The King is back
Barry Ashernhurst impressed by the Suzuki’s 500AXi Kingquad
Suzuki doesn’t brag about its Kingquad range of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and it doesn’t seem to advertise much either, yet the 500 we tested would be on a par with anything from any global manufacturer. It’s a mid-size machine so one of its most useful characteristics is manoeuvrability; it’ll get in and out of tight spots that would have a larger Polaris Sportsman
570 backing and filling. It handles nicely, steers accurately and is small enough to fit in the back of a Toyota Hilux. It’s also totally unintimidating. Outstanding!
But one thing will hobble this likeable ATV: at $13,500, it’s too expensive.
I don’t know how distributors work out their retail pricing – maybe with the same voodoo magic they work out tow ratings – but the Honda 420 auto with power-steering, a big seller in rural areas, goes out the door for about $12,000. Retail pricing is up and down, I know that, and is subject to various customer incentives, which bounce around like rubber balls from The Reject Shop, but I can’t sit here on my big fat pumpkin and tell you that the Suzuki has $1,500-worth of stuff the Honda doesn’t have.
I spoke to a motorcycle dealer in a large country town who sells both Honda and Suzuki. He told me that if the latest 500AXi sold for the same price as the Honda 420, he’d be selling them faster than Suzuki could truck ’em in. “The Suzuki’s a great machine,” he told me enthusiastically, and I agreed. “But at $13,500,” he added, “it’s way too expensive and there’s bugger-all we can do about it.”
NOW THE GOOD NEWS
Kingquads are built in Rome, Georgia (USA), in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Hillbilly country, where locals admit they’re 20 years behind the rest of the country and like it that way. Nevertheless, their Suzukis were upgraded for the 2019 model year (and you can read more about that in the box opposite).
In mechanical layout terms there’s nothing unexpected. The modern ATV is rigidly formulaic. The overhead cam single is fuelinjected and canted forward to lower the overall centre of gravity. The trannie is the customary V-belt auto with a guard-mounted shifter. Pushing the bar-mounted 4WD button gives you threewheel drive; engaging the diff lock gives you four-wheel drive. Suspension at both ends is independent, with double wishbones and coil springs.
Storage space at the front comprises a deep waterproof container with a round lid and looks like something you’d see on an oceangoing yacht. You can’t really mistake it for the fuel filler point, but apparently at least one man has. It might be urban myth, but as the story goes, one irate land owner (I didn’t say farmer) demanded that his dealer “come out here and fix this bloody new machine” because it wouldn’t start. When the dealer finally arrived and inspected the machine, he found that the barking-mad customer had pumped all the fuel into the front storage bin.
Two more small bins sit at the rear of the machine. The owner’s
It goes where you point it, an admirable trait in a machine with low pressure knobbies and a top speed of 100km/h.
manual, stashed in one of them, was still readable after we cut several laps of the Brisbane River, so these bins appear to be more or less waterproof.
Large mudguards help prevent gunk hitting you from the rear. They look a teensy bit gumby, but they work. There’s a square receiver hitch on this model, and on either side of it a pair of placid looking, 25-inch (635mm) Carlisle knobbies that are nowhere near as aggressive as the tyres Polaris specifies for the latest Sportsman 570. That’s neither good nor bad. Not everyone needs combat rubber. On the other hand, the Carlisles clogged quickly when dunked in a potent mixture of cow poo and mud, and, thus encumbered, were unable to get any grip at all on a big log we were trying to ride over.
Suzuki has a knack of making a quad (or road bike or dirt bike) feel instantly familiar. Controls are exactly where they should be, or within a smidge of an adjustable millimetre. The bars-seat-footpegs relationship is always spot-on too, so there’s no need for lengthy familiarisation. A Suzuki feels right as soon as you climb aboard. But the factory still likes to fiddle.
We were told the electronic power-steering has been tweaked, but we didn’t feel anything we didn’t feel the last time we tested one of these jiggers. They might have added a “higher output electronic power-steering system”, but we noticed nothing unusual about the steering because there was nothing unusual to notice; the
Suzuki has a knack of making a quad (or road bike or dirt bike) feel instantly familiar.
most sincere compliment we can come up with at short notice. Ride quality is what you’d expect in a mid-size quad: firm but not lumpy. The signature T-seat is certainly comfortable – who’d think that building a seat that shape would make such a difference, but it does – although we wouldn’t call the overall ride cushy. On rough ground that you’d ride sitting down on a Polaris or CanAm, you’d ride standing up on the Suzuki. That’s an observation not a criticism. And frankly, we know ATV users who any day of the week would swap cushiness for the direct handling of this Suzuki. It goes where you point it, an admirable trait in a machine with low pressure knobbies and a top speed of 100km/h. Suzuki says the geometry is set up with an understeer bias, to make the machine more agile, but we couldn’t tell. It certainly didn’t suffer the understeer we’ve felt on other brands.
The quad’s size and suspension layout enable it to turn tight and hang on. On fast farm roads or tracks it’s not twitchy and in low speed situations it changes direction easily. The engine gives you plenty of grunt, but is not throttle-sensitive, so you won’t experience sudden bursts of acceleration when you don’t need them, a trait too common in recreational ATVs forced into farm work.
The long and short of it is that we really like the 500AXi. It’s always more fun to write these stories when a machine has obvious faults that shouldn’t exist, like no power, lousy engine braking, poor build quality, or cup holders that come out of the dash with the cup. But the Suzuki suffers none of these. It’s functional, non-intimidating, well made, easy to operate and has excellent engine braking.
In all things that make a real difference it’s a splendid farm quad. If only they could do something about the price.
1. Two of the three storage bins.2. Shocks are now gas-over-coils, and the ride firmish. Steering and general handling are direct and we like that.3. Tyres are fairly passive 30cm Carlisle ATs. The radiator gets decent protection and so do CV joints.
4 & 6. Manoeuvrability and quietness are two of this 500’s useful traits. It won’t scare anyone5. Pushing the 4WD button gives you threewheel drive. Engaging the diff locks gives you four