Anyone doubting KYMCO's commitment to the off-road powersports market only needs to peruse the company's fast-growing lineup.
KYMCO has steadily refinished its all-terrain products and expanded its offerings with each model year. The Taiwanese company's recent efforts included the so-so MXU 500 utility quad for 2007 and revamped 2008 Mongoose 250 and 300 sport quads.
This time around, KYMCO is getting even bolder, and has arrived at the table with the highly anticipated UXV 500 UTV and all-new MXU 375 utility ATV.
We recently traveled to the backyard of the company's US division, scenic South Carolina, to ride KYMCO's full line of 2008 products, and also spent some time behind the wheel of its first-ever UTV. At this point, one thing is for sure: KYMCO is taking notes and making serious strides to match its American and Japanese competitors in style, performance and product offerings.
Setting The Table
The setting was Carolina Adventure World, a still growing privately-owned off-road riding area with more than 100 miles of trails, a mud bog and three motocross tracks. We've ridden there before while visiting for Polaris and Kawasaki intros, and, just like KYMCO, the facility keeps getting better as it continues to mature.
Temperatures could have been a bit more spring-like, but skies were clear, the grass was green and conditions were ripe for some mud-splattered off-roading.
UXV Is UTV
Yamaha, Polaris, Arctic Cat and Kawasaki have their big-selling recreational side-by-side players in place. Honda's more work-minded Big Red is on the way soon, and Can-Am recently announced plans for what we expect to be a very athletic (RZR beating?) UTV. There had also been speculation KYMCO was readying its own entrant into the exploding category. Those rumors were confirmed after the company took the wraps off its new UXV 500 at the EICMA powersports show in Milan, Italy, last fall.
Then we got to see it for ourselves. Going off appearance alone, it sees the company had the Rhino, Teryx and Prowler firmly in its sights. Its traditional UTV design suggests a machine meant to split the difference between work and fun, just like the most successful players in the segment.
The spec sheet lists a 500cc four-stroke engine, independent suspension, locking front differential and a large tilting cargo bed capable of hauling 420 pounds – the main ingredients we call for when making a UTV.
Pricing had not been finalized at press time and a few minor specifications on the prototypes were still subject to change before final production.
Behind The Wheel
Time was limited, but we got the chance to experience KYMCO's UTV from the driver and passenger seats, as well as through thick mud, over steep hills and for it through deep water.
We did not get the chance to haul any cargo around, but our ride time gave us the much-appreciated chance to peek under the hood and rack up some sections with the UXV.
Lateral stability (ie rolling over) has been a thorn in the side of several UTVs. To this end, KYMCO decided to up the ante with a wide, stable platform that measures 59 inches wide. For comparison's sake, the Prowler is 61.3 inches wide and the Rhino measures 54.5 inches across.
The extra girth translated to flat, predictable handling that's more reassuring than some of the narrower competitors in high-speed corners. It made winding through the riding park's tight woods trails somewhat more challenging, though, and will also make it tricky to shoehorn the UXV into the back of a pickup truck.
Like the new Teryx, EFI was not included – obviously cost-cutting to help KYMCO compete on price and rush its model to the market. Without any need for the dash-mounted choke, our warm-up UXV fired up quickly.
Stepping into the throttle, the liquid-cooled 500cc DOHC four-stroke felt moderately taxed by the 1,157-pound (dry) weight, but the power was enough to surmount steep hills and power the big guy through some impressive mud holes.
A little vibration was present, but engine refinement is in line with the bulk of the sport utility segment. The exhaust note sounds more agricultural than sporty, another common trait shared with almost every other side-by-side.
It's all business inside the cabin with frills kept to a minimum. A center-mounted gauge cluster displays all the usual information, and the shifter is mounted on the center console between the seats. Shift action was spotty, as reverse gear did not always engage when the lever was moved to "R." Hopefully this can be cleared up before final production.
Seating accommodations are right on the money with enough side bolstering to keep the riders in place. Foot room and dash positioning is also on target – definitely better than a few of its competitors.
Top speed is estimated at 45 mph – ideal for a vehicle of this size and purpose.
Suspension is a dual A-arm design that provides 7.5 inches of travel at both ends and 12.2 inches of ground clearance. The transmission includes high and low ranges, and also includes a differential lock. Stopping action comes from two discs in the front and a single disc brake in the rear.
The tilting cargo bed is large enough to handle full-size loads up to 420 pounds, and the tailgate has a simple latching system just like the Rhino's.
Our brief ride revealed a competent work vehicle that should have plenty of playtime capability. Pricing is still not finalized, but we expect it to undercut the competition by some measure. Time will tell. The UXV 500 4×4 will be available in red, green, gray and camo, with a 1-year factory warranty.
Our Carolina adventure also included time on prototypes for KYMCO's newest utility quad – the MXU 375.
After being underwhelmed by the company's last utility entrant, the MXU 500, we were pleasantly surprised by a competent package this time around. However, just like the 500, the MXU 375's sketchy front-end handling trains are a disappointment for aggressive trail riding.
Styling and build quality are solid, with competitive features and smart design that prove this company is fully in the running with its North American and Japanese competitors. Even with the chassis' occasion unsettled front end, it remains a no-excuses mid-displacement utility quad.
While company officials will not confirm it, the new MXU's engine is shared with Arctic Cat's new 366 4×4 utility, and the platform platform for the two models are eerily similar. We think the KYMCO version is the better looking twin. Its engine, a 366cc four-stroke, is exceptionally potent and smooth, a perfect match for its intended purpose.
As mentioned, handling was a mixed bag, and different machines on-hand had different configurations. The front-end handling is just as unstable as it is on the Arctic Cat variant over undulating ground – too much body roll, and steering that is easily thrown off-kilter.
The performance of the carbureted and fan-cooled engine is much better – smooth, with a refined exhaust note and torquey power delivery.
A few features on our test mules, like turn signals and hazard flashers, will not be making it to the final US version and company engineers are still tweaking the final braking setup.
The main stats will see production unchanged – dual A-arm front and rear suspension (7 inches of travel), a CVT with high and low gears, and disc braking in front and out back.
When it comes to work credentials, the little MXU can strap 225 pounds to its racks, and tow 1,050 pounds in its wake.
This new 375 will make a solid competitor in the entry-level class, with a great engine leading the way. Like a few other manufacturers whose products share similar handling links, KYMCO needs to focus its efforts on building vehicles that keep their composition around corners and uneven terrain. Its competent engine and attractive styling suggest a utility quad that has some sporty genes in its DNA. That's not really the case, but it's not far off the mark.
A Fresh Goose
Our previous evaluation of the new-and-improved Mongoose 300 at last fall's ATV Trials event showed a meaningful roster of changes that massaged the company's entry-level CVT sport quad into something more desirable than the original.
KYMCO added a (much-needed) sturdier chain and a larger carburetor, stretched the wheelbase with a longer swingarm, widened the track by a whopping five inches and softened up the overly-stiff front end with progressive rate springs.
In our latest test, the 'Goose tore through the tight trails of Carolina Adventure World with eagerness and balance. The CVT provided surprisingly snappy throttle response – more aggressive than expected. Listening to riders, taking notes and constantly evolving has served the company and its products well.
Power from the liquid-cooled 270cc engine could still be stronger, especially at the top end, but powertrain vibration was not an issue, so it's happy being pushed hard. Body roll is kept in check and the progressive rate springs produce a ride that's much more comfortable than the '07 model. The changes are especially noticeable over harsh trails.
A CVT tranny in a sport quad is still fairly uncommon, but was well-suited to the tight, winding trails we rode. Spunky performance, solid handling and a affordable sub- $ 3,800 price make this entry-level quad a smart choice for sport riders looking for the ease of a CVT.
While we did not get the opportunity to ride it, the updates made to the '08 Mongoose 300 were also applied to the 250.
This pair of Mongooses (Mongeese?) Is now up there with the best machines in the class.