We liked to use diff-lock for this climb. Even with a ledge to bounce the front wheels, the machine stays composed and keeps on climbing with minimal wheelspin.
You might wonder, does Yamaha really need a 350, 450, 550 and 700 Grizzly? In our opinion, the Grizzly family is pretty essential, and speaking of the Grizzly 450, we are very glad to have it in the line of serious Yamaha 4×4 quads. The basic machine hasn’t changed since the new frame, rear brake and EPS upgrades in 2011. For those with a yen for simpler times, this Griz’ is carbureted, with all the benefits in simplicity you gain with a carb. Sure, you have to use a choke in the morning, but the 450 runs very well, and we did not miss EFI in this case. Certainly the 450 is on a different level from the Grizzly 550 in terms of power and chassis size. Engine performance is perhaps not as great a step as between the 550 and 700. In terms of chassis, though, until 2014, the 550 and 700 shared a chassis, but the 700 gained upgraded suspension in 2014. We wouldn’t be surprised if they share a chassis again in 2015. The 450 uses a chassis with an all-new frame, power-steering option and sealed, wet, multi-plate rear brake originally released in 2011. As a result, the 450 is physically smaller in many ways than its bigger brothers.
IS SMALLER GOOD?
As always, Yamaha did a great job making the Grizzly 450 look modern and tough. Our Steel Blue model stayed looking great. We were never bothered by the CVT cover’s bulge while riding.
In this case, we have to say that having a smaller, lower machine does have its advantages. The machine is physically narrower, with a shorter wheelbase and shorter suspension travel than the 550. In the front, the travel difference is roughly an inch, but closer to 2 inches in the rear. Overall curb weight is down as well, and that is always a good thing. Surprisingly, the ability to work is equal to the 550, with an identical 1322 pounds of towing capacity and 88 pounds of carrying capacity for the front rack and 176 pounds for the rear rack.
WHAT DOES IT HAVE?
The multi-function display is well-protected and very informative. It is easy to read at a glance, as well as easy to see in bright sun or in deep shade.
The controls are properly simple and easy to use. You must use the rear brake pedal, since it won’t shift the auto transmission without depressing the rear brake pedal. We usually just use the hand brakes while riding. Like all Yamaha CVT products, a sprag clutch in the transmission provides all-wheel engine braking in 4WD modes and reverse. It offers simply incredible engine braking in 4WD. Add just a touch on the hand brakes for the steepest hills. No complaints about the braking when you do need to use them. The rear multi-plate wet brake is totally sealed, and it should last a very long time. We found that it works great with fine feel, just like a quality disc, but more reliable.
You will find that you use this four-way switch a lot. For us, 2WD was fun on the roads and flats, 4WD was effective most of the time, and for anything tough, we went for diff-lock 4WD. With EPS, the stiffer steering common with diff-lock was a nonissue.
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, and since it is a carbureted engine, a choke lever as well. We expected jetting to be lean and the machine to be cold-blooded running a carb in these days of EFI, but the engine had excellent manners hot or cold.
We found the Grizzly 450 had plenty of power to let us get out and get away from the city dwelling. When you are ready to turn, it is raring to go with you.
It is obvious that Yamaha wanted performance for the 450 engine, but they wanted it to be easy to maintain at the same time. Just two valves actuated by rocker arms fill that bill. Simple screw-type tappets set the valve clearance. No shims needed here. There is a balance shaft to keep the vibes in check, and there is a back-up pull starter that we love to see on a utility machine. Like the bigger engine, the cylinder is inclined (45 degrees) to keep weight low. Rubber engine mounts further isolate engine vibration. With a CVT, it is important for the engine to run very well in a relatively short rpm range. Then, you tune the CVT to maximize the power by keeping the engine in that rpm range. Induction is handled by a 33mm Mikuni BSR carb, and the engine breathes out through a pleasantly quiet and responsible exhaust system. It has a cleanable spark arrestor, but we doubt it will need care for many years. The 450 is liquid-cooled. A high-capacity aluminum radiator with a fan motor is positioned high in the frame for protection. We never had the fan come on while we were moving. The light alloy cylinder uses a bombproof ceramic-composite-plated bore. It is designed to outlast several cast-iron bores, yet keep piston and cylinder heat expansion compatible.
The Yamaha Ultramatic CVT belt-drive transmission also uses an automatic centrifugal clutch to maintain belt tension. The design reduces belt wear, and in our experience makes for a very smooth response to the throttle that is great for slow, tough conditions. The transmission case is sealed, but it does have a high-intake vent to allow cooling air in and keep water and dirt out of the belt case.
WORK AND PLAY
There is no mistaking the family resemblance to the larger Grizzlies. They all have daddy’s nose. The uniform look of the line-up is fine with us. We like the Grizzly look.
Despite the carburetor, the Grizzly lights up quickly and is happy to pull a load right away. We never noticed that the performance was affected by either weather or altitude. The response is not as instant as an EFI engine, but we like the trade for less complexity and the back-up pull starter. The engine is willing, and it pulls well to a little over 50 mph. For best results, you will find that you run the transmission selector in low range about 25 percent more often than you would on the 550. Performance is spry in low with instant acceleration. At the same time, the low-speed control for slippery rock and root crawling is very rideable. Our trail sections were broken up with some groomed two-track, and we were able to push the Grizzly hard with no brake fade. We felt some roll in the tires, but not too much from the suspension. We actually had the new 700 Grizzly along, and its longer travel feels a little more cloud-like over small bumps. The shorter-travel 450 feels more planted, with a more crisp feel to the initial suspension movement. There is good wheel control, but not as much plushness as the larger Grizzly exhibits. Being narrower, shorter and having a tighter turning radius paid off in tight conditions, though. At speed, there seemed no greater tendency to lift the wheels while cornering hard. With the EPS, the steering is always light and predictable.
This rock and root garden was in a place where we did hear the skid plates get used. The 450 power and CVT tuning is flawless for technical riding like this.
We got our share or low-range rock crawling and climbing in. We even had to deal with a sudden blind ledge in an already steep climb. The 450 waltzed right through all of it. The lower CG seemed like a decent trade-off for the slight loss in initial plushness. Despite being shorter, the machine is not prone to crazy wheelies in rough climbing. There is plenty of power without there ever being enough to upset the chassis. We were more than happy playing on tight trails. We weren’t so excited to work, but the Grizzly was fine there as well.
The riding position is open and roomy, with a cushy seat that adds to the suspension feel. The machine is a little more compact, but was plenty comfortable for riders over 6 feet tall. The Grizzly has one of the better standing riding positions in the 4WD world, and the 450 continues the tradition. All of the controls feel like they are right where they should be. The efforts are light but accurate for technical work. The floorboard area really leaves your feet happy and protected. We only got in a little mud and water, and coverage at the feet and from the fenders is very nice. As much as we love the 700, there was no game of rock-paper-scissors required when the riders swapped machines. The 700 is faster but feels bigger. The 450 feels a little more compact, but trades you for responsive handling. We were happy on both machines for different reasons. We didn’t try dragging an Elk, but we never found anything that the 700 would do that the 450 would not. We did find some gaps that the 450 would fit through and the 700 would not. With the diff-lock on in low range, the 450 will really get the job done. Having a chassis that is both nimble and calm just helps.
Even while cranking turns on off-camber terrain, the 450 stays planted. The relatively compact size would seem to be a negative point here, but it wasn’t.
Yamaha does have one really cool feature for the 450: the 2014 model is $500 cheaper than the 2011 model was. You have to love negative inflation. For any sort of tight trail use, the 450 is the machine to have. We liked it on the trail, and even more so when it came time to load it on the trailer. It certainly isn’t petite by any stretch, but it is just a bit smaller when it counts. The 450 is not smaller in the heart. It had the spine to tackle anything we dared with excellent results. Consider this the SUV of quads—Sporty Utility Vehicle. Able to work but born to play.
2014 YAMAHA Grizzly 450
Engine 421cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled,
Bore x stroke 84.5mm x 75.0mm
Fuel system Mikuni 33mm BSR
Fuel capacity 4.0 gal.
Starting system Electric
Final drive Shaft
Front Independent double
Rear Independent double
Front Maxxis AT 25×8-12
Rear Maxxis AT 25×10-12
Front Dual hydraulic disc
Rear Sealed, oil-bathed, multi-disc
Ground clearance 10.8″
Seat height 33.1″
Turning radius 118″
Total rack capacity 88 lb (f)/176 lb. (r)
Towing capacity 1322 lb.
Curb weight 606 lb
Color Hunter Green, Steel Blue, red,
Realtree AP HD Camo
Price $7199 (hunter green, steel blue,
red); $7549 (Realtree AP HD)
The rear independent suspension offers welcome ground clearance and has superior action when you hit angled bumps or ruts.
We like the no-tools air-filter access, modest but usable storage and the heavy-duty rack. The steel rack is not as fancy as some, but it has plenty of tie-down points. The toolkit is basic but handy nonetheless. We used the air gauge more than any other tool.
It is always comforting to know that the underside is covered. Composite skid or glide plates handle the underside protection quite well. We didn’t bang them up much.