If you think Chinese-built means cheap, nasty and going nowhere fast then think again. That especially holds true if you’re talking about CFMoto, where more than one in four of its 1600 employees works in R&D.
The Hangzhou-based company has been in the motorcycle and powersports game for more than 20 years. It also happens to be the largest exporter of quads and utility side-by-sides (or ATVs and UTVs respectively) in China, with an annual production capacity of 600,000 units.
Two years ago, CFMoto partnered Austrian giant KTM to produce small-capacity KTM bikes for China – the largest motorcycle market in the world.
The collaboration also gives CFMoto access to the services of German design house Kiska on future CFMoto products. Expect big things. Since the early 1990s, Kiska has been heavily involved in several KTM models, including the 1190 Adventure, 1290 Super Duke R and Freeride 350.
CFMoto controls almost half the motorcycle market in Russia, while accounting for one in four sales in Czechoslovakia and one in five in Sweden and Austria.
Closer to home, CFMoto has sold more than 10,000 vehicles since its Australian debut in 2009 via more than 80 dealers. That sales figure alone makes it Australia’s fastest-growing bike marque for the past five years according to CFMoto, with a 2014 market share of eight per cent and a target of double that this year.
Driving that target are some of Australia’s best-selling quads and UTVs including the CF500 Classic, Z8 sports side-by-side and the X8 800cc ATV. These are among a fleet of 12 models comprising four ATVs, three UTVs and four sports side-by-side vehicles.
The X550 ATV and two U550 UTVs are the latest additions to the line-up and distinguish themselves by having a new 495cc SOHC single-cylinder engine with liquid cooling and Bosch EFI for more consistent performance regardless of temperature or altitude.
CFMoto claims the 28kW unit is 12kg lighter and 17 per cent more powerful than its air-cooled predecessor. The weight reduction is thanks in part to electrically assisted power steering. Torque is also up by 13 per cent to 46Nm at 5800rpm.
Both models feature selectable 2WD and 4WD modes and a lockable diff, mated to a Canadian-sourced Continuously Variable Transmission.
At $8990, the X550 ATV is said to be a more mature version of CFMoto’s top-selling CF500 and comes loaded to the gunwales with standard equipment. In addition to a two-year warranty and the convenience of electrically assisted power steering, it comes with a heavy-duty winch, tow pack, front and rear racks, descent control, alloy wheels and two-seater comfort. The X550 also comes with handguards, lights and mirrors and is available in five colours including camo.
Independent sales data shows a strong buyer shift towards UTVs for their safety and versatility. CFMoto has responded to the sales trend with the U550 and higher-spec U550 LE UTVs, priced at $11,490 and $13,490 respectively.
Powered by the same, new 495cc single-cylinder unit as the X550, the utility side-by-sides come with adjustable bucket seats, conventional three-point seatbelts, driver and passenger doors and a ROPS-certified roll cage.
Standard equipment for the entry-level U550 includes the convenience of a roof and windscreen, a heavy-duty towing kit, a gas-assisted rear tip tray with a 150kg carrying capacity and alloy wheels.
For an additional $2000, the U550 LE adds electric power steering, a 1600kg winch, plus a choice of four colours.
Each comes with hydraulic braking and independent suspension front and rear as well as a generous 280mm of ground clearance. With a dry weight of 590kg, the U550 features a 26-litre tank for plenty of driving time between refills, a tow capacity of 550kg, and a 230kg carry capacity in its tip tray that measures 1200x790x310mm (L/W/H). The tray is easily operated by a side lever, and you can also leave the tailgate open for easier loading and unloading.
We put the X550 and U550 LE through their paces at a dedicated 4x4 facility and were in awe of their off-road ability as they conquered increasingly difficult obstacles – even in 2WD mode. These included surprisingly deep river crossings, sand, tricky articulated turns and ridiculously steep climbs and descents. The power steering helped to iron out abruptness in rough terrain.
“Farmers are impressed with UTVs because they have good carrying capacity, can cover more ground faster and offer greater comfort,” CFMoto Australia director Michael Poynton says.
“We’ve been working with the R&D team to make sure our vehicles can withstand the harsh conditions they’re exposed to everyday on Aussie farms, and the newly developed 550 engine is proof of this.”
Can’t wait to see what comes next.