Off-Road Impression: 2014 Yamaha Viking

Feb. 28, 2014 By Scott Rousseau, Photos by Art Eugenio/

Yamaha Viking Desert-Riding Impression Cont.

Built for Work and Play
The Viking’s engine is housed in an all-new ROPS-certified steel chassis with a sturdy roll bar in the rare (we hope) event that one should find itself wheels-up. Suspension chores are handled by front and rear independent double wishbones with coilover shocks providing 8.1 inches of travel to all four corners, and front and rear sway bars help keep the 84.1-inch wheelbase UTV tracking straight and true while also minimizing body roll in the corners.

The Viking’s suspension quality is surprisingly good. Its shocks are clearly valved for ranch work and don’t deliver the plushness that a good set of aftermarket off-road units will, but we were still impressed with them. In fact, when pounding through the whoops at high speed, about the only extra feature we wished for was more travel—as in about two more inches worth. C’est la vie.

The independent, double-wishbone front suspension on the Viking provides 8.1 inches of travel to make it capable in the whoops and rocks.

The Viking’s front and rear dual hydraulic disc brakes are nothing short of amazing, though—maybe the best we’ve ever experienced on a UTV. Strong and powerful, they can haul the 1342-lb. Viking to a stop in rapid fashion on solid terrain, but we also appreciate how linear they are when traction conditions are less than optimum, such as in sand or on slick, hard-packed trails. A lot of other UTV manufacturers wish their brakes were as good as the Viking’s.

The Viking’s stiff chassis behaves very well in all sorts of rough conditions, fast or slow, with a quick-steering yet solid feel. We also appreciate its 11.8 inches of ground clearance, which we tested on several occasions. Fortunately, the Viking’s steel skid plate bore the brunt of our abuse without even a whimper.

But some of our testers found issue with the Viking’s tendency to exhibit a weird feedback through the steering wheel when bumps or rocks were encountered on the trail. Granted, we didn’t have the EPS-equipped Viking, so we expected the steering feedback to be livelier with the manual-steer model at speed, but this sensation was almost as if the Viking was telegraphing that it was going to sway off line. The condition was easy to correct when it happened, but whenever one guy would mention it, he would have another guy would jump in with him and head down the trail only to fail to repeat the symptom. It didn’t take long to figure out that the Viking really likes to have its suspension loaded evenly, and aggressive driving tends to affect its steering slightly when driven solo. It’s more of an odd feeling that requires getting used to than a real annoyance, and it is most definitely not a safety concern, in our opinion.

In spite of its workhorse demeanor, the consensus among our group is the Viking plays hard too.

Otherwise, the Viking handles about like we expected it would. Despite that weird steering sensation, its suspension sway bars actually do keep it rolling straight and true in the rough, and its wide track, which is actually optimized for proper spacing of the wheels between planting rows, helps the Viking stay planted on all four wheels during aggressive cornering. We did manage to pull off one Dukes of Hazzard-style two-wheel tip in the sand when pushing the vehicle to the absolute limit during our photo shoot, but the Viking’s wide track may have helped to avert a tipover. Thanks to the engine’s low-end grunt, steering with the throttle is also easy, as the chassis’ feedback helps the driver to predict when the Viking’s wheels are breaking traction and adjust accordingly.   

We had no issues with Viking’s steering per se, even though it wasn’t the EPS version. That said, we would probably just go ahead and spring the extra $1000 for EPS. As precise as the Viking’s manual steering is, it’s also old-school. The new electronic steering systems are simply awesome and, in addition to their feather-like steering feel, they also help to damp steering feedback to the driver, who is then less likely to overcorrect.

Side by Side by Side
Now, a few words about the Viking’s unconventional three-person cockpit: All of our testers loved it. Even with three grown male adults aboard, the Viking offers plenty of upper torso and leg room, and Yamaha deserves credit for paying attention to the details. They did this in two ways: 1) The seating offers an adjustable driver's seat, and the middle seat is set back 5 degrees to effectively offset each passenger’s shoulders and eliminate any claustrophobic feel; 2) Mounting the engine under the bed rather than in the middle of the chassis allows a pass-through floor design for excellent legroom and easy entry and exit from either side of the vehicle.

We did appreciate the shoulder bolsters of the Viking when riding with three people in the Viking, as they do help keep your body more firmly in place in hard turns.

Once inside, all occupants are securely held in place in comfortable bucket seats by the Viking’s three-point seat belt. All three seating positions feature separate padded headrest, and the passengers have the option of hanging on to an adjustable dash-mounted handhold for additional security. It’s a welcome safety feature, but as much as we like it, we absolutely love the rotomolded shoulder bolsters that ensure that the driver’s or passenger’s shoulder will be isolated from direct contact with the ground if the Viking should tip on its side. That’s just plain common sense, and we’ll take ‘em even if the black bolsters do look a little hokey from a styling standpoint. At least they match the Viking’s doors.

Monitoring engine and transmission function is accomplished via an easy-to-read digital LCD instrument panel. Its features include a large digital speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeter, hour meter, 4WD status, transmission position, clock and fuel gauge. There’s nothing there that you don’t need. The LCD panel is backlit, which also makes it easy to read when driving at night.

Actually, we could have sworn that the LCD was throwing out more light than the Viking’s anemic headlights. Yamaha’s specification sheet lists the HID lights as “n/a.” We’d agree with that, because they’re absolutely pathetic in high-beam or low-beam mode. They cast a sallow that is a far cry from LED headlights. The first update made to the 2015 Viking should be LED headlights!

The Viking can carry a 600-pound load in its tilting cargo bed.
Yet despite that glitch, The Viking abounds with other carefully executed details, such as a specially designed drive system air intake that helps prevent overheating and assists in keeping water and debris from entering the drive case; a convenient dash-mounted parking brake lever; a stamped steel dump bed that features four standard tie-down hooks; and a latch system that allows the cargo bed to be tilted from either side of the vehicle. We also like the Viking’s tool-free air filter, latching glovebox (a lockable box would be even better) and four in-dash cup holders—although, had we tried to use them, our riding gear would’ve looked like we crashed headlong into a Starbucks. Speaking of “fuel,” the Viking holds a substantial 9.7 gallons of gasoline, and its efficient EFI means that you’ll be able to go a long, long way between fill-ups.

Switching from 2WD to 4x4 is a simple as turning a knob.

Our Viking 700 was delivered in Red and featured Yamaha’s accessory Suntop, a welcome addition, for a total MSRP of $11,799. Every new Viking also comes with a 6-month limited factory warranty.

Fun at Heart
At the end of the week, all we could do is admire the Yamaha Viking 700. This work-oriented UTV wasn’t really designed to tame the desert, but that didn’t stop it from holding its own in the presence of more sport-oriented rigs. We wouldn’t hesitate to beat on it again because we know that it can take the punishment. The Viking 700 does, indeed, play as hard as it works. Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!