Making a name as a powersports company isn’t easy, but Taiwanese manufacturer, Kymco, is doing it in a big way. It isn’t blowing the socks of the competition with high-horsepower, testosterone-filled monster machines. Instead it’s producing quality, affordable equipment amid a sea of cheap replicas. The influx of knock-off Asian productions is impossible to keep straight as they go in and out of business and change names faster than we can count. Kymco has put in time to establish itself in the United States with an independent importer, and just this year the Taiwan corporation bought out the US program entirely, pumping in money and a renewed long-term commitment. As consumers this means the products will continue to be available, continue improving and a network of parts supplies is growing to support them. That’s all great news, but this isn’t a lesson in Taiwanese business models. We headed to Carolina Adventure World for two days of riding on the 2012 model ATVs and UTVs to see if these machines are really up to snuff.
Kymco knows the potential of the side-by-side market and has tapped into that growing demographic with the UXV 500i. This updated machine is based on the existing UXV 500 platform, but gets a dose of technology with new fuel injection. Adding EFI helps make the 500 powerplant more versatile. If nothing else it’s just easier to use with hassle-free starting in extreme
temperatures, or following a tip-over, and clean fueling regardless of altitude and weather conditions. Fortunately, it’s more than simple convenience. We had a carbureted version on hand and could easily tell that the 500i has better throttle response, runs smoother and has more power. Fuel delivery is crisper and that helps give the driver a better connection from their foot to the wheels.
The electric-start four-stroke engine is a 498cc dual overhead cam design with a claimed 36 horsepower. Those aren’t huge numbers, but they’re more than adequate to push a driver, passenger and all their gear around the trails. It’s rated to tow 1200 pounds, though we didn’t get a chance to haul anything other than ourselves. It’s not a racer, with top speeds in the low 40s. It’s not a drag specialist either, getting up to speed at a reasonable pace.
Even though Kymco upgraded to fuel injection, the carbureted version (UXV 500) is still available as an even more affordable option. Kymco stresses the concept of value, and it wants to put reliable vehicles in the public’s hands without costing an arm and leg. The 500i base model retails for $8799 and the carbureted version is only $7699. That’s $400 less than it did in previous years! More choices are always better, and Kymco is providing an important option to its budget-minded consumers.
Kymco offers many of the same features found on more expensive UTV competitors. A large, tilt bed, standard two-inch tow hitch and easy access cab make the UXV a competent working vehicle.
Just who are Kymco buyers? It could be anyone. The UXV has most of the same features you’ll find in a more expensive competitor – selectable 2WD/4WD with differential lock, three-point, automotive-style seat belts, cup holders, glove-box and under-hood storage, tilting hood and cargo bed, steel bumper and roll cage half-height foot nets and a tow hitch. Kymco also includes a factory-mounted winch bracket, which makes it extra easy to upgrade.
The whole package rolls on independent suspension and dual A-arms front and rear. Shocks with internal oil reservoirs are the same on all corners and offer 7.5 inches of travel and five-way preload adjustment. Combined with the stiff seat foam, it’s a fairly rigid ride on the trail. Mild engine output and a stiff chassis help prevent body roll so the UXV feels comfortable at trail pace. Getting it to drift the rear end takes a lead foot, proper corner setup and the right kind of dirt. One of the more noticeable traits on the 500i is a wide turning radius. We took it down into bayou-like sections and spent time threading trees and mudholes and the Kymco requires finding reverse in tight spots. This did give us a chance to get accustomed to shifting the automatic CVT transmission, which operates smoothly.
Selecting between 2WD and 4WD is a simple push of the left-side button, down near the light switch. The driver can switch between the settings while on the move and we had no problems with the system engaging or disengaging. The front differential lock is a little cheesy feeling with a plastic lever on the right side of the steering wheel. It works fine, though, and the extra traction provided will help get the 500i through whatever terrain passes underneath its 75.2-inch wheelbase and 12.2 inches of ground clearance.
Disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power for the 1157-pound UTV (claimed dry). The 25-inch Kenda tires provide enough traction to get the stopping power delivered to the ground. We were able to creep down some of the steeper hills in total control and on the faster sections were able to haul down no matter how hard we pushed it.
Riding in the cab is a minimalist experience. Everything is there, but the UXV lacks some of the comforts of other side-by-sides. The seats are removable and the foam is rigid. Getting in and out is simple thanks to a short web door as high as the base of the seat. This is nice for hopping in and out, but causes some concern if the XUV were to actually tip over. Also, the roll cage is a little suspect where the main bars join each other. Otherwise, we like how durable the Kymco looks and its utilitarian feel. It’s competent, but not full of bells and whistles. A
Kymco emphasizes the importance of value in purchasing a UTV or ATV. The 500i packs a lot of value into its pricetag.
basic design and rugged components look like they will hold up to pressure washing or being left out in the weather. We didn’t have the chance to strap in a heavy load but it seems to be more of a work vehicle than it is recreational. The bed is nice and large with an easy-access folding tailgate. A lockable glove box adds storage along with an underseat pocket and a large bucket-style container under the flip-up hood.
The 500i is available in a special edition with alloy wheels, hard top and half windshield ($9329). Another step up is the limited edition which adds the same features, plus a 3000 pound winch ($10,199).
After riding the Kymco for two days, we came away impressed with the overall quality of the UXV. It does lack some of the refinement of the big UTV players, but try finding other machines that can be purchased at this price point. The 500i would be an excellent choice for agricultural use, hunting and mild recreation on a budget. With a growing infrastructure and major investment from the parent company, Kymco is here to stay, and they deserve a look from anyone seeking a value-packed side-by-side.