First Ride: Yamaha’s 2024 YXZ 1000R W/ Sport Shift

Eli Madero
by Eli Madero

Yamaha elevates their popular Sport SxS from good to great with a new close ratio transmission, electronic sport shifting, and more for 2024.

The game has been changed. In 2016, Yamaha changed the sport SxS game with the YXZ 1000R and its 5-speed sequential, manual transmission. Drivers were able to bang through gears and feel more connected to the vehicle they were driving more than any other SxS on the market, and better yet you didn’t need to worry about being stranded by a broken drive belt. It could have been considered the best sport SxS on the market BUT it lacked ability in low-speed, tight, technical terrain.

It wasn’t that it didn’t have the suspension to handle it, but the gear ratio of the transmission simply wasn’t low enough to provide enough torque for those that wanted to do some rock crawling. Yamaha’s answer to this “problem” was a Torque Assist Gear (TAG) Kit that was available through their GYTR aftermarket parts catalog, which significantly helped low-speed performance but not without some serious damage to your wallet.

Previously only known for being a great duning SxS, the 2024 YXZ 1000R SS is now equally as capable on the tight technical trails thanks to a new low-ratio 6-speed transmission.

What’s New?

For 2024, Yamaha has not only met the demand for those that want high-torque, low-speed performance without sacrificing top-end performance that the YXZ has been known for. How? A new 6-speed transmission was developed for the new year that not only improved the low speed capability, but did so without affecting top-speed performance. Just how much of an improvement is the gearing on the new 2024 YXZ 1000R SS? The 1st gear ratio is a whopping 40% lower than previous years of the YXZ, and for those with the TAG kit installed it is still 6% lower than that. When you don’t need that much torque, the ratio for 2nd gear falls happily between the ratios of 1st and 2nd from previous models.

With the addition of an additional gear (6th), Yamaha was able to build a transmission that was capable of producing enough torque for tight, technical riding without sacrificing top-speed. To enhance the driveability of the new YXZ 1000R SS, engineers also integrated their new Yamaha Auto-Shift Technology. The new Auto-Shift Technology allows operators to switch between shifting modes (Auto, Sport Auto, and Sport Shift) on the fly giving drivers three different options to enjoy the performance of this high performance UTV.

By simply rotating a knob on the dash panel, you can switch between auto, sport-shift, and full manual shifting control on the new transmission.

To go into a bit more detail, I'll break each down for you. The new Auto-Shift Technology changes shift timing based on which position that you have the dash-mounted rotary switch in. The Auto setting keeps the engine RPMs low and has early shift points that allow for very casual driving. Think of this as your economy setting in your commuter car. Since the engine RPMs are kept low with early shift points, it also makes it so you can easily communicate with your passenger without any kind of intercom system.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got the Sport Shift mode which gives you 100% control of how the unit will shift with the flick of a paddle shifter. This setting is for the driver that is looking for serious performance and control of the car they’re driving. It’s essentially like having a stick shift car minus the clutch pedal to give you the ultimate feel of total control while driving in any terrain. Don’t worry about shift points being controlled by the computer, because this shifts up or down when you tell it to.

Now in the middle you’ve got the Sport-Auto mode, which was designed to give drivers the best of both worlds. When in Sport-Auto mode, the ECU is programmed to have later shift points that keep the RPMs in the sweet spot of the engine's power. These shift points are much more aggressive than what you’d find in Auto mode and allow for the drivers to use the full potential of the engine without having to worry about doing all of the work in shifting like you would in Sport Shift mode. A nice feature about the Sport-Auto mode is that the driver still has the ability to override the ECU programming and manually shift to their desired gear via the paddle shifters.

Yamaha has retained the launch control feature of the YXZ 1000 R, but since the gearing ratios of 1st and 2nd are that much lower, you can now perform the launch sequence from 2nd gear.

With the new transmission design, it was crucial that the drivetrain stay as reliable as possible with the increased demand being put upon it. This is why Yamaha increased the width of the oil pump blades by 1mm, took the oil cooler from a 3 stack to a 7 stack, and also gave the transmission its own spin-on oil filter. This allows for increased engine/transmission oil life and minimal debris being pumped through the system. To ensure that the engine and transmission of this high-performance SxS stay cool in any riding conditions, the radiator and oil coolers are rear mounted (behind the seats) and are so protected that you’d literally have to be throwing mud on them to clog them up.

One of the more subtle features on the 2024 YXZ 1000R is the rear mounted radiator (shown with the cover off). When the cover is on, it is virtually impossible to get covered with mud unless you're throwing it directly onto the fins, making it one of the most protected cooling systems on a SxS.

While the main focus of improvements done to the YXZ 1000R SS revolve around this new transmission, there have been other upgrades worthy of noting for 2024. A new charging system increases electrical output from 472w to 1000w to handle the additional draw of electrical accessories, and small things like pigtail wiring that has been pre-installed for lighted whips. Yamaha also says that the new YXZ will have improved accessory integration for things like the GYTR Turbo Kit (available in early 2024) for shortened install times.

Just like in previous years, the YXZ 1000R SS comes from the factory with FOX RC2 Shocks that are fully adjustable, but now have a stainless sleeve that protects the shock bodies from being rubbed on by the springs.

If you still want a third pedal on the floorboard for shifting, you can get the base model YXZ 1000R for $20,899, which is the same price as the SS model. Both come in Team Yamaha Blue, have 14” aluminum wheels and 29” OG Maxxis Big Horn Tires. Even better is that this price is $1,000 lower than the 2023 units. If you want a bump up in accessories, you can opt for the YXZ 1000R SS XT-R model which has Titan/Black painted bodywork, aluminum beadlock wheels, 29” Maxxis Carnage tires, a WARN VRX 4500 winch, factory suntop, rear view mirror, XT-R front grab bar, and auxiliary lights for only $23,699, which is also $1,000 lower than 2023 pricing.

Quite possibly one of the oldest tires in production for an ATV or SxS, the OG Maxis BigHorn is still one of the best performing tires you can get for durability and traction.

Terrain Tested

To see just how well the new upgrades help the low-speed prowess of the YXZ 1000R SS without affecting the high-performance prowess, Yamaha invited a handful of media outlets out to Sand Hollow State Park to get some seat time to see for ourselves how much of an improvement it was. If you’re not familiar with this area, it has a great mix of fast, wide-open trails, a fun sand dune complex, and is best known for having some of the most technical rock-crawling trails in the area.

When we arrived at the staging area, we were greeted by a fleet of 2024 YXZ 1000R SS and XT-R models to choose from. I’m a sucker for the Team Yamaha Blue when it comes to photos, so I nabbed one of those models for the day. Now for the record, I have had plenty of experience in numerous UTV over the years, but my only experience in a YXZ was a 2016 unit in the sand dunes of Glamis. I remember what my likes and dislikes of the machine were there, so that would make a great baseline comparison for this machine.

We were like kids walking into a candy store when our group arrived to the staging area to see a fleet of new YXZ 1000R SS and XT-R's waiting to be played in.

After a quick briefing of our schedule, it was time to get seated and hit the trails. Instantly remember the feeling of being in what felt like a fighter jet cockpit. For this 6’1” driver, the driver's seat felt plenty comfortable and roomy, allowing for great sight of the front of the SxS, and all the controls felt easily in reach. As our group started making its way out of the staging area, I chose to take off in Sport-Auto mode to give a baseline evaluation of the sport shift feel.

The trail we started off on was very sandy, and was filled with twists and tight turns that put the auto-shift ability of the new YXZ to the test. Ensuring there was plenty of space between myself and the car in front of me, I waited at the start of the trail and put the hammer down to see how the acceleration and shifting were going to handle the soft, sandy terrain. Initially it felt like the YXZ really preferred to over rev before making the upshift. So much that I took control and flicked the paddle shifter to go up to the next gear. This reduced the wheelspin and let the Maxxis BigHorn tires bite, and launched the YXZ even faster.

This seemed to be a normal characteristic for this mode in this terrain, as I heard some other drivers say similar observations when we came to a stopping point on our ride. When we were on more firm terrain, you could feel the shifting come a little earlier, yet still be in the meat of the power that the 1000cc engine was putting out. The only time I would feel the desire (not need) to manually shift was when I was setting up for a corner and wanted to be prepared to blast out of it.

I had a blast playing with the different shifting options for the new 6-speed transmission, with my favorite being the sport-shift where I could let the transmission ECU do most of the work but I could still override and up or downshift when I felt the need.

After strapping back into the sporty SxS, our group took to the dunes of Sand Hollow where we let the YXZs run at peak performance where they were meant to shine. Even with the stock tires, these machines were climbing all the dunes and spraying sand with every twist and turn we made across the soft dune faces. It’s hard not to have a grin from ear to ear when you’re piloting a machine like this in its element.

While the sport-shift feature is a huge selling point of the 2024 YXZ 1000R SS, it’s not the only thing we need to discuss. The lower gear ratio transmission absolutely needs to be discussed. This is what really had me excited because rock crawling is one of my favorite things to do in a UTV. Our ride leader took us over to take on some of the tighter trails like Double Sammy. YouTube it if you’ve never been and you’ll get an idea of how technical the trail can be. In previous versions of the YXZ, you’d be slipping the clutch like crazy and having to use more muscle than finesse to get through sections.

Not the case with the new low-ratio transmission. First off, I opted to switch the shift mode to Auto for a less aggressive shift point and then it was time to tackle the rocky trail. I started up a steep climb and easily laid into the throttle, which made the YXZ climb like a mountain goat. The sandstone surfaces in Sand Hollow gave near perfect traction and made the 29” tires stick like glue. Never before would I have thought this to be possible in this unit but now, it was as comfortable here as it was in the big dunes.

No more smoking the clutch for climbing. The new low-ratio 1st and 2nd gears made the technical rock crawling trails easy along with having the transmission switched into automatic mode.

Back onto the trails, I opted for full manual shifting control, which was a blast. When it’s really tight and technical, I really did prefer to have it in sport-shift mode and change the gear when I felt the need to, but when it was a faster trail where the corners were more predictable this was definitely the desired shifting option.

While the suspension wasn’t anything that had been changed for the new year, I will say that this unit was definitely set up for faster driving in the dunes. When we were running at slower speeds, you could definitely feel the stiffness. The beauty of this machine is that the FOX shocks that come installed on it are fully adjustable so you’re able to dial some of that harshness out to provide a comfortable ride.

Now that I’ve raved about all the good points of the 2024 YXZ 1000R SS, it’s time to call out some things that I found could be improved. First off is the throttle action. While the new transmission has those super low ratio gears, this made for a jerky throttle pedal. If you’re familiar with the Wolverine line of Yamaha SxSs, you know that they have different drive modes because of their throttle-by-wire systems. This unit could definitely benefit from ditching the traditional throttle cable for this system where Crawl mode would help to eliminate this issue.

Additionally, the YXZ has optional touch point pads (Like in the Wolverine models) that keep your legs and arms from getting banged around while driving. It’d be nice to see this come factory installed instead as an offering in the GYTR catalog. Finally, It’d also be nice to see the adjustable seat belt that is found in the Wolverine models as well. Sure, most drivers will probably replace the stock seat belt with 4 or 5-point harnesses, but for those that don’t, this would be a welcome feature.

With all this said, Yamaha delivered a top-notch sport SxS that now delivers fun and excitement in every terrain, all while being done at a lower price point. That’s right! Where other competitors are releasing new units at astronomically high prices, this is a company that is looking to help save you money while still getting out and having a great time in the dunes and on the trails.

You can find more information on the new 2024 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS as well as other Yamaha SxS and ATV models by clicking here.

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Eli Madero
Eli Madero

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