Off-Road Impression: 2014 Yamaha Viking
Yamaha’s new-for-2014 Viking 700 was designed to withstand the rigors of working on the farm, but spend all your time working with no play and you’re liable to wind up on the funny farm. Thus, there will inevitably come a time in just about every Viking’s life when concerns for towing capability and cargo capacity are swapped out for all-out fun.
We at Off-Road.com are a little bit spoiled in that our work and our play mirror each other, so when we procured a non EPS-equipped Viking 700 for “work” at the 2014 King of the Hammers Ultra4 race in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, it was inevitable that we would also find time to play with it. Our idea of play included subjecting the Viking 700 to a solid week’s worth of Baja-style butt-kicking over the Johnson Valley OHV Park’s diverse desert terrain, which included trails with trophy truck-sized whoops, and dunes-style sandy hills. Oh yeah, and rocks—not just the occasional rock here and there, but wheel-bending, “I’m gonna tear your underbelly to shreds,” jagged rocks. We also found the occasional boulder to scale.
Needless to say, we were confident that our test site and our accelerated test method—basically, we drove it like we stole it—would expose any immediate flaws in the Viking 700 if there were any to be found.
Replacing a Legend
In case you’ve been living under one of the rocks that crowd the Mojave Desert landscape, you know that the Viking 700 was announced in June of last year to replace Yamaha’s much-loved Rhino, a machine that effectively grandfathered the sport UTV movement even though it wasn’t originally designed with high-speed ditch-bashing in mind. The Viking 700 builds on the Rhino’s workhorse legacy with a wide and spacious new three-seat cockpit and a generous, tilting cargo bed with 600 lbs. of carrying capacity. The Viking can also tow 1500 lbs. via its two-inch receiver hitch.
Yeah, whatever. We’ll leave the work to folks with real jobs. We tend not to pull trailers when we’re boonie-bouncing, and the only hauling we were concerned about in the desert was hauling ass.
Fortunately, the Viking has plenty of oomph for that. It is powered by Yamaha’s tried-and-true liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, SOHC, four-valve single-cylinder engine, and Yamaha claims this is the brawniest version yet. With a 10.0:1 compression ratio and an oversquare 102mm x 84mm bore and stroke, the 686cc single channels quick-revving power through a centrifugal clutch to Yamaha's proprietary Ultramatic dual range (high/low) transmission, which is designed to keep its V-belt under tension regardless of engine rpm or load. Yamaha calls it a dual-action system and says that it greatly increases belt life. The transmission is also set up to induce engine braking across the entire rev range, helping to slow the Viking on steep downhills during off-throttle coasting.
Our desert raids proved that the Viking can definitely get up and go. It exhibits clean acceleration and excellent throttle response from zero to its engine-governed 50 mph top speed. Obviously tuned for ranch work, the Viking is no screamer, favoring low-end punch and a strong midrange that flattens out at higher rpm. That works just fine for grunting over rocks or when powering out of a sandy corner, but its slightly thinner top-end meant that the Viking gave up a yard or two to a more sport-oriented, V-twin-powered UTV that we also had on hand when drag racing across dry lakebeds.
The lack of top-end power was to be expected, but our real gripe with the Viking engine is that it vibrates too much, sending far too many tingles through the chassis and cab for our tastes. Yamaha’s engineers could stand to reduce some of the “thump” in the Viking’s thumper motor.
But the rest of the Viking’s drivetrain was smooth as silk regardless of how much we tried to abuse it. The transmission’s gate-style shifter has a sturdy, positive feel, and going from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive or fully locked differential four-wheel drive is as simple as rotating the dash-mounted knob that controls the Viking’s three-position On-Command 4WD system. Nothing tricky here, just simple efficiency.