Kymco updates its 500-class Utility ATV
With so much effort and attention being focused on new technology and keeping ahead of the competition, it’s easy for manufacturers to overlook their current lineup and let some models remain simply as is. We see time and time again a specific model go unchanged for years because all the attention is focused on a different machine or industry segment. Kymco is one manufacturer looking to make improvements across the board and this is evident with the release of the 2013 MXU500i.
In the battle for utility class supremacy, progress is the name of the game. New features and advancements in technology are keeping OEMs on their toes as they seek to remain competitive in this very dog-eat-dog class. More displacement, power steering and EFI are just a few of the advancements we’ve seen come to the utility segment in recent years, but more often than not the bulk of new technology goes into the latest offering, leaving older models unchanged and outdated.
Kymco USA recently invited us out to Concord, NC, home of the world famous Charlotte Motor Speedway, to get some seat time on the Taiwanese manufacturer’s 2013 lineup. Our base camp was located just down the road from the speedway and Kymco had an impressive display of all its new machines waiting for us upon our arrival.
With the release of its new 700i, it would have been easy to let the current 500 take a back seat to this brand new flagship ATV. Instead, Kymco grafted several of the same advancements in design from the 700i over to the 500i, giving it a boost of its own, starting with an all new look.
The new styling gives the 500i a much improved look over previous years and we feel it’s one of the more aggressive looking utility quads on the market. From a head-on view the automotive-inspired styling makes it look like a mini version of a fullsize Dodge or Ford pickup. In a side-by-side comparison, the 700 and 500 are virtually identical thanks to sharing not only the same body style, but also the same frame.
Engineers modified the previous frame by narrowing the front end and increasing the length of the control arms. The idea was to increase suspension travel and improve steering by making these changes to the frame’s geometry. Narrowing the frame also meant the motor would be positioned a little farther back, altering the machine’s center of gravity.
Although Kymco offered a limited edition version of the MXU500i last year, it made a few changes to the options available for the 2013 LE – opting to do away with the bulky storage box on the rear as well as the hand guards and gun rack. The 2013 LE model features a 3,000-pound capacity winch and cast aluminum alloy wheels. Mated to the wheels are new 26-inch Kenda all terrain tires, giving the MXU a larger footprint and more aggressive bite.
Our proving ground for the 500i was an eight-mile loop carved through a plot of land next to the speedway. Originally the property was to be development as a golf course community, but the slowing economy put a hold on the project so the speedway bought it and it’s been sitting ever since. We think it works better as an off-road area anyway, but we may be a little biased.
The terrain was a good variety of high-speed grassy trails mixed with tight woods, off-camber turns and some severely washed out sections with deep rain ruts. After a guided tour around the loop we were set free to explore on our own, test the machine and get the necessary photos. Our first stop was a small rock quarry with a few small hills and several ledges. Several large boulders and steep banks really tested the 500i’s climbing ability and everyone came away impressed. Put the MXU500i in low, engage the 4WD and you’ll climb just about anything you point it at. We were a little timid at first trying to climb some of the steep banks, but with a push of the throttle it walked right up, barely spinning a tire. The on-demand 4WD and differential lock is conveniently located on the handlebar right next the throttle. However, the push-and-turn knob almost demands you let go of the bar and use two fingers to engage it.
Although a bit heavy, the motor puts out around 36 hp and comes on smooth thanks to the electronic fuel injection. EFI has become an industry standard in the utility segment and we’re even beginning to see it on a good number of sport ATVs. The elimination of a choke and improved performance regardless of temperature or elevation is a luxury that’s difficult to pass up. A few of our test units developed a high pitch whining noise throughout the day as the engines heated up, but the mechanics told us they had received a batch of bad fuel pumps. They corrected the problem overnight and the noise was eliminated on our second day of testing.
As mentioned, power delivery is smooth and constant thanks to the CVT transmission. You have but to push the throttle and hang on as the machine will accelerate without hesitating until it reaches its top speed of about 55 miles an hour.
At high speeds over smooth terrain the 500i handles well and it’s not fatiguing trying to keep it on the trail. The oil dampened, five-point adjustable shocks feature 6.5 inches of travel and absorb the majority of bumps, though we managed to G-out a couple times when riding at high speeds. When tackling rougher terrain a little more aggressively we battled bump steer and fought to keep the wheels pointed in the right direction.
The independent rear suspension isn’t new for this quad, but we were happy with the inclusion of a sway bar on the rear of the ATV. IRS is great for soaking up bumps, but it can cause serious body roll when making sharp turns. The sway bar helped keep the quad planted and feeling upright in turns.
We rode primarily in dry, dusty conditions and the Kenda Pathfinder tires hooked up well on both loose as well as hard-packed soil. If you spend much time riding in wet or muddy conditions you might consider a more aggressive tread like the one found on the LE model.
Odds and Ends
From the cockpit, we found the MXU500i to be quite comfortable. The seat was plush and all the controls were within easy reach. Kymco includes two brake levers in addition to the foot pedal, which we can appreciate. If you’ve ever reached for a break lever that isn’t there you know what we’re talking about. The digital display features a fuel gauge, speedometer, odometer, trip meter and drive indicator.
If you like to take lots of stuff with you, the MXU500i comes with three storage compartments – one in each of the front fenders as well as one creatively placed under the right rear fender. You should have plenty of room for snacks, a tow strap, a small tool kit or whatever else you wish to have with you for a day of trail riding or working around the farm. The welded two-inch receiver hitch (rated at 1,050 lbs) is stout and looks to be much stronger than similar bolt-on hitches found on similar ATVs.
In its quest to provide a quality, competitive utility ATV to the cost-conscious consumer, we feel that Kymco is right on target. We’re ecstatic to see the 500i implement some of the advancements from the new 700i. The new styling provides a bold new look and we think its one of the best looking utility quads on the market.
Out of the box, the MXU500i is a great entry level midsize utility ATV. While we feel there is still some work to do regarding the suspension and steering to make it a better trail machine, in stock form it’s a fantastic workhorse for ranch and farm work or as a hunting unit. At $7,499 for the base model and $8,299 for the LE, it’s a great ATV to get you into the outdoors without breaking the bank.