Kawasaki's new Mule Trans4×4 looks like a normal Mule utility vehicle. But this Mule has a secret: It folds and adjusts to add a full bench seat in the cargo area.

The unique conversion design harkens back to those 1990s era Transformer robot toys that kids delighted in converting into race-cars, battle tanks and space ships by twisting the heads, arms and legs. To the added delight of the kids, most adults found those toys as baffling as a Rubik's cube puzzle.

Fortunately, this 4-wd off-road utility vehicle is a lot simpler; it doesn't convert into a motorcycle or jet ski. But a few quick adjustments will transform it from a four-passenger to a two-passenger vehicle with an extended cargo bed. A steel screen separating the cargo bed from the cab can be moved forward or back according to preference.

Based on 3000 series

Besides the nifty foldaway seat, the Mule 3010 Trans4×4 is largely based on the popular 3000 series. The wheelbase of the Trans4×4 is 11.8 in. longer than that of the 3010 4×4 but features the same styling, controls, dashboard and front under-hood storage. One benefit of the Trans4×4's extended chassis is that it allows fuel capacity to be increased nearly 20%, from 5.3 to 6.3 gal.

With a heavy-duty leaf spring rear suspension system, cargo capacity is 400 lbs. in four-passenger mode and 800 lbs. with the rear seat folded in storage. With an optional towing hitch, towing capacity is 1,200 lbs. MacPherson strut front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering make steering light and accurate.

Four hydraulically operated, self-adjusting drum brakes are sealed to protect them from water, mud and other debris. The 23-in. tires provide a comfortable ride and good traction on most types of terrain.

The power train consists of a quiet, liquid-cooled, industrial V-twin engine paired with Kawasaki's continuously variable transmission. Power response is spirited enough for the Mule to kick up her heels, but sedate enough to remind you that this is a utility vehicle, not an ATV with a box. The operator also can select 2-wd or 4-wd operation, with power transferred to a shaft-driven dual-mode differential and limited-slip front differential.

Compact Mules

The Trans4×4 list price is $9,599. Kawasaki also offers a new compact class Mule 610 4×4 utility vehicle ($6,699) and a 2-wd Mule 600 ($5,899). Both models feature all-new styling, bigger engines and new convenience features from previous models. A selling point of these smaller model Mules is that they can fit in the cargo bed of a full-size pickup truck or squirt though tight spaces where many larger UVs can't maneuver.

For more information, contact Kawasaki, Dept. FIN, 9950 Jeronimo Rd., Irvine, CA 92618, 949/770-0400, visit www.kawasaki.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 218.

2005 Mule 3010 Trans4×4 specifications

Engine: Four-stroke, overhead valve V-twin

Displacement: 617 cc

Bore × stroke: 76 × 68 mm

Carburetor: Mikuni BW26-18

Cooling: Liquid

Ignition: Digital electronic

Drivetrain: Continuously variable transmission with high/low range; forward, neutral, reverse

Final drive: All-shaft; selectable 4-wd; dual-mode rear differential

Tires, front/rear: Tubeless 23 × 11-10

Suspension, front/rear: Independent, MacPherson strut-type/semi-independent, DeDion axle with leaf springs and shocks

Brakes, front/rear: Four-wheel sealed hydraulic drum

Bed capacity: 400 lbs. (four-passenger mode); 800 lbs. (two-passenger mode)

Towing capacity: 1,200 lbs.

Fuel capacity: 6.3 gal.