Summary: I loved my Kawasaki rigs, but the Grizzly is a better machine for the kind of riding I do.
First, let’s talk about the electronic power steering. That’s probably the single largest difference, and it’s what everyone wants to know about.
Let me start by saying that the Grizzly I just bought had oversized wheels/tires on it. The steering was still super-easy. I replaced them with an aftermarket ITP/BigHorn combo in the stock sizes, and it got even easier.
Ease of Turning:
Yamaha Grizzly (EPS)
The EPS makes a REALLY big difference in how easy it is to turn the ATV. Whether you’re maneuvering through the woods on a narrow trail, or loading the ATV onto your trailer, the EPS makes it a lot more enjoyable.
Brute Force 650 (MacPherson Strut)
The Kawasaki Brute Force 650, with the MacPherson strut in front, turns pretty easily, but the EPS makes it SEEM hard by comparison.
Brute Force 750 (Double Wishbone)
The 2005-2007 Kawasaki Brute Force 750 had some serious front-end geometry problems, in my opinion. The 2008 model addressed these and is much better, but still lacks the ease of turning that the EPS provides. I understand that the newest BF750 has EPS. I have not had a chance to ride one, but I’m glad to hear it!
Yamaha Grizzly (EPS)
When you’re rolling slowly, hitting a rock or stump or log will still turn the handlebar with a bit of a jerk – that’s unavoidable, really. The EPS can’t tell the difference between a rider moving the handlebar really fast and hitting something at low speed. However, hitting something at low speed (under 5mph) doesn’t jerk the handlebar out of your hand, try to rip your thumb off, nail you in the gut with the grip, or send you spinning off the trail. At higher speeds, the EPS really kicks in and makes itself known. I swapped ATVs with a friend for about ¼ mile over a really rocky, bumpy section of trail at Evans Creek, and by the time he stopped and waited for me, I was ready to beg for my Grizzly back.
Brute Force 650 (MacPherson Strut)
Brute Force 750 (Double Wishbone)
I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the BF650 with the struts and the BF750 with the double wishbone as far as “stump steering” is concerned. They both regularly jerked the handlebar out of my hands.
Miscellaneous Weird Noises:
One thing that has bothered me about all of the Kawasaki ATVs that have the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and Electronic Braking Control (EBC) is the amount of miscellaneous noises the ATV makes. If you ride a BF down a steep bumpy hill, you hear all sorts of unpleasantness from it. Loud clicking noises that coincide with every bump come up from under there somewhere (can’t tell exactly where). A tortured whirring sound comes from the EBC actuator. If you’re going fast down a hill, like on a service road, and you tap the rear brake, the EBC kicks in noisily and sometimes you hear a really awful shrieking noise as the belt firms up against the drive pulley. Also, when I shift the Kawasaki units into gear, if the RPMs are a little high just then (which happens a lot), there is this awful “C-C-C-C-C-CLACK!!” noise as the thing shifts into gear.
Before you say that the shifter or the CVT or the EBC must be out of adjustment, let me just mention that I have noted this effect on a green 2005 Prairie 360, a red 2006 Prairie 360, a red 2005 Brute Force 650, a 2005 camo Brute Force 650, a 2006 camo Brute Force 650, and a red 2005 Brute Force 750. Every single one of them did it. I asked the service manager at the dealer to look at one of them, and the adjustment didn’t change this effect.
I don’t hear any awful noises like that from the Grizzly. I do hear some high pitched squeaks and chirps, mostly at very low speeds, and the occasional sound like chewing on a rubber band. These sounds, I believe are coming from the disc brakes. The thing about these sounds though, is that they do NOT sound as if the ATV’s engine is tearing itself apart, or sound as the suspension is coming unbolted from the frame.
Now, I realize that these are just noises. We’ve ridden the crap out of all of those aforementioned Kawasaki ATVs, and with the exception of when we excessively abuse them or neglect them, they don’t break down. They’re JUST unpleasant noises – but given a choice, I’d rather not hear them.
- Disc Brakes
The Yamaha Grizzly has disc brakes all around, instead of the wet brake system the Kawasaki ATVs have. When the brakes are dry, they work extremely well. Hats off to them. When they’re wet, not as good, but still good enough.
- Wet Brakes
The Brute Force ATVs (and the Prairies) have discs in the front, and the wet brake system in the back. We like the wet brake system a lot. It performs consistently well, no matter what you’ve been riding through. I don’t want to know how much it costs to replace them, but we’ve never had to, so there you go.
- Parking Brakes
The Grizzly doesn’t really have a parking brake system. You have to put the transmission into “Park”, at which point it locks the transmission. Better hope that hill’s not too steep. Better yet, make sure you’re in 4WD when you park it on a hill. I’m not terribly impressed with this. It worked pretty well for me while in 4WD on my first ride, and it was a pretty steep hill – but I was nervous. When I could, I parked with the bumper against a tree.
The Kawasaki ATVs have a very simple parking brake. Pull the brake handle and clip it in place. Done. As long as your brakes are adjusted properly, the parking brake does a great job. If you have to park and dismount in a hurry (because your riding buddy has a leg trapped under his ATV), I much prefer the Kawasaki parking brake.
Kawasaki wins in the parking brake department.
4WD and Differential Lock:
The Grizzly wins this one hands down. As with the Kawasaki, the 4WD is just a push-button away. Once you’re in 4WD, it becomes possible to slide a lever, which uncovers the diff lock button. Push that button, and you’re locked. It’s pretty easy and reliable. I have also noticed that the Grizzly seems to do a better job of actually getting itself into 4WD quickly after I have pushed that button. More reliably than the Kawasaki ATVs.
Getting the Kawasaki into 4WD can sometimes be a challenge in itself. You just toggle the switch – but wait, why hasn’t it switched into 4WD? Sometimes you have to rock the ATV (if you’re not on a hill) or roll a few feet. Stuck in a hole? Have fun trying to get it to engage. Hope you’re not spinning the wheels too fast when it engages (clunk!). I’m not a fan of the external activators (solenoids) Kawasaki uses to get the machines into and out of 4WD.
The Kawasaki diff lock is so simple that hardly anything could go wrong with it, which is good, but that’s about all that is good about it. You have to pull a yellow lever on the left handlebar to activate it, and keep pulling it until you’re done. If you’re trying to climb out of a tippy mud hole or over some really big rocks, having to keep your hand in a position where one finger can hold that lever tight is very inconvenient. Also, this lever requires adjustment, and it is difficult to know when you have it adjusted right. Some people like the ability to vary the pressure on the diff lock. Me, If I need that front diff locked, I need it LOCKED!
Electronic Fuel Injection:
The electronic fuel injection is great because you don’t need to use a choke, and you don’t have to fiddle with your idle speed or worry about the engine dying because you just chilled it by riding through a hundred yards of knee-deep ice water. As an “it just works” feature, fuel injection is great. Of course, there is a potential weakness there. If the battery is dead (or nearly dead), the fuel system will not deliver.
The 2008 Kawasaki Brute Force also has fuel injection. The older ones do not.
I won’t buy a new ATV or UTV, or even a street motorcycle without EFI. I’m done with carburetors.
I liked having that backup on the Brute Force and the Prairie. We used it more than a few times on a Prairie that had a charging system problem (may that ATV rest in pieces). On our Brute Force ATVs, we never used the recoil starter to actually START the thing except as practice to make sure it still worked. Mostly, we used it to expel water from the cylinders after removing the spark plugs when we drowned them.
The Grizzly does not have a recoil starter. I’ve never missed it.
Independent Rear Suspension
The independent rear suspension maximizes ground clearance, which can be very useful in mud holes left by jeeps. Most times, when we are stuck in the mud (or snow), it is because the rear gear case has bottomed out, and the wheels are spinning. Having the independent rear suspension means it take a MUCH larger hump between two ruts to make this happen. It also provides the surest footing available (short of tracks) for challenging ground shapes like big rocks, holes that like to flip your ATV, etc.
Most of the Brute Force 650 ATVs do not have this. There are a few, but they seem to be quite rare. This is much more common in the Brute Force 750.
One thing that my friend and I noticed about the Kawasaki vehicles (bikes and ATVs) and we joke about (because you’ve got to laugh) is that it’s not really “broken in” until something has rattled loose. Consequently, one of the first things I noticed about the Grizzly is that the plastics are held together with bolts and NYLON LOCKNUTS. Kawasaki can’t be bothered with nylon locknuts. They seem to think it is better to sell more nuts/bolts in the parts channel.
Another thing I noticed when checking out a storage compartment on the Grizzly was that its screw-on cap had a string attached to it so you don’t lose the lid. Looking closer, I found a drain plug on the bottom of that compartment – also with a string attached. The same string, in fact. Someone thought that one all of the way through (pun intended). It’s a small thing perhaps, but it’s a nice touch.
So there you have it. From big stuff to little stuff, I am impressed with how Yamaha put the Grizzly together. In fact, I am more impressed with the Grizzly’s engineering than I am with how Kawasaki puts the Brute Force and the Prairie together – and that’s saying something!
Additional notes from another Brute Force owner:
Another BF650 owner, who has “ridden the hell out of” a 2WD Bayou 250, Prairie 360, and Brute Force 650 and loves each in its own way, says that the Grizzly manages to simultaneously incorporate the three most desirable things that Kawasaki has not yet been able to incorporate into a single ATV (as of 2008). These are:
1. Steering stabilization via EPS (not available on Kawasaki sport/utility ATVs yet).
2. Good turning radius.
3. Independent rear suspension.