ATV Test: 2003 Kawasaki Prairie 650

Prairie 650 - King of the Hill?

Dec. 01, 2002 By ORC STAFF
We've done long-term tests of vehicles before, and try to make a point to get in as much riding as possible, covering a variety of potential riding applications. With the new Kawasaki Prairie 650, seat time was NOT a problem! Staff members of all ages and riding levels couldn't keep their hands off this machine, and the pictures here give you only a sample of the variety of uses we put it to.

From mountain camping to rocky desert trails, it even saw some sand action. This is a utility quad with enough horsepower to easily transport any rider and their gear, but with handling and balance that allows the lightest rider to control it with ease. (Yes, you can even pull enough power to pop a wheelie!)

The differences between the 2002 model and the new 2003 are:

  • Trailer hitch is now standard
  • Skid plate material changed from steel to aluminum
  • Air filter assembly changed from flat surface to oval surface, providing 30% more surface area
  • Air box assembly changed to accommodate new air filter
  • Check belt light added to display
  • Firecracker Red with silver accents changed to Aztec Red with bronze
  • Front belly pan also changed to aluminum (rear-most swingarm guard
    remains steel)
  • Various "software" changes making it easier for dealers to diagnose
    engine/drivetrain areas at pre-defined service intervals or whenever
    service is needed
  • New engine brake actuator design to make it easier to reset actuator
    arm whenever the CVT cover is removed for servicing or belt replacement
Here's a sample of our Reviewers' impressions: Rider 1 - Experience Level: Intermediate (Pattie). What am I looking for in a quad? Everything I found on the Prairie. Simple controls, jump-on-and-go. As with most medium and large-sized utilities, this quad feels like you are "driving" it. If you are used to a sport quad of any type, you will immediately notice that you don't sit with your knees tucked up like a jockey.

The Prairie has positioned the large gas tank well, so there is no unnatural wide angle to the knees. I don't need to pop a wheelie on a 600# quad, but I do want it to have considerable acceleration and top speed. I easily got it up to 58 mph, into the wind (on a closed track, etc etc); factory specs say it is capable of faster speeds and we've heard reports that it will, but that was as much as I could squeeze out of it, and was certainly fast enough for 99% of the applications it's intended for. After several riding days where the vehicle choices included the Prairie, a stock Z400, or a very-modified Raptor, I found myself repeatedly preferring the Prairie.

The only time I felt out-matched by the trail was on sections with deep whoops - the suspension works well, but there's only so much it can do. You just have to be glad you have a very comfortable seat and non-grip foot areas. I will say that in whoops at fairly fast speeds, I found it very well balanced (didn't try to nose-in like the heavier Bombardier Quest 650) and the rear end never tried to come around when the bouncing took over (like I experienced on the Yamaha Grizzly) - it tracked straight ahead, and I felt very confident and secure on the Prairie.

Overall - I love this quad. If I had to buy one myself, honestly though, I'd pick up the Prairie 360. The smaller, lighter version is a better match for my size, and though you lose horsepower and carrying capacity, it is more sporty and versatile for our personal varying riding demands.

Rider 2 - Experience Level: Advanced. (Dean) I have a chance to ride many different quads and the Prairie 650 is one of my favorites. No, it does not have an IFS suspension in the rear, but it rides VERY nicely and I prefer it over the independent suspension many of its competitors have. With 43hp at the crank and 38.8ft lbs of torque at 4,000 rpm, the 650 twin gets up and moves! It provides plenty of acceleration to get it moving and seems to have power anytime you need it.

The Prairie 650 feels a lot more powerful than the new Honda Rincon 650. The Kawasaki engine braking system works beautifully. It doesn't kick in when you are backing off at speed like some of the other big bores - it kicks in below 5 MPH which is where you really need it on steep declines.

The Prairie 650 makes a fun rock crawler and the locking front differential works well when you need that extra traction. (I do think the Prairie 360 is a little easier to maneuver than its big brother on advanced rock crawling type obstacles.)

What don't I like about it? The stock Dunlop tires. The front tires cause the Prairie to be a little spongy in the front, sometimes feeling like it is diving when taking corners at speed. Luckily this can be easily taken care of with the many aftermarket tire options available. Are you a hunter?

You have to check out the Prairie 650 in CAMO - very nice. This machine can be a sport machine or a work horse.
I LIKE IT! Rider 3- Experience Level - Advanced/Youth (Justin) For a utility quad, it has a lot of get-up-and-go. It's easy to slide around. It also "crawls" well - with steep loading ramps, you can stop part-way up and then have no problem going the rest of the way.    

Rider 5- Experience Level: Advanced (Todd) For three days during the 2002 Rocky Mountain ATV Jamboree I was able to put the Prairie 650 through a wide variety of terrain and trail types, from straight sand flats to steep, freshly cut mountain switchbacks. Throughout all these rides the Prairie performed at the head of the pack in both performance and rider comfort.

Compared to several other utility quads I've had a chance to ride, the 600+ lb weight felt lighter than it actually was, when sliding through turns on the flats and airing it out on the few jumps we managed to find. The suspension was plush and landings were very smooth - nicer in fact than on my sport quad with stock shocks.

Throughout a mostly flat ride with wide straight-aways, the Prairie was able to accelerate past the other utility quads in the pack and reached a brisk top speed of over 60mph, as indicated on the digital speedometer.

Not knowing the range that 4.5 gallon tank would provide, the first day's ride got a little tentative after the trip was extended and 85 miles were indicated on the odometer. Although the fuel indictor dropped to below the last marker, the low fuel warning light never came on. The Prairie never complained and made it back to town for a refuel, ready for the more technical ride the next day.

The trail ride the second day was the first chance I had to try out the electronically-activated 2WD/4WD switch. With no need to stop and manually lock a differential, the Prairie provided the ease and comfort of being able to use 4WD during any short technical areas. Throughout the day however, the Prairie proved it very rarely actually needed the 4WD mode as it effortlessly climbed steep switchbacks and crawled through mud holes.

Kawasaki indicates on the technical specifications that the Prairie includes electronically controlled engine braking. This performed very well, and no matter what the speed - during either mountain descents or on flat runs, the Prairie would slow itself down without over-revving the engine or causing jerky stops. I found that the majority of the time I wasn't even using the manual brakes, instead letting the Prairie do the work through the EBS.

Overall the Prairie is an excellent utility quad and one I'd definitely recommend to any rider. It has proven to be a great performer on the utility side and a sporty ride when you get the chance to open it up in the flats. Kawasaki definitely has a winner with the Prairie 650!

One Technical Problem
uring our review period, we did have problems where it wouldn't sit still at idle. The local Kawasaki dealer changed the fuse out and adjusted the belts and it seemed to help, but next trip out we found the problem again.

A trip back to the Dealer and the problem was correctly found to be a bad engine brake actuator module. Easy fix, part in stock, covered under warranty. Check out the Test Ride Photo Gallery, and see what varying conditions we put the Prairie 650 through.

  • Contact Information

Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A.
PO Box 25252
Santa Ana, CA 92799-5252
Phone: 1-949-460-5688 Newsletter
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