2009 Kawasaki Brute Force 650i ATV Review

April 27, 2009
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

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Toggling between 2WD and 4WD is as simple as a switch on the right-side hand controls and it can be done while in motion as long as you aren’t traveling over 14 mph. The quads are easy to steer in standard 4×4 operation thanks to a limited-slip differential on the shaft-driven front end. However, Kawasaki knows that when the going gets tough, the Brute Force needs a locked 4WD, and that’s why the Variable Front Differential Control is available and located above the left-side handbrake lever. Locking the front differential severely hampers steering ability, so Kawi designed this system to give the rider control over when and how much lock is applied. Squeezing the lever adds lock incrementally until reaching a maximum of 90% when the lever is fully engaged. Reaching the hand-operated lever can be difficult at times since it is so far away from the bars, but Kawasaki engineers didn’t want riders snagging the diff-lock when they’re expecting a handful of brake. Once we got comfortable with its position, utilizing the variable lock feature helped on multiple occasions. The whole purpose is to give the rider the ability to change instantly so that maneuvering through difficult climbs or technical sections is more efficient – and that’s what it does.

The models with independent suspension ride on a double cradle, tubular steel chassis with dual A-arms up front. Out back are A-arms with torsion bars to complete the suspension package. Ride comfort is very good in the standard position but we didn’t get a chance to adjust the preload settings on the shocks. Riders have nearly seven inches of travel up front and eight in the rear. The additional ground clearance for the IRS models (9.7” vs. 7.3”) was a major

2009 Kawasaki Brute Force ATV Review
Getting high-centered on this log was reason for us to grab the differential lock and put the Kawasaki Brute Force to good use getting out of a jam. It works great.

bonus on the difficult, rocky trails at Mines and Meadows. However, the faster trails proved some challenges to the four-shock arrangement. Many of the easier, faster trails had sizeable ruts in them from recent rains which had dried up and left hard trenches. The IRS was adept at climbing out of them at mild speeds, but as the mph climbed these ruts really enhanced the body roll making high-speed riding treacherous.

The Kawasaki 750i and 650i models are definitely more comfortable at a milder pace, more comparable to a rock-crawling Jeep than a high-speed desert racer. The straight-axle 650 version has better straight-line acceleration, slides through corners easier and gets better traction in mud bogs. The downside is that it plows the front end in deep water, deflects more in gnarly rocks and slips easier on uneven terrain. The tradeoff seems to be one of personal preference.

2009 Kawasaki Brute Force ATV Review
The Brute Force brakes work well for such a large machine but the KEBC takes a little getting used to.

We were willing to trade high-speed blasting for the awesome technical performance, but we still got the big Brute Force bruisers up to speed. Hauling them back down is the responsibility of dual-piston calipers up front grabbing 200mm discs. The rear end offers an oil-bathed, multi-disc brake. The sealed design prohibits damage from impacts or trail debris. Overall they do a good job of handling the sizeable weight of these monsters. If anything, the foot pedal is slightly far away from the foot rest, but we hardly ever use it since automatic ATVs lack a clutch lever.

One thing about the braking in terms of performance that concerned us had nothing to do with the actual binders. Kawasaki Engine Brake Control manages downhill speeds and provides controlled descents at low speeds. However, at higher speeds it acts differently. Locking the rear wheels with the brake is fine, but the heavy engine braking of the V-Twin and the KEBC system held the rear end in a slide long after we let off the brake lever. Just chopping the throttle hard can instigate the sensation as well and it can be a cause for concern entering corners, but we learned to ride around it for the most part.

2009 Kawasaki Brute Force ATV Review
These Brute Force luggage bags are available as Authentic Kawasaki Accessories and were very helpful during our ride at the muddy Mines and Meadows facility.

Extra features on the Brute Force 750i make it especially accommodating. A small storage component on the right side uses rubber webbing and is open to the elements, but a water-proof box on the left was just right for protecting my wallet, GPS and trail map from the massive swamping we endured. The 650 does not have the sealed box but uses another web strapping setup. We were especially fond of the automotive-style electrical accessory outlet which came in handy during our trip through the abandoned sandstone mines, as being able to plug in an extra spotlight gave us a better view of the unique underground riding area.

Both models have digital instrument panels which display a speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, clock, hour meter, fuel gauge and assorted warning lights including a 4WD indicator. The front and rear racks offer 88-lb and 176-lb capacities, respectively. The 650 straight-axle comes with different racks and we liked them better thanks to extra mounting points for tie-downs and bungees and vertical tubing at the front and rear which help secure loads. Beneath the four-bulb, 40-watt headlights is a steel bumper though the 750’s is covered with a plastic shell for additional styling. Out back is a standard trailer hitch bracket which can handle up to 1250 lbs. Our machines were equipped with front and rear rack luggage from Authentic Kawasaki Accessories. The bags were great for holding spare water bottles, rain gear and other equipment during our ride and were designed specifically for the Brute Force which means they fit securely and exactly.

2009 Kawasaki Brute Force ATV Review
Playing around on the big Brutes is one thing, but we suspect that these quads are equally or increasingly at home in a work environment.

A single day wasn’t enough to get our fill of the Brute Force 750i and 650 machines. There wasn’t any opportunity for us to put these big-boys to work and evaluate their capabilities in that regard, but they certainly proved that you can have a good time using them for recreation. Kawasaki claims that they are popular with the mud-bogging crowd, and we tend to believe it. Our tour guides and ride partners waited patiently while I went back and forth through the mud and water holes, over, and over, and over. Aside from the noisy CVT there was little to detract from the pure fun of riding a powerful and comfortable utility ATV.

A couple machines were tipped over due to rider error, not on our part, thankfully, but we were impressed to see how little damage the Brute Force suffered. Thermo-Plastic Olefin bodywork is tough, aluminum wheels and Dunlop tires strong and motor and transmission bulletproof. We ran across plenty of everyday riders on the trails of Mines and Meadows, almost all of who were riding utility vehicles. It was good to know that our stock Brute Force equipment was some of the biggest and baddest out there.

2009 Kawasaki Brute Force 650 4x4i Specs:
Engine: 633cc Liquid-cooled, 90-degree, 4-stroke V-twin
Valve System: SOHC, 4 valves-per-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 63.0mm
Compression ratio: 9.9:1
Carburetion: Keihin CVKR-34 x 2
Starting system: Electric with recoil back up
Ignition: DC-CDI

2009 Kawasaki Brute Force ATV Review
The bodywork looks good, holds up to lots of abuse and does an admirable job of keeping the rider clean.

Transmission: KAPS, Dual Range with Reverse, 2WD/4WD, and Kawasaki Engine Brake Control
Final drive: 2×4 / 4×4 shaft
Frame: Double cradle, tubular steel
Front suspension / wheel travel: Dual A-Arms, two shocks with five-way preload adjustment / 6.7 in.
Rear suspension / wheel travel: Dual A-Arms, two shocks with five-way preload adjustment / 7.9 in.
Front tires: AT25 x 8-12
Rear tires: AT25 x 10-12
Front brakes: (2) Dual-piston disc
Rear brake: Sealed, oil-bathed, multi-disc
Overall length: 86.4 in.
Overall width: 46.3 in.
Wheelbase: 50.6 in.
Ground clearance: 9.7 in.
Seat height: 35.6 in.
Total rack capacity: 264 lbs.
Towing capacity: 1,250 lbs.
Curb weight: 654.9 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 5.4 gal.
Lighting: (2) 40W headlights, 5W taillight, 21W stoplight
Instruments: Digital speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, clock, hour meter, fuel gauge, 2×4 / 4×4 indicator light, neutral indicator light, reverse indicator light, low fuel warning light, low oil warning light
Color choices: Woodsman Green, Sunbeam Red, Super Black and
Candy Thunder Blue
MSRP: $7,399