23 October 1998

Automatic quad offers more ease & comfort

By Peter Hill

AUTOMATIC transmission features on a Kawasaki quad bike for the first time with this autumns introduction of the KVF400C four-wheel-drive and, later this year, a two-wheel-drive model.

Powered by a 391cc liquid-cooled four-stroke engine, the newcomer will be sold as an alternative to the manual gearbox KLF400C of the same power.

Jack Ford of Kawasaki Motors believes the auto quad will have a particular following among users who put a priority on ride comfort and ease of control.

"With its long-stroke strut suspension front and rear, the KVF has better ride quality and comfort while the automatic transmission makes it very easy to operate," he says.

It may not be ideal for operators wanting a machine capable of constant speeds for fertiliser spreading or spraying, he concedes. But it does make a decent towing machine, he reckons, with progressive acceleration and no need to snatch gears under load.

Mr Ford further maintains that the UK company brought some influence to bear on the final specification of a machine designed primarily for the North American leisure and hunting user.

"We were keen to ensure it would also suit the working role that quads have here. Thats one reason it has liquid engine cooling – for effective temperature regulation at low speeds and decent fuel economy," he says. "When youre weed wiping or following sheep at little more than tickover, air-cooled engines dont have much air flow to keep temperatures under control."

The automatic transmission is similar to that used in Kawasakis Mule utility truck. Two expanding pulleys transfer drive from engine to range gearbox, providing infinitely variable ratios that vary according to engine revs and load. An upright gear lever to the right of the fuel tank selects high, low and reverse; four-wheel drive (by shafts) is permanently engaged.

Up front, two MacPherson struts contribute to ride comfort over rough ground by providing 170mm of travel. At the rear, a single adjustable spring/damper unit on swing axle suspension (rather than Kawasakis usual four-link arrangement) offers a little more – 180mm. Ground clearance, however, is some 22mm less than on the KLF400C, at 163mm.

The usual thumb control regulates engine speed while front and rear brakes are hand-lever operated. The rear drum brake can also be applied by foot pedal.

With no foot-operated gear selector to get in the way, the KVF400C comes with full-length running boards between front and rear mudguards, moulded plastic load racks (another first on a Kawasaki), new digital instrumentation (which includes distance trip and hour meters as well as a large speedometer reading) and the Kawasaki quads trademark shepherds crook tube.

A cigarette lighter socket for electrical accessories is another standard fitment, along with a storage container beneath the rear rack that will hold the machines tool kit but not much else.

Conscious, perhaps, that an auto transmission quad will not be everyones cup of tea, Kawasaki has priced the KVF very keenly; the 4×4 is listed at £4650 (£300 less than the equivalent KLF) while the 4×2 will be offered at £3750.

KVF400C has a different character to previous Kawasaki quads thanks to belt-type automatic transmission and long-travel strut suspension. Power output from the 391cc motor approaches 30hp.