Founded in 1878 by inventor Showza Kawasaki, the Kawasaki brand got its start, oddly enough, in shipbuilding. They hit the ocean with their first ship in 1897. In 1911, Kawasaki produced its first train, in 1922 their first airplane, and in 1969, their iconic first motorcycle. Since that time, Kawasaki has also become a global leader in the production of rail cars, robotics, loaders, gas turbines, and bullet trains. Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing (KMM) began production in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1974. Today, every Kawasaki ATV, UTV, PWC, and rail car rolls out of the same plant that has been employing Nebraskans for forty years!
Kawasaki's Mule development progressed from a simple sketch on a napkin, and began production at KMM in 1988. Since that time, numerous generations of Mule vehicles have made their way into the hands of farmers, ranchers, and hunters all around the world. For 2015, Kawasaki dropped a bomb on the industry with the introduction of their new Mule FXT. It's more powerful, more capable, more comfortable, and the most refined version of Mule to date.
At the heart of the Mule is an 812cc inline triple cylinder engine, capable of 48 ft lb of torque. The engine is actually outsourced from Chinese auto manufacturer Chery, and has been tuned for optimal torque and fuel efficiency. From the turn of the key, the engine is smooth and quiet, with plenty of grunt throughout the low and mid-range. My biggest gripe with the old Mule was the fact that the engine was essentially the same twin cylinder industrial mill used in many commercial lawn mowers. They’ve certainly proven themselves as super reliable, but unfortunately they are slow with almost no “WOW factor”. The Mule Pro FXT engine is the fastest and most powerful model to date. In field sections, I was able to reach 45 mph, which should be plenty fast enough for even the craziest farmer! Thanks to a huge alternator, the Mule puts out 60.8 amps at 2000rpm, and a full 75 amp maximum. That means plenty of power to run or charge just about whatever you can imagine.
The Mule utilizes a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with High, Low, Neutral, and Reverse gears. No centrifugal clutch is used on the Mule like Kawasaki chose for the Teryx platform though. Gear engagement and disengagement is smooth and predictable, with no gates to hang the shifter up. The rear differential can be run open or fully locked. Run open, the Mule has the tightest turning radius in the class, at a mere sixteen feet. Four-wheel drive is easily selectable via a large, dash mounted toggle switch. No front differential lock is present.
Having witnessed the assembly process myself, the new Pro FXT chassis construction is impressive. Approximately 90% of this chassis is welded by robots, making the welds more perfect and the chassis, in turn, stronger. Incorporated into the chassis is the ability to transform the bed from a seating area of three, into a full-blown bed, or vice versa. Kawasaki dealers will market this bed promoting a 1:1:1 philosophy. What this means is, the bed can be converted to either seat or bed mode with one person, in one trip around the Mule, in less than one minute. I tried it several times and I was able to easily accomplish this task. The steel cargo bed with hydraulic assist also contains molded in cargo bed divider slots. Either Genuine Kawasaki accessory dividers or 2x6 blocks of wood will suffice as dividers. The bed also contains steel bed rails as secure tie down points or for accommodating quick-attach accessory mounts. The roll cage is ROPS certified, which will keep occupants safe should this behemoth end up on its lid.
The new Mule felt as smooth, if not smoother, than any work oriented UTV on the market. Four wheel independent suspension and 8.7” of wheel travel at all four corners smooth out even the roughest of terrain. I tested the Mule with six men in the cab and it performed as expected. I could certainly feel a difference in the handling with six occupants compared to two, but the Mule was able to negotiate the track with ease, even when fully loaded. The speed sensitive Electric Power Steering (EPS) is quite possibly the best, most natural feeling steering in the industry. The steering wheel is also soft, thick, and comfortable.
The STD model starts at just under thirteen grand. Upgrading to the EPS model costs an additional $1,000, but is worth every penny when the addition of EPS, tilt steering, and colored door graphics is factored in. If an extra $1600 on top of the EPS model isn't a stretch, a price tag of $15599 will score either the EPS LE or Camo model. Both of these models get all the upgrades of the EPS models, plus four 12V outlets and the addition of LED lighting. The EPS LE also gets aluminum wheels and a two-piece composite sun top. Dollar for dollar, the EPS LE is the best deal if Realtree Xtra Green camo is not a necessity.
Exclusive to the industry is Kawasaki's mammoth three year warranty, which is three hundred percent better than the second best competitors warranty and as much as six hundred percent better than many competitors. Those numbers are hard to argue with and should be a great selling point for shoppers. Kawasaki models have a reputation for being some of the toughest and most reliable machines in the industry. This killer three year warranty could very well be the proverbial icing on the cake, attracting new customers to the Kawasaki brand.
The bean counters at Kawasaki say the demographic for the Mule is primarily 45-65 year old males. The new Mule will certainly satisfy even the pickiest members of that fraternity. Honestly, I think the new Mule Pro FXT has the capability to expand that demographic a bit and actually steal some buyers from other categories. With a 1,000 pound bed capacity, a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, and the ability to cart six of the thickest dudes you can strap into the cab, the 2015 Kawasaki Mule Pro FXT looks to be a home run.