October 20, 2009
Suzuki Kingquad 550: Royal Family
We Test Ride the new Suzuki KingQuad 500 AXI with Power Steering.
We have always loved the Suzuki King Quad lineup. So much so, in fact, that we’ve named more than one model ATV of the Year in its class, and through the years the family has expanded both in displacement and in number. With every new model in the royal family comes very high expectations set by the ones before it however, and it’s not an easy reputation to live up to. We couldn’t wait to give the all new KingQuad 500 AXi with Power Steering a thorough test and see if it was worthy of the family name.
It’s no accident every member of the KingQuad family designed since 2005 looks the same; they all share a chassis and bodywork that is for the most part identical. To the factory, this means extremely efficient manufacturing, but for the consumer it’s a bonus as well, since the original platform is still one of the best utility ATV designs on the market. It has also been our experience with the KingQuad 700, 750 and 450 that in addition to riding well they are extremely reliable, and our original KingQuad 700, which now has more than 2000 miles on it has never let us down. A big part of that is our regular maintenance routine, but that consists of nothing more than keeping a clean air filter and regular oil changes, and if that is too much effort for some riders, they probably don’t deserve a KingQuad anyway.
We’ve always liked the bodywork of the KingQuad for two important reasons. The first is that the injection-molded bodywork on the Suzuki has proven to be very pliable, and we don’t know how far you would have to bend it before it cracks. We did get the usual scratches from ordinary use, but nothing that we don’t see on every model we test. The second major reason we’ve always appreciated the Suzuki bodywork is that doesn’t get in the way of the rider while underway, or even while hopping on or off. It’s easy to access and easy to use! On the right side of the front fender is also a handy sealed compartment for anything you don’t want to get wet, and just above it is a 12 volt accessory outlet for an extra spotlight or whatever else might need a portable power source. Under the rear fenders is another water resistant storage compartment, and although the Suzuki does not offer as much sealed storage as some comparable models, it’s adequate for most situations. For hauling large quantities of gear like on a camping or hunting expedition, the front and rear steel racks can handle about anything you can pile on them, and luckily these have been placed to not interfere with the rider as well. Bodywork on the Suzuki extends all the way down to a sturdy, serrated foot peg, and just below are the floorboards, which have large drain holes for any mud and water to pass through. For all but the most extreme conditions, consider yourself well protected.
Underneath the KingQuad 500 bodywork is a high tensile strength steel frame with fully independent suspension at all four corners. Dunlop 25” tires featuring a unique tread pattern are fitted to great-looking aluminum wheels, and although we bent a rear rim by catching a rock, the rolled lip design provides excellent strength for all but the most extreme riding. Braking at the front end is via hydraulic discs, and at the rear there is an enclosed oil bath multi-disc system that we doubt you will ever wear out.
Engine & transmission
The engine on the KingQuad 500 AXI is an updated version of the 450cc power plant released a couple years ago. That is great with us since the 450cc KingQuad is one of the most, reliable, easy to control utility ATVs on the market, and whether heading out to the farm on work duty, or for a trail ride through the north woods, the KingQuad 450 has always been one of our first choices. One of the best features about the KingQuad 500cc engine is the fuel injection system, and it lets the motor run flawlessly regardless of temperature or elevation from right off idle all the way through the top end. Although it doesn’t have the same grunt as its 750cc big brother, it’s definitely not lacking for power either and no test rider ever complained that the engine disappointed them. Throttle response is excellent, and it’s very predictable and extremely easy to ride. Underneath the seat, the battery and electronics tray can be found so maintenance should be no problem, but should things ever go badly and the battery dies, there is a backup pull starter on the left side of the engine. We’ve never used it, but it’s nice to have an option. Regular maintenance such as oil changes and air filter cleaning are easy enough, and to check radiator fluid now and then, there is a little access door in the front bodywork, just above the radiator cap. Even the rear differential has a dipstick right where you need it!
The transmission on the KingQuad 500 AXi is a CVT system, which Suzuki calls “QuadMatic”, and it features a V-belt and centrifugal clutch system similar to that found on most utility ATVs. The belt spins on two variable-pitch pulleys, which based on engine RPM and load, constantly adjust themselves to keep you in the heart of the power band necessary for the job at hand. Gear selection on the automatic transmission is the best in the business and is as simple as sliding the left hand lever out of Neutral and into either High, Low, or Reverse. It always has positive engagement and works perfectly, and one thing we really like about the Suzuki transmission over other models, is that you don't have to take your right hand off the bars to shift. This is especially great for plowing snow or anything that requires lots of shifting from forward to reverse. Simply grab a brake, and then slip it into gear and go. When the trail gets slippery and you need a little extra traction, 4WD can be engaged by pressing a button just above your right thumb. If things get really bad, a flick of your thumb will engage the differential lock, and if it gets any worse, then look for a way around or find some friends with a winch. Just remember that when shifting into 4wd or engaging the differential lock, it is best to do so when stopped or at very low rpm and NOT with the wheels spinning wildly!
Ergonomics across the KingQuad family are very good, and whether it’s the 750, 450, or now the 500 AXi, everything is exactly where it needs to be. In the center of the handlebars is an easy spot to read digital display, which shows what gear you are in: mph, engine status, fuel, and trip mileage, both per trip and total. In front of your right knee are a 12 volt accessory outlet and a small, sealed compartment that should keep dry anything inside it. To the left is the greatest gear shifter on any utility ATV. With a flip of the key, the fuel injection pump spins to life and a second after you hit the start button, the engine does as well. It is time to hit the trail!
Before any of the test riders made it ten feet, they would stop to comment on the electronic power steering. The Electronic Power Steering is immediately noticeable, and it completely overshadows the other great features of the Suzuki, at least until you get several miles down the trail and get used to it. The Suzuki Power steering system works by measuring the force applied to the wheel in the turn, and then by applying just enough counterforce to give you a little assist. Feel and feedback is excellent. It felt tight and never disconnected or became too loose. After trying several other competing models with power steering, we can say the Suzuki power steering system provides the perfect amount of turning assist, but also the right amount of feedback so that you still feel connected to the terrain. The other great feature is that it also works in the opposite direction to take up any sudden impact that would ordinarily jamb your hand like when you clip a tree along the trail. On the trail, the 500 AXi feels light and nimble despite weighing almost as much as the 750 and very little body roll was noticed until we really pushed it into tight corners, and even then it was very controlled. Suspension action is quite good also, but it can get a little bouncy in the deep whoops. We also tested the Suzuki around the farm hauling a small trailer and even a lawn roller, and we have yet to find a task it can’t handle. The 500 AXi may not have the same hit as its big brother 750 Axi, but whether on work duty or on a weekend trail ride, it has more than enough power to get the job done.
A couple of things...
We want you to know everything before you hand your dealer a check, and as great as the KingQuad 500 AXi is, there are a couple things we would change.
Since our review of the original KingQuad 700 several years ago we have been complaining about access to the dip stick for an easy oil check. Regular maintenance is extremely important, and it seems odd that the rear differential oil is super easy to check, but to get to the engine oil dip stick, a panel must be removed, and to make matters worse, the panel is held by those annoying little push-pin style plastic fasteners. It would be incredibly easy to mold a little access area in the panel cover and make oil checks easier for everyone, but apparently this is not understood in Japan. Until that happens, we will keep taking our Sawz-All to their panel and make our own hole, and we will keep asking everyone with an “S” on their shirt why we have to.
The second area we would make a change to the Suzuki, is with the tires. The stock tires are a compromise that is intended to provide a good ride, but they definitely lack for traction. In loose terrain or sand, the front tires tend to slide or push, and in mud, they don’t get much bite. The rear tires have a large center bar which helps make a smooth ride on hard terrain, but on anything loose or slippery, they will easily spin, and we can’t recommend them anywhere. Do yourself a favor and change the tires to make your Suzuki an even better machine than it already is. If you’re intent on running a stock style tire, go for the excellent tires found on the Polaris Sportsman 500 which provide excellent ride, handling, and traction. Don’t go overboard, however, and slap on the biggest mud tire you can find and then expect to do a lot of easy trail riding. Big tires with very aggressive tread patterns will often make the front end push in corners, and they can be hard on drive line components.
Long live the King!
We expected a lot out of the new Suzuki. The family bloodline held promise for a very good ATV, and the new KingQuad 500 AXi may be the best model yet. It shares the same traits of excellent ergonomics, perfect shifting, a strong, smooth motor and excellent long term reliability with other members of the KingQuad family, but the addition of power steering makes it incredibly easy to ride all day. We also believe the power steering system has made the front end a little less twitchy in the whoops, and regardless of size, riding experience or gender, EVERY test rider raved about the Suzuki KingQuad 500 AXi. After several hundred miles of testing over all types of terrain, it has proven itself worthy of the royal family name, and you can bet anytime we are off on work duty or just for a long week-end trail ride, the Suzuki KingQuad 500 AXi will be one of our first picks.