Review: 2008 Yamaha Vector Snowmobile

The Vector gets our vote for Best All Around Snowmobile of 2008

Jul. 11, 2007 By Jerry Bassett
Images provided by Yamaha Motor Corporation

Imagine that you want a snowmobile that will be trail ride friendly, smooth and reliable, durable enough to last up to five years (or more) with little more than basic maintenance, and can be enjoyed by all adult members of your family. Still, you want a sled that can let you express your wild side over that occasional big bump and in those rutted-out ditches that run alongside the highway. What all-around sled would you consider that could essentially do it all—while not breaking your bank account?

We think the answer is the the base model 2008 Yamaha Vector at $9299 (MSRP). Although it’s $600 more than last year’s basic Vector ER, the new-for-2008 Vector is a much better sled overall. In fact, we figure that this may be the best sled in the Yamaha line this season.

Consider that the Vector gets all the good things Yamaha has to offer.

The Vector benefits from the Deltabox II chassis and Apex-derived rider-forward design.

There’s the Deltabox II chassis that premiered in the top-of-the-line ’07 Apex and offers Yamaha’s nifty (and comfy!) version of rider-friendly “rider-forward” seating. There’s a next-generation A-arm front suspension built in the over-engineered Yamaha-style for long-term durability. The rear suspension is a terrific design for the snowmobiler who wants to ride first and tune second. And, of course, there is the piece-de-resistance under the hood - Yamaha’s very snowmobile-specific Genesis 120 triple-cylinder engine.

Add all these fundamental pieces and you have what may be the most versatile snowmobile to ever set a 121-inch Camoplast Rip Saw track to snow!

Yamaha, being Yamaha, doesn’t stop there. The Vector, even this base model, comes with many additional goodies (digital instrument cluster, rear-exiting exhaust, etc). For now, though, let’s start with the gem under the hood.

Yamaha set the standard with its big view, multi-function instrument cluster. Its standard fare on the Vector series.

Not since Polaris brought out its “xtra light triple” (XLT) back in the 1990's has there been a snowmobile powerplant as well suited to its purpose as the Genesis 120. While the Yamaha triple will weigh in heavier than the XLT motor, it offers much, much more. It’s a 4-stroke. Meaning better fuel efficiency, cleaner running than a comparable 2stroke and, of course, no fuel-oil mixing required.

With 120 horses, this 4-stroke Yamaha triple has excellent low end and strong midrange, both of which make it excellent for long distance touring or sporty riding in the twisties.

The “greenie” aspects of the Genesis 120 aside, what we like about the Yamaha triple is its performance. Rated at about 120-horsepower, this engine followed the introduction of the RX-1 motorcycle-based 4-cylinder 4-stroker. As Yamaha’s second 4-stroker the Gen 120 gets most things very right. It offers that low growl that triples have and we like to hear. It has stout bottom end and solid mid-range. And this from what Yamaha refers to as its “…carbureted classic.”

Yeah, yeah, it may be classic, but that carbureted thing is a sticking point for this writer. We’d really like to see fuel injection, but that would raise the price more than 600 bucks over last season’s version. So we’ll go with the rack-mounted, easy-pull triple 40mm Keihin carbs. But you know that the Genesis 120 would have a bit more response with injectors!

As it is, the base Vector is one of the most rider-friendly sleds on the trail. Heck, when we test rode the various Yamahas at the sneak peek introduction in the upper Midwest last winter, we had to visually ascertain that we were aboard a Vector and not an Apex after a particularly jaunty romp through some twisted forest trails. The 150-horsepower fuel injected Apex may have it all over the Vector on the straights and long lake beds, but the Vector is totally competent where the trails bend and weave. We even feel that the transition of power out of the turns is stronger and smoother with the Vector. You can more readily “drive” the Vector in and out of the turns.

The powertrain is very smooth and strong for quick groomed trail riding. Part of that may come from the Vector engine’s standard practice “direct to crankshaft” clutching. Since the higher-powered Apex quad spins in excess of 10,000 revs, it requires a gear reduction drive to lower primary clutch speed to around the 8500 rpm of the Vector triple. With its longer stroke and larger bore, the Genesis 120 was designed from the get-go to be a moderate revving, strong pulling engine. Of course, Yamaha engine builders made sure that the Genesis 120 received favorable features like double overhead cams and a 12-valve head that ensure quick, responsive on-trail performance that can match the Apex pretty much everywhere but on long straights!

Now consider that the ’08 Vector should handle very Apex-like. They share the same chassis and fundamental suspensions. If you go by the numbers, the Vector is negligibly lighter than the Apex GT—557 pounds versus 560 pounds. When steering through the esses, the Vector feels lighter overall—and that may be actual as the Vector engine fits one less cylinder under the hood. And even though the Vector uses three carbs, the throttle pull is nearly as light as the pull on the Apex’ four injectors. This all makes the Vector very enjoyable for long rides.

We also applaud the simplicity of the Vector’s Mono Shock RA rear suspension. Its 11.6-inches of travel is easily tuned. We have not been great fans of Yamaha’s torsion-spring “rough trail” rear suspension because we feel its too quirky to adjust properly and that too few everyday riders can benefit from it. However, the Mono Shock with its remote adjustable “dial” can be extremely rider friendly—if the Vector owner reads the owner’s manual!

To get the most benefit from the Vector suspension, it is necessary to test ride the sled first. Get a feel for the set up. Then, after reading the owner’s manual, make your adjustments to the rider settings on the torsion spring adjuster. Set the adjustable control rods to your riding style. And, then, fine-tune the settings on the suspension shock with the control dial mounted on the portside of the tunnel, just under the rider’s left leg. If you have any doubt about the best settings talk with your dealer’s best setup mechanic. It will be the settings that you make before the dial adjustments that will make the most difference. Once those are set, you can fine tune to daily trail conditions as you ride. Of course, you could pop for the electronically controlled Ohlins suspension that comes standard on the 40th anniversary edition Vector GT. (Probably not available anymore as it was a “spring only” model choice.)

Once you set the baseline in your suspension setup, the remote adjustment dial on Yamaha’s Mono Shock RA slide rail rear suspension lets you fine tune your ride for any trail condition.

As for the base Vector, we found the standard high-pressure 36mm KYB shocks on the double wishbone front end were adequate. You can check out the Yamaha parts catalog and install Ohlins or even upgrade to the GT version 40mm “clicker” shocks. But, hey, for most of us the base line shocks will be just fine!

The revised suspensions of the base Vector reflect Yamaha’s concern for rider comfort, but can’t compare to the whole new level of rider-friendliness you’ll get from the Apex-like riding position. This setup goes the basic REV one better and rivals the new REV-XP setup in rider-friendliness. Still, we give the edge to the Ski-Doo. Yamaha is closing that gap though.

It is the Apex-style rider cockpit that really makes the Vector a definite winner in our estimation. Not only is the much more comfortable riding style a vast improvement on previous Vectors, the use of Yamaha’s one-piece, hooked handlebar is a great addition to the base Vector. It immediately puts the rider in better command of the sled than the previous design. It feels less tiring and gives the Vector a sportier edge. Just for arguments sake, while we really like the Vector handlebar setup, we still give Arctic Cat’s bar design top ranking. Again, Yamaha has closed this gap, too.

In overall appeal, there are few sleds that combine quality fit and finish with renowned mechanical reliability and, now, superior ergonomics in what is essentially a base line model. The Vector is the exception as it borrows all the best features of the Apex package while retaining the strength of the previous Vector in powertrain smoothness, yet manages to greatly improve overall ride and handling.

While this is not a “breakthrough” sled, the 2008 Vector turns out to be far greater than the sum of its parts. The Vector is a keeper for many snow seasons to come.

-jb

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