Yamaha has never been a company to follow the market. Instead, they find ways to get the performance they are looking for, in a way that is uniquely Yamaha. If you look at the UTVs they have produced in recent years, you’d see how evident that is. Going back as far as the Rhino, which revolutionized what a UTV is, followed by the Viking, a utility machine that used bucket seats over a bench. The performance-minded YXZ, with its three-cylinder inline engine and sequential shift transmission challenged the sport UTV market. The latest versions of Yamaha’s Wolverine, a badge they have used before, show what the company feels are the ultimate way to tackle a trail system.
Apart from a few minor adjustments, like the now standard aluminum wheels and color schemes, the 2018 and 2019 year models are mechanically identical.
The Wolverine is available as the X2, a two-passenger model, and the X4, which will carry up to four passengers. The two machines share common elements like the base chassis, the cockpit and the overall body design. The latest Wolverine models look far more aggressive and refined over the previous two-seat only Wolverines. Further emphasizing the aggressive look of the vehicle, the front end is equipped with a bumper with space to install a winch.
Speaking of a winch, it is extremely easy to install. All the main parts up front – battery, fuse panel, air filter, radiator filler cap, small emergency tools – are all easily accessible under the Wolverine’s hood. There is also a spot for the valet key that limits the vehicle’s speed. Having all this in one area makes that part of the maintenance program easier, and adding in an accessory, like a winch, a snap.
Engine and transmission
The Wolverine uses a new 850cc parallel twin-cylinder engine in the X4 version and also in the X2 for the 2019 model year. The use of a twin-cylinder motor in a Yamaha off-road vehicle is something that many had been waiting for a long time. This engine is a compact, electronically-injected in-line twin that borrows a lot of technology from Yamaha’s motocross bikes. It has four valves per cylinder and produces 69 horsepower, which is pretty average power for the recreational UTV category. While some get hung up on the horsepower number, we found it to have plenty of power for everything we did with the machine.
As you would expect, the Wolverine has Yamaha’s fabulous Ultramatic CVT transmission which is one of the best, if not the best continuously variable transmission on the market. It has demonstrated exemplary reliability for more than 20 years. In the Ultramatic transmission, the belt is under constant tension. This eliminates the CVT lag some other machines have, and by eliminating that lag, the belt rarely wears out. Ask and dealership and they’ll tell you the same. Yamaha belts never wear out, and when they do it is often user error. The transmission has a high and low range that is selected from the gear lever. Four-wheel drive can be selected by rolling the dial on the dash. If you need to put the Wolverine in Diff lock, the same dial controls that, too. You just have to stop the machine first to engage it.
Bodywork and finish
Even for tall guys, getting into the seat behind the wheel is easy. The high back sport seat allows plenty of leg room, and the driver’s seat has a front-to-rear adjustment of 3.9 inches. You can also adjust the steering wheel height to make the time driving the Wolverine easy for anyone. The bucket seats are comfortable even after a few hours of hiking.
The Wolverine has a fully functional dashboard. Left of the steering wheel there are two large round twist knobs: the first knob controls the vehicle traction system (2WD, 4WD, Differential Lock); the second controls the headlights (Off, Low beam, Hi beam). On the right is a seatbelt and helmet reminder light, and the panel cluster which gives all relevant information: speed (main information), fuel level, odometer, traction mode and transmission range. There is a submenu that lets you choose from voltage, engine RPM and engine temperature. The two front seats are separated by a large console where the parking brake lever and the transmission shifter are located. It also contains two cup holders that will hold a bottle of water, or a cup of coffee. The lid of console storage area forms an armrest that is just at the right height and is very useful. Finally, a waterproof glove compartment in front of the passenger completes the storage at the front.
Another nice feature is Wolverine is factory equipped with fully enclosed rigid doors that do a decent job of protecting occupants from trail debris and splashing wheels.
The rear cargo bed is equipped with a rear tailgate and LED red tail lights. On the X4 version, the bed does not tilt because it is designed to hold the seats of the two additional passengers. Accessible by smaller doors, the rear bucket seats are identical to those at the front but the leg room is much smaller because the engine is right underneath the rear deck. One of the really cool features of the X4, however, is that the rear seats can be folded forward to open up more cargo space. This is done without any tools. The seat is tilted up, allowing the backrest to move forward on the floor rails. The belt buckles retract into a space under the floor, too. The cargo bed area is rated for 600-pounds of stuff, and you can adapt the seating to match the cargo needs. The only question we had came from the rails the seat travels in. What happens if stuff gets in there? Need more cargo capacity? The Wolverine is rated to tow 2000 pounds (900 kg) via the 2-inch hitch receiver.
At the front and rear, the Yamaha is equipped with a double wishbone suspension system with anti-roll bars on each end. The front shocks are five way adjustable, nitrogen-filled KYB shock absorbers. That do a great job of soaking up trail obstacles. The shocks have 9.7-inches of travel.
Yamaha solved the issue of how to adjust for varied weights of passengers and cargo in the rear by using Nivomat Sachs self-leveling shock absorbers that will maintain the vehicle’s pitch, balance and most important – ride quality. The shocks work great, just taking a little bit of use to level off. The rear shocks have 8.7 inches of travel. Thanks to the arched lower A-arms, the ground clearance of the Wolverine X4 is 10.7 inches.
Yamaha had a goal for the Wolverine besides capability. They wanted it to be quiet – very quiet. They wanted to get the noise levels down to as low as possible and the end result is remarkable. The engine noise level really is lower than just about any other UTV. There is also no vibration transmitted to the vehicle thanks to the specially designed mounts Yamaha designed. Yamaha’s efforts to control the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) at the 2-in-1 stainless-steel exhaust and rubber engine mounts show when you start the machine. It’s the quietest UTV we’ve driven.
Throwing the Wolverine in gear and stabbing the throttle will let you know the quiet engine still makes very good, strong power. It’s a weird feeling, having torque and power that curves smoothly and efficiently coming from a machine that is this quiet. Whenever you get on the gas, the machine responds. What’s weird is, we kept hearing this weird noise that turned out to be the Maxxis tires rolling on the ground. You can easily hold a conversation at normal volume level without problems.
The suspension does a very good job of controlling the vehicle’s body movements. Although a little bouncy at low speed, it properly absorbs the jolts and bumps of the trail at cruising speed. In cornering, the body roll is very well controlled, which is reassuring for the driver and passengers alike. The steering is equipped with a speed-sensitive power steering that is precise and still gives a good feel of what happens under the wheels. The Wolverine is not the fastest UTV on the market, but thanks to its soft and predictable handling, the comfort of its four seats and especially the low noise mechanics, it offers the occupants a relaxed riding experience. Yamaha says they can help you realize your Adventure, and this is a machine that can certainly do that.
But wait, this is 2019
Very little has changed for the 2019 model except for the colors and aluminum wheels that are now included in the base models. For 2019, the available colors are burgundy red and Realtree camo. The SE version has an automotive type painted body and the available colors are blue and matte blue. Contrasting color decals complement the look.
Yamaha has a lot of OEM accessories that will allow you to equip the Wolverine according to your needs. The wide range extends from a single windshield to the fully enclosed cab through sound systems, windshield wipers, rear spare tire rack, and more. The best part about buying OEM accessories is that they will fit perfectly for you machine.
Driving and testing the Yamaha Wolverine X4 was a pleasant experience that allowed us to appreciate just how quiet and refined the machine is. It offers a good mix of performance that will satisfy the vast majority of UTV enthusiasts with adequate power depending on the use, a high level of comfort, great handling, and a spacious interior. The rear cargo bed is very versatile, too. Yamaha offers a highly competent vehicle that has not been developed to quietly realize your off-road adventure.
My new 2020 R-Spec seems a bit Jerkey on downgrade rocky slopes. The throttle is hard to control and compression brake is too sensitive. Any suggestions?