ATV TEST: 2020 YAMAHA GRIZZLY XT-R

A weapon in the woods By the staff of Dirt Wheels

If you ride fast, it is easier to corner the Grizzly with some proper body movement. The shocks are a bit soft in stock trim.

The big bad bear. Yamaha’s Grizzly has topped the mountain year after year as the brand’s premier sport utility ATV. It can paw its way through thick mud, traverse river beds on the hunt, and scale the steeps at a quick clip. Yet, the Yamaha can also retract its claws and conquer terrain in comfort. While the Grizzly is capable of extreme enjoyment on the trails, it doubles as a handy rig around the ranch, too.

For 2020, Yamaha decided to outfit a few UTV models to succeed in the woods, and the do-it-all Grizzly was equipped the same way. The big bear awoke from hibernation as the all-new Grizzly XT-R Edition.

XT-R ADDITIONS

The 4×4 ATV market may have reached the technological advancement pinnacle, or that is what we assume since it is becoming rare to see major changes these days. Yamaha’s Grizzly has remained similar in form, function and style for years now, yet it still continues to sell well. Yamaha promotes progression, studies the market heavily and upgrades the ATV line as it sees fit. That led to the XT-R package. The Grizzly gains a factory-installed 2500-pound Warn Pro Vantage winch, all-new 14-inch wheels wrapped with Maxxis Zilla tires and a Titanium Bronze/Tactical Black color scheme. All SE versions are wired to accept Yamaha’s Adventure Pro GPS system.

The Yamaha’s engine braking is very helpful while descending steep terrain. The engine is just as helpful going up rough terrain, and the 4×4 system operates with excellence.

POTENT ENOUGH

The North American Grizzly bear is well known for its aggressive character when provoked. That personality trait is shared by the Yamaha’s torquey 686cc four-stroke engine. The single-cylinder power plant has a single overhead camshaft and is liquid cooled with a high-capacity radiator. The engine and CVT intakes are mounted up high so you can ride through somewhat deep water or mud without worry. A 4.8-gallon fuel tank under the seat feeds the engine’s electronic fuel injection.

Power output is transferred through the crankshaft into Yamaha’s Ultramatic transmission. The trans is continuously variable, belt-driven and fully automatic. There are five transmission options that include high and low forward gears, neutral, reverse and park. Power then gets transferred via shafts to the front and rear differentials of the Yamaha on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The rear diff remains locked at all times, but you can choose to engage the AWD or fully lock the front differential so all tires turn at the same time.

The 27-inch Maxxis Zilla tires excel in muddy and wet terrain. They have large spacing between tread blocks so mud displaces and doesn’t pack up easily.

INTO THE WOODS

If you have ever had the pleasure (on TV) or pain (in the wild) of watching a grown Grizzly bound towards you, it is a brilliant sight. Its legs soak up impacts with ease and push back hard to continue its quick and somewhat graceful stride. The Yamaha acts similarly with independent front and rear suspension to smooth out harsh terrain. The dual A-arm design up front offers 7.6 inches of wheel travel, while the rear dual A-arm suspension provides 9.1 inches. We were hoping to see Yamaha install compression and rebound adjustable piggyback reservoir type shocks for the XT-R packages, but the XT-R still comes with five-position, spring-preload-adjustable gas-charged coil-over shocks that the rest of the Grizzly 700 lineup employs.

Hydraulic disc brakes on all four corners ably slow the momentum of the big bear. The rear brakes are operated with either a foot lever on the right floorboard of the machine or a hand lever on the left of the handlebar. The front brakes are controlled with a hand lever on the right side of the handlebar where the thumb throttle and 4×4 controls are mounted. The start switch and headlight controls are mounted on the left of the bar. A center-mounted light on the handlebar turns on when the high beams are selected, but the low-beam lights are mounted on the front of the machine.

A Pro Vantage 2500-pound capable Warn winch comes factory installed on the Grizzly EPS XT-R edition.

TRACKING ITS PREY

We spent hours piloting the Grizzly XT-R in the wooded terrain of Alabama. Mud, hill climbs, dusty and loose dirt and rocks were on the bear’s menu. The power output of the Yamaha is one of our favorites. It has enough gusto to get you through anything you point it at yet is tame enough to ride calmly. The single-cylinder engine revs smoothly and won’t stress your arms out with too much torque. It does pull hard through the range and can easily out-power its wheel travel on the roughest trails. During deceleration, the engine braking is strong enough to slow you down without being too aggressive. We have encountered machines that will lock the rear wheels, even in 4×4 mode, on steep descents, which can get thrilling. The Grizzly doesn’t do that, and we are grateful.

While the Yamaha doesn’t offer the most suspension travel in its class, it does have very well-rounded action. It is stiff and controlled enough for sporty riding but has a smooth and supple ride character. As we stated before, we would have liked more adjustable shocks to tune. If we had those, then we could have tuned out some of the front-end dive while entering corners with more than just spring preload. Over chop, the big bear stays very composed, but if you start pushing too hard, it lets you know quickly that you might want to back off the pace a bit. We say this as very experienced riders who push the limits, but we must admit that the Grizzly is extremely comfortable for 90 percent of its purchasers. Fortunately, the entire Grizzly lineup comes standard with electronic power steering, so staying in control of the bear is smooth and easy.

A gated shifter on the left side of the big bear operates the high, low, neutral, reverse and park gears.

The rider area is spacious, and the seat gets top honors for comfort. Yamaha’s choice of handlebar sweep is most comfortable while seated and helps with cornering. The controls are all easy to reach and operate, but we would have preferred taller or sharper foot pegs. While the Grizzly’s width between the knees and feet is certainly not the widest in class, it does take some body language to move around it on steep off cambers. 

Yamaha recently updated the Grizzly with lower transmission gearing to allow for 26-inch-tall tires. Well, the XT-R edition comes with 27s, and that lower gear ratio made it so we couldn’t feel any power loss. Reportedly, the top speed drops by a little over a mile per hour. The 14-inch wheel and 27-inch Maxxis Zilla tire package is the same 27×10-14 size on all four corners, so only having to keep one spare around will be nice. The tires are directional. They perform great in the slop and muck, but when it comes to rocky or dry terrain, they don’t keep up well with the performance the Yamaha Grizzly XT-R has to offer.

All the hand controls on the Grizzly 700 are easy to reach and just as easy to operate. The large display has a ton of readouts.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The 2020 Yamaha Grizzly XT-R edition is a true back-East master that can play out West, too. The Pro Vantage 2500-pound Warn winch is a welcome addition to make sure you can pull yourself (or others on the ride) out of trouble. We have spent quality time with the folks at Warn, and you can trust that their products are topnotch, just like Yamaha’s.

The color scheme on the Griz is one of our favorites to date, and the 14-inch wheels look awesome. We have always felt that the Yamaha Grizzly is one of the best 4×4 ATVs around, and we stand by that assessment. It has a sporty and playful feel that is rare in 4×4 quads. Once you are done shredding trails, use it to get work done around the ranch for years to come. Go to www.yamahamotorsports.com or track down your local dealer to check out Yamaha’s entire lineup of capable ATVs and UTVs.

The front cargo rack can hold up to 110 pounds, while the rear holds 198 pounds. The Yamaha’s towing capacity is a helpful 1322 pounds.

2020 YAMAHA GRIZZLY EPS XT-R SPECS

Engine SOHC, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke

Displacement 686cc

Bore x stroke 102mm x 84mm

Starter Electric 

Fuel system EFI

Fuel capacity 4.8 gal.

Transmission Automatic CVT

Final drive Shaft

Suspension/wheel travel:

Front Dual A-arms w/ 7.6”

Rear Dual A-arms w/ 9.1”

Brakes:

Front Dual hydraulic discs

Rear Dual hydraulic discs

Tires:

Front 27×10-14

Rear 27×10-14

Length/width/height 81.5”/49.2”/50.0”

Ground clearance 11.8”

Wheelbase 49.2”

Curb weight 780 lb.

Rack capacity:

Front 110 lb.

Rear 198 lb.

Towing capacity 1322 lbs.

Colors Titanium Bronze/Tactical Black

Price $10,999

Contact www.yamahamotorsports.com

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