Testing the Kawasaki Prairie 360

Testing the Kawasaki Prairie 360

Burch, Monte

getting there

For two hours we climbed steadily upward through the Big Sky Country of southern Montana and into the mountains of the Gallatin National Forest. Following twisting trails through stands of pines, and meadows covered in wildflowers, then up and down boulderstrewn trails above treeline was a thorough test of the new Kawasaki Prairie 360 4X4. I discovered the Prairie 360 is a great choice for those looking for a medium-size; mid-priced ATV with all the features of the bigger, more expensive models. In fact, the 360 utilizes much of the same technology found on the Prairie 650 4X4 I tested and reported on in the January issue. With its single-cylinder, 362 cc engine, the Prairie 360 is targeted toward the mid-size 4X4 segment.

“Mid-class sport utility ATVs continue to evolve, as do their many uses,” said Vince Iorio, ATV marketing manager with Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. “The Prairie 360 4X4 gives the discriminating ATV buyer the best of a 300 cc ATV, such as light steering and maneuverability, but with the higher torque of a 400 cc ATV. Kawasaki has even gone several steps further by incorporating the most advanced features of the industryleading Prairie 650. The result is an ATV with unmatched comfort, reliability and technology.”

The Prairie 360 4X4 is powered by a new air-cooled SOHC, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine. It produces more torque than Kawasaki’s venerable Prairie 300, yet the power plant weighs less overall than its smaller sibling. On top of the mountain a smooth, flat trail wound for several miles, and I pegged out the ATV. Top speed was 38 m.p.h., even at a little over 9,000 feet altitude. The engine hadn’t been set for the higher altitudes and would probably run well into the lower to mid 40s at lower altitudes. Top speed, however, isn’t the most wanted feature of utility ATVs. What’s desired is fast throttle response, which allows for better control. The Prairie 360 is indeed quick and nimble.

Technology from the Prairie 650 has also trickled down to the transmission and running gear of the Prairie 360 in that it utilizes the Kawasaki Automatic Power-Drive System (KAPS) and features the Kawasaki Engine Brake Control (KEBC). KEBC uses engine compression to slow the ATV in technical maneuvers such as crawling over rocks or descending steep downgrades. The fully automatic transmission shifted smooth and easy, even on some steep upgrades and when slowing for sharp turns.

The gear selector, which features high-low and reverse modes, has also been borrowed from the Prairie 650 and is conveniently located adjacent to the 3.5-gallon fuel tank. Shifting is easy. Complementing the automatic transmission is a selectable, shaft

driven, four- or twowheel drive system. At the touch of a button, you can choose two-wheel drive for less difficult terrain, or select four-wheel drive when traction at all four wheels is needed.

like all Kawasaki Prairie ATVs, the 360 4X4 features a limited-slip front differential, so steering is light and more precise. It also includes Kawasaki’s exclusive Variable Front Differential Control, another technology that has trickled down from the Prairie 650. By pulling a lever on the left handlebar, you can “lock” both front wheels for more traction. When you feel that maximum front wheel traction is no longer needed, simply release the lever and the wheels “unlock.” As we were riding in National Forest Service lands, we stayed on the trails, which were all fairly easy, and I kept the machine in two-wheel drive. I didn’t get a chance for a real test of the 4X4 and differential lock with that particular vehicle.

Actually, I tested two Prairie 360s, one in Montana, and a matching unit back home where I had a couple of weeks for more extensive testing. With the home unit I did have a chance to test the four-wheel drive capability and front wheel lock on a deep mud hole in the back of our property. The four-wheel drive and differential lock system is simple and effective to use. I also used the machine to pull some food plot implements as well as some fun Ozark hill riding. The machine in Missouri provided a bit sharper performance as was to be expected.

Stopping power for the Prairie 360 is provided by dual, floating front disc brakes assisted by a sealed, oil– bathed, multi-disc system on the rear, another Kawasaki exclusive. I found the braking on both test units to be excellent. As an integrated part of the aluminum swingarm and shaft drive, the sealed braking system provides great stopping power, yet requires minimal maintenance because it is protected from mud, dust and debris. I also like the extremely smooth and “clean” appearance the system gives the rear of the ATV, with nothing sharp or hanging to catch on obstacles.

The ride was quite comfortable, although a bit “bouncier” than on the 650 I tested previously. That is due primarily to the lighter weight of the 360. The 360 definitely offers a sportier ride. Front suspension duties are handled by supple, yet sturdy MacPherson struts with 6.7″ of travel, while a sporty, single-shock aluminum swingarm with 7″ of travel is mounted at the rear. The Prairie 360 rides on 12″ wheels on all four corners, providing stability and a comfortable ride.

The mid-size Prairie 360 4X4 body work has the familiar Kawasaki styling, yet it projects a uniquely muscular image. A large saddle, full-sized floor boards with adjustable footpegs, and steel cargo racks that can carry a combined weight of 242 lbs. provide comfort and convenience for long trail rides or work in the field. I especially like the adjustable footpegs. I ride standing up a lot, and having adjustable footpegs allows for customizing the footboards for the best balance for each individual rider.

The storage racks are different from those on the Prairie 650, which has a solid covering over both racks. That’s great for some items, but makes it hard to strap or tie others because there aren’t many places to attach hooks or ropes. The 360 has open racks, making cargo easier to tie. The rear rack, however, leaves a fairly large opening in back, directly over the rear brake light and wiring harness.

Powerful, dual-halogen headlights provide plenty of light, and a hitch bracket is standard. Instrumentation is different from the Prairie 650, which has LCD gauges. The 360 has simple, but very effective, lighted panels for gear, low oil and belt check, as well as 4X4 mode.

As I discovered, both in the Montana mountains and back home in the Ozarks, the new Kawasaki Prairie 360 4X4 is a great mid-sized, but fullfeatured, utility ATV.

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Nov 2002

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