One of the basic tenets of having a good time is being able to afford the leisure activity you wish to pursue. The more “bang” for your “buck” you can get, the easier it is to rationalize the expenditure. In the neverending battle to give you more for your money, Yamaha has introduced a new mid-sized, four wheel drive ATV with an astoundingly low price point of $4999! The newest bear cub to join the Yamaha sport/utility Wolf pack is a little number called the Bruin 350 4x4 Auto.
Now, you might expect a sport/utility 4x4 that sells for under five grand to have to sacrifice comfort, capability, and a host of other features to make it fit into this entry-level 4x4 price range.
The new Bruin 350 4x4 comes with a fully automatic transmission, front disc brakes, selectable 2WD/4WD, full length skid plates, double A-arm front suspension with 6.3 inches of travel, and a single shock rear swingarm with 7.1 inches of travel.
All this in a proven chassis (used in the Kodiak 400) and powered by an air-cooled four-stroke engine. In addition, the new Bruin 350 4WD also boasts one of the highest towing (1102 pounds) and rack capacities (264 pounds) for this sized vehicle. Yamaha also claims it has a very tight turning radius and a very light steering effort. On paper anyway, the all new Bruin 4WD looks like a formidable competitor in the entry-level four wheel drive category.
A BEAR IN THE WOODS
To see for ourselves how the newest addition to Yamaha’s Bear Club performed, we took it out onto the rugged trails and razor-sharp ridges of Kentucky’s Turkey Bay OHV Park. This is one of the more demanding OHV parks in the country and consists of miles of trails snaking through the thick forests and steep banks of the Blue Ridge State. We put a lot of time on the Bruin and came away with a solid impression of the value this new 4x4 offers.
The Bruin uses an all new 348cc, air-cooled, single overhead cam (SOHC), two-valve, four-stroke engine. While the design is simple, it is also quite bulletproof. Even though it will not run as cool as a liquid-cooled competitor, this does help to keep the overall price down without sacrificing other creature comforts.
Yamaha also understands that this type of machine is going to see a lot of use and abuse from its operators. Therefore, the motor pumps out a broad and steady torque spread. It hooks up nicely and has a very easy to ride feel to it.
There is just enough snap on the mid-range and top-end to make it fun on the faster portions of the trail. Yet it still has enough low-end grunt to make it easy to growl your way over tough trail obstacles.
Allowing the motor to get the Bruin’s four-stroke power to the ground is Yamaha’s version of a belt drive automatic transmission, called the Ultramatic V-belt. This belt-driven automatic transmission is narrower at the cases than most of its competitors. This allows the operator a tighter platform to straddle, and better control and comfort. The Yamaha auto tranny feels seamless when shifting and the clutch engagement is very good and well suited to the engine’s broad powerband.
The CVT clutch engages quite low and allows for quick throttle response right off the bat. It also has a very good engine braking system for steep descents under full control. Unlike some 4x4 ATVs, the reverse range allows for 4WD operation while backing up, a handy feature for getting unstuck out of mudholes.
We also liked the Bruin’s selectable 2WD/4WD system. It’s easy to engage via a button mounted on the handlebars. Switching into 2WD produces a very light steering effect on the bars. Even when 4WD is engaged, the steering on the Bruin is still on the easy side. The limited-slip front differential does not have a locking mechanism but it does seem to work well for most 4x4 useage, other than extreme mud.
Our only complaint with the Bruins automatic tranny is the lack of a low range. That addition would make this machine even more handy for hauling heavy loads around the farm or ranch and more capable in extreme climbing situations.
SHOCK & AHH
Suspension-wise, the Bruin has sport-like travel with the front double A-arms offering a full 6.3 inches and the single shock back end offering up 7.1 inches. This gives it a slight half inch more travel in front and a good inch more travel in the rear than most of its closest competitors. There are also five-way pre-load adjustments for the front and rear shocks to bump up the springs for carrying heavier loads or bigger riders.
Overall suspension action is well balanced front and back. We found you could pound it through reasonably rough terrain without any kicking or pitching. The action is very predictable and smooth. The one weak area on the machine is in high speed bumps. The suspension does have a limit and once it reaches it, it will kick when pressed to the max. Not alarmingly so, but it is something to watch for.
The low-speed ride is extremely comfortable, though, with a cush seat and good ergomomics overall. The seat, bars, and peg relationship are very good, and fit a wide range of rider types, although riders over six feet tall might feel a bit cramped on the machine.
Seat height is on the low side at 32.6 inches, while the width is on the narrow side at 42.7 inches. It has a stable 48.5-inch wheelbase. The claimed dry weight of the Bruin 350 4x4 is 538 pounds, but it feels lighter than that on the trail.
What helps give the Bruin a lot of its finesse is its ability to stop in a hurry. The dual hydraulic front disc brakes and mechanical drum rear brake, along with the transmission’s downhill engine braking, give this machine a lot of stopping power for the buck. It stops quickly, smoothly and right now.
To help keep the price down, the Bruin has spartan instrumentation and no power outlets to plug accessories into. But it does come with a two inch receiver hitch for work duties and a high tow rating of 1102 pounds. It also has high capacity, wrinkle finish steel racks fore and aft (88 pounds front and 176 pounds rear).
Visually, the Bruin looks almost identical to its Kodiak 400 cousin. It has an aggressive front grill and bumper along with clean, low lines when viewed from the side. The exhaust note is extremely quiet and it comes with good handling, all-terrain capable, 25-inch Maxxis tires with rugged steel rims. The machine has fairly good ground clearance (8-10 inches when measured from lowest to highest points) and full length plastic skid plates underneath.
The Bruin 350 Auto 4x4 is an exceptional value in an All Terrain four by four. The motor is spunky and fun to ride, while still being easy to manage and maintain. With its Kodiak heritage and good overall handling manners, it is a blast to wheel around challenging terrain or even to poke along exploring new trails.
It has supple, responsive and fairly long travel suspension. The steering is light and easy and it has lightweight, quick and agile feel to it. As long as you keep the speeds in a fairly reasonable range, it more than gets the job done. With its high towing and rack capacities, it is also a handy machine for the more utility minded rider. As a first time, or entry-level 4x4, it is going to be an extremely hard machine to beat for the money spent. We can’t wait to see how it fares against the competition in this category in a future Dirt Wheels shootout. Stay tuned for that.