The most fun you can have in second gear
When Yamaha unveiled the Yamaha YXZ1000R and its manual transmission, the first question to come to mind was how many people would this appeal to. Sport UTV riders have lived in an automatic world since the first Rhinos and RZRs rolled off the line and it can be difficult to get consumers to try something new.
While it was clear the YXZ would be an awesome machine for drag racing your buddies and kicking up dirt in wide open areas, having to worry about shifting gears in the tight woods might be a tough sell for some. Yamaha clearly had this in mind when it developed the new YXZ1000R SS. The “SS” stands for Sport Shift and this YXZ forgoes a clutch pedal and shift lever for paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
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I can’t remember a time I was more eager to get behind the wheel of a new UTV. Fortunately it was a short wait as Yamaha invited members of the off-road media out to South Carolina to test the YXZ1000R SS at the Big Buck Ranch.
Sport Shift 101
Shifting gears in the YXZ1000R SS is done via paddle shifters mounted to the steering column (so they do not rotate with the wheel). The right paddle moves you up a gear, while the left paddle moves you down a gear. Gear changes happen in milliseconds thanks to Yamaha Chip Controlled Shift (YCC-S) technology.
If you have to come to a sudden stop and forget to downshift, an automatic downshift feature will take care of this for you. So instead of stalling the engine, you will just find yourself in first gear with the engine running and ready for more.
Yamaha’s Sport Shift technology also offers a very cool Launch System feature, which is designed to mimic the ability of dropping the clutch in a manual vehicle with a clutch pedal. Using it is simple and addictively fun. With the engine running, squeeze both paddle shifters and wait for the Launch System light to appear on the dash. Then you push down on the go-pedal until the engine rpm hits the sweet spot (between 5,000 and 10,000+ rpm, depending on trail condition) and let go of the paddles and hammer the gas.
Besides Sport Shift technology, the YXZ1000R SS is the same machine as the original YXZ, save for a couple of durability upgrades and improved heat shielding to keep the cockpit cooler. It boasts the same three-cylinder, 998cc engine with 10,500 rpm red line, long travel front and rear suspension controlled by FOX 2.5 Podium shocks and electronic power steering. If you’d like to learn more about the technical specs, check out our original YXZ preview article here.
YXZ1000R SS Test Drive
On a hot and humid August morning, Yamaha led us to the Big Buck Ranch, which plays host to a variety of racing events. Organizers set up a course that winds through the tightly wooded trails and some open grassy areas where we could pick up some more speed.
Despite wanting nothing more than to play with the new launch system, we were told to hold off until we completed a lap through the woods and got more familiar with the YXZ SS. This is considered a gross injustice in the sheltered world of an off-road writer, but we all have our crosses to bear.
That first lap through the Big Buck Ranch did give me a chance play with the Sport Shift system. I became a big fan almost instantly. Downshifting as you accelerate out of a corner provides a quick hit of grin-inducing adrenaline as the YXZ reacts with a near-immediate boost of speed. It is a fantastic feeling and I’m fairly confident in saying the paddle shifters make me just a bit quicker than a CVT would in the in the woods.
I spent the majority of my time in first and second gear flying around at high revs, as the YXZ is happiest when you shift high in the rpm range. It just feels faster when the three-cylinder engine is screaming. I’ve never had so much fun in second gear in my life.
If you are worried that shifting gears manually would distract you from the trail ahead, the paddle shifters in the YXZ1000R SS are very intuitive. It didn’t take long before I didn’t really think about shifting anymore; when the engine would hit a certain pitch, I’d just tap the right paddle and that would be that. The whole thing feels very seamless.
Once we all got acquainted with the YXZ1000R SS, Yamaha brought us to an open field so we could put the Launch System to the test. As described above, the system is very simple to use, but it did take a couple of runs before I was comfortable enough to really push revs towards 10,000 rpm. Even if you drop the proverbial clutch at 6,000 rpm, you get a nice neck-snapping start off the line. But when you come in at or near 10,000 rpm, the result is a beautifully violent.
Depending on terrain, you can expect a bit of wheel spin before the 27-inch Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires find their bite. When they do, you jump off the line like no automatic Sport UTV I’ve ever driven. From there, just keep the go pedal mashed to the floor and tap the right paddle shifter whenever you approach the red line. You need to try this.
While it’s fun to use the Launch System in an open, drag race-style scenario, I really enjoyed using it in the woods. Several times I stopped in the middle of the trail just so I could feel the launch system kick in. It’s a fun addition to an already impressive Sport Shift system.
With all the instruction out of the way, I spent the rest of the day getting as many miles behind the wheel of the YXZ SS as I possibly could. After each lap through the course, I got more and more comfortable and pushed the machine as far as my skills allowed.
The suspension, while set fairly stiff out of the box, worked flawlessly all day. Some editors softened it up a bit, but the stock settings got the job done with no complaints from me.
Though the YXZ1000R SS is a full 64 inches wide, it felt remarkably nimble in the South Carolina woods. There were a few places where the machine just barely fit through. A slightly narrower machine might do well for Yamaha customers who spend a lot of time in the woods.
As for the cockpit, I found it comfortable and fairly roomy, though I never did have a passenger next to me. Gauges were easy to read and in good position for a quick look down while driving.
Despite the improved heat shielding, the center console area does get fairly warm against the driver’s right leg and passenger’s left leg. Both bottle/cup holders are located on the right side of the center console and after less than an hour of driving the icy cold water bottles I put there were downright warm. After that, I kept my water bottles in the glove box, where they stayed colder longer.
When you get to drive a brand new machine with some cool new technology, it’s hard not to get carried away with praise. But I’m having some real difficulty restraining myself with the Yamaha YXZ1000R SS. I just didn’t want to stop driving it and would gladly have skipped dinner that night if Yamaha would have let me stay at Big Buck Ranch for a couple more hours of seat time.