By Lane Lindstrom
It might be a bit of a stretch to say Yamaha has gone full circle with the introduction of its latest sport ATV—but not too much of a stretch.
At first glance, Yamaha’s latest move in the sport ATV segment is going to have some people scratching their heads. Why introduce a new vehicle into a segment that is losing riders and shrinking? Better yet, why would Yamaha introduce a new vehicle into a segment where—few will argue this point—the company already is the clear leader? Why not ride this latest downturn out and try to maintain the market share you already have with what you have?
All valid questions for a segment that is hurting.
The answer lies in the company’s belief that the sport ATV segment is a core segment for the aggressive rider.
To that end, Yamaha is bringing back an all-new version of the YFZ450 for 2012. No R and no X behind the 450, just a base YFZ aimed at shoring up interest in the sagging sport ATV segment.
And to pique that interest and show how serious it is about this introduction, Yamaha has a suggested MSRP on the 2012 of $6,799, making it the best priced 450 in the class—in comparison the Honda 2012 TRX450R is $7,999 and Yamaha’s own YFZ450R is $8,599.
That’s nice, you say, but now consider this. The $6,799 MSRP is about $200 less than the original YFZ in 2004 sold for. Did you catch that? $200 less than the machine sold for eight years ago. When was the last time you saw a new model being sold for less than what it sold for a year ago, let alone eight years ago? That usually doesn’t happen in motorsports.
Full circle indeed.
That price tag, along with a host of new features that seriously updates the YFZ450 has Yamaha hoping aggressive recreational riders who have not purchased a new vehicle in the past couple of years will welcome this vehicle with open wallets.
Those wallets have been stung by a persistent and much-too-long recession that took a bite out of the motorsports market and particularly the sport ATV segment. As was pointed out by one Yamaha official, a recent survey showed the core demographic for the sport ATV segment—that young aggressive recreational rider—hasn’t been able to afford to buy a new model lately.
“We know these guys are still out there,” Travis Hollins, a Yamaha ATV product planner, said. “They’re just riding older models. We know they’re not buying and we know why they’re not buying.”
He added, “If we (Yamaha) don’t do something, there’s a potential this sport business won’t be around in a few years.”
Base But Not Basic
Yamaha’s solution was to bring back the YFZ450, a base model that is not really that basic.
Knowing that the core rider in the sport ATV market wants a stout motor for his vehicle, that was a key area Yamaha focused on. Of course Yamaha didn’t totally forsake the YFZ450R’s proven racing traits—at least the traits an aggressive rider would appreciate—so the company aimed to mirror the R’s bottom end and mid-range capabilities of the beasty 449cc, liquid-cooled 4-stroke engine.
That meant improving the ’09 YFZ450 powerplant, which was no slouch in its day, but still had more to give. This was accomplished three ways: a new cam profile, change the cam timing and change the ignition timing. The new cam profile helps improve the bottom and mid range, while making it easier for a recreational rider to manage the horsepower.
In the mix is a new, larger Mikuni 42mm BSR carburetor with a Throttle Position Sensor (TPS). The ’09 YFZ had 39mm racing carbs. The key thing about the 2012’s Mikuni’s, Pat Biolsi of Yamaha’s testing department explained, is that by now having TPS “we’re able to be very aggressive with the ignition timing. We can be more precise with the mapping. We can be more aggressive because we can be more precise.”
Biolsi added that if Yamaha “would have tried to use that carb without the other engine changes we made, we would have run the risk of engine damage.”
One of the tradeoffs to get that bottom and mid-range power is a stiffer clutch effort—15 percent more according to Yamaha. Hollins said it was necessary to make the clutch pull a little stiffer to handle the increased power.
While Yamaha won’t reveal any specific horsepower figures Biolsi said it is a “significant” increase. The numbers Yamaha would share are these. With the changes it made to the YFZ450 powerplant, Yamaha was able to increase the horsepower between 4,000-8,000 rpm by an average of 12 percent. Conversely, the engine “only lost” 4 percent horsepower between 9,000-10,000 rpm. Additionally, the 2012 YFZ450 can hit the same peak horsepower as the ’09 YFZ even though the ’09 had racing carbs.
The new Mikuni carbs also reduce the throttle effort on new YFZ450. Anyone who has ridden the ’09 YFZ knows the throttle was fairly stiff. Not so on the 2012, which has a much lighter throttle pull, something we can attest to after riding the 2012 YFZ450 for a day at the Oregon Dunes in late August. Even after a full day of riding we didn’t feel like our thumb was going to fall off. Honestly, we didn’t even notice how our thumb felt—so it must have been fine.
Or maybe we didn’t notice any throttle effort because the engine was so responsive. Pull the trigger and she goes. We never felt the YFZ450 was lacking in power while riding on the Oregon Dunes. It was especially responsive on the bottom end, where we spent a fair amount of time throttle-wise while riding the tight, twisty trails through the pines and brush. There were times we cracked the throttle wide open when we hit the open dunes area and while it may have fallen off on the top end a little, it really wasn’t that noticeable. Where
Going to the Mikuni carbs not only helped on the performance end of the new YFZ450, it helped keep the cost of the vehicle down because the carbs are less expensive than some other carbs.
Another area where Yamaha saved some money in an effort to keep the cost of the vehicle down was not using piggyback shocks on the front suspension. Yamaha went with KYB shocks which, Hollins said Yamaha feels “more than meets the needs of recreational riders.” The damping and spring rates have been matched to this rider vs. say the Raptor 700R rider.
Some riders might want a more aggressive setup on the front although we felt on the Oregon Dunes the setup was more than adequate except in the biggest of whoops where adjustable shocks would have been handy. There is one section on the dunes—at least the day we were there; the sand does change daily—where there were some stutter bumps. The YFZ450 ate those up; it was in the bigger, deeper whoops that we bounced around a bit too much.
The next guy might not feel the way we did, though. That’s obviously a rider decision based on personal preference. If you ride the bumps a lot then you might want to switch out to adjustable shocks, but that won’t be as much of a hit to the pocketbook as it might have been thanks to a lower MSRP on this YFZ.
The rear suspension still uses a piggyback shock (Showa) and offers up 10.6 inches of travel.
Carrying the vehicle are new, lighter weight wheels—lighter by 1.6 lbs. compared to the original tire. The new Dunlop front tires (AT21 x 7-10) help reduce the steering effort. The tires were also designed with a rolled inner lip to help better protect the wheel by preventing dirt and mud from entering.
The tires performed well at the Oregon Dunes. Despite not having paddle tires, the YFZ450 did surprisingly well on the dry, soft sand, which can be attributed to more than just the tires—the light, nimble chassis, powerful motor, decent suspension, those kinds of things all helped—but the tires were excellent in most areas of the dunes.
One more feature definitely worth mentioning is Yamaha’s free and customizable graphics kits, which are ideal for the type of rider drawn to an YFZ450. More details on that program are here: www.yamaha-motor.com/sport/atv/atvgraphics.aspx. There are 11 different kits available, including four new kits for 2012. That really is a cool program.
After our one-day media intro at the Oregon Dunes, which focused exclusively on the 2012 YFZ450, we couldn’t help but be impressed with the vehicle, admittedly a purpose-built machine for a specific segment of rider. We liked how the engine felt and performed, especially in the tight, twisty trails. Don’t get us wrong, we also liked how it felt on the wide open dunes but you could really get a feel for the bottom end and mid-range in the trees and single-vehicle wide trails along the edges of the dunes where they meet the vegetation.
As impressive as the engine is, though, we love the feel of the YFZ chassis, all 381 lbs. of it. It is nimble and easy to throw around. It flies up hills and hugs corners. We haven’t tried the new YFZ450 on a forest road or deep in the woods but can imagine the characteristics won’t be different in those situations. It’s just a fun vehicle and one worth looking at.
Will it “save” the sport ATV segment? Only time will tell. But give Yamaha credit for making the effort. It’s obvious the company is fond of the sport ATV segment—and has made a fair amount on money on it over the years.
“The sport ATV market is a high priority for the company,” one Yamaha official said at the media introduction of the YFZ450. Another said, “We’re passionate about this segment of the market.”
Still another said, “If we back away from this category, like some of the other manufacturers have done, this category might go away,”
We hope they don’t.
The new YFZ450 will start arriving in dealerships by the end of September.
See the attached PDF for specs on the new machine.