140 Miles Off-Road With the Kawasaki MULE Shined a Harsh Light On the Pickup Truck Market
The UTV segment is getting more and more interesting by the day, it seems. There are various types of side-by-sides and UTVs, but the more utilitarian UTVs are where things are really getting interesting. With industry breakthroughs pushing the segment paired with the insanity of the pickup truck market, UTVs are steadily encroaching on pickup truck territory. While Kawasaki is a self-identifying motorcycle company, the Kawasaki Teryx and Kawasaki MULE are not to be trifled with. After covering 140 miles of mountainous off-road terrain in the new Kawasaki MULE Pro-FXR 1000. This small 4×4 shined a harsh light on the state of the pickup truck market.
Is the Kawasaki Pro-FXR 1000 a good UTV?
Yes, after 140 miles driving this side-by-side off-road, my experience with the Kawasaki MULE lent us plenty of insight and the confidence to say this is a good UTV.
A small band of off-road nerds and the boys from Kawasaki trekked to the remote town of Manti, Utah, last week to put the new Kawasaki MULE Pro-FXR 1000 through its paces in the mountains, shadowing the small town. We mapped over 140 miles of terrain that would be new to all of us. It’s typical for press rides to be very planned to guarantee that the machines and drivers don’t run into any surprises. However, this trip was different. We had a plan on paper that was, as all adventures are, subject to change. Not only did this undriven path bring excitement, but it also showed an enormous amount of faith in the machines.
We covered over 80 miles on the first day, reaching a lofty height of 10,900 ft in altitude. On the second day, we did fewer but harder miles, reaching similar altitudes. Both ventures required navigating boulders, high-speed corners, and harrowingly narrow trails, with little margin for error.
The machines were lovely to drive. Every time I drive a UTV, I struggle to trust its capability and reliability at first. However, after a few dozen miles, my brain and body allowed themselves to trust that MULE could handle the tight corners, off-camber twists, and deep ruts with ease. We pushed our machines about as far as you can push something designed for agricultural work. This got me thinking; this thing is more fun to drive off-road than a pickup truck, has many of the same functions, and costs a fraction of the cost of any new 4×4 pickup truck for sale today.
How much is the 2024 Kawasaki MULE Pro-FXR 1000?
Kawasaki lists the 2024 Kawasaki MULE Pro-FXR 1000 as having an MSRP of $17,099. OK, this isn’t a small amount of money. I get that. However, considering what $17k gets you in the new truck market, which is literally nothing, you might start to see some value here.
How much is the cheapest pickup truck in 2023?
It only gets more clear when you consider the cheapest pickup truck on the market is the Ford Maverick, which no one can get their hands on at the moment. The 2023 Ford Maverick has a starting MSRP of $22,595. While the Maverick is a great small truck, it couldn’t have done 70% of what we did in the MULE. For one thing, the Maverick isn’t a 4×4. For two, it is too big to handle many of these trails, which isn’t a failing of pickup trucks but notable nonetheless. Lastly, the MULE took quite a beating at my hands (and feet). Most new pickup trucks would struggle to come out of this ride, OK. At best, they would be pin-stripped more than Al Capone’s suits.
Obviously, a side-by-side or UTV isn’t going to be your daily driver. But the argument can easily be made that folks could buy both a decent car or crossover and a UTV for about the same price as an optioned out off-road-worthy pickup truck.
The Kawasaki MULE is an all-purpose machine
The price is one thing, but it’s the MULE’s capability that takes this from an expensive toy to a cheap workhorse.
Most Kawasaki MULEs will be found on ranches, farms, hunting camps, and other such agricultural or working environments. The MULE was designed to do this work. It’s torquey, tough, 4×4, and, depending on the model, has a dump bed, making certain chores much faster and easier. This thing is a tool. But that’s not all it is.
As I mentioned at the top of the article, we spent two days covering over 140 miles of tough off-road terrain. And let me tell you, there wasn’t a moment involving work. The MULE is not only a fantastic tool, it is also a killer recreational 4×4.
Remember, the MULE is not a race car
As an automotive reporter, it is my job to test these machines and come back to tell you fine people about what I found. After 140 miles of fire roads, narrow trails, mud, boulders, fallen trees, inclines, declines, and everything in between, all of the machines got loaded out in the same condition they were in when we left, except mine. The Kawasaki MULE is indeed one hell of a UTV. It is tough, reliable, and funner than snot to drive. However, I admit that I pushed the MULE a touch farther than Kawasaki intended.
About eight miles from the base of the mountain, I pushed the Kawasaki UTV to its limits. I charged a downhill stretch wrought with large stones, fallen trees, ruts, and all other manner of hazards. I can say for certain that the MULE’s top speed of 55 mph is indeed accurate. However, going downhill, you might can squeeze a bit more from it. Although, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Somewhere during my downhill bombing (having the time of my life), I heard, then felt a rather big pop. The front shock was given more than it could take. I knew instantly that I had pushed too hard, gone too fast. This farm machine gave me all it had, and I demanded more.
My hubris is to blame for the broken suspension. If I’m honest, part of why I pushed so hard was because the little truck had given me so much confidence that I forgot what I was in. You can’t blame a dump truck for losing a race to a Ferrari. Machines have limitations. Pushing past limitations can’t reflect poorly on the machine, only its pilot. While I felt like a heel for breaking my rig, another MULE promptly came to my aid and pulled me, and my shame, the eight miles of rough terrain we still had to go to reach the base of the mountain.
Is a UTV as good as a pickup truck?
Yes and no. I know that is an annoying answer to an unexpected question, but that is the truest answer there is. Due to the price of pickup trucks and what you need from a pickup truck, I believe certain people would do better to buy a UTV over buying a pickup truck or Jeep Wrangler. UTVs are significantly cheaper than trucks, are way more fun to drive, can also do real work, and require less caretaking, and, in some areas, are even road-legal. Due to these reasons and more, the UTV and side-by-side markets are booming.
On the other hand, trucks are more comfortable, have more power for towing and hauling, and they are safer. However, their price has become hard for certain truck buyers to justify. If you need to tow a camper, well, a UTV won’t be very useful. However, if you want a rig to run through the woods on the weekend, overland, or take hunting, you’d be hard-pressed to find a truck for double the money of a UTV that would be as fun.