With many options to choose from in the large displacement categories of sport-utility ATV machines, manufacturers must offer the best performance possible at a sensible price in order to attract buyers. Kawasaki has this in mind with its 2011 Brute Force 650 4x4i sport-utility ATV, by combining both a rugged, hardworking machine with the comfort of a superior ride. The smooth V-Twin power combined with front and rear independent suspension means it easily tackles both outdoor chores and leisurely trail rides. Kawasaki invited us out to the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area located in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania to test ride their Brute Force 650 4x4i in some extreme conditions. Still in the planning stages, the Anthracite OHV theme park includes 6000 acres of former coal mining land, offering a wide variety of terrain that pushed our skills and the Brute 650 to the limit.
The Kawasaki uses a 633cc 90-degree V-Twin engine that dishes out a ton of low- and mid-range torque with high rpm power that takes off like a rocket when you punch the throttle. Thanks to the well balanced Twin, the machine is easy to handle at both high and low speeds, exactly what adventure riders and outdoor sportsmen demand. Still carbureted with dual 34mm Keihin’s, the throttle response doesn’t suffer any lag or unpredictable responses in certain situations. The 650 mill answers instantly to a rider’s requests and there’s no waiting for the machine to shift gears or struggle to find the sweet spot in the powerband.
The Brute Force 650 delivers impressive speed and torque with its V-Twin powerplant joined with Kawasaki’s CVT transmission. It inspires confidence when tackling steep rocky inclines and crossing deep water holes.
With many systems operating in unison, the Brute Force is a sophisticated and fun ATV to ride. The transmission is excellent and operates flawlessly thanks to Kawasaki’s integrated automatic power-drive system (KAPS) combined with Kawasaki’s engine braking control system. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is designed to shift at higher rpm to deliver an instant power thrust and eliminate any bogging between shifts. With the trails at the Anthracite OHV park presenting everything from flat, wide-open roads to slippery, mud-covered rock climbs, we put this machine through multiple scenarios and realized the CVT and V-Twin combine for near perfection.
After you reach ludicrous speed you must slow down, and the 4x4i can stop just as fast as it accelerates. Engine braking on this machine is smooth and predictable. The system utilizes the engine’s compression to assist in slowing and automatically applies selected amounts of braking based on ground speed and gear selection. We never felt like it would send us over the bars on steep declines or during sudden stops.
Braking power is provided by front discs squeezed by dual-piston calipers and Kawasaki’s proven oil-bathed multi-disc rear brake system. The rear brake is enclosed in the aluminum swingarm where the brake pads are protected from the elements. It’s pretty much a maintenance free system and Kawasaki uses it on many of its sport-utility vehicles.
Riding this monster is very gratifying and we constantly whipped the thumb throttle during any open stretch of trail possible. The Brute Force 650 4x4i can be started in any gear when the brake is applied, and came in handy when we managed to stall once during a deep mud crossing and panic set in. Handlebar-mounted selectable two- or four-wheel-drive mode selector is convenient and we used this to shift on the fly continuously throughout the ride. It came in particularly handy during some technical rock climbing sections. Another great feature on this machine is Kawasaki’s Variable Front Differential Control. The rider can access it for extra traction by pulling a lever in on the left handlebar controls. It works by sending an adjustable amount of power to the front wheels in order to gain more or less traction when climbing over obstacles. This was a huge advantage for us when we encountered some deep forest mud holes and had to overcome some large logs blockading the trail. It requires more steering strength when fully engaged, but the Kawi system is different from others in that it can dial in any amount of diff lock as needed. This lets the rider steer adjust quickly for easy steering and full traction as the terrain dictates.
The Brute Force comes with electronic shift-on-the-fly 2WD/4WD. This was a great feature when encountering changing trail conditions.
A highlight on this model is the independent rear suspension. Built on the same chassis as the Brute Force 750 4x4i, the double wishbone dual A-arm with coil-over shocks provides 6.7 inches of wheel travel in the front and 7.9 inches in the rear. Both front and rear have a five-way preload adjustment to give the rider options when setting up the ride and cargo. A total of 9.7 inches of ground clearance allows you to get over most trail obstacles, although this is several inches less than many of its competitors, for example the Can-Am Outlander 650 has a ground clearance of 12 inches and the Arctic Cat HD 650 offers 11 inches. It can be difficult to pitch the rear end of the ATV due to the IRS, but in high speed situations the 650 4x4i handles with amazing agility. Over rough terrain such as rock gardens it even allowed us to gain speed as the suspension soaked up everything we took it over. Standard straight axle machines would not fare the same. Body roll on the Brute Force is minimal which can be attributed to the rear torsion bar and lower ride height.
Unlike the Brute Force 750, power steering is not an option on the 650 models. Overall steering action on the Brute Force 650 4x4i is reasonably light. Even while rock climbing the handlebars never felt like they were being wrestled to the left or right.
Dunlop rubber serves up grip with 25 x 8-12 sizes up front and 25 x 10-12 in back. For typical trail riding or standard work around the property these tires will do the job, but new tires would be a good investment if you plan on riding on more extreme terrain and especially if you’re looking to do some rock climbing.
The front rack holds up to 88 lbs. A digital display mounted with a slight angle reduces sun glare. The rear rack holds up to 176 lbs.
This is a sport-utility quad and it sticks to its roots when it comes to working specifications. The Brute Force can tow 1250 pounds and carry a combined weight of 264 pounds on its front and rear racks. We didn’t need to pull anyone out of the mud during our back country ride, but we have no doubts that this machine is capable of coming to the rescue when needed. Whether you would use the Brute Force 650 for hauling hay on the ranch or packing out your latest hunt, it’s more than adequate.
Styling is what you would expect from a utility vehicle. A good blend of sport and rustic appeal makes this ATV one of the best looking in its class in our opinion. The scratch-resistant polyethylene plastic is high quality and gives off the appearance of some type of high-end military product. The front bumper is slightly different than its 750 big brother, giving the BF 650 its own identity. However, it does come with many of the same convenient features such as dual compartments on the front fenders for personal belongings and a 12-volt electric outlet to power small accessories. A digital display provides useful information and is mounted at an angle to reduce sun glare. The display was easy to read as we traveled through the backwoods of Pennsylvania and the two trip meters helped us track our mileage for the day.
The Brute Force is a very comfortable quad to ride. The handlebars are in a perfect position; we didn’t find ourselves bending over or correcting our posture late in the ride. The oversized floorboards keep a rider’s feet well supported while deflecting mud, water and debris. With many of the water crossings we did in a day it was amazing that our feet came out dry.
The Brute Force 650 4x4i is a product of Kawasaki’s decades of experience in building sport-utility ATVs. There are more expensive ATVs with larger powerplants, but the 650 offers open-class performance for a smaller price. Priced at $8099, the Brute Force 650 is $1200 less than the Brute Force 750 (non-EPS). This quad has a proven track record in reliability with more than enough power to handle virtually anything out there.