ATV Test: 1998 Yamaha Grizzly 600

Is Yamaha's New Uberquad Big Enough For Ya?

story by Billy Bartels, Associate Editor, Photograph by Photos by Bartels and David Dewhurst, Created Apr. 20, 1998
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Six-hundred cubic centimeters? C'mon Yamaha, isn't that just a bit over the top? Up till now, Polaris' Sportsman 500 had the honors as the largest displacement ATV. As far as Yamaha's remarkable machine is concerned the real question should have been: What took you guys so long?

Yamaha recently invited us up to St. Mary's, Pennsylvania to test all their new equipment for 1998. Unlike last year's Yamaha intro there wasn't the chaotic blend of their entire ATV model line to sample, just the new Grizzly. One of the things Yamaha tried to pound into our heads about their new uberquad was the fact that it could handle just about any kind of riding, and have fun doing it. In designing the new flagship quad of their ATV line, Yamaha pulled out all the stops. They didn't just take one or two of the popular features found on other quads -- they took 'em all. Automatic transmission, engine braking, big power, great suspension/ground clearance, On-Command four wheel drive, easy-to-adjust suspension and floorboards. They proceeded to stuff them all into a heavy-duty chassis that resembles a jeep more than a quad. 

The strategy of this do-everything quad is versatility. Yamaha claims to have satisfied consumers on the sport side of sport-utility with their Wolverine, and the utility side with the Big Bear 4x4. With the Grizzly they have an ATV that handles both sides of the equation equally. It has massive power at any speed with its giant 600cc engine, and Yamaha took time to pack in many of the other features ATV'ers wanted. Our mission while at St. Mary's was to test the hardiness of their machine and to see exactly how well it fulfills each of these objectives.

Grizzly's big motor allows you to point-flick-shoot with alacrity

On the Trail

Our two day trek through the Allegheny National Forest started off on some unchallenging trails, but the Grizzly's combination of powerful motor and the ability to switch off the front wheel drive made this trail much more exciting. What would have been a bore on a lesser machine became the sort of fun one expects from a Banshee. Blitzing down the trail at sub-sonic speeds, backing it into corners, the 600cc mill lighting up the rear on demand.

Our rider thoughtfully dips the front so you can take a gander at the monster racks fore and aft, with the largest carrying capacity available anywhere.

The occasional mogul was easily dispatched by the Grizzly's top-shelf suspension. An easy-to-access lever next to the seat switches rear spring rates to a harder setting, but this was never necessary. The Grizzly hides its weight well, feeling like a much lighter machine.


It was here that we noticed the Grizzly's only serious design flaw. The gear-selector, while wisely located on the left side, tends to interfere with taller riders. While leaning off in a corner or landing after a jump the rider may smack into the unforgiving base of the shifter. One of Yamaha's engineers on the scene indicated they would probably come out with a piece of foam as an accessory for the problem.

In the S**t After lunch we departed for more challenging sections of "trail," if it could be called that. It started out okay, but quickly deteriorated into a series mudholes and rock covered hillsides, really fun stuff.

"Bog Boy" plows through some unlucky mud with his Grizzly
The Grizzly was pretty glorious in the mud. Even when a particularly nasty hole stopped us, it was just a matter of throwing it in reverse and rocking a bit to get it out. We never had to dismount and get into the thick of things. The inflagable motor just kept pulling through everything. 

Running up the boulder-strewn hillsides we kept expecting to hit bottom on the uneven terrain, but industry-beating ground clearance did its job and kept us off the hard stuff. Only once (when we got cocky) did the Grizzly bottom, and it was (again) just a matter of putting it in reverse and backing up. Here as well as in the mud, Yamaha's On-Command four wheel drive was a blessing. Just push the button and listen for the whirr of its servo motor signaling engagement of the locking pin, and voila (there's a light on the dash for the hearing impaired). Yamaha informed us their legal department states the 4wd was only to be engaged or disengaged while stopped, but we can tell you it works while moving too. "Click" you're in 4-wheel mode, "click" you're not.

We were slightly disappointed in the watertightness of the Grizzly. Aggressively entering a water crossing would cause its belt to slip. Simply driving into the water (at lower speeds) did not cause slippage. This was the only time we had a problem with its otherwise awesome Ultramatic transmission. The big feature that distinguishes Yamaha's Ultramatic over everybody else's automatic tranny is engine braking. A second clutch was added to the front pulley to engage the engine while coasting, giving the brakes a reprieve on downhills.

And we can honestly say the Grizzly's seat is great. When we first sat on it, it didn't impress as being particularly good or bad, but after a hundred mile trek through the Allegheny National Forest, the only part that didn't hurt was the editorial backside.

Raising the Bar

"Tower, clear the runway for takeoff..."
A problem (in our jaded editorial eyes) since the beginning of this utility quad craze has been all the compromises made between fun and utility. You can have one model that does this but not that, and if you want to do that, of course you can't do this. Yamaha's answer was deviously simple -- more displacement -- and they've come to the table with their all-new Grizzly. While keeping the Grizzly within a couple hundred dollars of the competition's flagship models at $6499 (cheaper than the Polaris Sportsman 500 by $250), Yamaha successfully raised the standards of power and outright performance - by a lot. Not stopping there, they've also offered all the perks of the competition and increased their ATV's utility factor with the largest rack carrying capacities around. Of course weight is the price paid, but in the case of the Grizzly that's taken care of with its top-notch suspension components.

As usual, we'd like to get the Grizzly back home in the wide open spaces of California to test its overall potential, but until we upgrade MO's pickup truck to full size, we can't carry the giant bear!

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Yamaha
Model: 1998 Grizzly
Price: $6,499
Engine: air/oil-cooled, sohc, four-stroke single
Bore and Stroke: 95 x 84mm
Displacement: 595cc
Carburetion: Mikuni BST 40mm
Transmission: V-Belt Ultramatic 
Wheelbase: 49.4 in.
Overall Width: 45.7 in.
Overall Length: 81.9 in.
Seat Height: 34.1 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5.1 gal.
Claimed Dry Weight: 639 lbs


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