Dating back to military surplus Jeeps, compact farm and ranch utility vehicles have either hauled people or stuff. You couldn’t do both well.
Kawasaki’s latest-generation utilitarian UTV—the Mule Pro-FXT—addresses that compromise. In dual bench-seat mode, the Mule transports up to six adults. Converting the rear seat into an extension of the cargo box accommodates up to a 1,000-pound payload capacity. Add in a 2,000-pound tow rating and the Mule is the motorized version of its namesake.
Maneuverability is the Mule’s marquee feature. For a longer-wheelbase UTV, the new Mule is surprisingly spry. We didn’t drive the base model, which doesn’t have electronic power steering (EPS), but EPS helps the ’15 Mule feel significantly lighter than its nearly 1,900-pound curb weight. Particularly in 2WD, the Mule can snake through tight, wooded trails that initially seem better suited to the smaller Kawasaki Teryx. Kick-steer is basically non-existent. Steering components are shared with the sporty Teryx, although calibrations are different for the larger Mule Pro-FXT.
The Mule’s turning radius is tightest in class at 16 feet, besting the slightly longer Polaris Ranger Crew 800, Yamaha Viking VI, and John Deere XUV. An adjustable steering column adds even more satisfaction to the overall steering experience.
Brakes are grippy and predictable. We didn’t ride with a load or tow, but the every-corner discs stop the Mule straight and abruptly.
The Mule’s other main selling point is its Trans Cab feature. Requiring only one person, this system folds the rear seat down in about a minute, extending the cargo area length from 22 inches to 42.7.
Power comes from an 812cc three-cylinder engine. Kawasaki bills it as torquiest in class, peaking at 48 lb-ft. Power flows through a CVT transmission. An electrically selectable four-wheel-drive system uses a dual-mode rear differential. Dash-mounted switches make shifting into 4WD and locking/unlocking the rear diff easy.
While the Mule is smooth throughout its powerband up to its approximately 43-mph (governed) top speed, off-the-line acceleration is leisurely. Torque is abundant once it hits the rear tires. However, the engine calibration and CVT have a brief, turbo lag–like delay between go-pedal depression and forward motion.
Plenty of power is available for clawing up a steep hill, but it isn’t instantaneous. This is likely by design, helping the new Mule carry an industry-leading three-year warranty. It might also be an idiot-resistant feature that takes younger, testosterone-overloaded ranch-hands into consideration.
The Mule’s do-work personality is extended by built-in 12-volt outlets. Thanks to a 75-amp alternator that cranks out a maximum 60.8 amps at 2,000 rpm (with the Mule’s headlights on), 120 Watts of auxiliary power are available at the interior outlets.
Mule Pro-FXTs with EPS come in three flavors: base, LE, and Camo. Like the non-EPS model, the lowest-line Mule EPS comes with steel wheels and two 12-volt power ports.
LE trim raises the bar. A two-piece composite roof (which keeps the Mule’s center of gravity lower) is included, as are two additional power ports, in the rear seats. LED auxiliary and six-spoke cast-aluminum wheels liven up the LE, which is available in green and red.
The Realtree Xtra Green Camo model is targeted at hunters and adventurers. This version is basically an LE model but with steel wheels and body panels that are hydro-dipped in a proprietary Realtree camo-pattern film.
Kawaski offers three preinstalled option packages:
• Recreation: includes a brushguard, a cargo box, a full Lexan windshield, a composite roof, and a rearview mirror.
• Hard Cab: includes full doors, a full-height glass windshield, side mirrors, and heavy-duty springs.
• Plow: includes a Warn blade and mount; the owner chooses the winch separately based on the needed capacity (the winch raises and lowers the blade).
A hydraulic-assist dump bed is a handy stand-alone option.
The aftermarket will undoubtedly offer several accessories for the new Mule. Kawasaki already lists some 60 aftermarket add-ons, available through its dealers and online catalog. These include armor, auxiliary LED lights, and mounts/containers for cargo and outdoors accessories.
The Mule has come a long way since Kawasaki engineers sketched the original Multi-Use Light Equipment vehicle on a napkin in 1988. The quickest, most powerful Mule yet is a nimble hauler, handling up to six people and some stuff, or one to three people and more cargo. The Mule Pro-FXT incorporates some of the sporty Teryx genes in a primarily blue-collar/camo package.
Vehicle: 2015 Kawasaki Mule Pro-FXT EPS
Engine (cc): 812 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 3-cylinder
Bore & Stroke (mm): 72x66.5
Fuel System: DFI, 34mm throttle body
Transmission: CVT; high, low range; neutral; reverse
Drive System: Shaft, selectable four-wheel drive with dual-mode rear differential
Suspension/Wheel Travel (in.): Double wishbone, coilovers/8.7 (front), 8.7 (rear right), 8.5 (rear left)
Brakes: Dual hydraulic discs
Front Tire: 26x9.0R12
Rear Tire: 26x11.0R12
Length (in.): 133.3
Width (in.): 64.0
Height (in): 77.6
Wheelbase (in): 92.3
Steering: Electric power assisted rack-and-pinion
Turning Radius (ft.): 16
Ground Clearance (in.): 10.2
Fuel Capacity (gal.): 5.3
Curb Weight (lb.): 1,878.7
Load Capacity (lb.): 1,649
Towing Capacity (lb.): 2,000
Base MSRP: $13,999
Made In The USA
The Mule is manufactured in Kawasaki’s 2.2-million square-foot factory in Lincoln, Nebraska. Opened in 1974, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing (KMM) was one of the first foreign-owned factories in the United States.
Although KMM is in the middle of Heartland farmland, Kawasaki farms out little when it comes the Mule. Parent company Kawasaki Heavy Industries manufactures everything from ships (one of the company’s original products in 1897) to trains (first in 1911) to planes (since 1922) to robots. “We make the machines that make the machines” is their credo.
The Nebraska factory has 117 Kawasaki-designed/built robots; 17 of these are used to weld various aspects of the Mule Pro-FXT’s ladder/cage frame, which is primarily constructed of square steel tubing. This gives the Mule its ROPS (roll-over protective structure) certification.
The Lincoln plant even manufactures wheels—for Kawasaki UTVs and ATVs as well as for many of its competitors’ four-wheeled powersports machines. But the most impressive machine is likely the factory’s three-story-tall injection molding rig. It feeds plastic granules into the machine. The plastic is heated and forced into a mold, creating bodies for watercrafts and ATVs/UTVs in mere minutes.
KMM also makes rail cars in Lincoln. Unlike the mass-produced powersports machines, each train customer has its own requirements. So the cars are built to each city’s/municipality’s specs—at a cost of multimillions of dollars per car.