It has been well over a decade since Kawasaki had a mini ATV in their lineup.
With Kawasakiâ€™s new relationship with Suzuki, they were able to at least purchase and re-badge one of the better minis available today, the Suzuki LT80. Even though it is nothing more than an LT80 with green bodywork, Polaris, Bombardier and Arctic Cat also buy minis from other builders and call them their own.
Back in 1987 and 1988 Kawasaki had a 110cc Mojave that received great reviews from the press and the public. However, when the CPSC stepped in at the close of the decade, they persuaded manufactures to limit minis to 90cc. Today this 110cc four-stroke engine is still available and in a lightweight dual A-arm suspended chassis it would smoke the Honda TRX90 and any other mini out there. It also would follow the new four-stroke trend that the bigger quads are setting. Plus that engine is easily modified and there are a ton of aftermarket parts available for it. Anyway, for this year we have to settle for a green version of the LT80.
Since the LT80, or as Kawasaki calls it, the KFX80, is one of the best stock minis you can buy today, we thought it was worth taking another look at. Priced at $2299, the KFX80 is powered by a very peppy, electric starting, air-cooled two-stroke engine. For added safety, this mini is equipped with a keyed ignition and parking brake that has to be applied in order to start the engine.
Other safety features include a removable power limiter and a throttle limiter screw that can be adjusted as the riderâ€™s skill level increases. Heel guards offer foot protection as good as any full-size sport quad. Although the KFX80 comes with a strong sealed battery for the electric starter, there is no back up starting system if it fails.
Average sized riders between 10-13 will fit the KFX 80 well. However, the CPSC suggests that no one under 12 ride any machine over 50cc and unfortunately most legitimate dealers are forced to abide by the recommendations. When we had our five-foot-tall, 14 and 15-year-old test riders take the KFX for a spin, they encountered trouble when turning the quad. It had plenty of power to move them down the trail but the distance between the handlebars and the riderâ€™s knees made for a cramped ride.
The seat height of the KFX is on par with most other minis at 25.4 inches and the weight is also average at 220 pounds. Most other minis in the 90cc class have a slightly bigger stance than the 55.9 inch long and 31.7 inch wide Kawi. The smaller size of this machine does allow it to corner well and rider can even get it up in a wheelie from time to time.
To get the little 80 down the trail, itâ€™s a no-brainer. Once the motor is warmed up, stab the throttle and youâ€™re off. The fully automatic CVT engine quickly transfers power to the rear tires. There is no neutral or reverse. Parents will want to keep an eye on the oil level for the injector from time to time since there is no low-oil warning light. We were able to get at least five tanks of gas through the machine before it needed any oil added.
The air-cooled engine stays cool even at idle due to a fan that operates off the motor to direct air over the cylinder at all times. Over the years we have found the Suzuki LT80 to be one the most reliable minis on the market. Both the engine and the chassis can stand years of abuse by kids or adults. Kawasaki does offer an extended three years warranty for the KFX80, but we doubt youâ€™ll need it.
Another good feature on this machine is the separate hand and foot braking. Most minis have only hand levers that operate the front or rear brakes. The KFX80 has a right hand brake for the dual front drums and a right foot pedal for the single drum brake in the rear. This setup is more like what is found on bigger quads, making a transition easier when the time comes. Both brakes slow the machine down well.
Top speed on the 80 is between 25-30 miles per hour depending on the road and the weight of the rider. It can climb most inclines and does very well in the sand due to its fairly wide seven-inch tires. To increase its performance there are plenty of aftermarket companies offering parts from tires to pipes for this quad, if you wish. In the November 2002 issue, we had a shootout between a modified LT80 and a TRX90 where the FMF-modified LT80 fared very well.
About the only fault with the KFX is its size. With its short 37-inch wheelbase coupled with below average suspension travel figures (1.9 front and 2.2 inch rear), the KFX is a little rougher on the trail than a TRX90 or Kasea 90. The driverâ€™s compartment is limited to a smaller rider and if you follow the CPSC guidelines of 12 and over that will be hard to find.
The KFX80 is a well-built mini and will give a family many years of enjoyment, especially if it becomes a hand-me-down to the next generation. However neither it nor any other mini in the 90cc class is a good enough stepping stone to a full size quad.
Kawasaki has the equipment to build a machine that would fill the gap between a kid and adult quad. If the powers to be at the CPSC would allow parents to decide what quad is right for their child and the manufactures to market the appropriate sized ATVâ€™s for them, we would have a safer sport.