When the Yamaha YXZ1000R was released in late 2015, the sport side-by-side market was turned upside down in a sequentially shifted pattern, literally.
Boasting a factory-installed manual transmission, the YXZ set the standard for a “driver’s car” within the UTV industry, and it continues its legacy by still being the only widely distributed UTV with this feature. Then, to further solidify its legacy as a pure sport side-by-side, Yamaha unveiled the first paddle-shifted UTV to hit the market, complete with race car specs. In the years since those unveilings, Yamaha has confidently held its stance as the true driver’s UTV on the market, and for good reason – the YXZ has always railed corners and handled with the best of them.
For 2019, Yamaha set out to refine the YXZ lineup with upgrades and improvements across the entire vehicle, and I recently had the opportunity to try these new features out at two locations – first in the woods of Alabama and second in the deserts of California. You might actually be surprised about my thoughts from both places, especially since I drove the heavily updated Sport Shift version. Read on…
2019 YXZ1000R Changes
To say that the 2019 YXZ1000R went under the knife would be an understatement. There are a massive amount of changes and refinements on this vehicle. While all of them are significant, there are several that stand out and are key reasons why this 2019 model is better than the previous model in every way.
The first significant change is the relocation of the radiator from the front of the vehicle to the rear of the vehicle. Yes, this is race-bred technology, my friends. Not only did Yamaha move it to the rear of the vehicle, they increased the size by 32% and added another fan to the radiator to make it the best and largest unit they have ever installed in a recreational vehicle. Plus, the mud won’t pack in the radiator like it does when it sits in the front, and 300% more airflow means extra cooling capacity so you don’t have to worry about overheating. Plus, the cabin stays cooler since there are no radiator lines running through the tunnel.
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The next big change has to do with the transmission, which has received a version 2.0 of the Sport Shift shift logic along with a drastic reduction in overall gearing. While the previous SS transmission shifted fast and smooth, it lacked finesse in the slow stuff, and you couldn’t short shift it for just cruising around the trails, hence the reason this machine was largely pigeonholed as a desert-only UTV. V2.0 changes all of that in the sense that the shift logic allows you to short shift the tranny for cruising around the trails (it will still prevent you from stalling the engine by auto downshifting if your RPMs get too low or you come to a stop). In addition, the transmission would automatically slip the clutch to get you up and over obstacles on the previous version, but now the system has been refined to where it bumps the clutch to get you over obstacles and allows you climb up steep and jagged rocks comfortably at about 6-7mph.
Contributing to this transmission refinement is the 24% reduction in overall gearing in 1st gear, which combines with a 7% reduction in the 2-5 gear stack. When you combine these gear reductions with an increase in tire size to 29” Maxxis Bighorn original (8 ply) tires, you get a vehicle that crawls with the best of them. If you have experience in an older YXZ, then you’ll surely notice how all of these changes positively impact the slow speed drivability of this machine – the difference is astounding, really.
The other big change is in the suspension department. Fox shocks are still being utilized across the 2 model variations, and there are 3 shock setups being offered for 2019. Fully adjustable Fox Podium RC2s are being used on the base model (single spring setup; preload, high and low-speed compression, and rebound adjustments) and the Team Yamaha Blue SE model (true dual rate spring setup with crossover adjustment; preload, high & low speed compression, and rebound adjustments), while the uber fully adjustable Fox Podium X2 shocks are utilized on the SE Ultra White edition (true dual rate spring setup with crossover adjustment; preload, high & low-speed compression, and high & low-speed rebound adjustments). If you want to have complete control over your suspension, along with getting a sun top as standard equipment, then the Ultra White SE version is for you.
Mixed in with these big changes are other significant upgrades, including: steel braided brake lines, larger wheel bearings, upgraded engine rods as standard equipment (now you can literally bolt on the GYTR turbo right to the factory engine without pulling the motor apart!), updated ROPS system with better visibility and ingress/egress design for taller riders, and a new 4×156 bolt pattern for the wheels that enables a wider variety of tire/wheel packages to be utilized (this is the most commonly used bolt pattern in the industry). There are many more upgrades to make this a better overall package, but those are the top highlights.
Riding The Trails in Alabama
The YXZ has always been thought of as a desert machine, so I was immediately curious when Yamaha brought us out to Alabama to ride on the trails of Stony Lonesome. With all of the upgrades for 2019, could this machine really tackle the tight trails and crawl up the rocky hill climbs at a slow speed?
The short answer to that question is that the new 2019 YXZ is absolutely, 100% better in this trail environment, but the devil is in the details…
When you pair the larger 29” tires with the re-gearing and the V2.0 shift logic, you get a machine that is entirely different in this terrain. 29” tires allow the YXZ to roll up, down, and over obstacles with strikingly more ease, and the OG Bighorns with 8 plys provide much better stiffness than the Bighorn 2.0 tires found on other machines. The revised shift logic allowed me to come up to a rocky climb (some were 1-2 foot ledges), stop, evaluate where I needed to place my tires, and then ease up to the ledge with minor throttle activation. The transmission “half clutches” and allows you to crest the ledge with ease. The motion is actually very smooth, and the more I did this the more predictable it became. Again, the larger tires aided in this climbing rollover and capability with the increase in footprint.
With the radiator relocated to the rear of the vehicle, I noticed that no matter how muddy a puddle was, I repeatedly couldn’t get the radiator to fill up with gunk and debris. It’s high location, along with twin fans and ample protection from the elements, keeps it clear of any mud and debris while also keeping the air flowing from both the front and rear intakes. If the fans kicked on, which was a rare occurrence even in our 85+ degree humid Alabama day, they kicked on for about 10-15 seconds and immediately shut off. With the relocation, gone are the days that you have hot coolant lines in the tunnel of the vehicle. The cabin now stays much cooler!
The YXZ has always been known for its incredible driving characteristics and point-and-shoot handling. The same wheelbase and basic chassis are retained for 2019, and I feel like the relocation of the radiator to the rear of the vehicle has better centralized the mass of the vehicle to further enhance the already-superb handling traits of the YXZ.
It carves through corners predictably with the best of them, but now it does so with more confidence than it had in the past. The larger tires grip better to carry you through the corners – no pushing is ever felt. I found myself leaving it in second gear through the tighter sections, even if the going got down to 7-10 mph. The new shift logic allows the vehicle to stay in a higher gear even at lower speeds, so you can lug it out of corners now and really use that bottom end, which is noticeably strong from the 998cc triple cylinder engine on the trails.
With that being said, the YXZ engine is and always will be a screamer, building power consistently and strong in the mid and top revs. But, with the new tranny logic and re-gearing, the engine is fully utilized in the lower rev ranges as well. As the speeds and RPMs build, the YXZ is equally controllable with a very predictable power curve. Corner exits are extremely fun with a wail of power through my heavy right foot to keep it straight and steady in 4WD. Or, I found myself turning the dial to hit 2WD through some of the trails so I could make it tail happy with some oversteer on corner exit – an experience that was equally fun and smile provoking!
For my 6’3” frame, the new ROPS system makes ingress and egress much easier with a higher A-pillar and flat top design. This also translates into better visibility, a topic that I’ll touch on later in the desert review. Confidence-inspiring full doors and a very well laid out interior await the driver and passenger, and I found the layout to be inviting with grab handles for the passenger, a generous glove box storage area, another storage area on the dash, which would be perfect for a radio setup or similar accessories, and all of the controls at easy reach. I was able to dial in my seating position and adjusted the steering wheel to my liking. The instrument cluster is very well positioned on the column and easily viewable for all sizes of drivers. Oh, and it does indeed have shift light!
The last big change that really made a difference in this vehicle is the suspension adjustments. While it isn’t buttery smooth over the small stuff, it is so much better than it was previously. Call the ride “sporty” with good compliance over the small stuff. And, the best news is that no matter which YXZ model interests you, they all have the fully adjustable suspension. After my experience driving in the woods, I’d definitely opt for the Special Edition versions so you get the better spring setup.
The only thing I consistently noticed that I would like to see changed in the future is the seating setup. For my 6’3” frame, there is plenty of room inside the cabin, but there isn’t enough side bolstering in the seats for when the trail gets twisty and fast. It’s not like you are falling out of the seat, but the contour doesn’t come up high enough in the backrest to really hold you in well. As for gripes, that is really it. This machine is truly that good on the trails.
Let’s Hit The Desert!
With the trail section in the rearview mirror, which, by the way, comes standard on the SE models, it was time for us to open up the gearing a bit and get the air flowing faster through the desert of Johnson Valley, CA. For anyone who hasn’t been to this riding locale, it has a bit of everything from two-track trails, wide open dry lake beds, and sand dunes to some of the gnarliest rock climbs on the planet. Do you want to tackle rocks the size of a YXZ and see if you can scale them? Great, because Johnson Valley is the place and it proved to be a great testbed for the new YXZ (Although we left the YXZ-sized rocks alone for the day…).
Yes, the YXZ performed well on the trails in Alabama, and the positives that we found in that environment carried over to the desert terrain.
The slow speed enhancements in the transmission helped as I was able to meander my way through the rock gardens that dot the trail. The bigger tires provided greater rollover on the obstacles, whether I was tackling the uphill rocky climbs or 1-2 foot step ups that dotted the trails.
As I mentioned before, the revised suspension was great on the trails, but I expected it to be even better when we hit the wide open desert. With an increase in speed, this puts the pressure on the shocks to be more precisely tuned. Lucky for us, we were driving the same Team Yamaha Blue SE units as in Alabama, so we had an apples to apples comparison of the two environments.
Yes, like in Alabama, the slow speed dampening shined with pretty smooth feels through the little chop. These stutter bumps in the wash and loose terrain were the only things that made this YXZ unsettled at times, mostly through slow speed maneuvers or powering out of corners. This is common through the entire industry. Even through these little bumps, the YXZ was able to get the power to the ground – a testament to the combination of larger diameter tires and softer overall spring rates.
Some other stock vehicles bounce uncontrollably and uncomfortably through the stutter bumps, and that is not the case with the YXZ. As the speeds increase and the bumps grow into 2-3 foot whoops, the high-speed compression and main, harder spring kick in as the vehicle cycles through the travel. I found the YXZ to be very controllable, even when up on top of the long whoop sections doing about 40-45 mph. This is saying something since this machine has a shorter wheelbase compared to some of the other desert-specific UTVs on the market. Not only was the suspension stable at speed, but the front and rear sway bars help this machine corner flat and controllably, no matter the speed. Overall, I was extremely confident in this machine through the whoops as it didn’t kick, buck, or do anything that would make me have an “Oh-Uh” moment out there.
As any desert driver knows, visibility out the front of the vehicle is key to see what’s ahead, both right in front and way out ahead. Visibility out the front of the new ROPS system was greatly increased in this desert/sand dune environment. We were regularly going down large hills that featured g-outs with immediate uphills right after, and I was continually impressed with how much of the next hill I could see out the front.
This is also a great time to mention that the YXZ has always had great sight lines directly in front of the vehicle with the low and downward angled front plastics, and that tradition continues. I could clearly see immediately in front of the tires, and this not only helps on the wooded trails but also in this type of terrain where I could pull right up to rocks and know exactly where I was going to hit them. In essence, navigating the terrain is much more confidence-inspiring in the new 2019 YXZ1000R.
With the fast-revving engine in the YXZ, powerslides are epically controllable in the YXZ, especially since you can shift! Again, the chassis and new tire combo make this machine a riot to drive in stock form. While the YXZ doesn’t make the most horsepower in the industry, it puts the power that it does have to the ground very efficiently. For a 1000-class UTV, it feels like it’s the most powerful through a variety of terrain, and that really has to do with the driver-centric platform and manual transmission.
Just like in the woods, we found that the interior is very refined, well laid out, and comfortable for both driver and passenger in the desert. As the speeds increase, our small gripe about the seats not having enough side bolstering up the back of the seat comes back into the forefront of our minds as we pound over the whoops. This is easily alleviated with an aftermarket set of seats and 4-point harnesses, which is an item that we would recommend installing regardless to increase safety for both occupants. Yamaha makes a 4-point harness mounting accessory (linked below) that makes this process a cinch.
Yamaha has a variety of accessories available for the YXZ, and if you’re looking at this machine seriously, you should consider the spare tire mount that couples with the rear storage box. It’s a killer setup, along with the roof of course. The other item considering is one of the 3 accessory tire/wheel setups that Yamaha offers. We were able to test out the EFX Moto-Hammer in the desert and came away very impressed, especially since this is a 30” tire option that you can now run on the YXZ without any modifications. Plus the 4×156 bolt pattern now allows you to run a much wider range of wheels already on the market. The Moto-Hammer further enhances the YXZ’s handling over the big hits and gnarly terrain in the desert.
The Verdict: 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS Review
Overall, the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS (Base Sport Shift MSRP $18,999, SE version starts at MSRP $20,599) is a phenomenal machine that has only been enhanced for the new model year. The YXZ1000R gave me a sense that it is not only a desert machine, but it will truly be one of the top performing UTVs in the woods as well. I’m writing this still reminiscing about each time I went out on the trails, diving the YXZ further and more confidently into corners, picking right back on the gas before the exit, and power sliding away from the burm grabbing gears with a “Who’s Your Daddy” grin on my face… I’ll see you on the trail!
Photos By: Adam Campbell Photography