2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300 First Ride

October 13, 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.

Kawasaki has added to its Brute Force sport utility ATV family with the inclusion of the youngest and smallest member, the 2012 Brute Force 300. This 2-wheel-drive utility quad replaces the long-standing Bayou 250 and gives entry-level riders an updated option for riders of all sizes. We headed to Wampum, Pennsylvania for a day of riding at Mines & Meadows ATV Resort to shake down the newest Brute.

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The 2012 Brute Force 300 is powered by a 271cc water-cooled engine, compared to the air-cooled 228cc Bayou mill. A Keihin CVK32 carburetor provides the fuel mixture which is squeezed into an 11.0:1 compression ratio inside the single cylinder. The SOHC jug uses bore and stroke measurements of 72.7 x 65.2mm. Electric start brings the 300 to life with the use of a handlebar-mounted choke for the initial warm-up. Kawasaki also included a recoil starter in case the battery goes dead. Located on the left side of the engine, the pull handle uses a rubber seal that twist-locks into place to keep water and debris from getting inside the recoil mechanism. According to Kawasaki, this is one of the top maintenance concerns with non-sealed starters and one of the many features that point to a high quality build and durability.

Once running the engine thrums comfortably across the rev range. It has no problem pulling its own considerable weight and that of a full-size pilot. Kawasaki says the engine pumps out “20-plus horsepower.” The 300 comes with a drop-pin tow hitch ready to accept a ball and rated to pull 500 pounds. Beefy cargo racks feature tie-down pins for secure strapping and hold 66 pounds on the rear and 44 pounds up front. Our test ride was purely recreational, but it’s clear that Kawasaki has made the little Brute brother equally ready for work or play.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) handles the power via centrifugal clutch which eliminates the need for a foot-operated shift lever. The front and rear snorkels for the CVT extend up to the seat level where they are much less susceptible to water penetration. We slogged through some deep pools and never had an issue with the belt slipping. The rear wheels are turned by a shaft drive mated to the swingarm suspension layout. A gate-style shifter located on

2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300

2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300
Handling is one of the Brute Force 300’s strong points. We found it willing to play as hard as we were on the trails of Pennsylvania.

the right side of the 3.17-gallon fuel tank offers High, Low, Neutral and Reverse. Power is modified in Reverse with an override button available on the handlebar when full power is needed. Bottom-end grunt is suitable for the engine displacement but the best power is in the midrange. Good over-rev lets the Brute be trail ridden effectively in Low range up to speeds around 30 mph. Our 180-pound tester spent equal time swapping around the two-speed transmission. For a rider that heavy it takes considerable aggression in order to keep the BF 300 running in the upper midrange of High range. Fortunately, the handling and suspension are capable of withstanding serious abuse.

The double wishbone suspension up front and the swingarm rear end mount to a steel tube frame. Front track width is 33.5 inches and the rear is 32.7. Kawasaki claims that it has built in a sufficient amount of under-steer to provide stable handling and that was the case during our ride. Despite its weight, the BF is composed at all times. We hammered it down rough trails at full throttle and the ATV doesn’t bounce around or get caught wandering by ruts. Drifting the rear end is accomplished more with body English than engine power, but it’s easy to initiate. The only handling snivel we could manage was a slightly unpredictable feel from the front end on off-camber turns. Sometimes it would knife in tight and others it would run up the outside of the far wheel track. This was a rare occasion and we mention it mostly because entry ATVs with cheap suspension shouldn’t handle this well.

Five-way preload adjustable shocks are mounted to the front corners and one on the swingarm. We never had a dire need to adjust them but wanted to try stiffening the settings just for comparison. This revealed that the front shocks are not adjustable without taking the wheels off, so it definitely isn’t a trailside task. We were able to get the rear cranked down with a set of channel lock pliers. It was possible for our large test rider to bottom the suspension but it didn’t happen nearly as much as anticipated. The ATV resists bucking or diving and exhibits no body roll. Basically it blew us away with how comfortable it is to haul butt around the trails.

A 45.8-inch wheelbase combined with 22-inch Maxxis tires give the Brute Force a 6.1-inch ground clearance. We were surprised at how well the 300 clawed over the wet terrain, never getting into a situation that we couldn’t rock our way out of. Traction afforded by the Maxxis ATV tires was adequate for even the most difficult trails, though we didn’t dare head for the bottomless mud holes. However, ruts and rocks are easily navigated with body English able to overcome the lack of four-wheel-drive. The specially designed Maxxis treads are darn good for stock tires. We’d like to see these installed on the Brute Force 750 instead of the mushy, cheap-feeling tires it comes with. Some of the 300’s steady

2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 3002012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300
Even with only 2WD we were able to conquer every trail we encountered and still had the ability to play on harder obstacles.

nature and surefootedness in the corners comes from the Maxxis tires. They do not suffer the dreaded tire roll and still manage to flex around stones enough to find grip. Considering the muddy conditions, the tires had plenty of challenge but we were happy with them for trail riding purposes.

Braking comes from a trio of single-caliper disc brakes which each use 180mm rotors. The hydraulic units had only minimal time before we hopped on board, and Kawasaki warned us that they might need more time to seat properly. The power provided by the discs was sufficient. We do think they will be better as they bed in further, and we also were riding on very slippery terrain. Even despite the challenging conditions, there was never a time that we struggled to stop. Also, we absolutely love that the front and rear are not linked. With no clutch lever there is a rear brake lever on the left handlebar which matches a rear brake pedal at the right foot. Both of these control the back brake equally while the front brake lever binds down on the dual discs independently from the rear. This allows the rider greater control and they are able to use the brakes to their steering advantage. We wouldn’t mind seeing some of the more “advanced” units on larger machines revert back to this non-linked style. Kawasaki also added a parking brake. This cable-actuated lever will not be subject to any loss of hydraulic pressure. It is somewhat bulky in appearance but never hindered us on the trail and we found ourselves using it quite a bit during stops on uneven ground. The Brute Force 300 makes use of engine braking, but because it’s Single is less torquey than the Twins of its bigger siblings, the effect is not as great. We like that it doesn’t lock the rear wheels on downhills and feel it complements the manual braking.

Heading into Mines and Meadows (find more Pennsylvania riding areas), our tester was expecting the riding position to be cramped and that he would regularly overpower the suspension. Both of those assumptions were completely wrong. Kawasaki gave the 300 an identical style as that of the bigger Brute Forces. We’re totally happy with this because not only does the new ATV look awesome, but it has big-quad comfort as well. The handlebars are high enough for standing and wide enough for sufficient leverage without being hard to reach at full turn. Kawasaki made sure that the seams between the oversized body panels and junctions to the seat were smooth transitions. The seat is a comfortable but supportive foam that is easy to sit on for long stints and unobtrusive when moving around the cockpit during technical riding. There’s nothing to catch on the rider’s knees or feet and the floorboards are wide with raised, grippy footpegs. We had no problems with mud drainage and there’s enough room for the rider to pivot the feet back and forth for a full range of movement. The rear brake lever is also placed appropriately and has a small guard to keep the rider’s toes from slipping underneath.

Rider protection from the rugged bodywork is incredible; better even than it is on the 2012 Brute Force 750 4x4i EPS. Our tester wore white gear and only had a few speckles despite going full tilt down muddy trails. We couldn’t find a single plastic fastener on the exterior panels; everything is held together firmly by metal screws. An integrated drink holder is positioned next to the shift lever and the front racks wrap around a storage compartment that is large enough to hold tools, gloves or water bottles. Both are within easy reach from the cockpit. The digital display has useful information including a speedometer, odometer, clock, fuel gauge and engine coolant temperature light. Engineers

2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300
2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300
Bright headlights, sturdy cargo, ample storage, 12V plug, rugged looks and solid construction make the 2012 Brute Force 300 a great value for $4199. Plus it’s just so much fun to ride and is something the whole family can enjoy.

also added a standard 12V accessory plug. The front end has an integrated winch mount. It’s designed for a Warn RT15 winch to bolt right up with some minor trimming to the plastic grill. Kawasaki’s Product Manager, Vince Iorio, said the “fit and finish probably exceeds anything we’ve done.” We have a hard time arguing and it’s these details that make the 300 feel like an exceptional value.

A larger stance and water-cooled engine boost the claimed curb weight to 536 pounds. That’s 108 pounds more than the Bayou 250. The quad doesn’t feel that heavy in motion thanks to a balanced chassis, and it’s relatively easy to climb off and muscle around in a tight spot thanks to the rear cargo rack and exposed front bumper. Still, for an entry ATV this little Brute is packing some serious heft.

Iorio describes the Brute Force 300 as “Kawasaki’s answer to the low-cost equation.” Fortunately, Kawasaki gave the little 300 a high-end feel with performance that kept us grinning all day long. The large-volume bodywork gives the quad a larger feel and appearance, and it provides some of the best protection we’ve ever experienced. The engine is willing and capable of versatile work or play. A steady but responsive chassis teams with impressive budget suspension to give riders of all sizes the ability to enjoy a comfortable, sporty ride. After beating the Brute Force around Pennsylvania’s Mines and Meadows ATV Resort, we’re happy to find such a high level of refinement and durability for only $4199.

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