New upgrades and "baja" package for a great multi-purpose side-by-side
With nearly all manufacturers making moves to establish themselves in the UTV market, ignoring this segment completely would be foolish. Kymco USA has been steadily gaining ground in the ATV industry in recent years and to further solidify the brand, released the UXV 500i in 2009. Their first go around was a great entry level side-by-side, capable of working on the farm as well as getting out on the trail for some off-road fun.
While they may lack the notoriety and reputation of other major manufacturers, Kymco is no newbie to the off-road industry and has been providing components as well as complete units for other notable OEMs for years. Chances are pretty good you’ve seen or spent some time on a Kymco product without even knowing it. Today, Kymco is carving its own little niche as a quality yet affordable option for consumers looking to experience the outdoors on a budget.
We were recently invited out to Charlotte Motor speedway for a couple days of testing the 2013 lineup of ATVs and side-by-sides. We were introduced to a brand new MXU 700i utility quad as well as several other models that received a few upgrades. Though we didn’t see a new big bore side-by-side (had our fingers crossed) we were pleased to see some upgrades and add-on options for the current UXV 500i. We’re pretty confident that it will only be a matter of time before we get to see a UTV housing that new 695cc engine.
The first vehicle they introduced us to was the upgraded UXV 500i SP complete with a “baja” package. This isn’t the actual name of the unit but we were told that was the theme engineers were going for when deciding which accessories to include on the machine for 2013. A spare tire rack, ½ windshield and light bar complete with four high output LED headlights are the most obvious additions and probably the greatest contributors to the “baja” look. As a nice touch, the spare tire comes with the same 14-inch custom alloy wheel found all the way around the machine. 26-inch Kenda Bounty Hunter tires are matted to the new wheels to give the machine a larger footprint. The Kendas grip better than the stock rubber and to compensate for the taller tires, engineers changed the gearing on the SP to increase torque over the base model.
The SP will likely appeal more to the sport crowd as the dump bed is no longer operational with the tire rack installed. The bed also features a cargo net instead of the standard tailgate. We really like the view from the rear as the cargo net and the spare tire rack give it that sort of trophy truck look. Out front the SP also features a 3,000 pound capacity winch in the event you end up getting yourself into a situation you can’t quite get out of.
Our proving ground was a mixture of tight trails, old roads and grassy slopes with some small elevation changes. Though not an actual riding area it provided enough diversity to test the UXV 500i in a number of situations.
As mentioned, the UXV 500i is a great multipurpose side-by-side. It’s capable of handling the rigors of farm work while remaining sporty enough to trail ride at a pretty good pace. We had the opportunity to test both the carbureted and fuel injected models and the difference was night and day. The carbureted model is quite sluggish however we realize Kymco is trying to keep costs low for the consumer. For someone using it solely as a workhorse, EFI might be unnecessary but we had more fun and certainly appreciated the quicker acceleration of the EFI equipped machine. The 499cc engine puts out just 36 horsepower and tops out at about 55 mph but we felt the power was very usable for the trails and terrain we were on.
On-demand 4WD is as simple as the push of a button located to the left of the steering wheel. The CVT transmission features a differential lock which came in handy in the rough and washed out portions of the trail however the plastic lever, reminiscent of an old school choke, seems a little hokey. The transmission shifted smoothly which we appreciate having had to start, stop and reverse quite a bit for photos through the day. The UXV features a maintenance-free sealed shaft drive system complete with engine braking. Dual hydraulic brakes up front and a single shaft-mounted hydraulic brake in the rear worked well and allowed us to slow down quickly. Mashing on the brake pedal would sometimes cause the machine to bounce and skid as the engine braking would try and take over.
Handling and suspension are sufficient with 7.5 inches of travel at all four corners with dual A-arms and the rear end features a sway bar to keep the machine from rolling in turns. The only time we were the least bit concerned with tipping was when we cranked it hard on a grassy left hand turn and ended up drifting a complete 180 degree rotation, coming to a stop facing the opposite direction. Even in the out of control slide the machine felt stable thanks to its 59 inch wide stance.
The cab is pretty standard and features cup holders, a digital display for speed, rpm, an odometer, trip meter, clock and fuel gauge as well as a drive indicator. The SP model comes with two-tone washable seat covers giving it a bit of a trick look over the LE and the base models. The seats were comfortable though taller riders noticed the bottom portion of the headrest hit them on the back of the shoulders when they would recline all the way back.
One thing we think needs serious addressing are the lack of hand holds for the passenger. There is one located along the top frame rail and another directly to the right of the passenger but both of these locations put the passenger’s hand right next to the outer rail in the event of a rollover. There is no place for the passenger’s left hand to hold and we were surprised at the absence of the sissy bar, usually found directly in front of the passenger. That seems like the easiest and safest location to provide a secure hand hold for a second rider.
There is plenty of storage between the locking glove box and the huge storage compartment under the front hood. We wouldn’t recommend submerging it, but it definitely kept the majority of dirt and water out. Additional storage can be found in a small compartment under the seat.
While there were no significant performance upgrades to the UXV over last year we think Kymco is continuing down the right path of offering a cost-effective product that will appeal to a wide range of users. We had probably the most fun rock crawling through severely washed out sections of the trail. With a quick flip of the diff-lock switch, the UXV could crawl up and over some serious terrain.
We’d like to see the lack of hand holds addressed to give the passenger something more substantial to hold onto well inside of the roll cage. More power is never a bad thing but as is, the UXV500i, be it the base, the LE or the new SP version is a great entry level UTV. Hunters, farmers and those interested in a work oriented side-by-side will be very pleased and even if you’re itching to test the waters of the sport side-by-side world, the UXV will allow you to get out on the trail for a lot less than the competition.
In the mean time, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a side-by-side that makes use of that brand new 695cc engine. As hard as Kymco is working to stay involved in the game, we’re confident it will only be a matter of time.