Kawasaki claims its 2005 Mule 3010 Trans4×4 is the world's first four-passenger four-by-four utility vehicle designed for off-road work. And it can easily be transformed into a two-passenger vehicle, extending its 30-inch cargo box to more than 50 inches.
During our test drive, the 3010 Trans4×4's cab accommodated four parka-wrapped adults with no need to squeeze. And with every seat filled, it climbed more like a goat than its namesake — there was no lack of traction with 800 pounds of passengers aboard.
Back on level ground, we piled out and tested the transition to two-seater. A lever unlocks the rear seat back so it can fold forward. Throw another lever and the whole bench tumbles forward. The halves of the split front wall of the dump body swing forward and lock in place. Finally, the steel screen separating cargo from passengers lifts out of its slot to be moved to the new front of the dump box. Even a fumble-fingered journalist can do it in five minutes.
The Trans4×4 is based on Kawasaki's Mule 3000 series. The wheelbase is about a foot longer than the conventional Mule 3010 4×4, which allowed engineers to increase the new machine's fuel capacity nearly 20 percent, from 5.3 gallons to 6.3 gallons. The power train is the same as the conventional Mule's — a 617-cc, liquid-cooled industrial V-twin engine, naturally aspirated, matched to Kawasaki's continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT is tuned to handle more passenger and cargo load than its siblings, and features high and low range, plus reverse. The operator can also select either two- or four-wheel drive. Power is transferred by shaft to the locking rear differential and limited-slip front differential.
With a heavy-duty DeDion/leaf spring rear suspension borrowed from the Mule 3010 Diesel 4×4, the Trans4×4 has a cargo capacity of 400 pounds in four-passenger mode, and 800 pounds with the cargo bed extended. It can tow up to 1,200 pounds.
MacPherson-strut front suspension provides more travel and semi-independent dampening of rough roads. Hydraulically operated, self-adjusting drum brakes on all four corners are sealed to protect stopping gear from water, mud and other debris. Mules roll on 23-inch tires.
The Mule 3010 Trans4×4 starts at $9,600, compared to $8,800 for the two-passenger version.