First impressions of a used 4-passenger Mule

February 6, 2014

Today I stopped by the local farm equipment dealer to have a mid-winter look around. It’s a Kubota/Kawasaki dealership, and I noticed some extensively-used four-passenger Mules on special. The sales guy told me they’re back off lease. All of the returns are 2013’s. The one which interested me has 725 hours on it, blue/purple paint, not too many dents on the box, and a year left on extended warranty. The price caught my attention.

I drove it around. The EFI engine started well on a sub-zero morning. Electric power steering helps. The 20 hp Mule felt gutless after my much lighter 18 hp Ranger, which is eager to get to its 25 mph top speed. Mind you the sales guy says these engines are all about low-end torque.

Basically the Mule is ugly but highly functional, with belted, rollover-protected seating for four people.

They rent the Mules to the installers of solar farms, so there are a lot of them on the go right now. The only trouble they’ve had with them has been in fall when the mud balled around the drive shafts the day before has frozen hard. Then the operator jumps on and tears off in the morning, occasionally snapping a 1″ axle.

Downsides? The extra-seat Mule seems long and cumbersome. It’s polite and quiet, but slow. It’s not my Ranger. I caught myself wondering if it would do the little u-turn at the end of my driveway when I drop off the garbage on Wednesday mornings.

I think the Mule’s hampered in an initial test drive by its lazy 20 hp engine and considerable weight. Online I read that the suspension travel’s not great, in the order of 3″. Ground clearance is 7.1″, less than my 2WD Ranger’s.

Of course Kawasaki claims only that the Mule starts well, uses little fuel, and pulls strongly at low speeds. The shifter looked to me as if it would stand a lot of forward-and-reverse work while plowing snow. The Ranger’s shifter to me feels too fragile and notchy for such an application.

I watched a video of a Mule equipped with a good plow fighting with a foot of heavy, wet snow. It wasn’t fast, but it moved the snow pretty well. In another video I watched a Mule try repeatedly to climb a steep, sandy hill. It seemed to run out of power or traction, or driver ability, but to my surprise it didn’t make it up a slope I thought my 2WD Ranger would climb.

The Mule’s more tractor than sports car, but it might be a good machine to own.

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