In our excursion to Queen Valley in the Arizona Desert we managed to get our hands on a Yamaha Rhino 450 for a test drive.

Except for engine size and some added features, the 450 is nearly identical to its big brother – the Rhino 700. Based on our day trip in the desert, we aren’t really sure why you’d need the extra power. The 450 is both ample and a bargain – $2,000 less than the base 700.

Like the Arctic Cat Prowler 650 XT we also reviewed on this trip, we immediately noticed the Rhino’s engine noise emanating from the console between the passengers. And as with the Arctic Cat, we could feel the extra drag, which seems to come with the added weight and lower UTV gearing. That aside we found the Rhino impressive for a vehicle relying on a single-cylinder 421cc engine.

Yamaha definitely gets the most ‘oomph’ from this diminutive single. A single overhead cam design, the head features four-valves to ensure flow on the intake and through the exhaust. The engine is liquid-cooled but also uses engine oil cooling and an electric fan to moderate temperature, handy to know when venturing into a desert!

Test rider John Bassett traverses a rare water-filled stream in the desert.Test rider John Bassett traverses a rare water-filled stream in the desert.

The drive system consists of the carbureted one-lunger spinning Yamaha’s exclusive Ultramatic V-belt variable transmission. The drive features high and low dual range gearing and there is a push button to engage all four wheels or just the rear two for final drive. Anyone familiar with Yamaha’s conventional ATV line has seen this setup before. Except for gearing the 450 uses a power set similar to the Grizzly 450.

Charging up the dusty and rocky Arizona desert terrain the Rhino 450 seemed as competent and steady as our companions’ ATVs and the larger displacement Prowler.

As we mentioned, when we first saw the new-for-2008 rotomolded doors we thought they were an affectation. After avoiding a ticked-off rattlesnake and riding in the Rhino for a day’s outing, we agree with Yamaha marketing materials which state simply: “Tough, rotomolded doors keep mud, water and dirt on the trail where they belong.” Okay, we’re onboard with this.

We are also on board with the plastic dump box that features easy-access corner tie downs, which we used to secure our cooler with bungee cords.

The Yamaha seating is similar to the Prowler, but comes with three-point seat belts that keep you more securely placed in the cockpit. We thought they more restrictive when we first belted up, but came to rely on them over the nastiest bumps.

Yamaha’s Rhino and Arctic Cat’s Prowler are ideally suited to desert riding.Yamaha’s Rhino and Arctic Cat’s Prowler are ideally suited to desert riding.

Unlike the Grizzly ATV, which offers a ‘Park’ detent on its main gear selections, the Rhino 450 gives you a joystick like lever to quickly and easily engage the parking mode. There’s a light on the dash area to remind you it’s engaged should you wonder what that burning brake smell is if you drive off with it on. Hmm, how would we know that?

Rotomolded lower doors keep you in and critters out when riding in the desert.Rotomolded lower doors keep you in and critters out when riding in the desert.

The Rhino stands out in build quality. It’s well put together, but we wouldn’t mind seeing some Prowler-like stowage area up front.

Things to remember about the Rhino 450 are: the Yamaha Ultramatic automatic transmission, Yamaha On Command pushbutton 4-wheel drive with differential lock, 4-wheel independent suspension, bucket seats, cargo bed, steel roof support system and three-point seatbelts.

Like Arctic Cat and market analysts, Yamaha, too, has noticed 4-wheel drive vehicles are increasing their off-road capabilities.

Yamaha marketers state, “The demand for Yamaha’s line of Rhino UTVs is strong and sales are up from last year. Side-by-side UTVs are often perfect for the evolving ATV buyer … as they get up in years or their needs change to include the necessity for multi-passenger capacity and/or dump bed cargo requirements.”

The Rhino 450 is a bargain with ample power for running the Arizona desert.The Rhino 450 is a bargain with ample power for running the Arizona desert.

The Rhino proved to be nimble, requiring a light hand on the rack-and-pinion steering. The braking effect was terrific, which we appreciated going up and down the mountain hillsides. That comes from large-diameter ventilated front discs and a shaft-mounted rear disc.

While noticeably underpowered compared to the larger displacement Arctic Cat Prowler, the Rhino 450 is a solid contender for fun when traversing the hostility of the cactus-strewn Arizona desert. Running alongside prickly pear cacti also makes the case for the Rhino’s plasticized lower doors.

The bottom line here is that the Rhino 450 offers as much fun in exploring the desert as a Rhino 700 would, but you save money on initial purchase and when feeding the smaller, more fuel efficient engine. Feature for feature and dollar for dollar, the Rhino 450 is a tough act to follow – into the desert or into a Midwestern pine forest!

Related Reading: 2008 Yamaha Rhino



Find a ATV Dealer near you

Enter your ZIP code below to search for ATV dealers near you.

Be the first to write a comment.

Email this article to a friend