The Bruin's gated shifter...
The Bruin's gated shifter positively selects gears.
The Bruin's controls are very...
The Bruin's controls are very basic, as would be expected in a 4x4 less than $5K. It still retains a 2WD/4WD selector but is naked of a speedometer.
Yamaha recently invited us to ride its 2004 models at the Turkey Bay OHV Area in the beautiful Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Golden Pond, Kentucky. Since we had only one day to ride, the challenge was to familiarize ourselves with each new-for-2004 model just enough to develop an educated first impression. The theme for the new models from big blue this year is getting value for your dollar--heartening in these shaky economic times.
Laying eyes on the Bruin for the first time caused a sense of déjà vu. Why do we feel as if weive been here before? That we've seen this machine somewhere? Interestingly enough, the Bruin is a spitting image of the Kodiak 400 in so many ways you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two from a distance. In terms of styling, the honey pot has been snatched from the Grizzly, as seen in elements of the front end, and it features what appears to be a Kodiak-based chassis. We wouldn't be the least bit surprised if many of the Bruin's components turned out to be interchangeable with the Kodiak.
Hastily poking around the machine left us scratching our heads at its very existence. What on earth was Yamaha doing? Why would marketing folks crowd showroom floors and manufacturers run the risk of confusing customers with yet another midsize utility ATV? Dealers would loath taking on additional stock in an economic downturn. Do we really need a stripped-down, air-cooled, reduced-displacement version of the Kodiak? And what of the higher-priced manual-shift 400cc Big Bear?
We posed these questions to Steve Nessl, Yamaha's ATV media relations manager. In a word and a smile Nessl commented: "Affordability." He added, "Yamaha's research has shown that this is what people want. It's a good machine with proven technology." There's no debating the attractive price tag, but how much punch does the Bruin pack? And are there enough buyers out there to support sales in what some may argue is an already-crowded marketplace?
We can tell you right off the bat that the Bruin, like the Kodiak, is an extremely user-friendly ATV. The controls are laid out well, seat positioning is comfortable and getting the wheels turning is a no-brainer. An easy-to-use hand-operated gear selector allows you to simply gas it and go. Front and rear storage racks, brush guards, running boards--all the features you'd expect of a utility ATV are there. We can see how the Bruin would appeal to the entry-level buyer as well as experienced riders who are budget shopping. Expect these to get snatched up.
Once moving we quickly noticed the Bruin has no instrumentation. Frankly, this didn't bother us and is one less thing to break. If you are unfortunate enough to get a flat in the middle of the woods, however, you'll learn that the Bruin does not come with a DC outlet plug for your air pump, so plan accordingly. The outlet plug is an additional accessory available from your local Yamaha dealer. One has to wonder just how much money was saved eliminating what should be standard equipment on a modern utility four-wheeler.
Yamaha spared big bucks using what appears to be the same 348cc, air-cooled, four-stroke single fitted in the Wolverine and Warrior. Acceleration is far from gut-wrenching, but the engine produces enough torque for utility-oriented chores and spirited trail riding. With the Bruin available in both two- and four-wheel-drive models, you have the option on the 4WD quad of switching between modes with the click of a button. Both models come with a reverse gear.
Of worthy mention is just how well Yamaha's Ultramatic V-Belt system performed. Since its introduction on the Grizzly six years ago, the system has been our favorite of the various belt drives available. To mimic real-world abuse, we partially submerged the Bruin's engine in a nearby lake, flogging the machine through the trails shortly thereafter and paying close attention to any signs of belt slippage or overheating. The system continued to operate in a normal fashion.
The Bruin's all-wheel engine-braking system is all it's cracked up to be and provides a very surefooted ride on descents and technical trail sections. For beginner riders or those hauling loads or pulling trailers, this is a wonderful safety feature and welcome additional control. It is no fun to ride a four-wheeler that starts to freewheel on steep slopes without warning just because your rpm drops too low to keep the clutch engaged. Kudos to Yamaha for getting this one right.
The Bruin is available in Hunter green, red and Steel blue with a Realtree Hardwoods High-Definition Camouflage version to be released a month later. It should prove to be a good entry-level 4x4 at a very reasonable price. If you are in the market for a budget utility ATV, you no longer have to sacrifice features for affordability.
At one point during our day with Yamaha we were making our way back from riding the Bruin and had to traverse some particularly tricky sections of trail. Most notably there were lots of ruts and rocks all on an incline. Nothing ridiculously difficult, but the kind of terrain you needed to pay close attention to or risk ending up in the trees. We thought it was odd when we spotted members of the press riding these trails on the new Yamaha Rhino-- herd of them, to be exact. The vehicles seemed about as out of place as the living, breathing, horned wild beasts themselves would be in the woods of North America. Discounting this sighting as a bunch of enthusiastic journalists bent on adding scars to test machines, we quickly forgot about it.
Frank Hoppen, the well-known motorsports photographer hired by Yamaha to cover the event, approached us and said he was free to take some shots for the magazine. We wrapped up our Bruin and YFZ450 shoots and he asked where we wanted to pose the Rhino. Not having ridden the machine yet or knowing much about it, we told him we could shoot on some flat ground back near the truck. "You know it's just a farm machine that people are going to ride around on their property." He smirked, knowing full well how wrong I was.
When we sat inside the Rhino, we noticed many automotive-type refinements such as a key-activated electric starter, three-point safety belts, padded seats and several grab rails to hold on to. Passengers need the grab rails not because of the jarring ride the Rhino delivers--in fact, the ride is remarkably plush--but rather because of the terrain this machine is capable of traversing.
Picture this...you have a fully independent suspension with more than 7 inches of travel, limited-slip 4WD and a diff-lock at the touch of a button. You step on the automotive-style gas pedal and the Grizzly 660npowered vehicle immediately barks, sending you forward with increasing speed and no harsh feedback from the ground beneath you. You are quickly moving over terrain you would normally ride your four-wheeler through with incredible comfort and ease. You look over at your passenger, who is smiling.
This is what the Rhino is all about.
Convincing customers of the Rhino's capabilities may require some persuasive techniques. Maybe some demo days on the part of Yamaha dealers Oe You just have to see it and experience it to believe it. Believe us--there is nothing else out there like it. This is truly an exciting vehicle that is difficult to describe.
Initially, when we caught some of the marketing materials that hype this quad, we had to wonder how much of it is just exaggerated claims. Whom can you trust nowadays? A manufacturer who has hired promoters to try and sell you a product they have perhaps never ridden? Just sign here on the dotted line, sir, and she's yours. Yeah, right. The Rhino will have to overcome this hurdle--it's an aggressively designed machine, but you don't get a sense of what it can do until you're pitched forward, lurching down a steep incline you've just ascended, almost giggling at the feat you are accomplishing in what looks like a camouflaged golf cart. Available in Hunter green this year as well as a Realtree Hardwoods High-Definition Camouflage model in February 2004, this side-by-side is going to develop a cult following. People are going to fall in love with the $8499 beastojust watch.