When ATVs came along, they were viewed as the weird brother of the motorcycle. As they evolved, they showed more usefulness and variety. Some were designed for play, and some for work. A few blurred those lines and could do both. In the late 1980s, John Deere started selling an ATV that was more tractor than ATV, the Gator. In 1988, Kawasaki took things a step further with the original Mule and with it, a new class of vehicle was born: the utility task vehicle, or UTV. UTVs usually feature multi-passenger seating and increased cargo capacity over ATVs. Mules have evolved over the years, but have remained known almost exclusively as a working utility vehicle. That is set to change with the introduction of the new 2015 Mule Pro-FXT.
Aimed at the hunting, farming, and fleet markets, the new Mule is very different from any previous Mule machine. Manufactured in Kawasaki’s Lincoln, Nebraska plant, it represented a new direction for the company. It uses the heavy-duty workhorse genetics of the Mule line, crossed with the adventurous attitude and features of the Teryx sport UTV, making it a pretty capable machine.
At a glance
Here’s the first thing you’ll notice about the new Mule: it converts from a six-passenger UTV to a three-passenger UTV in under a minute, and it only takes one person to do so. Converting the unit is very slick and all of the media folks in attendance were impressed. In six-passenger mode, the cargo capacity of the steel cargo bed is 350 pounds. In three-passenger mode, the capacity jumps to 1,000 pounds. The bed dumps as well, but only in the three-passenger configuration. An electric dump assist is available.
The Pro-FXT is powered by a new 812cc, three-cylinder, liquid cooled four-stroke engine that has torque to spare. The engine is rear-mounted to keep the center of gravity over the drivetrain, providing a smooth ride and gobs of traction. It also keeps cabin noise down, allowing the passengers to talk and hear conversations and outside noises. Kawasaki added a large radiator and high-capacity fan to keep the engine running cool, even in the hottest temperatures and load situations.
The Pro-FXT also comes with an automatic transmission with high and low range and two- and four-wheel drive, operated by a nice switch on the dash. Kawasaki also added a locking differential for extreme situations. The transmission operates under a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) system, which is the industry standard, as well as other features like electronic power steering and direct fuel injection.
The new Mule has 212mm disc brakes on all corners to aid in control and longevity of the machine. This adds to the capability when towing, as the Pro-FXT will haul 2,000 pounds from the two-inch receiver-style hitch.
The machine has adjustable shocks, riding on A-arm linkages at all four corners with 8.7 inches of wheel travel. Overall, the Pro-FXT has 10.2 inches of ground clearance. This is aided by the 26-inch Duro tires that have an outstanding tread pattern. The standard and camo Pro-FXT models ride on 12-inch steel wheels, while the LE model rides on stylish cast aluminum rims.
I could be like the parade of Kawasaki guys that spoke at the initial introduction of the machine, and tell you about all of the individual features, but I suspect you’re kind of like me. All that glazes over after a moment and you just want to ride, or at least hear about how it handled.
Climbing in, I noticed the bench seating was stiff and slippery. The seat belt also dug into my neck some. It took a moment to get comfortable for me, but I’m not a little guy by any means. After I got used to things, we were all good. The engine is quiet, but has a distinctive sound for sure. It’s definitely not a V-twin.
Stabbing at the throttle doesn’t launch you into the back of the seat, as with some engines. Instead, you just go. It’s not the fastest-accelerating UTV in the category, but it definitely isn’t the slowest either. The word I would use is controllable, and that goes for drivers of any skill level. As I said earlier, there is plenty of torque. At idle, it will creep up a decent hill, just like you’d want it to, and I can’t wait to haul loads with this machine.
We dropped down some pretty steep banks (we did part of our test ride on a supercross track) and let off the gas and brakes entirely to see the engine braking. Again, this adds to the level of control, and the engine braking is outstanding.
Kawasaki’s representatives said this was the fastest Mule ever made. Considering that most Mules top out right around the 25 mph mark, I wasn’t expecting much, but, as you would expect from a bunch of ATV journalists, we all tried to see just how fast we could get hauling across an open field the moment we got to it. That answer was 45 mph, which is plenty fast for machines designed for this type of use. The Pro-FXT will scoot down trails for those wanting to play and still have the right stuff when it comes times to haul out an elk, or take a load of feed out to the cattle.
The ride quality was excellent, too. The shocks were soft, but not too soft, and have some adjustment to them. The chassis was stiff and the prefect compliment to the shocks. Kawasaki uses a ladder-type construction on the frame assembly to spread out the cargo load, and remain stiff and stable. The machine does not drift, even at the highest speeds and steers true. Very impressive.
Other smaller features that are a big deal in the end are things like the headlight options. The LE and camo models feature dual headlights with an incandescent set and an ultra-bright LED set, both controlled by independent switches on the dash. Kawasaki also has 60 accessories ready to roll for the Pro-FXT, as well as three accessory packages of popular items. The biggest deal, however, is the Kawasaki Strong three-year limited warranty the UTV comes with, which is better than just about anything else out there.
Color options for the Mule Pro-FXT are black for a non-EPS machine, green and black for the EPS-equipped machine, green and red for the LE model, and Realtree Xtra Green camo for us hunting types. All of them look pretty sweet.
The MSRPs for the different variants are as follows:
- Non-EPS: $12,999
- EPS: $13,999
- LE: $15,599
- Camo: $15,599
We witnessed production of the machine from bare steel tubing to all the way through finished assembly. More on that down the road, but let me say this, I am rarely as impressed as I was witnessing the entire production of the machine. Kawasaki has another winner on their hands. Look for it on dealer floors soon.
Images courtesy Kawasaki