2009 Kawasaki Prairie 360 4×4 Review

Lucas Cooney
by Lucas Cooney
Rugged utility ATV can go just about anywhere

It may not be the biggest and baddest thing on four wheels, but there is something very appealing about the Kawasaki Prairie 360 4×4. We had the opportunity to put some miles on Kawasaki’s smallest 4×4 and it proved to be an eye-opening experience.

We tested out the Prairie, along with the Brute Force 650 and 750 4x4i, at the Mines & Meadows ATV/RV Resort in Western Pennsylvania. Shockingly, it was the little Prairie that stood out most among the big bore offerings from Team Green.

Kawasaki’s proven 362cc air-cooled, single cylinder, 4-stroke engine powers the Prairie. Though it’s never going to snap your neck back when you the squeeze the throttle, the Prairie accelerates smoothly and has an impressive amount of low-end grunt for this class. More impressive is the class-leading 1,100-pound towing capacity.

Kawasaki’s entry-level 4x4 surprised us with its ability to keep up with the big boys.

Kawasaki’s entry-level 4×4 surprised us with its ability to keep up with the big boys.

What helps the Prairie make the most of every last bit of its power is an advanced four-wheel drive system – available at the push of a button. If you just want to fly around the trails and let the rear wheels drift around the corners, you can keep it in two-wheel drive. However, if you want to tackle more challenging terrain or need to add some traction if you’re working around your property just switch it over to four-wheel drive mode and you’re ready to go.

Just squeeze the yellow diff-lock lever for as much or as little extra traction as you require.

Just squeeze the yellow diff-lock lever for as much or as little extra traction as you require.

Kicking it up another notch is the limited-slip front differential, which keeps the steering reasonably light. When the situation calls for maximum traction a Kawasaki feature we really like is the variable front differential control. You access this very progressive system by squeezing a lever on the left handlebar just above the brake lever. When you need full traction and are worried less about steering just squeeze the lever all the way. If you require some additional traction but need more steering control just squeeze the lever about half way. We can’t say enough about how much we like this differential control system. Other ATVs have easier to use push-button diff locks, but this one really makes you feel like you have that extra bit of control.

The combination of four-wheel drive and the variable front differential control combine to make the Prairie a go-anywhere ATV. You don’t often think of a 360cc ATV being an adept climber, but the Prairie proved otherwise.

The best example of the Prairie’s climbing prowess we can come up with occurred when we were trying to scale a steep, rocky hill on a big Brute Force 650. As we were taking our time looking for the right line, somebody from Kawasaki flew up the course on the Prairie to show us the way. We’re no great rock climbers and surely a more adept rider could have made short work of that hill, but to see the Prairie 360 4×4 climb over everything we were struggling with on the Brute Force made us appreciate what it could do.

The Prairie 360 4x4 will go just about anywhere you’d need it to.

The Prairie 360 4×4 will go just about anywhere you’d need it to.

Even with it’s go-anywhere personality, some of you who are used to riding big 800cc machines will probably be left wanting more power and top speed, but that’s not who this ATV is made for. The Prairie 360 4×4 is an ideal ATV for somebody new to the sport and because it’s such a good all around quad we don’t think it’s something you’d grow out of for quite some time.

Stability is very good thanks in part to the Prairie’s 47.4-inch width – 1.5 inches wider than the Brute Force 750. That wide footprint gives you confidence as soon as you throw a leg over the seat. It seems lighter and more flickable that the bigger Brute Force, but the specs tell a different story. Both units weigh in at about 605 pounds dry. That’s a lot of weight for lower-displacement ATV, but it was hard to feel it during our test.

Getting the rear wheels to slide around a corner is no problem.

Getting the rear wheels to slide around a corner is no problem.

Helping to cushion your ride is a MacPherson strut front suspension with 6.7 inches of travel. You’ll find more modern front suspension systems (independent double A-arms), but MacPherson struts have a proven track record and offer a smooth ride. All the way through 2008 that’s all Polaris used on its Sportsman line of utility ATVs – some of the best selling and best performing in the business. Also, because MacPherson struts have been around for a while using them keeps costs down.

One possible bone of contention with the Prairie is the rear swingarm with a single adjustable shock. Having fully independent rear suspension would be beneficial, but the straight axle is not a bad option for new riders. It’s easier to hold a line in a whooped-out section of trail and you can attack corners more aggressively. You do lose a little ground clearance – the Prairie has 7.7-inches of clearance at the rear axle – but try finding a trail you can’t tackle with the Prairie that you could with an IRS equipped unit.

Stopping power comes courtesy of dual disc brakes up front and Kawasaki’s very effective sealed, oil-bathed multi-disc system in the back. Kawasaki uses that sealed rear brake system on just about every vehicle in its lineup and it’s great at keeping mud, dust, water, and other debris away from your brakes. There’s practically no maintenance with this system, which means you can ride more and spend less time in the garage. Engine braking is also standard and it’s a great tool for helping you slow down in a steep descent – you don’t have to be as precise with the brake levers so you can concentrate more on steering.

Use the engine braking to help slow you down on a descent.

Use the engine braking to help slow you down on a descent.

Prairie owners get some additional utility from the standard front and rear cargo racks that can carry a combined weight of 242 pounds. You can strap down more than enough gear for a camping trip or you could haul just about anything around your property.

At $5,349 the Prairie 360 4×4 is right near the bottom of the price scale for this class from major manufacturers. It comes in $50 less than the Yamaha Grizzly 350 4×4, $150 less than the Suzuki KingQuad 400 AS, and $350 less than the Polaris Sportsman 400 H.O. You can get the Prairie without the 4×4 option for $550 less ($4,799), but we think it’s worth spending the extra cash on four-wheel drive.

If you’re looking to break into the utility ATV segment, you should definitely put the Prairie 360 4×4 on your short list. Even if you’re not a beginner, the Prairie would be a fun addition to your garage – especially as a utility companion to a sport quad. You won’t win any races against the big boys, but you’ll have a lot more money in your wallet.

Kawasaki Prairie 360 4×4 Specifications
2009 Kawasaki Brute Force 650 4x4i Review

2008 Kawasaki Brute Force 750 Review

Mines & Meadows ATV Park Review

Lucas Cooney
Lucas Cooney

I have been working exclusively in digital media since 1997. I started out with TSN.ca, spending nearly nine years creating and editing content on Canada's leading sports website. I left to join VerticalScope, Inc., one of the world's largest online publishers, to start a number of powersports publications. While at VerticalScope, I've helped create and oversee content for a wide variety of different publications, including ATV.com, Off-Road.com, ArcheryTalk.com, Tractor.com, RVGuide.com, and many more.

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