Midsized 4x4s not only offer a great price advantage over open-class four-bys, but theyâ€™re a lot easier to ride due to size, power and weight reductions. Letâ€™s face it, there are few situations where youâ€™ll actually need all the power of an Arctic Cat 1000 or Can-Am 800. Many people will never ride in the extreme conditions where youâ€™ll need all of that displacement and power, and thatâ€™s why the midsized 4x4 class is so popular. Why pay for power youâ€™ll rarely need or carry around all of the extra weight? Thatâ€™s why every manufacturer makes at least one 350-450cc 4x4. In fact, this class is so popular and populated that weâ€™re splitting it for 2008. Weâ€™ll shoot out the 400-450cc 4x4s (Arctic Cat 400, Can-Am 400HO, Honda 420, Polaris 400HO, KingQuad 400, Grizzly and Wolverine 450s) in a later issue, but this shootout will pit the welterweight Yamaha Grizzly 350 against the Kawasaki Prairie 360 4x4.
HOW DO COSTS
There are actually three Grizzly 350s: the 4x4 IRS for $5599 (camo is $5949), 4x4 swingarm at $5099 (camo is $5449) and the 2x4 swingarm for $4199. The standard Prairie 360 4x4 is $5199, while the camo version is $5599. The IRS Grizzly weighs 27 pounds less than the Prairie, but the Kawasaki has more travel, variable differential lock, dual ranges and 14cc more displacement. We chose the IRS Yamaha to see if its added ground clearance could give it the edge over the larger-displacement Kawasaki.
WHICH HAS THE MOTOR?
On paper, the Kawasaki has 14cc more displacement and a 1mm larger carburetor than the Grizzly, but the Yamaha has higher compression. In real life, the Prairie hits sooner off of the bottom and pulls the Grizzly pretty easily in drag races. Itâ€™s about six-tenths faster in a 200-foot drag from a standing start. The Kawasakiâ€™s better low-end gives it an advantage in slow 4x4 situations, too. However, neither is going to stretch your arms with brute force. Thatâ€™s a good thing, as nothing ever happens so quickly that the rider canâ€™t react to it.
WHO HAS THE BEST DELIVERY?
That said, the Kawasaki does have a more high-end CVT system with high- and low-ranges plus a variable front diff lock, whereas the Grizzly has a single forward range and locking front diff like the Grizzly 660/700 and Rhinos. Itâ€™s as if Kawasaki cut one cylinder off of the Brute Force 750 but de-bored and stroked it to make the Prairie 360, while Yamaha took low range out of the Grizzly 660/700 CVT to power the Grizzly 350. Both diff-lock systems are easy to use; you pull the yellow trigger on the left bar on the Prairie to lock up the diff, while the Yamaha has a button on the right bar to lock the front diff via a servo. The Yamaha system is a bit easier to use, as you engage-and-forget it, whereas you have to keep pulling the Prairieâ€™s trigger to lock up the front. Both have good shifters, too. The Kawasaki is simply a little more torquey and powerful.
WHAT ABOUT THE HANDLING?
Yamahaâ€™s Grizzly 350 is a much lighter and smaller vehicle, and it feels like it on the trail. The Grizzly is 2.5 inches shorter in wheelbase and three inches lower at the seat, and it weighs 27 pounds less than the Prairie. However, the Kawasaki carries its weight better and higher, as its suspension is set up stiffer, and thereâ€™s a bit more travel. The Grizzly wants to tuck and roll in turns, especially downhill ones. We stiffened up front preload to the maximum setting, and the Grizzly handled better, but the problem didnâ€™t go away entirely. Our test riders could bottom the Grizzly easily (both ends), while the Prairie never bottomed. The 360 is a more predictable slider, too.
WHICH IS THE ROCK HOUND?
Yamaha. The IRS Grizzly floats over boulders with its plush suspension and ample IRS ground clearance. Itâ€™ll cruise through rocky riverbeds where the Prairie scrapes and grinds its way through. The ride is also rougher on the Kawasaki due to its stiffer shock settings and non-articulating rear end.
WHO LIKES MUD BEST?
It depends. The Grizzly is much better in deep mud ruts through the woods (from Ohio throughout the south) due to its IRS and superior ground clearance, but the Prairie sits higher and can go deeper through gumbo mudholes and creek crossings. As long as it doesnâ€™t high-center in ruts or rocks, the Kawasaki will power through better. Its CVT and airbox intake are higher, so it makes it across deep bogs that stops the Grizzly in its tracks.
WHAT ABOUT POWERSLIDES?
Prairie City. The Kawasaki stays flat in corners and drifts and slides better than the Yamaha. The Grizzly will drift on fast fireroads, but it wants to tuck the outside front wheel in high-traction situations. Usually, itâ€™s the IRS that holds a 4x4 back in turns. The Grizzly 350â€™s front shocks are too soft and create the body roll in this case.
WHOâ€™S GOT THE SUSPENSION?
This is a split decision. The Kawasaki has the best front suspension and slightly more front-wheel travel. The McPherson strut front end is set up stiff, but it delivers a pretty comfortable ride over rocks and roots and keeps the chassis flat in corners. Yamaha has the better rear suspension, as the IRS is set up a little stiffer than the Grizzly front end. The imbalance holds the Yamaha back in this category; we stiffened front preload to maximum and the rear one position (to the middle) to prevent bottoming on G-outs. Balance is excellent on the Kawasaki, and we never felt the need to fiddle with the settings. However, the Yamahaâ€™s IRS is superior to the Prairie swingarm rear end in rocks, ruts, roots and off-cambersâ€”everywhere but G-outs and whoops.
WHAT ABOUT TRAIL COMFORT?
This oneâ€™s not so cut and dried. The Yamaha has a plush ride in the slower 4x4 stuff due to the softer shock settings, and it has good ergonomics. One tester complained of the seat pinching his legs at its juncture with the gas tank when moving around on the quad. Another felt the Griz â€œstinkbugs,â€ or rides with its rear higher than the front. By comparison, the Prairie sits flatter and has a more-rounded seat. It feels much larger and a bit heavier on the trail, and the suspension isnâ€™t as plush. If you spend most of your time at rock-crawling speeds, the Yamaha is more comfortable.
HOW ABOUT THE BRAKES?
Another tie. Both have individual front disc brakes and a sealed oil-bath, multi-disc rear binder inside the diff case. Both have strong braking power and good feel at the lever or pedal. Only the parking brake is different; the Grizzly has a top-mounted, spring-loaded link that holds the left-handlebar lever on, while the Kawasaki has yet another trigger on the left bar that holds the brake on.
WHICH WANTS MORE
Huh? Both require little more maintenance that an anvil. Keep the airfliter clean and oiled and change the oil and filter regularly, and both engines will last forever. Kawasaki recommends checking the CVT belt and valves every 90 days of operation and changing the engine oil every ten hours of use. Both have an oil-cooler with fan assist to regulate engine temperatures in slow going, and both have no-tool air filter access.
WHATâ€™S OUR FINAL ANSWER?
Itâ€™s a really close fight, but the power and transmission of the Kawasaki squeaks out a win for the Prairie 360 4x4. It has superior suspension settings and balance, and the larger stature makes it more comfortable for bigger riders. It is also able to go deeper and make it to the other side. However, the Yamaha IRS Grizzly has the edge in rocks, boulders and deep mud ruts through the woods. It is smaller and has plusher suspension, making it a good choice for beginners and girls. If the Yamaha were fitted with better front shocks, we feel its weight advantage and IRS wouldâ€™ve overcome the Prairieâ€™s horsepower advantage. As is, the swingarmed Prairie does more at a smaller MSRP.