We see the 2014 KTM 250 XCF-W as the machine with the most to prove in this shootout. KTM is the parent company for both Husaberg and Husqvarna and both are built on the bones of the XCF-W. That puts the orange bike in a weird spot; does it take back seat to the bikes with blue and yellow or smack them down and possibly hurt sales of the more pricey “Swedish” mounts? Sibling rivalry can raise the games for all involved, but in the end, one is more successful on the playing field.For 2014 the KTM 250 XCF-W got a new DOHC engine that boasts a newly designed cylinder head. Larger intake valves feed air and fuel via flow-optimized ports, increasing flow rate by approximately 10%. Redesigned camshafts are claimed to increase more power and torque. On the MotoUSA Dynojet 250i the KTM produced the lowest numbers of the three Austrian-
built enduro racers with 31.15 hp and 17.15 lb-ft of torque. That is minutely less than the Husqvarna FE250 – one-third of a percent less in horsepower and two-tenths of a percent in torque.
On the trail the power of the KTM is punchy but not unwieldy. Right off the bottom a fairly aggressive hit makes tight trail work a blast. The midrange is solid and the top-end is impressive. Even in the wide-open desert areas of Sand Hollow the KTM was a ripper. Between the three European machines it truly was splitting hairs on which was better. You’d get on the KTM and say this is the best engine, then you’d say the same after getting off the Husaberg. So it really comes down to handling and suspension between the three.
And this is where the differences begin to show themselves. The XCF-W features a steel frame that has thinner walled downtubes from the 2013 iteration combined with an aluminum subframe. Hung from that frame is retuned rear PDS suspension with a revised swingarm that’s lighter yet just as strong as the pervious model. Up front new triple clamps are claimed to increase stability while securing the 48mm WP open cartridge upside-down fork.
On the trail the KTM was in the middle of the ‘Berg and Husqvarna in the testing team’s opinion. Overall the XCF-W works best when the trail is fast and flowing. Turning effort is light and direction changes are quick. When the trail opens up and the speeds go to light speed the front feels less planted and the rear end begins to skate slightly. This is not to say it is nervous, it just moves around a bit more than you would expect. In slower technical sections the KTM felt light as well, but some of our crew struggled a tad with putting the KTM exactly where they wanted it.
As would be expected the KTM’s suspension is a tad soft, but that makes it very compliant on rocks and small bumps. That being said the rear PDS linkage-less rear end does deflect and kick about more than a linkage-equipped machine does. It
just feels off balance and less progressive while putting more weight forward onto the fork.
“When you put it side-by-side, the Husqvarna that has the linkages, now it shows the difference,” claims Simon Pavey. “I’m sure you can go just as fast on it in a race scene as any of the others, but for all of us, every time we got on the KTM we were the least comfortable. It took longer to get comfortable.”
On the score sheet, our riders ranked it second-best of the bunch both in handling and suspension even with the less comfortable feel.
The transmission ratios were suited well for trail work, especially those that are enduro focused. For 2014 KTM shortened the gear ratios of 4th, 5th and 6th gear, but to be honest we were never left wanting more on the big end. Shifting was precise and smooth with no missed changes to false neutrals, which is key when hopping around on single track and difficult obstacles. The clutch lever was fade-free no matter how hard we abused it, but the new DDS (Damped Diaphragm Steel) clutch did have a heavier feel than the Honda’s ultra-light cable-operated unit.
In the ergonomics department, the KTM tied its close cousins with a very similar feel between all three. The seat is stiff yet narrow, which adds to its light feel between your legs. The handlebar bend is comfortable and the tank and shroud are svelte.
When the scores were tallied the 2014 KTM 250 XCF-W placed third in our 250 Enduro Shootout, which surprised us as we thought on the trail it was a solid second. If you look at the subjective scoring only that is where it ranked, but with lower objective scores in comparison to its two counterparts it dropped just behind the Husaberg. If not for its slightly higher weight thanks to a kickstarter, less fuel capacity, and louder exhaust note, the KTM would have been in the running for a second place finish. If those three things aren’t high on your priority list, then the KTM may just be the machine for you.