Standing in the sport quad section of a Yamaha dealership can be confusing. A virtual family of Raptors piles in with three models of YFZ450. Standing at the top of the performance pile is, well, for sure one of the 450s or Raptor 700s. If you are looking for serious performance, you would need to make the 450/700 decision. We opted to work down from the top and selected the YFZ450R Special Edition to compare with the Raptor 700R Special Edition. On the YFZ450R, the Special Edition package includes a blacked-out frame and swingarm, combined with midnight blue (almost black) graphics, front and rear fenders that remove with quick-release fasteners, and a dealer-installed GYTR grab bar. On the 700, the SE package includes a custom graphics scheme, GYTR grab and heel guards, and it costs less than the 2012 model! If you are looking for a quad to race MX on, then the 450 has a total edge here, since so many racing organizations recognize that class. Most of us do not race, though, and the question of which Yamaha to buy is a legitimate—if difficult—one to answer clearly. Peruse the specs lists and you will see that the factor to tip the balance toward one quad or the other is not contained there. There is only a $150 price gap, and the weight difference is about 20 pounds. It turns out, we had to ride them back to back to compare the two. Tough duty, but we are here for our readers!

When it comes to the engines, the difference between these two mounts is vast. Actually, straight-line power and acceleration is not so different, but the manner in which the engines deliver that acceleration is. The 450R uses a fuel-injected engine with five titanium valves and two overhead cams that operate the valves directly. The engine snaps to life, barks hard, revs quickly and easily, and has a solid hit to the power delivery. It is not subtle, and EFI has made it even less subtle since the response with EFI is so immediate. The 700R has an engine that is taller with a longer stroke and a single overhead cam that operates four valves via rocker arms. The 700 is more of a torque monster, and while it pulls to 9000 rpm, there is little need or reason to spin it that high. Where the 450 revs instantly, the 700 power builds smoothly and more slowly so that when you do get in nasty terrain, it is easy to control. Don’t get us wrong; the quad is a beast, but a friendly one. The fuel injection, clutch and shifting on both models are great, and the gear ratios suit the power output well. The YFZ has an outstanding reputation for long service and reliability, but we have to think that the 700 will go far longer without any attention to engine internals.

Both SEs are based on the “R” models, so they have the high-end, large-body, fully adjustable piggyback shocks to handle wheel control. Both bikes have high-speed compression adjusters on the front and rear shocks, but only the 450 has a friction-fighting Kashima coat treatment on the front shock bodies. Compared to the big-bore Raptor, the YFZ has less than an inch more travel in the rear and just over a half-inch more travel in the front. The YFZ front shocks may be a little more exotic with the coating, but the 700R shocks have a nice plush setting, and the shock bodies are hard-anodized for wear and to reduce friction. During our testing, it became very apparent that the YFZ is set up motocross-stiff, so it jumped and landed better. The 700 has more comfort built into the ride, but it would bottom on jump faces hard enough to keep it from big air. Clearly the 700R is built (in the U.S., by the way) with a bent toward trail riding and recreational use.

Both models use hybrid frames that combine aluminum and steel components for a state-of-the-art chassis. The 700 combines a steel front section with an aluminum rear section and a detachable subframe. The 450 goes another route with the frame. The lightweight aluminum frame bolts together! The frame member under the engine is steel. The steel allowed the engine to sit lower in the frame. The front of the frame, where the A-arms attaches, is quite narrow to minimize changes in camber as the suspension uses its travel. The controls are all very nice in feel and for the effort that’s required. The flip-out parking brake is a great design. The 700 does have reverse, but the 450 does not. Instrumentation is minimal, but sufficient for the intended purpose. Both machines use the same-size tire, but the 450 rolls on Dunlops, and the 700 opted for a Maxxis product. The 700 has a more roomy cockpit, but the 450 is more adjustable, with four positions for the handlebar mounts.
Yamaha made the YFZ lower, with a lower seat height and slightly less weight. The engine is much shorter, so it doesn’t go as high in the frame as the 700 does. For those reasons, the 450 feels much lighter than the 700. Add in the fact that the 450 is very close to the maximum allowed width of 50 inches and you have a platform well-suited to handle the snappy, instant power that the 450 produces. In the dunes, that translates to a machine that corners like crazy, stays planted and is superbly confident when terrain is cambered. This quad feels very close to track-ready right out of the crate. For tight trail and chop, the suspension passes more on to the rider than the 700 does. When you are taking off the 450’s light flywheel, revvy power takes more care to ease from a start without stalling. And while it will torque up reasonable hills, it prefers to get the job done while screaming.
With the tall engine higher up in the frame, a taller seat height and narrower track, the 700 is also nimble, and it fits through tighter gaps. The engine is a breeze to use on trails, though at times it feels like more than enough in technical sections. It won’t actually rock-crawl like Yamaha’s own Grizzly 700 would, but it gets along fine. Comfort is good for the riding position and the way the suspension handles trail junk and sand chop in the dunes. The whole feel of the machine is more relaxed in a way that encourages long rides.
As we stated before, if your intentions lean toward MX or any sort of serious, high-level racing, the YFZ450R demands a very serious look. The wide track, low CG and race-tuned suspension are up to the task of aggressive riding, and the machine is plenty powerful for most humans. If your riding is more recreational and trail-oriented, then the 700R will suit your needs very well. It will treat you with kid gloves on a long ride, doesn’t demand continuous high rpm running, and has a solid, reliable feel that makes you trust that the motor will get you through the nasty world of off-road, and then back home. Both bikes have the typical low ground clearance of any sport quad, and you must keep the rear axle, rear sprocket and rear disc in mind while choosing lines in rocky or rooty terrain. Line choices that you wouldn’t give a thought to on an IRS 4×4 could easily damage some precious parts you need on either the 450 or 700. Not that other sport models are any better in this respect, but we did have to stay aware. One thing is certain: if you demand performance in a quad, for sure there is something that will appeal to you at your Yamaha dealer.

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