Among the most ingenious quads ever produced by Kawasaki is the Prairie 400 4×4. This mid-sized ATV, launched in 1997, changed the ATV landscape with its fully automatic CVT transmission – laying out the foundation of standard rec-utility features in the process. Though short-lived, it earned the first “ATV of the Year Award” in ATV Magazine and belonged to the most highly-regarded off-road vehicles during its heyday.
The Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4 was the first recipient of the “ATV of the Year Award.” Sporting industry-leading KAPS CVT transmission, limited-slip front differential, and full-time 4WD, this champ also prides itself on being the first fully automatic quad offered by a Japanese manufacturer.
Because of pioneer wheelers like the Prairie 400, off-roading hopefuls can now grab beginner-friendly bikes to practice on and enjoy the experience-dominated ATV scene once they have built enough confidence. Indeed, Kawasaki’s introduction of its fully automatic transmission became a game-changer for many riders, as you will later discover in this guide.
Team Green’s 1st Fully-Automatic ATV
While gear-driven ATVs are fun and simultaneously test one’s skill level on the road, they can be daunting – especially for nouveau and intermediate riders. Such was the sentiment of Kawasaki’s visionary team. These geniuses wanted to arrive at a means for less-experienced riders to enjoy the outdoors without the scare of a manual transmission.
But back then, powerful engines and adjustable gear ratios were the “in” thing. If Kawasaki were to provide newbies an option, it had to think out of the box and create an ingenious product. Hence, the Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4 was born.
Compared to Its Predecessors
In truth, nothing much about the Prairie 400 was different compared to its predecessors. It had the same power mill as the 300- and 360-class machines and did not look any better in terms of styling. It also did not have fancy digital instrumentation. But what set it apart from the rest was that it was the first adult-sized fully automatic ATV from a Japanese manufacturer.
Paired with advanced features such as the all-new Kawasaki Automatic Power-Drive System (KAPS), limited-slip front differential, MacPherson Strut front suspension, and front hydraulic disc brakes, the 400-class Prairie seemed like a friendlier, much more promising ride.
Years of Production
The Prairie 400 series was produced for six years – from 1997 to 2002. During that period, 11 models and four trims were released to the market.
In its first year, the company introduced the 1997 Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4, which foreseeably got awarded as the ATV Magazine’s very first “ATV of the Year.”
In 1998, the sale of the 2WD version of the vehicle commenced.
In 1999, the bumped-up 4WD (KVF400-C) and 2WD (KVF400-D) trims hit the market.
These later-year models were the most feature-rich of the lot. They had improved KAPS, composite utility racks, aluminum wheels, a lighter-type DC accessory socket, and digital instrumentation (inclusive of a speedometer and odometer).
Kawasaki Prairie 400 Specs & Features
The Prairie 400 shares the same engine, cylinder arrangement, and lubrication system as the Prairie 360 4×4, making the former equally powerful and reliable. The compression ratio is slightly higher than the 360-class machine at 9.0:1, which eventually changed to 10.2:1 for the 2000 model.
|Engine Type||4-Stroke SOHC|
|Cylinder Arrangement||Single cylinder|
|Carburetion System||Keihin CVK34|
|Engine Cooling||Liquid cooling|
|Engine Fuel||Unleaded gasoline of at least Antiknock Index/PON 87 or RON 91, containing < 15% MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether)/TAME/ETBE, < 10% ethanol, or < 5% methanol w/ cosolvents & corrosion inhibitors|
|Fuel Capacity||14 L/3.7 US gal (reserve – 3.6 L/0.95 US gal)|
|Bore x Stroke Ratio||81×76 mm (3.19 x 2.99 inches)|
|Displacement||391 cm³ / 23.9 in³|
|Maximum Power||29.6 hp/30 PS (22.1 kW)|
|Maximum Torque||32.3 Nm (3.3 kgf-m, 23.9 ft-lb) @ 5,500 RPM|
|Top Speed||50-60 mph (80.5-96.6 km/h) – owners’ claim|
|Lubrication||Forced lubrication (wet sump)|
|Engine Oil & Quantity||2.8 L (3 US quarts) w/ filter; 3.1 L (3.3 US quarts) w/out filter|
3.4 L (3.6 US quarts) of SAE 10W-40 w/ API grade of SJ meeting JASO T903 MA
SAE 10W-30, 10W-50, 20W-40, 20W-50 – depending on ambient temperature
Although older Kawasaki vehicles already utilized a KAPS (Kawasaki Automatic Powerdrive System) V-belt converter, the Prairie 400 was the first of Team Green’s four-wheelers to feature a fully automatic transmission. This transmission upgrade enabled the 391-cm3 to have a considerably larger power and torque output versus same-category counterparts.
|Clutch||Wet shoe, automatic, centrifugal type|
|Transmission Type||CVT w/ 2-speed plus reverse, fully automatic|
|Drive System||Shaft drive, 4WD/Belt drive torque converter|
|Final Drive Ratio||4.333|
|Overall Drive Ratio||43.807 – 9.688 (high); 61.736 – 13.653 (low); 67.594 – 14.948 (reverse)|
|Transmission Gear Ratio||High – 2.432; Low – 3.425; Reverse – 3.750|
The Kawie-exclusive KACR (Kawasaki Automatic Compression Release), paired with the 4×4’s electric-recoil starting system, makes the Prairie 400 a highly preferred vehicle due to its ease of operation.
Furthermore, a DC receptacle found at the handlebar base and a trailer-type connector at the back of the machine power up electronic accessories. When selecting add-ons to fit onto the quad, make sure to not go over anything rated higher than 35W to prevent abrupt battery discharge.
|Ignition Timing||10° BTDC @ 1,300 RPM – 30° BTDC @ 4,300 RPM|
|Spark Plug, Gap||NGK DPR8EA-9 or ND X24EP-U9, 0.8-0.9 mm (0.032-0.036 inches)|
|Alternator Type||Stator magneto|
|Fuse||30 Amp (main); 15 Amp (auxiliary, belt switch)|
|Battery||12V 14 Ah, YTX14AH-BS battery formats|
|Battery Dimensions (L x W x H)||5.31 x 3.54×6.57 inches (134 x 90 x 167 mm)|
Tires & Brakes
Wheel composition, tire size, and recommended tire pressure are the same between the Prairie 400 and 300 trims. Therefore, any same-sized tires or a slightly wider set of Carlisle AT489 ATV Bias Tires (view on Amazon) will work perfectly with your quad. However, you should note that when installing wheels, the rims are asymmetrical and should be installed only with the valve stems outside of the vehicle.
|Front Tire, off-road/road air pressure||Dunlop KT121A AT25 x 8-12, tubeless|
Tire Pressure: 35 kPa (0.35 kgf/cm2, 5 psi)
|Rear Tire, off-road/road air pressure||Dunlop KT125 AT25 x 11-10, tubeless|
Tire Pressure: 28 kPa (0.28 kgf/cm2, 4 psi)
|Front Brake Type||Dual hydraulic discs|
|Rear Brake Type||Sealed drum brake|
The frame and suspension system of the Prairie series remained unchanged across all 300-class and higher-displacement models. The front suspension is still non-adjustable, somewhat limiting the handling characteristic of the wheeler.
|Frame Type||Tubular, double-cradle|
|Caster, Trail||2.5°, 15 mm (0.59 inches)|
|Turning Radius||3.1 m (10.17 ft)|
|Front Suspension Type, Travel||MacPherson Strut, 170 mm (6.7 inches)|
|Rear Suspension Type, Travel||Aluminum swingarm w/ 5-way adjustable spring preload, 180 mm (7.1 inches)|
Except for minor differences in the vehicle’s overall dimensions, the Prairie 400 4×4 and its smaller-displacement siblings have the same combined rack, hitch tongue, and trailer weight capacities.
|Length||2,065 mm (81.3 inches)|
|Width||1,190 mm (46.9 inches)|
|Height||1,145 mm (45.1 inches)|
|Seat Height (Unloaded)||870 mm (34.2 inches)|
|Ground Clearance||180 mm (7.09 inches) – rear axle|
|Wheelbase||1,250 mm (49.2 inches)|
|Track (F/R)||880 mm (34.6 inches) / 890 mm (35.0 inches)|
|Dry Weight||274 Kg (604 lbs)|
|Carrier Capacity (F/R)||88 lbs/154 lbs|
|Vehicle Load Capacity Limit||205 Kg (452 lbs)|
|Hitch Tongue Weight||40 Kg (88 lbs)|
|Trailer Weight (including cargo)||499 Kg (1,100 lbs)|
The earlier versions of the Prairie lineup were known to fall short on instrumentation – this includes the Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4. Like other pre-2005 quads, the Prairie 400 did not have a speedometer until 1999.
You may get an OEM speedo like Genuine Kawasaki Accessories Speedometer/Odometer (view on Amazon) if you have a pre-2000 model and want to track your running mileage and hours. But make sure to check your resources to verify parts compatibility.
|Engine Stop Switch||Standard|
|Oil Temperature Switch||N/A|
|Headlight||Semi-sealed beam, 12V 25W/25W x 2|
|Brake Light/Taillight||12V 8W|
|Indicator Lights||(neutral, reverse)|
|Colors||Hunter/Woodsman Green, Firecracker Red|
Price of a Kawasaki Prairie 400
For your reference, I have consolidated the MSRP and retail values of all Kawasaki Prairie 400s released in the market:
(Source: Nada Guides)
|Year – Trim – Model Number|
**A/C trims – 4×4; B/D trims – 2×4
|List Price||Retail/Trade-In Values|
|1997 – 1998 Kawasaki Prairie 400 (KVF400-A1/A2)||$5,799||$380 – $2,950|
|1998 Kawasaki Prairie KVF400-B1||$5,199||$240 – $2,350|
|1999 – 2001 Kawasaki Prairie KVF400-C1 to C3||$6,099||$495 – $3,560|
|1999 -2001 Kawasaki Prairie KVF400-D1 to D3||$5,199||$470 – $3,690|
|2002 Kawasaki Prairie KVF400-C4||$5,999||$1,415 – $1,860|
|2002 Kawasaki Prairie KVF400-D4||$4,999||$1,330 – $1,750|
Units sold through dealerships or authorized resellers are often in near-mint condition, thoroughly inspected, and with fresh Kawasaki Prairie 400 parts in some cases. Conversely, the overall condition of quads posted in auction listings is random.
You can purchase a pre-loved 2000 Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4 with minimal cosmetic damage and 4WD and reverse that works – if you are lucky. These rare finds may come equipped with a recovery winch, windshield, and (sometimes) even an Ohio Steel Pro Grade Hybrid Tractor/ATV Cart (view on Amazon).
You may also end up with old units with a dead battery at best or those that need tranny work due to sipping gears. These listings fall between $675 and $1,800.
Fixes to Common Problems
This section will cover two of the best-known issues owners have with the Prairie 400.
Despite its high-placed air intake, you should never be too complacent in submerging your wheeler in deep water – even if you are accustomed to pulling off these stunts. Similar to other quads, the Prairie 400 has a fording depth limit, which is 9.0 inches.
Going beyond this height will either lead to a wet belt problem, drenched electrical components, or fuel contamination in the tank. Or water might enter your rear gear differential.
The Kawasaki Prairie 400 does not have a V-Twin engine but ironically shares one major drawback with the Prairie 650 – that is, the machine can get challenging to start in cold weather. Like the big-bore behemoth, the 400-class engine somewhat retards the Prairie’s ignition, which results in a troublesome engine startup. In this situation, using the choke more frequently helps but only temporarily.
If you want to resolve the issue permanently, you may need to inspect the petcock valve and valve clearances to ensure your machine is not starved for fuel.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. is the maker of the Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4. Now a global name in multiple industries, the Japanese firm traces back its history to 1878 when Shozo Kawasaki first established his shipyard business alongside the Sumidagawa River in Tokyo.
It wasn’t until later that Kawasaki ventured into the ATV industry and released its first-ever ATC – the KLT200 – alongside the use of the “Team Green” name in racing competitions, product offerings, and other technological innovations.
Thanks to its rich technical background, Kawasaki develops high-quality aircraft engines, transit, aerospace and energy systems, hydraulic machinery, motorsport vehicles, and personal watercraft.
Conclusion – Kawasaki Prairie 400 4×4 Review
Even an off-road vehicle as rock-solid as the Kawasaki Prairie 400 has its fair share of flaws. Among them is the absence of selectable driveline modes (the quad operates on 4WD full time), inadequate front differential, and the lack of engine braking (the Prairie 400 series did not yet have the K-EBC™ in its design).
The good thing about this wheeler, however, is that its positive attributes outweigh its shortcomings. Its plush suspension, usable stock power, unparalleled reliability, and affordable price point are what Kawie riders remember about the quad.
Evolutionary changes done to the Prairie 400 not only served the 4×4 itself but also became instrumental in the development of new-and-improved Kawasaki off-road vehicles. Not a lot of ATVs can say the same for themselves.
More than its accolades and praiseworthy characteristics, this mean machine’s contribution to the industry’s growth is what truly makes it a standout – and why owning a Kawasaki Prairie 400 matters.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.