2008 Yamaha YFZ 450 SE and Raptor 700R SE Dune Test
Hitting the Sand With Two Special Edition Yamaha ATVs
It must have taken awhile for the shrewd marketing team at Yamaha to come up with the “SE” nomenclature and, shockingly, it took me even longer to decipher that SE actually stands for special edition. Apparently all those lead paint chips I ingested as a child have had a lasting effect. So what is so special about the latest YFZ 450 and 700R Raptor SEs? Well first off you get special colors and graphics packages only available on the SEs. The YFZ 450 SE features a white/blue/grey scheme along with a sweet orange and black arrangement that makes it look like an angry pumpkin. Its bigger brother, the Raptor 700R, is slathered in red, white and grey or the bad-ass looking black plastics with a candy red powder-coated frame. Yes, we know black plastics tend to show scratches right away. No, we don’t care – it looks sweet and chicks dig it. Besides the extra colors Yamaha also equips the SEs with GYTR aluminum front grab bars and heel guards.
Any respectable tester (or semi-respectable in this case) should preface any review with an explanation of their abilities. It is important to know whether the reviewer is a three-time GNCC national champion expert or someone on the other end of the spectrum. I fall into the “other end of the spectrum” category. Having grown up on dirt bikes, I’m no stranger to dirt but have far less time on ATVs. The last time I rode an ATV was over four years ago trying to hang on to an extremely hyper Banshee at a motocross track in Washington. I still have vivid memories of praying to God, Jesus, Allah, Budda, Oprah or whoever would listen to help me survive another lap.
The YFZ 450 SE features unique graphics and color schemes with the white/blue/gray color scheme pictured here. Also included are a GYTR front grab bar and heel guards.
With the frantic power of the Banshee still burned into my brain and my smaller 5’7”, 155 lb frame (that’s all muscle ladies), I naturally gravitated towards the YFZ 450 upon arriving at the big dunes of Glamis, California. Its slightly smaller size compared to the 700 was an attraction and something about 700ccs of power in an ATV seemed remotely insane.
At the heart of the YFZ 450 lies the familiar 449 cc, dual overhead cam, five titanium valve engine sourced from the popular YZ 450F motocross bike. Coupled with a light, compact frame the 450 weighs in at a claimed 350 lbs dry, giving it the best power to weight ratio of any ATV produced according to Yamaha. Whether a marketing claim or hard fact, it is easy to feel the 450’s power in the dunes. Power delivery is immediate and hard hitting. It thankfully is nowhere near the peaky, almost uncontrollable feel of a Banshee – however – depress on the thumb throttle and the YFZ instantly accelerates. The 450 likes to rev but that does not mean there is a distinct lack of low-end power. Its power is fairly broad and there never seemed to be a lack of it even in the biggest of dunes.
With its black plastics, candy red frame and black shocks the Yamaha Raptor 700R SE looks awesome.
Even with the abundance of power I found myself constantly shifting between first and second gear in the bigger dunes. With the 450’s penchant for rpm and a relatively short first gear, gear shifts were a constant. The gearbox also felt a bit notchy but the Yamahas I tested had extremely low hours and little break in so some of this should go away.
Another slight sore spot was the YFZ 450’s suspension. Over the chop commonly found in areas of heavy traffic of the dunes, the suspension was fairly harsh and felt oversprung. However an important note is that the Raptor 450 I tested did not have its suspension adjusted for my weight or preferences. Also at 155 lbs (once again all muscle) I am fairly light. With some dialing in, the 450’s suspension should work fine.
Power is plentiful on the 450, making it fun in dunes big or small.
Slight bickering aside, a big strong point of the 450 is its flickability. Turn in is fast and easy and quickly changing direction on the 450 is not a problem. Just setup for a turn, hit the gas and go. The 450 feels light and it is making it fairly easy to toss around.
Moving over to the Raptor 700R SE I expected to spend the majority of my time hanging on for my life. The 686cc fuel-injected engine is the most powerful ever used for a sport ATV by Yamaha and visions of the Banshee filled my mind. Along with 237 more ccs, the Raptor 700 is also physically bigger than the 450 and weighs 46 lbs more. In short it looked to be a handful.
However riding it was a completely different experience than envisioned. In the dunes the Raptor 700 feels more like a Cadillac. Power delivery is super smooth with torque coming right off idle and a very fat midrange. It doesn’t have near the top end of the rev happy 450 but that was just fine with us as I spent the majority of time happily cruising in second gear in its plentiful midrange. Only occasionally would we downshift into first or make it into third while in the big dunes. Even at slower speeds it was amazing what the 700R could chug up. With more torque and less emphasis on rpm the 700R seems to hookup and find better traction in the sand than the 450.
Weighing only 350 pounds, the 450 is extremely flickable in the dunes. Overall it has a very light feel and rapid direction changes are extremely easy.
Adding to the Cadillac feel of the Raptor 700 is its plush suspension. Even without it being setup for my weight, the 700 easily absorbs the nasty chop found in high traffic areas. In faster sections the 700’s suspension is also able to keep up and take bigger hits without feeling harsh.
The extra weight of 700R can be felt and it doesn’t have the flickable feel that the 450 does but in the dunes it is not a drawback and not that noticeable. Some more experienced riders noted a more top heavy feel to 700R but it was not something I detected. More of an asset to me is its abundance of manageable and useable power making it easier to ride than the 450 much to my surprise.
So which one is king of the dunes? Well that depends what type of experience you’re a looking for. For the aggressive rider that likes to attack the dunes and is looking for a light, flickable ATV the 450 is perfect. If loads of usable power and a plush cruiser that is still plenty of fun when in attack mode is more your speed, than a 700 is what you need.
Sporting the most powerful engine ever put into an ATV, one would think the Raptor 700R to be a handful. However quite the opposite is true and its of abundance of broad and usable power made it very easy to ride in the dunes.