2012 Kymco MXU 450i First Ride

June 24, 2011
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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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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See the new Kymco sport utility quads in action with our 2012 Kymco MXU 450i First Ride Video.

Kymco has expanded its sport utility ATV line with a new mid-size machine. The MXU 450i joins the MXU 500 and 500i models as the Taiwan company’s largest multi-use ATVs. Where the 500i is an existing platform upgraded with fuel injection, the 450 is all new for Kymco and represents an important foray into the midsize market. Despite being newly developed, the MXU 450i carries an entry-level price point of $5899 on the base model.

The new machine uses a single overhead cam engine with 443cc displacement. A Synerject throttle body feeds into the single cylinder for a claimed 33 horsepower. Like the rest of the Kymco lineup, the MXU feels slightly underpowered compared to some competitors, but the engine has no problem pushing the hefty machine. Fueling at speed is consistent, but we did notice that it will stall out during slow-speed, technical throttle jockeying. This doesn’t happen during normal trail riding, only when picking through a nasty section where the throttle is blipped quickly at low rpm. It’s too bad because this is where the 450 handles the best.

Kymco jumps into the 450 sport-utility segment with the all-new 2012 MXU 450i.

The 450i feels every bit of its claimed 608 pound dry weight. Despite its weight, the 450 is most at home crawling over nasty terrain. Dual A-arm suspension on front and rear allows for plenty of articulation without upsetting the rider. We found ourselves trail riding at a moderate pace from one play area to the next, and spent most of our time exploring rock piles, logs and mudholes. Kenda Pathfinder tires, size 24×8-12 front and 24×10-12 rear, are not designed for deep mud, but they performed well on the variety of surfaces we encountered in South Carolina.

The 450i is shaft driven and uses an automatic CVT transmission to select high, low and reverse gears. There is a little bit of play in the shift mechanism and occasionally it hesitates when shifting into reverse. A quick jiggle on the shift lever solves this issue and we noticed that rocking the machine side to side also helped clunk it into gear. Choosing between 2WD and 4WD is a simple push of the button and front differential lock is also available. Standard 4WD operation works well in most trails situations and adding the diff lock increases traction for extreme scenarios, though with much heavier steering.

The independent rear suspension has adjustable preload. We would have liked to stiffen the ride to help minimize body roll. Weight, soft suspension and flexible tires conspire against the 450i when changing direction. While comfortable, the soft settings and lack of a sway bar make for poor high-speed handling. The rear end refuses to drift so it takes a careful throttle application and plenty of body English when picking up the pace. It took a little while to get the hang of the MXU on rutted trails. The bodywork is large and protective, which is nice, but it belies the narrow wheel width. Once we got better at wheel placement the MXU became much more pleasant to ride on Carolina World’s winding trail system. Braking is handled by hydraulic discs and they are plenty capable of hauling down the MXU at the pace it’s comfortable riding.

Independent rear suspension is great for navigating boulder fields or logs, but the 450i needs a sway bar. The LE model adds extra features and metallic silver bodywork. The wheel width is fairly narrow and needs to be taken into account for proper handling.

Styling on the 450i is modern and attractive, particularly the LE model. Some of the small details are where the Kymco starts to feel its low MSRP. The grips are hard and uncomfortable and the extra-wide handlebars can be a reach when fully turned. This plays a role in some of the handling quirks. Also, the floorboards are flat and even with the footpegs. The metal pegs need to be wider and taller to provide better traction, especially when mud starts to accumulate. The seat is comfortable for slow riding, but picking up the pace shows how soft the foam is. We could feel the seat

We were confident in the MXU enough to tackle every black diamond trail we encountered on the Carolina World network.

base along the edges on jarring impacts or when cornering quickly. A hard impact can also pop the front of the seat out of place. Kymco acknowledges the seat base needs a slightly larger hook system and is addressing it.

We really like the multi-function digital display and how protective the bodywork is. Aside from charging into creek crossings at full-steam, we were safe from mud and water in every normal riding condition. The racks offer utility and we can see hunters really enjoying this machine.

The LE version comes with alloy wheels, hand guards with mirrors and utility grips and a 2500-pound winch. It also sports a rear cargo box. Retailing for $6699, it also has metallic silver bodywork that looks great. Kymco has partnered with Kolpin to create a wide array of aftermarket components. Regardless of if a rider springs for the upgraded model or not, the Kymco MXU 450i will provide affordable fun and work utility for a range of applications. This is just the 450i’s first year of development and we enjoyed its trail prowess even more than the 500i model. This is a work and play quad that will get even better and is a welcome addition to the Kymco family.

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