July 16, 2021
Side-by-side recreational vehicles are typically designed for one of two things: hauling stuff or hauling ass. Once known as utility trail vehicles, or UTVs, the oversized, cab-fitted four-wheelers were good for plodding down trails at a mule’s pace and packing the bed full of hunting gear and dead deer. Then along came the sport-class, which was more akin to a hopped-up go-kart with a suspension capable of taking on the Baja 1000. Still, there was never quite a happy compromise between the two: a side-by-side vehicle that could perform double-duty as a capable hunting rig and a fun, fast trail ride.
In recent years, Yamaha has done a better job than most manufacturers of bridging that gap with their recreational class of side-by-sides that fall under the Wolverine series. I got my first experience with them on a hunt for whitetail deer in Texas a couple years back. I was handed the keys to a 2020 Yamaha Wolverine X4 and given free range of the trails and roads that crisscrossed the rough and tumble country typical of southwest Texas. The 847cc twin-cylinder engine provided plenty of oomph to kick up dust on the straight tracks, while on-demand 4-wheel drive, including differential lock, got me through a few sticky water crossings. I was thoroughly impressed, although the one thing the four-seat X4 lacked was a bed to haul out my Texas trophy. (The X2 trades the backseat for a short bed that would just fit a Texas-sized whitetail.)
Flipping the calendar a year into the future finds Yamaha giving the series a serious upgrade, adding more power and stellar performance with the new Wolverine RMAX 1000 side-by-sides. As the name suggests, the RMAX2 is a two-seat design with a short utility bed, and Yamaha also offers an RMAX4 with two-row seating, with a backseat that folds down for limited storage options.
Continuing with the cabin of the RMAX 1000 series, passengers will find a ride experience that rivals, if not exceeds, budget-class automobiles. Instead of hard plastic, many of the areas where a rider may contact the machine are padded, including knee-knockers, an adjustable Jesus handle in front of the passengers, and the otherwise elbow-bumping console. The seats are comfortable, and with the XT-R option, color-matched to the exterior. Six-position safety belts comfortably secure all sizes of riders. Three-piece doors offer easier access to the interior, even while wearing heavy boots. Controls and display are car-like, too, with an over-molded, tilt-adjustable steering wheel and blue LED-backlit switches and gauges.
At 64 inches wide, the Wolverine RMAX is trail-capable and features steel skid plates throughout to slide over most obstacles without fear of damage to the undercarriage. Yamaha did fit a durable plastic skid plate upfront that is easily replaceable should the increased ground clearance provided by the on-the-fly tunable Fox 2.0 QS3 suspension and 30-inch Maxxis Carnage tires fail to clear anything. (Note: The four-seater RMAX4 has 29-inch rubber.)
The tough, tube frame is double-covered against pitting and corrosions thanks to a two-stage process that finishes with a durable powder coat. Welded-on wheel protectors protect the tires out back, and an aggressive front bumper is fitted with a Warn VRX 4,500-pound winch, proving the RMAX 1000 series is a real workhorse that’s ready for anything. Hunters and other load haulers will really appreciate the RMAX2’s cargo area. Though not oversized, it does boast a 600-pound capacity and piston-assist tilting bed to make dumping a deer, seed, wood, and other loads easy. Both machines also have a 2,000-pound towing capacity and come standard with a two-inch receiver.
You might think all the features I’ve listed leans the RMAX 1000 series toward the working side of the sport-utility class, but it’s not named a Wolverine for nothing. The real beast lies under the proverbial hood, with an eye-popping, G-inducing 999cc DOHC, eight-valve, parallel-twin engine that redlines at 8,500 rpm. Switching the chip-controlled throttle into the Sport Mode custom drive and mashing the pedal pushes the passengers back into their seats and will likely induce a nervous giggle from all but the most seasoned off-road pros. Other drive modes include Trail, with controlled acceleration and full engine braking to master serious downhills, and Crawl, which allows for a more moderate throttle response and smoother acceleration to safely take on technical trail hazards. And, of course, there’s a brother-in-law governor, known under the corporate-friendly moniker “Speed Management System,” that keeps the top speed below 25 mph.
With any side-by-side, belt failure can put a halt to the fun, and it’s usually the weakest link in an otherwise robust powertrain. Yamaha has worked to strengthen that link by designing a reliable Ultramatic transmission system that, according to the company “accommodates the increase in power and maintains constant belt-tension while idling or engaged in high-rpm and high-torque situations.” In layman’s terms, that means the belt won’t fail, and Yamaha backs up that claim with an unheard-of 10-year warranty on their belts.
This article was first featured in Wheels Afield, a magazine dedicated to the adventure lifestyle. Hunters and anglers are the original overlanders, and Wheels Afield caters to outdoor enthusiasts who adventure to the back of beyond for their sporting pursuits. It’s packed full of truck, ATV and SUV reviews, ultimate off-road builds and compelling, photo-heavy journals from all corners of the globe. Click here to visit the OSG Newsstand to pick up your copy today.