I should know better, but the power of the new Kawasaki Prairie 650 went to my head. Racing to keep up with the other ATV riders on a test drive near San Antonio, TX, I sped over the trail at higher and higher speeds. Then I missed a sharp turn, and the powerful vehicle plowed right through a massive prickly pear cactus.

Fortunately, nobody saw me. Other than having a slight tear in my jeans, I appeared to be fine, and the beefy red Kawasaki wasn't even scratched. Just the mowed-over cactus looked suspicious.

Later, I confessed to the incident with some embellishment. The cactus grew, my peril increased and the foolishness on my part disappeared.

What doesn't need embellishment, however, is the performance of the Prairie 650. I was impressed with its acceleration, steady speed and easy handling. Plus, it was comfortable. I spent several hours on it without getting sore and tired.

Think SUV The Prairie 650 could be called the SUV of the ATV market. Kawasaki redesigned its new ATV to be more powerful — with more horsepower than any other ATV — and sophisticated. After test driving it, I agree. Switching from Kawasaki's 400-cc ATV to the new Prairie with its 650-cc engine felt like going from a Buick Century to a Yukon Denali.

The new ATV is loaded with features: You can start it in any gear; it has extra levers for maximum power; it's easy to put in reverse; and the new design looks powerful.

The vehicle barreled through mud and water, maneuvered easily through brush and trees, and geared down enough to crawl over logs and cement culverts (for the more daring riders, which, after my encounter with the giant cactus, did not include me).

V-twin engine Behind the power is Kawasaki's new 90°, four-stroke V-twin engine designed just for the Prairie 650. A first in the ATV market, the V-twin design represents an improvement over a large, single-cylinder engine, according to Jim Williams, Kawasaki ATV product manager. A big single-cylinder is tall and heavy and creates vibration. Williams says the V-twin is perfectly balanced with a low profile and low center of gravity for more stability. The lighter-weight engine also helped company engineers keep the vehicle at 606 lbs. dry weight — a standard across the ATV industry.

The ATV holds up particularly well for heavy towing, up to 1,250 lbs., the highest towing capability of any ATV. Front and rear steel racks will carry 264 lbs. of cargo.

It operates with a fully automatic, continuously variable transmission. The operator may select high or low forward gears, neutral and reverse. The engine may be started in any gear with the brakes applied.

Industrial brakes The Prairie 650 features a new braking system to handle the higher horsepower and towing capabilities. Kawasaki engineers pulled technology from the mining industry to design completely sealed, multi-disc, wet brakes for the rear. This protects the brakes from water, mud and debris. In addition, an engine braking system electronically monitors the ground speed and uses the engine's compression to help slow the ATV when braking. Plus, all four brakes apply when the vehicle is in 4-wd.

The operator may select 2-wd or 4-wd from a switch on the handlebar while driving up to 12 mph. For maximum traction in situations such as climbing over logs or up slippery hills, the operator may squeeze a lever on the handlebar to deliver full power to both front wheels.

Stable ride Kawasaki made other ATV design changes, including centering the 4½-gal. fuel tank between the front and rear. The new mounting gives the Prairie 650 a 53:47% front to rear weight distribution that helps keep the vehicle stable and easy to maneuver. The drivetrain and chassis are designed with sealed bearings and joints to eliminate greasing chores.

MacPherson strut front suspension and an aluminum rear swing arm with adjustable spring create a smooth, comfortable ride.

For more information, visit www.prairie650.com or www.buykawasaki.com or contact your local Kawasaki dealer.