Every ATV rider can name the major players in the sport. Can-Am, the Big Four, Polaris, etc. are global brands and have been easily recognized as such for decades. However, many riders have never heard of the hundreds of suppliers who anonymously toil away behind the scenes, building parts for these big names. Out of those hundreds of suppliers, only a handful actually build complete models for the Big Guys. In fact, every youth model, and most ATVs under 200 cc are built by a couple of the biggest manufacturers in Taiwan, which have partnered with the Japanese, and even major North American brands for decades. What began 50 years ago when the Japanese brought their rapidly expanding motorcycle and scooter business to Taiwan looking for manufacturing partners has evolved into major manufacturing of motorcycles, cars, and today, ATVs.
Most of the traditional manufacturing partners in the ATV business have continued to work behind the scenes, yet a select few have chosen their own path, like SYM, Kymco and ETON. Of those however, Kymco has quickly applied all it has learned, and today stands at the door of Tier 1 ATV manufacturers, ready to take its place in the upper echelon of the sport.
Just over a year ago we visited several Kymco plants in Taiwan to have a look at this up-and-coming company. Kymco (Kwang Yang Motor Company) has been in the manufacturing business since 1963, and has facilities worldwide, although its primary manufacturing operations and headquarters are based in Taiwan. Today it is one of the world’s major providers of scooters, although it also builds small engines and supplies products for other industries as well. Kymco builds more than 600,000 scooters a year, as well as an undisclosed amount of ATVs. These products carry the Kymco badge, as well as the nameplates of other companies for which the company is contracted to manufacture for. It would be impossible to build on such an enormous scale without well-structured quality control. Part of that quality control includes ISO 9001 certification, which sets international quality standards that a manufacturer must abide by. Usually, a company that goes through the process to become ISO and QS 9000 certified is very serious about producing a quality product. Recently we were given a chance to sample two new models from Kymco, which will soon be joining their lineup.
KYMCO OFF-ROAD – 2009
Kymco beat other manufacturers to the punch with an early introduction of its 2009 models, even though it is barely spring 2008. New for 2009 is a midsized utility ATV with independent suspension, and a side-by-side utility vehicle. They are the most advanced Kymco off-road vehicles to date.
THE UXV 500 4×4 – A New Side-by-Side
With explosive growth in the side-by-side ATV segment in recent years, Kymco held an early introduction of its new side-by-side, which was expected for 2009, but it will be launched early summer 2008.
We gave the UXV 500 4×4 a thorough inspection and were impressed with what we found. From the ground up, the UXV 500 looks good and has a well-designed chassis. Overall dimensions are similar to most other side-by-side models on the market, except in one area; the UXV 500 tracks more than 7 inches wider than most other side-by-sides, which greatly aids in stability, and will definitely lessen any tendency to be a little tippy in the corners, which several other models suffer from. The UXV 500 4×4 features over 12 inches of ground clearance, 7.5 inches of wheel travel, and 25-inch tires on all corners.
As with any utility ATV, storage space is important—and the UXV gets plenty of it. Underneath the front hood, a cavernous storage box is found, and there is another under one of the seats, along with the traditional dashboard-mounted glove box. If that is not enough, you can toss pretty much anything in the composite rear box, and underneath the box, you will find a 2-inch receiver hitch rated at 1,212 pounds for pulling a load. Inside the driver’s compartment, the controls are well laid out, and we like how the digital display sits high up in the centre of the dash, making it easier to read. Other switches are easily accessed, and the shift lever is located in a console between the bucket seats. Kymco must have been concerned about occupants sticking a leg out, so as a preventive measure, an accessory net clips in place, but we didn’t really use it, and we doubt most others will either. A small door would serve better. As with most side-by-side vehicles, the engine is centre-mounted between the two occupants, and for the UXV 500 that means a 499 cc, double overhead cam, liquid-cooled powerplant fed by a carburetor, and rated at 36 horsepower. It’s not the biggest engine in class, but it gets the job done. Selecting between Hi, Low, Neutral, Park, or Reverse is easy and smooth, and four-wheel-drive can be had with a flip of the dash-mounted switch. We really liked the stylish bodywork of the UXV 500. It’s pliable, fits well, and is available in red, grey, green, or camo. It looks great actually, and we couldn’t wait to take it out for a ride.
Although it’s not fed by fuel injection yet, the 36.5 mm Keihin carburetor does an excellent job of providing just what the engine needs to run nice and crisp. When underway, the motor and CVT system seem to be well matched, and the UXV drives quite well, but just as importantly, when it comes time to slow down, the UXV has disc brakes all around. It has no problem running down the trail or along wide fire roads, and it tops out at around 55 mph. There is one area the UXV 500 does have problems however; it does not like tight trails that wind through the trees. As with some of its other models, this Kymco has a wide turning radius, and for no apparent reason. It simply needs to turn sharper, and quicker, and we believe the UXV would benefit from a quicker steering gear ratio.
From our brief test drive sessions, we were impressed with the UXV 500 4×4, Kymco’s first side-by-side vehicle. A more thorough, long-term test is in store as soon as it’s available, but our first impression of this solid feeling pre-production unit gave us plenty to get excited about.
A NEW ATV – THE MXU 375 4×4
The MXU 375 4×4 is Kymco’s first utility ATV with fully independent suspension, and it is an all-new model from the ground up. Physical size of the unit is somewhat smaller than the hefty MXU 500, but it will fit most riders very well. Overall weight is 477 pounds, which is approximately 130 pounds lighter than most top-of-the-line utility quads. We like the overall styling, and once again Kymco shows that they know how to make plastic, as the quality is exceptional.
Controls are intuitive and the unit is comfortable to sit on. One thing we did notice is that the footpegs on the preproduction units definitely need to be raised from the floorboards. A raised peg helps you control the quad when shifting your body, and it’s an absolute must-have when the floorboards become slippery from snow or mud. We like the centre-mounted exhaust system in the back, and the rear control arms look cool. Front and rear steel racks are included for carrying gear, and there is a handy accessory outlet on the centre-mounted instrument pod for anything you need to plug in. A shift lever just ahead of your left knee is easily engaged, and is connected to a simple CVT drive system.
The engine on the MXU 375 is well concealed from the rider, In fact it is only visible from the right side. But just under the plastic you will find a 366 cc double overhead cam single-cylinder engine is fed by a 34 mm Keihin carburetor, and since it’s air-cooled, it is equipped with an oil cooler and fan system. As for the chassis, The MXU 375 comes with 24-inch tires, disc brakes at both ends, and offers 10 inches of ground clearance and 7-inches of wheel travel.
As with any ATV, we were eager to hop aboard and take it for a quick trip down the trails. The MXU 375 had no problem winding through the woods, and didn’t seem to care whether we were crossing a stream, slogging through heavy mud, or climbing steep hills. It had no problems in either 2 or 4-wheel-drive, and it felt light. Since it’s slightly smaller than most ATVs over 500 cc, it was actually a little easier to get through tight sections or pick your way through rocks, and the independent rear suspension is definitely a welcome feature when the trail gets rough.
Overall, our first ride was quite good, but we definitely will give the MXU 375 a thorough test as soon as we can get a production unit in our trailer, and on the trails.
Kymco Can Do
Kymco continues to improve its ATV lineup with each new model. The company is eager to improve, it has the know-how to build practically anything, and build it well. In fact, Kymco is exploring the possibility of adding a North American development team, which would only help accelerate development, and bring them one step closer to being one of the Tier 1 manufacturers. With what we have seen so far from Kymco, and knowing their capabilities, it really is only a matter of time.