Yamaha Won’t Let You Forget the Wolverine RMAX 1000 Is Made for Fun

Kyra Sacdalan
by Kyra Sacdalan

Finding the Three Cs in Colorado’s Backcountry

Do you know that feeling… the one at the edge? It usually comes with the “close calls”—when you almost hit the limit or make a mistake or miss your mark; adrenaline is shot into the heart, pumping through your limbs, eyes widened, and teeth gritted. Your skin reverberates like a tuning fork, shivers resonating acoustics all over your body. Its source can be pinpointed at the overlap of fright and euphoria in a Venn Diagram. And it, this sensation, is precisely the result of rallying a pair of steel armored beasts through the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. Yamaha’s intention, no doubt.

Described as a muscular carnivorous animal, the solitary Wolverine is far more complex than it’s credited. Which is likely why the name was borrowed for their do-it-all line of side-by-sides (SxS). Powerful, aggressive, territorial, and tenacious, Yamaha’s little “creature” has gone through quite an evolution which began as their first four-wheeled, automatic ATV in 1995. In the advent of side-by-sides, the model name was borrowed (for good) by a new two-seater UTV, making recreational driving approachable and affordable to all. From there, it grew into the X4 850 in 2017 – a bigger, stronger, more capable version of itself – followed a year later by the X2 iteration. This design seemed to suit the industry well, but after some market research, was in hindsight limited to specific terrains, a favorite in many heavily forested and mountainous areas but less popular in wide-open spaces like in deserts of the Southwest.

This restraint quickly spawned the next, and arguably most popular addition to the family. Then, the BluCru pumped up the volume with their fresh faced RMAX model, offering a DOHC 999cc liquid-cooled engine, Yamaha Ultramatic Transmission System and Drivetrain, constant-tension drive belt (which they now have under 10-year warranty), and a smattering of features and accessories which now define the series. It checked all the boxes which the seasoned manufacturer calls their “Three C’s”: Comfort, Capability, Confidence. And it seems their R&D team goes to great lengths to survey their customers and dealers for valuable opinions in each of the C categories. This is precisely why they had expanded from the X2 and X4 850 to the RMAX platform, and this year, why they fused together those two tried and true vehicles to make the Wolverine X2 1000.

Day One, we kicked off the ride with a higher speed transit from our cabins at Taylor Park Trading Post to a narrow canyon carved amid two steep craggy cliffs. I felt rusty, it had been a few months since I’d been at the wheel of a UTV. But even set to Trail-Medium (the axis from which all other modes lean), the Limited Edition with all its bells and whistles inspired confidence from the first few turns. No surprise there; I feel more at ease in the fast lane. However, it was in the rocky bits where my conviction waned. Windy cliffside two-track? No problem. A wide, consistent boulder field? Very doable. A narrow, uneven riverbed with a smattering of oblong exposed baby heads, giant gibbers, and what appeared to be razor blades embedded in the ground? Well… Not so much.

Just as a tune will grab you, so can an epic ride in the perfect vehicle. Photo credit: Yamaha

It was clear right away I chose the wrong path, and immediately became stuck. But, to my surprise, not for long. Even in Reverse, the little beast clawed backwards up the shelf I’d wedged myself into so I could right my wrong and point my tires in another direction. This was a photo location for a reason, picturesque, textured, and challenging, so there was a minor amount of pressure to keep moving – not holding up the cue of cars behind me. I took a breath and made my next attempt. Maybe a moment passed before clearing the hurdle. As if it had always been that easy, I was able to get myself into and out of trouble like I might be a professional. That encounter set the bar for the rest of my trip.

A little bit of the previous route, and a lot of the second, were tucked into a dense forest. Trees towered above the tight roadway which snaked in and out of the trunks of spruces and firs. It was demanding in a way that inspires excellence from a rally driver. And with the sun peeking through gaps in the foliage, the endless clouds of dust which separated each UTV shimmered (albeit blindingly at times) like a chiffon vail which you tried to break open with your bumper. The environment added intrigue to what could have been another average test ride of something that isn’t, technically, new. And yet, the opportunity to drive it flat out across stimulating obstacles – with a tailor-made soundtrack blasting through the stereo – made this event pretty unforgettable. I was no longer working. I was having fun.

Yamaha’s Ultramatic transmission is known for its resilience. This system is also widely regarded as one of the most reliable in the industry, delivering consistent performance even under heavy loads and challenging terrains. Moreover, Yamaha's suspension systems featured in the RMAX variances – FOX 2.0 iQS (intelligent Quick Switch) in the LE, FOX 2.0 QS3 (Quick Switch 3) for the flagship RMAX and the XT-R; and in the Sport, FOX’s 2.0 Adjustable Shocks – are designed to take a beating, gracefully. Qualities which the group found to be all the truer on the second day. More often, we kept the throttle wide-open, even between the canopy of pines, exercising the suspension, Electronic Power Steering (EPS), the powerband, and braking system to their max.

The Yamaha Wolverine series stands out not only for its performance and utility in my mind, but also for its approachable pricing. Photo credit: Yamaha

That’s not to say we didn’t cross rugged terrain. In fact, on our way to Flag Mountain – named for the pole atop it which is fortified with the stars and stripes whenever the snow clears – we ascended what could be considered a waterfall. It was steep, unforgiving, unrelentingly rocky, and crisscrossed strong currents flowing from the mountain tops, nourished by the melt. Even with the nose of the vehicle tipped up to the sky, I could see everything around me, and isolation in my own cabin allowed me to soak it all in. The cushioned seat was both comfy and elevated enough for my petite body to still feel in control. And the front window (windshield down) gave me the type of vantage my taller colleagues usually enjoy. With all that visibility, I focused on technique with sharp attention, while my peripherals catalogued my surroundings, building color into an otherwise straight-forward, black and white memory.

My vehicle took me on a journey, track by track, as if scrolling through every song on a playlist built specifically for adventure. When I wasn’t spinning the wheels of an RMAX, I replayed its proverbial album in my head: picking lines, putting pressure on the gas, setting up for turns, holding just a little bit longer than I was comfortable with before stabbing the go-fast pedal again. Like the first time you hear that one amazing song which had to have been made for you. It cycles through your thoughts all day; you even catch yourself moving to the beat hours after the last time it blasted from your speakers. Days after the last track, I still bounce to the rhythm of the RMAX. I find myself unconsciously leaning through an invisible curve, staying upright as my imaginary side-by-side dives into the apex and lurches into its suspension as the G-force pushes the car’s weight off the rear and it finally breaks – sliding you towards your exit.

Just as a tune will grab you, so can an epic ride in the perfect vehicle. When it’s right, the memory of it hits you deep in the gut. You’ll demand an encore of that moment, and its intensity, over and over, trying desperately not to lose the tempo. Maybe it’s the formula for happiness: two parts joy, one part fulfillment. And nothing leaves you quite as full as a challenge to seek out the border between reason and insanity…and tip-toe across it. From 9,000 to 13,000 feet elevation, the RMAX 1000 took me there and back. Except this recreational vehicle (classified as “sport-utility” by other OEMs) didn’t require any pussyfooting around the G-outs, sharp rocks, riverbeds, and rogue cluster of roots which Yamaha curated into our ride. To say I tried to break the poor beast is an understatement. But it’s not often a brand will hand you the reigns then dare you to keep up.

Driving the RMAX to the edge, finding that center point of fear, fright and euphoria, gave me the kind of high you get breathing thin air. Photo credit: Yamaha

The Yamaha Wolverine series stands out not only for its performance and utility in my mind, but also for its approachable pricing. The base model RMAX, their R-SPEC opens the bid at $22,999 to $25,399; the Limited Editions (LE) run between $26,699 and $29,399; the Sport has a base of $24,899; and MSRP for the XT-R versions range from $26,199 to $28,199 – all of which offer a great deal of value for the dollar. But for those who don’t need every feature from the RMAX but want the performance, reliability, and versatility of the Wolverine series at a competitive price, the X2 1000 is a great compromise clocking in at $17,999 for the R-SPEC and $19,999 for the XT-R. This “hybrid” model bridges the gap, offering affordability alongside performance, catering to a diverse range of enthusiasts.

Admittedly, I don’t need to purchase a UTV in my profession. I am fortunate enough to drive the latest and greatest without the risks or responsibility of ownership. So, while my opinion might be a bit skewed, I do believe that - gun to my head - if I need just one side-by-side to park in my garage, it would be an RMAX. It does everything I need it to just enough, if not really well. The price point isn’t intimidating, styling is aggressive and attractive, it carries my essentials, has a cute cell phone pocket in the armrest console, offers a plethora of handy accessories, and (of course) it comes with a stereo.

Driving the RMAX to the edge, finding that center point of fear, fright and euphoria, gave me the kind of high you get breathing thin air. We had both at Taylor Park. But with a record of this ride imprinted in my memory to replay over and over until it warps, that wasn’t the only takeaway. It was the feeling of accomplishment, of conquering challenging terrain and emerging victorious. It was the camaraderie forged with fellow riders as we battled our way through riverbeds and rocky inclines, tires spraying mud and gravel, with laughter echoing through the mountains.

This wasn’t meant to be a review of the vehicles, although you couldn’t help but consider their qualities. Yamaha intended to take us on an adventure. Thrilling, enlightening, a little bit mysterious, and a whole lot of fun.

Kyra Sacdalan
Kyra Sacdalan

Kyra Sacdalan is an editor and journalist by day, and a PR & marketing wiz by night - with a passion for people, places and things. Someone coined the term 'Cultural Bloodhound,' which is a title she wears with pride. From discovering Haikyos in Japan on a dual-sport motorcycle, to exploring the booming culinary scene of Baja California, racing Go-Karts in Italy to doing donuts in an Ikea parking lot in Russia with professional drifter, or documenting races like the Dakar Rally; the list goes on and with every new experience and interesting idea, she's ready to say 'yes.'

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