2011 Yamaha Grizzly 450 EPS First Ride 0

11_yamaha_grizzly450eps_frMidsize utility machines in the 450 class are already light and easy to handle, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be even more agile and rider friendly. Yamaha ATV riders have a strong desire for power steering options within all utility segments, so the Tuning Fork crew decided to equip the Grizzly 450 with EPS for 2011. Yamaha chose Washington’s claustrophobic trails of the Capitol State Forest to demonstrate why the new 450 EPS is worth every penny.

In order to build the best product for customers, a company like Yamaha first has to know what those customers want. In the case of 351-450cc utility ATVS, the three largest demographics are by far trail riding, hunting and farming. On top of that, affordability and value are paramount. These ATV users are widely active and financially shrewd. It’s not a market segment governed by chest-thumping power claims, marketing bravado and unlimited budgets. What these machines need to survive in this hard-nosed reality are bulletproof design, capable performance and usable features. One of the hottest new additions to utility quads is electronic power steering. The non-EPS version is still available, but the new model costs only $600 more.

The new EPS system is speed sensitive, meaning it applies more aid during low-speed maneuvers and less as speeds increase, reducing the nervous or twitchy feel. We could easily feel the influence out on the trail where the steering was incredibly light. Yamaha makes use of selectable 2WD and on-demand 4WD (which is essentially AWD). More traction can be found with the locking front differential – all of which is activate by two simple buttons located onthe right handlebar. Bombing down tight trails out of the Middle Waddell Staging area, I could easily pick my direction with hardly any input at the handlebars. Clicking into 4WD created slightly more drag and required a bit more effort, but I was happy to spend a little more energy in 4WD for the added precision in steering. Though I toggled between the two settings all day, I preferred 4WD in almost every situation. At the end of the day I think it takes less effort in 4WD because it’s so easy to avoid trail obstacles, and I certainly hit less debris and made fewer mistakes with all four wheels engaged. Only for the gnarliest situations did I lock in the differential. I also only dropped into low-range for one particular climb, though the Grizzly did make it up in high range and without the diff-lock, a testament to its abilities.

The new lighter chassis and EPS make getting through tough situations more manageable. This trials course we discovered was difficult enough that it drew specators.

The new lighter chassis and EPS make getting through tough situations more manageable. This trials course we discovered was difficult enough that it drew specators.

The second benefit of EPS, and the one I appreciate most, is the diminishing effects it has on negative feedback. In other words, it acts like a steering damper. I cringed through most of the morning as I hit embedded rocks and roots the size of my thighs. Eventually I realized that it was pretty much a non-issue. Only once did my the bars yank from my grip, and it was an impact that would have probably left me with a thumb or wrist injury if I hadn’t been utilizing EPS.

Shifting the Grizzly is simple. A hand lever on the left side down by the rider’s knee offers high, low, neutral, reverse and park. Getting into or out of park/reverse requires the rear brake pedal be depressed, but the rest of the shifting can be done without. The Grizzly will start in gear with a heavy squeeze of the rear brake lever and a push of the electric start. Our ride never required the choke, though it comes equipped.

There’s more to this new model than a steering aid, most notably the inclusion of a new one-piece chassis and a sealed wet brake. We haven’t ridden the old chassis for comparison, but Yamaha had the 2010 steel frame and the new one available for us to feel the difference without the bulk of any extra components. Simply lifting them with our hands demonstrated a very substantial weight loss for the 2011 chassis. Yamaha claims 22 pounds between the ’10 and ’11 non-EPS models. Even with the added weight of EPS, the new machine is still 10 pounds lighter overall at a claimed 620 pounds curb weight. One of the significant weight savings came from the loss of the two-inch tow hitch receiver. We don’t think this is necessarily a good thing, but Yamaha claims that customer research shows not everyone, particularly in overseas markets, want the 2-inch receiver. Rather than being welded in place, this year the receiver is available as an accessory and uses a bolt-on attachment. More savings came from the single-piece construction, which remove bolts, spacers, washers and threads from the equation.

A 48.5-inch wheelbase is nearly an inch shorter than the similar Honda Rancher AT, but judging from memory of our 2010 Honda Rancher AT ATV Review, the Grizzly felt more planted and less tippy during technical sections. This might be in part to the better traction provided by the tires, greater suspension travel or lower weight. In general, the 450 EPS felt larger than the Rancher AT with a roomier layout and more accommodating ergonomic package for my 5’11” build.

Maxxis developed an aggressive 25-inch tire specifically for Yamaha, and the larger meats contribute to the Grizzly’s 10.8 inches of ground clearance. The tread pattern is fairly aggressive yet linear, which means it rolls smoothly down the trail and still provides ample traction. The tire is supposed to have extra-strong sidewalls despite its two-ply construction. We ground the inner and outer sidewalls against rocks, wire, cement and stumps without any problems. In fact, I didn’t hear a single report of a flat tire from more than a dozen journalists and Yamaha staff. However, despite its apparent toughness and claimed sidewall stiffness, the tire still flexes considerably. I loved the comfort provided by the mushrooming tread, but picking up the pace led to some additional body roll, and I wanted to add air pressure during our trail ride – though I never took the time to pump up. Once we found a nasty playground to test the suspension articulation, skidplates and our own skill, the slow speeds and technical terrain made good use of the flexible carcass. Overall it’s a very good tire as stock OE equipment, much better than we’ve seen on other manufacturers’ ATVs.

Full underbody protection comes in the form of plastic skidplates, A-arm guards and a CV boot protector. Mounting bolts are recessed to keep them protected and allow the Grizzly to glide over obstacles without catching. We were happy to put these to the test and the 450 definitely gets over rocks and logs with little effort. GYTR protectors are available also in beefy aluminum and provide slightly better coverage around the edges of the frame. Riders who want to spend their time bashing around would be well-suited to upgrade. The stock units do a great job, but the 450 EPS is so agile and comparatively light that all we wanted to do was mob through sections that seem impossible.

Yamaha left the engine and suspension alone, focusing on features other than the drivetrain. Still, whether heading down a trail or pulling itself over a stump, the Grizzly has enough motor to do the job. The 421cc engine uses a SOHC arrangement in conjunction with a 10.0:1 compression ratio. Fuel combusts within the 84.5 x 75mm bore and stroke cylinder. Carburetion from the 33mm Mikuni was great during operation and we ran at elevations from roughly 100-2200 feet. However, we witnessed a machine tip over after a rider error and the Grizzly was slow to start – it’s no EFI.

The Yamaha is rated to tow up to 1322 pounds and can hoist 88 pounds on the front powder-coated rack and 176 pounds on the rear. Suspending it all is a set of fully independent double-wishbone shocks. The front duo offer 6.3 inches of travel and the rears bring 7.1 inches to play with. They are all non-adjustable and fairly soft. We managed to bottom them when hammering down the trail. For the most part, they sucked up everything with surprising compliance, and we only reached the end of their limits on whoops and some small jumps. Though potent for its size, the motor and automatic transmission doesn’t have enough steam to lift the font end at will, which meant we hit a lot of stuff. Some quick but careful planning with the right thumb did allow the Grizzly to get over some of the whoops, but it took some upper body strength to help it over.

Engine braking is a mechanical system, operated by a one-way sprag clutch. This freewheeling bearing only kicks in when the tire speed exceeds the engine speed. It also means that you only get engine braking applied to the rear wheels when in 2WD and all four when in 4WD. There is no electronic factor or sensors and the system works very seamlessly. I had to make a conscious effort to detect it, and the best way is to switch from 2WD to 4WD while descending. The sensation is predictable and I was able to use it effectively during the trail ride and came to count on it rather than abuse my brake levers.

The rear brake is now sealed inside the rear differential housing. Our concerns with a sealed wet brake are longevity, but Yamaha claims its system is designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle. It’s easiest to imagine this system like a clutch pack. The fiber (brake pad) and metal discs provide the stopping friction. Unlike a clutch, which is compressed most of the time while riding, the wet brake is open with the discs free-floating in a bath of cooling, cleansing oil. The only time they come into contact is when the brake is applied, which is obviously the minority of time during a ride. By mounting the brake on the pinion gear, Yamaha engineers freed up more space for the discs to rest in, creating better cooling and lubrication, therefore longer lifespan. Also, by eliminating another gear reduction, the new system is said to provide 20% more braking force.

The extra braking power can be most felt through the left hand lever. Modulating the brake, initiating slides and tiptoeing around a precipice are all easily done with the pull of a single finger. We’d like the front brakes to have as much feel as the rear. It was difficult to use just one finger and the feedback was wooden in comparison. There was some variance in the rear brake lever during a long playriding session on slow-speed, technical terrain. Speeds didn’t exceed 15 mph for over an hour as we crawled, twisted and wheelied over countless obstacles. The lever started to exhibit play, like what you might find from an abused manual clutch. At first I thought the cable had stretched, but once the machine sat for awhile the lever tightened up again. There was no loss of braking power, however, just play at the lever.

Lots of slow-speed riding with hard braking led to some play in the rear lever.

Lots of slow-speed riding with hard braking led to some play in the rear lever.

Day-to-day living with an ATV can be a match made in heaven or a miserable marriage. Fortunately, like any good partner, Yamaha hasn’t forgotten about the little things that make a big difference. A standard 12-volt accessory plug goes a long way with us in terms of value. The Grizzly is exactly the type of ATV we’d love to explore with, and trail riders and hunters alike will find the benefits of charging a GPS, camera, spotlight or cell phone out on the trail. And don’t forget heated clothing.

The same goes for agricultural use with sprayers or any number of accessories that can be utilized. Yamaha also has a good deal of storage with an underseat bucket and a waterproof box on the right fender panel. The digital instrument panel is easy to use with multiple functions and the hand controls allow the rider to keep a firm grip on the machine while managing most features. Airbox access requires no tools for simple maintenance and the four-gallon fuel tank offers a reserve setting in addition to the fuel gauge located in plain view next to the filler cap.

Something else we like about the new Grizzly is that it’s built here in America at the Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation in Newnan, Georgia. YMMC also constructs the side-by-side units like the Rhino as well as golf cars and watercraft.

Yamaha offers the 2011 Grizzly 450 EPS in three options, standard is hunter green ($7499), steel blue with aluminum wheels (our favorite and $7799) and Realtree AP Camo for the hunters ($7849). Additionally, the Yamaha Outdoors accessory catalog is stocked with items like gun racks, winches, plows, rack extensions, fender flares and more.

One of the key terms that Yamaha brass liked to toss around during our time in Washington was “confidence-inspiring.” They used this to describe the handling, EPS, engine braking and suspension qualities. At the end of the day it was evident that it wasn’t a bunch of PR speak. I was able to think back and find examples of how I was able to put confidence in the Grizzly 450 in all of the areas described, and more. The physical size of the machine is unintimidating, the motor capable yet forgiving, suspension plush, EPS is well-calibrated and thorough and engine braking unobtrusive. I rode faster than I should through low-visibility situations without fear of what I might hit; and I attempted more technical obstacles because I always felt in control and comfortable with the ergonomics. That alone is worth the extra $600 for the new EPS model, not to mention the attention to detail and durable reputation that comes with it.

Yamaha has packed the Grizzly 450 EPS with features and amenities that will make it a popular ride with the midsize utility ATV market.

Yamaha has packed the Grizzly 450 EPS with features and amenities that will make it a popular ride with the midsize utility ATV market.

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