s drought. The only thing that affected on the ride was the driver. The Mule’s air intake routes up behind the dash and the air filter is big. Even though the ride was dusty, the air filter remained clean.
The ride got a little tricky at times, too. The hills surrounding the Santa Margarita Ranch can get pretty steep, so we had to switch to four-wheel drive and even into low-range at one point. To be honest, I’m not sure we needed to. The Mule’s engine has a ton of low-end torque and the CVT design means that there is no lag between hitting the gas and reaction from the wheels—you gas it, you go. Plus, Kawasaki uses some sweet 26-inch Duro tires that grab traction with ease.
The only cargo we hauled around was an accessory cooler from Kawasaki that held some much-needed water. It was a far cry from the 1,000-pound cargo capacity the bed offers. It was so dry out there that whenever we stopped, everyone was breaking out the coolers for bottles of water. I think the cows were forming a plan to mug us, though. They kept eying our water supplies and at one point, blocked the trail.
The Mule PRO-FXT Ranch Edition
The new Ranch Edition of the PRO-FXT is in direct response to what the market is asking for, said Kevin Mann, Kawasaki’s four-wheel product manager. It takes the PRO-FXT LE model and adds a metallic titanium paint job for added “bling factor.” They also added a two-tone seat with an embossed Ranch Edition badge. The big factor here is the mounted and wired 4,000-pound Warn ProVantage winch with a remote and dash switch.
The rest of the features of the PRO-FXT Ranch Edition are the standard Transcab that switches the rear seat to back into cargo capacity and the same specs as the PRO-FX. Both machines have very rugged, all-steel frames that are designed and made in the United States—in Lincoln, Nebraska to be exact. Both have 8.7 inches of wheel travel and 10 inches of ground clearance. They both have available power steering (standard on the Ranch and LE editions). As someone who has spent time behind the wheel of both, opt for the power steering (EPS). I say this all the time, but it is such a nice and helpful feature, you will thank me later. The LE, camo, and Ranch editions also have an amazing dual headlight package that will illuminate things very nicely. Having used them myself in hunting conditions, the lights are really great.
Folks always want to categorize UTVs, but the lines between different types of vehicle are so blurred that it makes it hard to do so. Mules have been known since their inception in 1988 as a working machine. These new Mule PRO models blur that a bit. Yes, they can work hard and help you with just about any task that can come up around the ranch, worksite, or hunting lease. They are also comfortable and fun to drive, making them capable trail machines. On some of the ranch roads, we got them up close to the 45 mph top speed.
The Mule PRO-FX costs $11,999 for the non-EPS, $12,999 for EPS, $14,199 for the LE model and the same for the Realtree Xtra Green camo unit. The PRO-FXT Ranch Edition will set you back $16,899, a grand more than the standard LE model. That’s not a bad deal for getting a winch mounted and wired with switching options.
Grab one and go!
So which model is best for you? If hauling cargo is more of a concern than hauling passengers, get the PRO-FX. The massive cargo box is amazing and you’ll save a few bucks. If you’re pretty sure that, at some point, you’re going to need to take five buddies with you, go for a PRO-FXT. And if you want the winch and some extra style, by all means, take a look at the new Ranch Edition. At the end of the day, you can’t lose with either Mule. Check ’em out.
Images courtesy Kawasaki