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YAMAHA GRIZZLY 550 TEST

 
(5/10/2013)

 
 In the land of “bigger is better,” why exactly would Yamaha shrink the engine in its biggest and beefiest 4x4? At first the same-weight, less-power equation was baffling, but once we rode the smaller Griz, it all made sense. In the most vital respects, the 550 FI Auto 4x4 EPS is the same machine as the fully decked Grizzly 700 FI, but with smoother, more manageable power and, at $8699, an $800 smaller price tag. Being a smaller sibling of the 700cc Grizzly but sharing all the DNA is a great deal. There is no difference in the robust chassis, and that means four-wheel independent suspension via double wishbones front and rear.
Five-way preload-adjustable shocks tune the 9.5 inches of rear and 7.1 inches of front-wheel travel. In spite of that, these rear-travel numbers are greater than a Banshee sport quad. The sporty theme continues with the four disc brakes and a locking front differential. The full-length composite belly pan/skid plate has honeycomb construction in areas that need extra strength. The pan forms the floorboard area surrounding a steel footpeg that offers comforting boot grip.
 


The Griz 550 is a dead ringer for the 700cc version.


LOOKING GOOD
On top of the machine you’ll find acres more of tough plastic that’s sure to keep glop away from you. The plastic is mostly glossy, but it changes to a matte finish at the edges of the fenders to minimize brush scratches. Hunter Green is standard and the least expensive option. Our Steel Blue unit is a $250 bump in price at $8949, but that does include lighter aluminum wheels instead of steel. Finally, there is a Realtree AP HD Camo option that is super tough and shrugs off bush abuse, but at $9149, that choice is $450 over the MSRP for the Hunter Green model with steel wheels.
UNDER CONTROL
The controls are pleasantly simple and easy to use. Your feet need only deal with a rear brake pedal, since it is required to shift the transmission into park, reverse, neutral, high or low. We found it easiest to use the front and rear hand brakes while riding, though the brakes only get a workout in 2WD. A sprag clutch in the transmission provides all-wheel engine braking in 4WD mode and reverse. We tested it on the steepest downhills, and you need only a touch of front brake to complement the engine braking. When you do use the binders, the braking is pleasantly powerful and immediate yet subtle. Thankfully, the thumb throttle has a light touch as well. With a machine as fun as the 550, you won’t want to cut the ride short due to a sore thumb. With just over 5 gallons in the tank, you’ll be the one needing to head for the barn, not the Grizzly.
The throttle housing has two buttons and a covering switch that Yamaha calls three-position on-command. The in/out button feature lets you switch between 2WD, limited-slip 4WD and fully locked differential 4WD with ease. The left-side switchgear has kill, start and light functions. With all these features plus EFI, which generally adds weight compared to carburetion, and electric power steering (EPS), Yamaha claims that the 668-pound 550 is the lightest model in its class.

Yamaha did a great job with the styling of the Grizzly 550. Our Steel Blue model stayed looking good, despite abusive trail miles. We’ve heard the camo surface is super tough.
 
 
Handy steel racks that are rated for nearly 300 pounds of cargo. The integrated hitch’s 1322-pound tow rating will embarrass many small sedans.
 
 
The digital instrument panel features an LCD display with speedometer, odometer, dual trip meter, hour meter, 4WD status, transmission position, clock and fuel gauge.


ENGINE BAY
Where some manufacturers are making this sort of displacement with two cylinders, Yamaha has 550cc (and 700cc) in a single-cylinder package. The main differences between the 700 and 550 are a 10mm reduction in bore and a 4mm decrease in the size of the Mikuni throttle body. Even with the loss of bore size, the engine is still over square, with a 92mm by 84mm bore and stroke. The short stroke helps keep the engine smooth, but a gear-driven crankshaft balancer shaft and rubber engine mounts further isolate engine vibration. The short stroke combines with the cylinder being inclined 35 degrees to the front to keep the engine package compact.
Torque is more important than rpm in a utility application, and lower rpm numbers mean longer engine life. The Grizzly has a single overhead cam, and each lobe operates two of the four valves via needle-bearing roller rockers. Induction is handled by a 40mm throttle body, and the engine exhales through a pleasantly quiet and responsible stainless exhaust system. Like Yamaha’s high-end race motors, the 550 is liquid-cooled. A high-capacity aluminum radiator with a fan motor is positioned high in the frame for protection. The light alloy cylinder uses an extremely durable ceramic-composite-plated bore. It should outlast several cast-iron bores, yet dissipates heat far better. Since the cylinder and piston are aluminum, the heat expansion is compatible.
The engine is mated to a stepless automatic CVT transmission that Yamaha terms Ultramatic. The transmission maintains constant belt tension to prevent belt wear, and the sprag clutch avoids the dreaded freewheeling on decel that once plagued CVT transmissions. For reliability, the transmission case is sealed, but it does have a large vent that runs up as high as the air intake. Both draw air from right up near the handlebar for use in wet conditions.
Trail Trials
One of the joys of EFI is that the Grizzly lights up instantly, and it runs clean right away. We experienced many changes in altitude and temperature during testing, and the engine was always willing and more than able, with no pop, hiccups or stalls regardless of conditions. We found terrain that demanded the use of every transmission option. The 550 shifts easily, though only when the rear brake is on, so that all but demands stopping before shifting. Acceleration is brisk in high range, with a top speed that will swallow up miles of faster two-track or washes. We never had an opportunity to reach top speed, but it clips right along.
When we saw technical sections approaching, we’d select low range to be safe. Four-wheel-drive low proved up to any task we had the courage to attempt. If things really look sketchy, lock the front differential. Locking the front allows you to select line choice with a single front wheel. As long as one wheel has adequate traction, it doesn’t matter whether the other wheel is pawing the air. This is a great feature for rock crawling. At times we chose to leave the transmission in low if there were short trail sections between technical sections, and low range provided plenty of speed for most trail riding yet proved low enough for steep rock crawling.
Normally running in 4WD, 4WD low and with the differential locked would be an arm workout. You do feel the added effort to steer with the diff locked, but it isn’t objectionable. Otherwise, the EPS handles the work. As a consequence, the only time we selected 2WD was when we purposely wanted the rear to slide around more for fun. In 2WD the steering is light, and the Grizzly doesn’t feel super planted in the front. It could be that EPS lets us force the wheels past traction too easily, but the machine does seem happier in terms of steering and tracking when the front wheels are pulling.
LIVING ROOM
The riding position is open and roomy with a seat that treats your rear like royalty. Between the cushy perch and ultra-supple suspension action, conditions have to get pretty choppy to force you to stand. When you do need to stand, the riding position remains quite comfortable and natural. At that point you really feel the roomy footwell. Very nice!
Despite being a bit tall with the suspension travel and large overall size, the Yamaha is comfortable on surprising cambers, though we always used care. Some of our trails had steep climbs that required tight, off-camber turns that sucked away all momentum. Lively steering, great traction and aggressive tires all worked to take the drama out of those climbs. When two-tracks are overgrown, you hear the brush beating the sides of the fenders, but we never had any get into the rider’s cockpit.
For general and serious trail riding, the Grizzly works perfectly. When trails are better traveled and you run into whoops, the 550 is surprisingly adept. Naturally that isn’t the best use of a quad like this, but it is nice to know the machine can handle it. Even when playing in sand dunes—far from what this machine is designed for—the Grizzly is surprisingly competent, planted and easy to ride. We ran in 4WD in the sand as well.
Conclusion
Yamaha may have developed this 550 to compete with other machines in the 500ish class, but in doing so, the company has come up with a bargain in utility quads. The 550 has solid-handling, pleasant and effective power; supple suspension; and plenty of comfort. Being the lightest in its class aids the machine’s ability during technical riding.
As far as 4WD quads go, the Yamaha Grizzly 550 FI is one of our favorites. That isn’t surprising. It does most everything well and has few weaknesses. Some sort of back-up starting system would be comforting, but otherwise we have no complaints. Best of all, Yamaha has made a sporty utility that works superbly but also plays equally well. You can smile while you work.


2013 YAMAHA GRIZZLY 550 FI
Engine      558cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled
      single, SOHC, 4 valves
Bore x stroke      92.0 x 84.0mm
Fuel system      Yamaha fuel injection
      (YFI), 40mm
Fuel capacity      5.3 gal.
Starting system      Electric
Final drive      Shaft
Suspension/wheel travel:
  Front      Independent double wishbone;
      5-way preload adjustment/7.1"
  Rear      Independent double wishbone;
      5-way preload adjustment/9.5"
Tires:
  Front      Maxxis AT 25x8-12
  Rear      Maxxis AT 25x10-12
Brakes:
  Front      Dual hydraulic disc
  Rear      Dual hydraulic disc
Wheelbase      49.2"
Ground clearance      10.8"
Seat height      35.6"
Turning radius      126"
Total rack capacity      286 lb.
Towing capacity      1322 lb.
Curb weight      648 lb.
Color      Forest Green, Steel Blue,
      Realtree AP HD Camo
Price      $8699 (Hunter Green),
      $8949 (Steel Blue w/ aluminum
      wheels), $9149 (Realtree AP
      HD Camo)


 


Topic: Machines

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WARNING: Much of the action de­pict­­ed in this magazine is potentially dan­gerous. Virtually all of the riders seen in our photos are experienced ex­­perts or professionals. Do not at­tempt to duplicate any stunts that are be­­yond your own capabilities. Always wear the appropriate safety gear.
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