KTM 450 & 525 XC ATV review Motoriding’s Blog

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KTM 450 525 XC ATV review

Posted on December 26, 2008 by motoriding

KTM 450 525 XC ATV

Beauty The Beast

Being released as 2008 models, KTM is hitting the ground of the competition segment of the ATV market running with two engine configurations under the XC label.  The first, a 447.92cc (89mm bore x 72mm stroke) single overhead cam, four valve, liquid cooled beauty appropriately called the 450XC and the second, a 510.4cc (95mm bore x 72mm stroke) single overhead cam, four valve, liquid cooled beast labeled the 525XC.

The two models are identical in most every regard except for the size of the piston and surprisingly enough, are expected to carry the exact same MSRP. They are however, marketed toward two different types of riders: The 450 is intended to go head to head with the competition in the 450 cc racing class while the 525 is targeted toward desert riders, trail explorers, open class, and veteran racers.  We are big believers in the theory that you simply can’t have too many options when it comes time to buy a machine that comes just shy of the 9 grand mark and think KTM is starting off on the right foot by offering two unique engine configurations to choose from.

Let’s Talk Uniqueness

Since these quads have literally been developed from a clean sheet of paper, we need not waste precious time telling you what’s new on them. It’s all new! And while KTM’s two-wheeled expertise may have spawned these mills at their very core, ATV riders will be pleased to know that these are not simply motorcycle engines mounted to a four-wheeled frame.

KTM’s engineers recognized the unique needs of an ATV rider/ racer and took several steps to ensure that these needs are met in the design process. For starters the motor itself has been widened for two purposes: to make room for a reverse gear and to lower the center of gravity within the ATV chassis. A deep-mounted oil sump without an external oil tank has also been implemented to centralize vehicle mass. Both XC models are electric start only.

Normally die-hard racers chime in right about now with the idea that true performance equipment should have a kick starter, if even only as an option.   However, we can assure you that KTM has been taking the concept of bulletproof electric starting on race vehicles very seriously. How can we be so sure? Because even their anorexic race-motorcycles are coming with electric start only configurations and the finicky MX press is impressed!

If those guys have no complaints, it’s hard to imagine the quad-set will come up with any. Not to mention the simple fact that we experienced no difficulties or bugs to report during our test period.

Moving past the engine changes, KTM bucks another current industry trend by not falling into the hype of fuel injection. Rather, both XC quads will come equipped with Keihin FCR-MX 39mm flat slide carburetors (with accelerator pumps). Taking a cue from the utility quad riders, KTM has developed an air box with a snorkel intake nearly as high as the gas tank so as to keep water and goo out of the engines of even the most daring (or crazy) swamp-riders.

In true KTM tradition, the air box is tool-less and the gas cap is a quarter-turn aviator style unit designed with quick fill-ups in mind. No need to plan a pipe and silencer swap-out the moment you get her home either. KTM’s stock equipment rivals even the aftermarket scene in terms of light weight performance and spectacular build quality.

Best of all it even manages to bark with authority in stock trim but meets California’s strict (94 dB) sound limit which means it is Green Sticker legal.

Like the motor, the frame of the new XC was designed from a clean slate.  Like its two-wheeled cousins, KTM again holds strong against industry trends by sticking with tried and true chrome-moly steel tubes over the typically more-rigid aluminum spars.  Since (again like the dirt bikes) there is no rear suspension linkage to provide rising rate for the shock, the frame is designed for both corner stability and to allow the swing arm to fully pivot properly.

  KTM did, however, decide to go with aluminum for the easily accessed sub frame.

If all this sounds unique to you, wait until we tell you about the suspension itself.  Like the main frame members, the front A-arms are built entirely of chromoly steel and offer an impressive vehicle width of 45 inches.  If you’ll look carefully at the lower A-arms, you might notice that rather than connect straight to the wheel, there are bends (sweeps) that cheat a little extra ground clearance out of the design without sacrificing any stability.

Very trick! Handling frontal squish duties are piggyback reservoir Ohlins shocks with full preload, compression, and rebound settings for a total of 10.1 inches of race-tuned travel. The rear of the machine boasts a bit more travel (10.4 inches) and again uses an Ohlins shock that connects the aluminum sub frame to a chrome-moly steel linkless swingarm.

By allowing the shock itself to influence proper rising rate (a system KTM calls PDS or Progressive Damping System), KTM’s design adds additional clearance by freeing up the space beneath the swingarm normally occupied by a bulky linkage assembly. One of the most interesting (and unique) design features found on the KTM XC quads is an adjustable rear axle that can be dialed in between 45.5 and 48.5 inches of width.

  The logic behind this setting is that not all tracks are of equal width and an on-the-fly adjustment can tweak the quad to accommodate for tighter tracks versus wide open areas.  We know, we know: Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?

Now the Good Stuff

Any true rider will tell you that races are won and lost by man and machine, not by spec sheets and product brochures.  In keeping that in mind, we were forced to ignore the mouth-watering specifications of the KTM XC and to take it out in the real world for testing.

  Going into the torture-test, we were already well aware of the fact that these quads had the hype, they had style, they had the backing of a proven company, and they certainly had the spec sheet to go along with the anticipation emanating from everyone involved. But would they deliver where it matters most- out in the dirt? To find out we had to treat this test as if we were riding any other ATV.

  We couldn’t go in with any premeditated biases or prejudices.  The KTM XC would have to stand or fall on its own merit and performance on the trails, in the woods, and on the track. It is a dirty job, we know, but somebody had to do it.

Climbing On

From the saddle, even at a dead standstill, it’s quite clear that the KTM means business. While not quite as squatty, long, and flat feeling as the Suzuki LTR450, the KTM XC feels pretty thin around the knees.  The gas tank is much less intrusive than its 3.5 gallon capacity would indicate.

  The reach to the bars is especially natural if not slightly higher than usual; this results in an elbows-bent posture and a very welcomed attack stance from anywhere in the saddle. With the touch of the handlebar mounted button, the XC fires to life nearly instantaneously with an exhaust note quite reminiscent of an aftermarket equipped 450 race bike. It purrs very steadily at idle, with a smooth hum that almost convinces the pilot that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

  Touching the throttle, even with the slightest flick, sends the engine screaming. This kind of throttle-response quickens even the pulse of the most confident riders, and had us leaned over the side of the quad to make sure we didn’t misunderstand the press data claiming these things are carbureted!

The clutch is smooth and one-finger steady throughout its entire throw. We stepped it down into first with a bit of apprehension that accompanies all first-rides on a high performance model.  Easing the clutch out, power begins pouring into the wheels immediately and continues to build until the clutch is fully released.

The throttle isn’t nearly as light-switch sensitive as it appeared at idle but stabbing the rubber-coated thumb lever is a lesson in humility regardless of what gear you’re in. The bottom end is short and punchy and leads to a mid-range that is downright violent.  Holding gear too long results in ample over-rev but to reach the limits of the power spread in each gear means having nerves of steel as you pass through the meat of the powerband (the mid-range).

This machine builds revs so quickly that it can become a real challenge to keep all four wheels planted in technical terrain. The quad simply wants to pop off of every terrain imperfection. We took a few laps around our outdoor track then parked the twin orange XCs for a little tuning.

In case you missed it earlier, the KTM XC quads are some of the most customizable machines we’ve ever encountered (stock or modified)! Everything from the camber and caster of the A-arms, to the width of the rear axle, to the positioning of the handlebars, to the nearly infinitely tunable suspension.  The bottom line is that if you are not happy with the way the KTM feels beneath you, you have only yourself to blame.

After setting the sag, we fooled around with the suspension until we took enough compression out to make it small-bump sensitive. In doing so, the machine’s personality changed dramatically. The XC would hug the ground more effectively without giving up any of its brutal (yet addicting) bursts of power. Regardless of the terrain, it never took more than a slight blip of the throttle to get the back end to break loose.

This is a quad that likes to be steered from the rear.

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On the track, the KTM is a surprisingly stable flier. It simply does not require excessive body-English to stay level and bringing the front end down for smooth transition-landings required little more than a tap of the rear brake. We used (and abused) the clutch for several laps without a hint of fade.

The brakes too, are absolutely spectacular at bringing these beasts to a halt. They took a bit longer to burn in than most test-quads we’ve ridden but afterward, the modulation and fade-free performance was incredible.

450 VS 525

You may be wondering why this test lumps the two machines together into a single report. To that we must confess that physically it is nearly impossible to tell the two apart. If it weren’t for the displacement stickers on the sides, more than one test rider would be uncertain as to which machine they were mounted atop.

The 525 engine makes a bit more torque from the bottom and sounds like it is revving more freely on the top. To be honest, however, it is not a night and day difference going from one model to the next as we had initially anticipated. We suspect that the difference may be far more apparent once top speeds were involved (something our test didn’t get into). The possibility of sneaking the 525 into the 450 class is definitely a legitimate concern.

  Race facilities will need to pay careful attention during registration.


We are no stranger to performance ATVs. In fact we’ve ridden modified LTR450s, KFX450Rs, and even a Yamaha Banshee for comparison sake. There is little doubt that the KTM XC can be picked up from the dealership and successfully raced before making it home. It is truly a competent racer in fully stock trim. While our time with the 450 and 525 XC was limited, it appeared to favor a run-and-gun style of riding.

In other words, riders who aren’t afraid to wring it out hard before slamming it into a corner, only to get back on the throttle quickly, will benefit most. The mid range is so strong on both models that there are few quads we’ve sampled that will be able to drag race the KTM into the next corner.

The only negative to the new KTM quads (if it can be considered one) is the simple fact that KTM has not taken beginners, recreational-riders, or even intermediate racers into consideration when they decided to get into the ATV game. These are race-bred performance quads, make no mistake about it.  Even our amateur racers commented on the brutal nature of the power delivery and the overwhelming tuning possibilities.

If you doubt your skills on any other 450, steer clear of the KTM! This is a purpose-built machine that makes no apologies for its intent.


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