Suppose you could combine the ultimate in all terrain capability with the convenience of side by side seating, automotive controls, and ease of use? What would you have? How about one of the best handling, most capable all terrain vehicles ever made? Yamaha’s all new Rhino 660 Automatic, which falls into the expanding line of side by side or SxS vehicles (where the driver and passenger sit next to each other) could be that very machine.



Yamaha has stepped up the competition in the side by side market with the introduction of the ’04 Rhino 660 Automatic 4×4. Kawasaki has dominated this market for years with their decidedly more tame and utility minded Mules. Polaris got into the act a few years back, with a more off-road capable side by side called the Ranger, which was their primary SxS platform. John Deere’s Gator also has made inroads in the side by side market. Now Yamaha has taken this category to the next level with the introduction of the Rhino. It uses the Grizzly’s powerful 660cc, liquid cooled, five-valve, four-stroke engine, along with its fully automatic transmission, On Command 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD with locking front differential, and four-wheel independent suspension. Combine those features with the Rhino’s new roll-cage equipped, automotive style chassis with conventional steering wheel and controls, side by side seating, and a large dump bed cargo area on the back end, and the result is one of the most unusual vehicles we have ever driven.



We have to admit it, we were skeptics when we first heard about the Rhino. Testing a side by side vehicle was not exactly our cup of tea. But then we kept hearing from assorted Yamaha test riders that we had to try this thing out. It was not like any other side by side we had ever driven.


Frankly, we were not expecting all that much. Sure, previous side by side vehicles we have ridden, such as the Polaris Ranger and Kawasaki Mule, were fun, and the Ranger was even decent off-road, but lets face it; these things are not much more than glorified golf carts, right?


How wrong that statement would turn out to be. Our first impression of the vehicle was a quick trip as a passenger with one of the Yamaha test riders at the controls. As soon as he turned the machine directly into a rut-filled, near-vertical hillclimb, we puckered up and prepared to meet our doom. To our amazement, the Rhino chugged up the scary precipice like it was on rails.


After more steep climbs and ever steeper descents, we found ourselves in awe of the machine’s amazing off-road capabilities. We had to get behind the wheel for ourselves and see if this was a matter of a skillful driver doing what seemed like impossible stunts, or did this machine have true off-road potential for Joe Everyrider.


First of all, the Rhino uses a conventional key start, just like your everyday automobile. It also has a backup pull. The motor is located underneath the engine cowling, which is centrally mounted between the rider and passenger. Like an automobile, you also have to buckle up using a conventional lap type seat belt. A sturdy roll cage, with handholds for the passenger, protects the occupants from injury in case of a roll-over. There are conventional auto-type gas and brake pedals and a steering wheel.

The motor itself is located low on the chassis, which gives the machine its well balanced center of gravity. It also has a much larger radiator than the Grizzly and additional oil cooler to help keep the massive 660cc four-stroke engine operating on the cool side. Like the Griz, it comes with a dual range tranny (both high and low) as well as reverse. An easy to use gear-range shifter is located between the driver and passenger as well as a parking brake lever.


Since the belt drive automatic transmission is identical to the one found on the Grizzly, it incorporates the same 2WD, 4WD, and locking front differential controls. It has long travel (7.3 inches) independent suspension front and back with five-way pre-load adjustments at both ends. To help it climb over rocks and trail obstacles there is a massive amount of ground clearance measuring in at a whopping 12 inches. The underbelly of the machine also has a full length composite skid plate for added protection.



Behind the driver and passenger is a dump bed cargo box that will hold up to 400 pounds of gear or game. Since a prime consideration for the Rhino is for hunters and sportsmen, the dump bed box is a feature that has been well thought out. It’s easy to activate the dumping feature via a lever, and the back end of the machine comes with a two-inch receiver hitch. There are also winch mounting tabs and the Rhino comes pre-wired for the optional digital speedometer.


Speaking of options, Yamaha has a host of them available for the Rhino. There are accessory windscreens, bumpers, aluminum trim, trick wheels and tires, gun boots, and even specially outfitted hunting theme models, as well as a Mossy Oak camo version of the machine.



When we got behind the wheel to try our hand at navigating the Rhino through the rugged hills and dales of the Turkey Bay OHV Park, we soon found out that this is a machine that is truly unique. You could approach the baddest looking, cross-grain filled, rut-infested hillside, with absolute confidence.


Literally, you have to be behind the wheel to understand what this machine’s capabilities are. As a passenger, it is almost scary what it can do; as a driver, you are constantly seeking out even steeper and more challenging terrain to conquer. Imagine the most capable 4×4 hill climber you’re ever driven. Now imagine being able to turn to your buddy and tell him you and he are going to climb a steep hillside you might not consider doing on your regular quad. The new Rhino 660 is that good!


First of all, the Grizzly motor puts out an incredible amount of stump-pulling horsepower. The combination of the Rhino’s low c.g. chassis, four-wheel independent suspension, and this motor are incredible. We found that we could actually park it at the bottom of a climb, then calmly proceed up the rocky, rutted path from a dead stop! The steeper the hill, the more fun it was to climb.


What was even more amazing was how we could go down even steeper hills under complete control. With dual twin piston hydraulic disc brakes up front, a shaft-mounted hydraulic disc on the rear, and all wheel engine braking, the Rhino could navigate its way down incredibly steep slopes under complete control. Unlike a conventional ATV, it does not want to continue sliding down a steep hillside even after the brakes are locked up.

We found this out when we lodged it against a tree root sticking out of a steep-faced sidewall. The only way out was to put the machine in reverse and try to back up the hill. To our amazement, after the Rhino came to a full stop, we were able to back up the steep incline. The combination of superb brakes and incredible engine torque makes this one of the most capable All Terrain Vehicles we have ever driven, especially on hilly terrain.

Suspension wise, the Rhino has a plush ride that allows you to launch it off jumps at full throttle, yet still drive it up and over trail obstacles at slow speeds. Yamaha has equipped the machine with a built-in governor that limits the top speed to 35 mph. This does hamper it a bit on high speed, smooth dirt roads, but is not a factor when climbing or descending hills and dropoffs.


The four wheel independent suspension action is first rate and soaks up the bumps at low, medium and high speeds with ease. Shifting the tranny into 2WD helps with sliding the machine in the corners and it has a solid, steady feel to it that promotes confidence.

A huge 8.5 gallon fuel tank allows for long rides without having to stop and refuel the Rhino constantly. There is also an automotive type DC outlet on the machine for plugging in mobile phones or GPS devices.



When we compare the Rhino to a modern day ATV, like the Grizzy 660, we still have to give the modern day all terrain vehicle its due props. While the Rhino is fully capable at hillclimbing and slow to medium speed trailing, the Griz is still the better vehicle when it comes to higher speed trail riding. The Rhino is priced at $8499, which for what you get is a bargain, but the Griz still has it beat with a suggested retail of $6999.

The Griz 4×4 is also much easier to transport at 45.3 inches in width, with an 82.1-inch length compared to the Rhino’s 54.5-inch width and 113.5-inch length. The comparable dry weights are also quite a bit less on the Griz (600 pounds compared to Rhino’s 1049 pounds.) So there is no reason to forget about the Griz when it comes to overall sport/utility ATV usage.



There is no doubting, though, that we were thoroughly impressed with the performance of the Rhino 660 Automatic. It combines the monster torque and horsepower of the Grizzly 660’s engine with the four-wheel independent suspension, throw in a roll cage equipped, excellent automotive-type chassis, and versatile 2WD, 4WD, and limited slip and locking front differential and you’ve got a winning package.


It is scary good. So much so that we feel it sets some new standards for all-terrain vehicles as well as side by side models. The Rhino is the perfect hunting and exploring companion. You can literally go anywhere on it, with complete confidence. The most amazing thing of all is that you can have a good friend right along with you to share the spine-tingling ride. Strap on your seatbelt, Cletus, we’re going for a ride.

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