2018 YAMAHA WOLVERINE X4 SE
FIRST TEST REVIEW
— UTV TEST: Family fun for the woods, By the staff of Dirt Wheels —
Have you ever heard of shooting skeet? Two fast-moving clay targets fly across from both the left and the right. The contestants have two shots to hit both targets before they hit the ground and break. With the all-new 2018 Wolverine X4, Yamaha has set a similar task for its design team. Yamaha shot for two targets with the same machine. The first target is rigidly defined. Yamaha wanted the X4 to have the most compact trail presence of any four-seat UTV. Dimensionally, it is slightly narrower, shorter and even lower than comparable four-seat offerings. The reason for this effort? To give owners the freedom to handle the tightest trails and trail situations, usually trees, possible while carting up to four people.
The second target is more subjective, and like the clay targets above, it is moving. As current UTV enthusiasts gain experience with machines, they get more critical of UTV performance facets, and they gain specific opinions about what makes a good off-road experience. The same is true of new enthusiasts entering the sport. Where ATV or dirt bike riders might forgive certain levels of sound, vibration and heat as “part of the deal,” those without motorsports backgrounds might not be so accepting.
ENTER THE WOLVERINE X4
Yamaha product research showed that a large percentage of enthusiasts looking for a UTV cared a great deal about true off-road performance, machine durability and reliability, and comfort. Comfort includes the seating and riding/driving position, but also includes a lack of vibration and in-cab sound and heat. This is the moving target. As owners get more sophisticated, they demand equal or increased performance with lower levels of noise and vibration. As more machines gain a refined cabin, larger numbers of buyers will demand higher levels of comfort and refinement.
Yamaha already had the Wolverine platform and the Viking line, and the easy way to create the X4 would have been to mash the desired traits into one of these existing platforms. Instead, Yamaha started from the ground up with a new chassis and a new 847cc inline twin engine to go with it. The chassis packs a bunch of performance and passenger room into a small footprint. Suspension numbers measure slightly less than the current Wolverine 700, but are greater than the Viking. The Wolverine X4 is nearly 60 inches wide, but it has travel numbers more like a 50-inch machine.
While Yamaha could have modified the existing Wolverine, it would not have accomplished the goals the company had. Even though the engine is less than 150cc larger than the single cylinder used in the Wolverine 700, it has almost 50 percent more power and torque, so who knows how the existing chassis would have dealt with that much more boost. Plus, with four passengers in basically the same footprint as the current two-seater, the chassis was being asked to handle well carrying twice the weight! And, Yamaha wanted the X4 to be totally composed with four passengers but still be able to slice up tight-woods trails like a tree surgeon. Yamaha’s six-seat Viking has a whopping 32.9-inch-longer wheelbase than the compact X4, and the X4’s turning radius is 67 inches smaller! The machine’s footprint is just over an inch longer in wheelbase than the existing Wolverine 700 two-seater. Overall, the X4 is 6 inches longer than the two-seater. The X4 is about 1.5 inches wider as well, but roughly 2 inches narrower than the Viking.
Like the fact that the X4 was a double target, Yamaha was expecting the new 847cc parallel-twin engine and accompanying peripherals to tick off a number of boxes: reduction of sound, heat and vibration, and an increase in power and torque. A twin is generally smoother than a big single, but Yamaha added a counterbalancer while designing the dry-sump DOHC engine. Dry-sump engines carry most of the oil in a separate oil tank for cooling and to shorten the engine as much as possible.
Rubber-mounting the engine with bigger mounts also helps better isolate the engine vibration from the frame, floor and steering wheel. In contrast to Yamaha’s other multi-cylinder UTV powerplant—the YXZ’s 999cc inline triple—the new 850 is completely opposite in temperament. The YXZ engine thrives on revs, while the new 850 twin is designed to offer excellent trail performance at lower rpm and at lower shift points. The low shift points keep sound down and relax the feel of the engine.
For a sound benchmark, Yamaha selected Honda’s smooth and quiet Pioneer 1000 and claims the X4 is 2 decibels quieter. We welcome the efforts to reduce sound and heat in the cab.
RIDE AND PERFORMANCE
In our area, if we want tight trails, we look for bushes or rock formations to dodge. In other parts of the country, they have these things called trees that are highly effective trail obstacles. Yamaha arranged for us to test the Wolverine X4 at Brushy Mountain Motor Sports Park in North Carolina. There was some brush, but mostly trees and tight trails cut into the sides of the hilly terrain. Yamaha is touting the comfort of the X4, and sliding into the driver’s seat proves they are on the right track. The seating position is upright with good visibility, and the seat is comfortable and supportive. The doors are low, so visibility and airflow are good, but a bolster added at shoulder height makes the car feel quite secure. We like the flip-up center console and the shifter that is mounted in front of it. Shifting is easy and natural. There is plenty of adjustment in the tilt wheel.
TRAILS AND WORK
We headed out on a good, long loop that had all sorts of terrain features. We had steep drops and climbs that were straight, but also stair-step rocky trails and others that twisted and turned. Yamaha had warned us that we might kiss the rear over-fenders and the edge of the plastic sun top on trees, and we did. All of the parts that snuggled up to trees came out looking good.
Yamaha also made some bold claims about the new Yamaha Ultramatic CV transmission mated to the 850 twin. The Ultramatic maintains constant belt tension to reduce slip, and the system has a built-in, one-way sprag clutch that supplies engine braking to all four wheels. During the test loop, there were a number of times we would have shifted a competing model UTV into low range to save the belt. We stayed in high range for all but the steepest and roughest climbs. We never heard or smelled any evidence that the mistreatment was heating the drive belt. During our group ride the pace was relaxed, and we wondered if perhaps the engine braking was too aggressive, but when we went out in smaller groups and gained more confidence on the trails, the engine braking felt perfectly calibrated.
WHAT WE THINK
While some of the trails that we experienced could be negotiated by a car that was 64 inches wide and some of the turns could be taken by a long-wheelbase machine, most of the trails were too tight for a larger machine. Obviously, a 50-inch machine would have worked as well, but those don’t offer near the comfort that the expansive-feeling X4 interior does. All of Yamaha’s claims about quieter operation, lack of annoying vibration and passenger comfort are true. We had weather cool enough that we wouldn’t have noticed heat invading the cab, but we did not feel any.
In particular, the new engine and transmission combo are ideally suited to trail work. The increase in power over Yamaha’s popular 700cc-class singles is impressive, and that power is smooth in both character and delivery. The combination of delivery and clutching makes the Wolverine X4 hook up well in all traction conditions. We were in mud, perfect loam, some greasy areas and on solid rock, and the machine always maintained good traction.
We did play around with low range for both ascending and descending. Low range was likewise easy to use but largely superfluous on the engineered trails we were on. It simply pulls so well at low rpm that it didn’t feel like high range was taxing the belt or any other part of the machine.
Obviously, the Wolverine is no YXZ, and it doesn’t claim to be. We did have some areas where we could bump the speed up, and the Wolverine cooperated just fine. Yamaha’s design goals calling for a low, compact machine do not allow for a great deal of suspension travel at just under 9 inches on all four corners. The comfort of the ride is amazing for that travel, but you do feel rock steps and chatter bumps in the cab. Likewise, there isn’t a great deal of articulation, so it does lift a wheel at times. More suspension would be nice, but we aren’t sure we would take it at the price of a higher center of gravity and banging the protective cage on more trees.
Yamaha has built a smooth, polished machine that will see a lot of fans in areas with tight and technical driving. It carries four people with ease while offering them ample comfort. Our test units were mostly stock, but Yamaha has a plethora of accessories to make the X4 even more dialed in for specific uses, all the way up to a fully enclosed cab. Yamaha aimed at a target—a machine for recreation, hunting, camping and work, and they made a direct hit.
WOLVERINE X4 SE
Engine Liquid-cooled twin four-stroke
Transmission Yamaha Ultramatic V-belt w/ all-wheel engine braking; L/H/N/R
Final drive Shaft
Fuel system EFI
Fuel capacity 9.2 gal.
Ground clearance .10.7”
Estimated dry weight 1666 lb.
Front Independent double wishbone w/anti-sway bar/8.7”
Rear Independent double wishbone w/anti-sway bar, self-adjusting shock absorbers/8.9”
Front 26×8-12 Maxxis MU75
Rear 26×10-12 Maxxis MU76
Front Dual hydraulic disc
Rear Dual hydraulic disc, shaft-mounted parking brake
Bed capacity 600 lb.
Towing 2,000 lb
Colors Matte carbon, matte silver