First Ride: Yamaha Grizzly 700 SE Tactical


Yamaha’s Grizzly ATV has been around for a while and is a popular choice in the utility category. While the machine is definitely a hard worker, it also has enough horsepower and good handling to be a sporty choice as well. For 2014, the Grizzly has received a lot of upgrades and the Special Edition Tactical model got even more. It also looks cool as heck.

To get us media types out on the machine, Yamaha brought us to the Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona for some riding and some shooting. They partnered with Ruger to bring out some guns and we got to play with two of my favorite things in life. You’ve already read about some of my experiences with the shooting side of the event, now let’s talk about the ride.

Scotty, we need more power

For starters, the engine, while still the 700-class single-cylinder of previous year’s Grizzly, has been completely redone. The 686cc engine is a liquid-cooled DOHC. When Yamaha put the same engine in the new Viking UTV, they redesigned it for the Grizzly as well. It now puts out more horsepower and is more responsive. Fed by a 44mm electronic fuel injector, the engine is a torque monster. A stab at the throttle will bring the front end up, but the power feels extremely controllable.

Engine braking is one of the standout features of the new Grizzly. Imagine taking on a steep downhill and not having to touch a brake. This adds to the rider’s control of the machine.
Engine braking is one of the standout features of the new Grizzly. Imagine taking on a steep downhill and not having to touch a brake. This adds to the rider’s control of the machine.

Modern ATVs that feature automatic transmissions have what some view as a weak link in the belt system. The belt serves as the connection between the transmission and the drive unit. When the machine shifts, it can cause a small amount of slack in the belt that eases and then takes up the tension. Think of it like a rubber band between your thumb and forefinger. As you spread your hand open, the rubber band gets tense. When you relax your hand, the rubber band goes limp. This varying tension causes the belt to wear and it can be exacerbated by excessive wheel spin, rapid shifting caused by uneven acceleration, and simply age. To combat this, Yamaha developed their Ultramatic V-belt system that keeps the belt under constant tension. A spring system keeps the belt consistently taut, reducing wear and the possibility of a failure at an inopportune time. The design of the belt itself contributes to the longevity of the belt as well. The V-shape increases surface area while increasing the overall thickness of the belt, making it last longer. The result is a belt drive system that rarely causes malfunctions. As a side effect, the operator experiences incredibly smooth shifts and no hesitation in the engine, a trademark of Yamaha ATVs for years.

Yamaha also redesigned the suspension, adding almost two inches in width to the machine over last year’s model. The result is a very stable ride, even at high speeds.

The trails we used at Gunsite were typical high desert, with rocks, sand, washouts, and some hilly terrain. When not choking on the dust of the guy in front of me, I could really get cranking on the Grizzly. Speeds of 60 miles per hour were handled with ease by the big black beast. For shocks, Yamaha has five-way preload-adjustable shocks front and rear, with 7.6 inches of travel in the front and 9.2 inches in the back. I came back in from a “spirited” ride wanting to go again. I had more fun on this ATV than I’ve had in years, and that includes a lot of sport ATVs.

Another feature that can’t be overlooked is the flat-black tactical look of the machine. Yamaha achieved this with a special painting process on the plastic. The aluminum wheels, also painted flat-black, are all-new as well. The inner lip on the wheel is rolled inward, providing added rigidity to the wheel.

Yamaha completely redid how the electronic power steering works, making it more responsive at slower speeds and largely eliminating negative feedback to the rider. Yamaha was the first company to have power steering and they have just about the best system available.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the engine braking. It’s not often that you can ride a machine and hardly ever have to grab the brakes, but Yamaha has achieved just that. Both the Viking and the Griz have phenomenal engine braking. Unless you have to get on the binders hard, you really don’t need to use the brakes that much. For hunters, farmers, and trail riders, that’s a big deal.

The new 2014 Grizzly 700 soaks up rough terrain with ease thanks to Yamaha's redesigned suspension and 60mm wider stance.
The new 2014 Grizzly 700 soaks up rough terrain with ease thanks to Yamaha’s redesigned suspension and 60mm wider stance.

Shut up and ride

I’ve hinted at the ride quality and that was the thing I took away from the new Grizzly. Seeing as how this was an introductory ride and not a full-blown test, I didn’t get the chance to see how the Grizzly responds to real-world use. The Grizzly is just a lot of fun. It took some getting used to for me, seeing as how I’m used to machines that are narrower. The Griz is, well, beefy across the middle. I can’t go saying much because so am I, but it took a little getting used to. Once I got comfy, which didn’t take long, the transition from sitting to standing was easy.

Ergonomically, the Grizzly is a good fit. I’m hovering right around the 6’1” area depending on which gas station I’m walking out of, and the handle bars fit well and the seat height was good. The foot pegs built into the floor boards were wide and offered good grip. There is a rear brake pedal on the right side, a left-hand lever for the rear brake as well, and a front brake control on the right grip. Four-wheel drive is actuated by a button on the right grip. Yamaha has a differential lock that you engage with your thumb. The shift lever is on the right side of the “gas tank.” The actual 5.3-gallon gas tank is below the seat, keeping the center of gravity down.

The Grizzly is very stable. I found that, at the suggestion of Yamaha Testing Engineer Pat Bilosi, by riding with the four-wheel drive engaged, the Griz would pull itself through corners where the sand was loose. This let me ride a little more aggressively. I liked that. With almost 11 inches of ground clearance, ruts and trail obstacles were handled with ease. The custom Maxxis tires had both traction and slide where they needed them.

So do you need a 2014 Grizzly Special Edition Tactical? All of the features, with the exception of the wheels and the paint, are to be found on the standard 2014 Grizzly models. The SE lists for $10,099, while the standard models start at $9,499 for EPS-equipped units. Considering how much people spend on cosmetic stuff and wheel upgrades, the extra money is actually a bargain for what you get—and the flat black looks so cool.

If you’re looking for a capable, tough, smooth-riding ATV, check out the 2014 Yamaha Grizzly 700 models. The host of updates Yamaha has made make this the best Grizzly yet. While it may look like last year’s model, underneath, it’s a whole new animal.

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