First Ride: Kawasaki's New RIDGE Sport Utility SxS

Eli Madero
by Eli Madero

When you want to tackle the trails into the great outdoors, but still want to have some of the conveniences of your daily driver, Kawasaki has you covered with their new RIDGE Side x Side. If you're looking for the sportiness and speed of a supercar inspired UTV, this isn't for you, but if you want the comfort of an enclosed cab with a well functioning HVAC system, it's time to make space in your garage for a new toy.

The RIDGE was designed for off-road enthusiasts who want a durable machine that is as comfortable as it is tough for a full day in the field, yet can also be used for a fun day or three out in the wild. This means a chassis and solid engine package that are as comfort as the vehicle you use to commute to work, with the performance of a solid off-road vehicle.

Kawasaki set out to achieve this goal starting with an all new in-line 4-cylinder engine that is rubber mounted to an all new chassis. Even though Kawasaki came out with a new 999cc large-bore twin-cylinder engine for the popular Mule lineup, it was found, like with most big-bore twin engines, the power they produced had a trade-off with lots of vibration that could be felt everywhere on the machine. The new in-line 4-cylinder engine found in the RIDGE was specifically designed to produce strong usable without feeling it through the chassis for a smooth and quiet ride when compared to other comparable displacement engines.

To keep in line with rider/driver comfort in the cab, the engine is mostly mounted under the rear utility bed of the RIDGE, and the exhaust system is routed directly out to the rear of the vehicle. This minimizes the amount of heat that gets transferred into the cab area of the unit. To further reduce engine heat and sound to the cab area, the exhaust system also utilizes a dual heat shield.

The intake of the engine features a single 52mm throttle body mated to a large intake plenum with fairly long runners to the individual intake ports of the cylinder head. This design delivers crisp throttle response and plenty of low end torque for when you need the RIDGE to utilize its 1,000 bed load capacity or 2,000 lb towing capacity. Also knowing that the RIDGE models would be equipped with HVAC systems, amongst other power robbing accessories that owners love to install, the engine features a large capacity1,200W generator to help power everything.

As much as I enjoy talking about the engines performance, one thing I really appreciate that Kawasaki has done on the RIDGE is make engine maintenance simple. If you look at the top shot of the engine (above) you can see the oil filler cap right on the top of the valve cover, which you access by lifting the bed. The drain is easy to access under the engine, and the oil filter is within easy reach through the rear passenger side wheel well.

The air filter is also easily accessible by lifting the seat base of the passenger seat and pulling an access panel.

At this time, there are two different versions of the Kawasaki Ridge. There is a base model RIDGE and the RIDGE XR. There's a reason that I'm bringing this up while talking about the engine. The standard RIDGE models comes to the table with a 92 hp engine package, where as the RIDGE XR boasts an impressive 116 hp. When asked if there were any difference in the engine, I was explained that the engines in both of the models are exactly the same but the increase in hp was done through ECU tuning and a higher flow muffler insert on the XR. At this time, there will be no option for owners of a standard RIDGE to purchase any kind of option for a performance tune. Both models have a power mode selection switch that allows you to alter the throttle response of the drive-by-wire throttle system. Work mode slightly delays the throttle response to reduce the jerky feeling you get at slow speeds when working. Sport mode gives you that instant throttle response you want when driving aggressively and you want the sportiest field possible, while Normal mode gives you the best of both worlds.

When you purposely build an engine for maximum comfort, you need to build an equally comfortable chassis to mount it to. The RIDGE chassis features a ladder-type construction from high-quality square steel tubing for strength but still allows for the best balance of lateral and torsional stiffness to provide the perfect amount of chassis flex. The 64" width and 90.7" wheelbase provide a good amount of stability in corners and plush ride in the straights at any speed. Knowing that this machine is going to be used in some rough terrain for play, it has an adequate 14.7 inches of ground clearance. Both have twin piston brakes up front and a single piston on the rear wheels to provide more than enough braking in low and high speed situations.

Currently, all of the RIDGE models are limited to either a 2 or 3 person capacity. The RIDGE features a three person bench seat with the option to pull down the backing of the center seat and use as an armrest for a 2-passenger option. The RIDGE XR is only offered with a 2-person configuration with some of the most comfortable factory installed bucket seats that I've felt. Electronic power steering is standard on both models as is a large 7" TFT LCD screen that gives you all of the crucial information you want and need in a dash.

All the hype around the RIDGE really should be focused on the HVAC equipped models. These come with a full cab enclosure that has glass windows all around, including the power door windows. The HVAC provides an ample amount of heat in the cold and refreshing cool air when its hot through a vent system that seems like it was taken from your daily driver. The front windshield features a single blade windshield wiper and a washer squirter so you can clean those dusty windows while you're driving. The system also features a cabin filter to keep the dust out and clean air in.

I had the chance to take both models out for a quick spin today at Wild Horse Pass raceway in Phoenix, AZ. While this wasn't a full blow evaluation, it gave me and a handful of other media personnel the opportunity to see just what the RIDGE could do and how comfortable it was. It was a rainy day so the fact that Kawasaki had the HVAC models with full cab enclosures was much appreciated. Within minutes of starting the engine, warm air started blowing out of the vents and made the cab nice and toasty. The engine lives up to their claim of being quiet and having minimal vibration. You could easily have a conversation with someone next to you even when on the gas and the exhaust note was low and quiet.

The course we were given to drive on was short and packed with deep muddy ruts so it was a crash course. The motor seemed to pull strong, but there was a signifiant difference from the 92 hp RIDGE to the 116 hp of the XR. The claimed top speed is 75 mph and I was able to get to 58 in a fairly long straightaway we had to drive on. The suspension felt smooth in the rough, while it did seem to have the feeling of a bit of body roll in the corners when driven hard. It could be a lack of a sway bar(s), squishiness of the the Duro tire sidewall (6-ply on the RIDGE and 8 on the XR), or the additional weight of the hard cab enclosure. Not enough to be a deterring factor of driving or buying, but it was noticeable while I was in it.

Overall this seems to be a hit from Kawasaki with a huge amount of anticipation leading up to their North American Dealer Meeting. Each model has different trim packages with varied options and price points, which you can view at, but we'll have a full in-depth ride review in just a few weeks that will surely give this machine its due diligence.

Discuss this story on our Kawasaki Ridge forum

Eli Madero
Eli Madero

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