Kawasaki’s KX450F went though a major redesign for 2012 and went on to take the win in our 2012 450 Motocross Shootout thanks to its ridiculously powerful powerplant and greatly enhanced handling. Team Green has had much success racing its motocross bikes in the off-road arena, so we expected that the KX would be in the hunt for the top honors in our very first 450 MX Off-Road Shootout, and we weren’t wrong.
I dare you – no, I double-dog dare you to try and talk about the 2012 KX450F without using words like “powerful,” “rocketship” and “explosive.” It’s just not possible. Hands down, bar none the 2012 Kawasaki is the king of the hill when it comes to what is on tap from the right grip. Right off the bottom the punch is meaty, although maybe a tick less than the Suzuki, but from the midrange on not one of the other 450-class competitors hold a candle to the brute force and ferociousness of the Kawi.
None of the other machines in this test stood a chance in a contest of power against the 2012 Kawasaki KX450F
“This motor was incredible!” exclaims our newest member of the bad dude crew, Jamie Beckett. “Especially in the dunes. You never had a lack of power, and it hit like Mike Tyson. It was confidence inspiring. If there was a jump that I was hesitant about having enough power, I always wanted to try it on the Kawi first.”
“It is so easy to choose the Kawasaki engine as the best of the bunch. It has loads of torque and seems nearly impossible to stall,” adds Boss-man Ken Hutchison. “It was awesome on hill climbs and never seemed phased by the sand at Glamis. This is the ultimate 450 engine.”
Power is nothing without control and Kawasaki not always been at the top of the charts in the handling department. While it still can’t match the Suzuki and Honda in tight turns, the KX450F sticks a line without a fuss. The faster you go, the better it gets with its stable yet compliant chassis.
“There is no back-talk or guessing games here. As you enter into your chosen line the Green machine lays over nicely and holds the trajectory perfectly,” proclaims Brian Steeves. “This is the chassis to measure the rest of the field by when you want to haul the mail.”
In the dirt of Ocotillo, the Kawasaki’s high-speed stability was welcome in the fast sand washes, however when the going got tight it just wasn’t as nimble as the Suzuki. It just took a little more to get it into the tighter single-track turns, and the feedback from the front end was slightly less positive. Sand dune ripping is a less common than shredding the hard pack, so the KX was relegated to second place in the handling scoring.
When it came time to score the suspension our band of brothers ranked the 2012 KX450F in third place. For most of the bikes in this test we complained of too-soft settings, but with the Green Machine is was the exact opposite. Without question it is the stiffest sprung, which makes it a slayer in the dunes and the number one choice for going big. On the flip side, when the trail got rough and choppy the KX was the jack hammer of the bunch and lacked the compliant action of the softer competition.
“The Kawi Handled very precisely in almost every situation except in some uneven rough sections where the bike is really rigid and the back end wants to kick around side to side a bunch,” says Full Factory Garcia.
“In the dunes, this was the winner by far. There wasn’t a hit that I under-jumped or over-jumped that I didn’t feel the Kaw suspension wouldn’t just take in stride,” adds Beckett. “However, when we got to the hills I realized how stiff the forks were.”
Spending extended time in behind the bars of the green meanie is a comfortable affair with a roomy cockpit. It feels much bigger in comparison to the Honda and KTM, but its slim midsection and new, slimmer shrouds put the portly Yamaha to shame. Even pulling the KX off a stand it feels like a bigger bike than the rest as it weighs in at 250 pounds.
That slim cross section comes at a price however. In order to shrink the shroud area Kawasaki has also shrunk the gas tank. Fuel capacity has been cut from an impressive 1.9 gallons to 1.64 gallons for 2012. That is still more the Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, but making big horsepower takes copious amounts of high-octane petrol. That means the Kawasaki tends to run dry not long after the Honda.
At the end of two days of bashing through the rocks, slot canyons and sand dunes of Southern California we really didn’t even need the score sheet to know which bike would be coming out on top of this shootout. Four of the sixth testers gave the KX450F the nod as their personal favorite while singing the praises of its monstrous power output. The scoresheet mirrored our gut feelings with the KX racking up the most points thanks the wins in the engine, horsepower and torque categories. It has some flaws, but there is no doubt that the Kawasaki makes you feel like a hero and is the most fun to ride, and that is what off-road in really all about.