It wasn’t that long ago we were hanging out in the deserts of Southern California and watching the birth of the side-by-side market as we know it. It all started simply enough, with people tricking out second-hand golf carts. As quickly as such golf carts came onto the scene, though, they were gone again. This time people found that the same companies that built their motorcycles and ATVs also built utility vehicles for work on ranches and farms. These utility vehicles became the next subject of customization. They were outfitted with roll cages, rear seats, long-travel suspensions, and engine-performance enhancements. The most popular among these, bar none, was the Yamaha Rhino.
Fast forward a decade or so, and the UTV industry has not only adapted to people’s desire to use these vehicles for recreation but has also fully embraced the idea that UTVs are no longer just for use on the farm. Today, Yamaha, the same folks that brought us the Rhino in 2004, is introducing the new Wolverine RMAX 1000 family of performance UTVs.
Before we move further, we have a few points of clarification that’ll help the uninitiated. First, the terms side-by-side, utility vehicle (UTV), and recreational off-highway vehicle (ROV) can be and are used interchangeably. We’ll refer to the Wolverine RMAX 1000 as a UTV from here out as it’s the term most frequently deployed. Next, there are three common classes of UTV: Sport, Recreation, and Multi-Purpose. Although the Sport class is pretty clearly defined (think Yamaha YXZ or Polaris RZR), Recreation and Multi-Purpose get a bit muddier. Yamaha classifies the Wolverine and Wolverine RMAX 1000 as Recreational UTVs. This means, essentially, that while they are geared for off-road exploring, they can also be used for hunting, trail riding, home projects, and light work. And finally, as you might have noticed, there are now two different Wolverine models: the original Wolverine and the Wolverine RMAX 1000. While the Wolverine has been updated for 2021, the Wolverine RMAX 1000 is all-new, and the latter model is what’s covered here.
All-New From the Bottom Up
The Yamaha Wolverine RMAX 1000 comes in two configurations: the RMAX2 1000 and RMAX4 1000. As you may have surmised, the 2 and 4 designate the number of seats. Both vehicles feature an all-new chassis, all-new 999-cc engine, new Yamaha Drive-Mode (D-Mode) power-delivery system, a fresh new body, and a high-tech cockpit. The RMAX 1000 family will be available in Standard, XT-R, and Limited Edition models. And all RMAX 1000 variants will be assembled at Yamaha’s state-of-the-art facility in Newnan, Georgia.
Chassis and Suspension
Underpinning the RMAX2 and RMAX4 is an all-new chassis constructed of tubular steel that receives an automotive-style E-coat bath before being powder coated. The frames have been designed with rigidity and durability in mind, while also paying attention to the need for easy ingress and egress. Yamaha claims to have found the idea wheelbase lengths as well, with the RMAX2 sporting an 86.7-inch wheelbase and the RMAX4 with a 90.2-inch wheelbase. Notably, the RMAX2 is nearly four inches longer than its closest competitor, while the RMAX4 is a staggering two feet shorter than its four-seat competition. The vehicles have a 64-inch track and are 77.8 and 83.1 inches tall, respectively.
The RMAX 1000 suspension is an impressive work of art. Both models feature 14.2 inches of front wheel travel, while the RMAX2 boasts 16.9 inches in the rear and the RMAX4 makes do with 13.3 inches. The RMAX’s abundance of wheel travel is best-in-class. All models utilize Fox 2.0-inch shocks for damping duties. Standard and XT-R models use Fox’s QS3 units, while the Limited Edition gets Fox’s iQS dampers. What’s the biggest difference between the shocks, you ask? While the QS3 units feature external adjustability, the iQS dampers are adjustable on-the-fly from inside the cabin.
The integration of Fox’s iQS system on the Wolverine RMAX 1000 is a first for any factory UTV. The system has three settings: Comfort, Medium, and Firm. The iQS system is able to achieve more adjustability within those ranges than with traditional ‘clickers.’ In addition, the RMAX4 utilizes Fox’s Bottom Out Cups in the rear shocks to provide an extra level of bottoming resistance when fully loaded.
Suspension components have been beefed up to handle the increased power and ability. The control arms are made from a single steel stamping with a wide bushing spread. Wheel bearings are large 62 mm (front) and 72 mm (rear) double angular contact (DAC) units. Ball joints are upsized and vehicle specific. And the sway bar end links are forged steel instead of the standard welded tubes.
Power and Performance
Powering the Yamaha RMAX 1000 is an all-new 999-cc parallel twin engine. Yamaha claims that this engine will have the highest horsepower and most torque in the class. However, the company has not yet disclosed what those power figures are exactly. The engine features a 270-degree cross-plane crankshaft with a dedicated engine counter balancer. Four-point rubber engine mounts, a reduction in mass over the company’s 850cc engine, and the engine’s inclined layout all contribute to a decrease in overall NVH.
The driveline has also been engineered for quiet and smooth operation. Yamaha brands the RMAX transmission the Ultramatic and claims it’s the company’s most advanced and durable CVT to date. Contributing to both quietness and durability are spiral-cut bevel gears, helical-cut forward gears, a single inline rear driveshaft, and a single-piece front driveshaft with U-joints. For added robustness, the front differential is unique to the RMAX and both front and rear differential cases are constructed of carbon steel (instead of cast aluminum). Yamaha also provides a 10-year warranty on the RMAX’s drive belt, something no other manufacturer matches.
Interior and Exterior
Yamaha has designed the interior of the RMAX lineup to be among the most comfortable and user friendly in the industry. The RMAX family boasts industry exclusive soft touch points in the interior, which is a departure from the standard use of hard plastic. The steering wheel has 17-degrees of tilt adjustment, the passenger grab handle is soft-touch and quick-adjust, seatbelts in both the front and rear are adjustable, and the front seats have been given even more roof for rearward adjustment.
Other features such as stereo speaker integration, a sealed glovebox and center console, color-matched interior pieces, LED interior lighting, backlit switches, USB charging ports, and up to six cup holders are available throughout the lineup (though availability varies by trim). Exterior lighting is all LED as well. New signature marker lights give the Wolverine RMAX 1000 a distinctive and sinister look. Powerful, low-profile, LED headlights light the way while LED taillamps signal to those who follow.
The Yamaha Wolverine RMAX 1000 is built to go anywhere and do anything. All of the vehicles feature four-wheel drive that is user-selectable (unlike some of the competition). The RMAX is capable of running in two-wheel or four-wheel drive, and with the front differential acting as a limited-slip or fully locked (when four-wheel drive is engaged).
Because the RMAX is fitted with Yamaha’s D-Mode drive system, the vehicles are also able to operate in three different modes: Sport, Trail, and Crawl. Much like the drive modes on a full-size vehicle, these offer different levels of throttle sensitivity to match the terrain and driving style. Engine braking is also altered between the different modes.
For those extra tough situations, a Warn 4,500-pound winch is integrated into the chassis and standard on most models. Full-length welded steel skid plates protect the vehicles vitals and span nearly from tip to tail. If you’re looking to really go to extreme with the RMAX 1000, Yamaha offers a lineup of nearly 100 accessories, which includes rock sliders, A-arm skid plates, upgraded aluminum front skid plates (from the replaceable plastic), light bars, brush guards, a spare tire holder, a second battery kit, and even gun racks.
Tires are another part that are often replaced immediately after purchase. However, with the RMAX that won’t be necessary. The RMAX2 comes fitted with 30-inch tires on 14-inch aluminum wheels. Standard trim models get the GBC Dirt Commander while XT-R and Limited get the Maxxis Carnivore. RMAX4 models come with the same GBC and Maxxis tires, however they are fit in a slightly shorter 29-inch diameter.
Look, we’d be lying if we said we had this whole UTV thing dialed. We don’t. We’re truck and Jeep people first, but at the core, we’re off-roaders as well. And looking from that point of view, the all-new 2021 Yamaha Wolverine RMAX 1000 is pretty darn impressive. This UTV has features that you could only dream of on a full-size vehicle. It’s power-to-weight ratio should make it feel like a rocket, the massive suspension travel will soak up bumps with ease, locked differentials and a Warn winch will make short work of any rock garden, and along with all of this, it can tow up to 2,000 pounds (which is more than a lot of compact SUVs can claim these days). And you can do all of this from a comfortable interior with accent lighting, a booming stereo, GPS navigation by way of the Yamaha Adventure Pro, and six cup holders. That right, six cup holders.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that we are just a bit confused by the RMAX, in that with all of its off-road and adventure ability, it also sports a hydraulic dump bed and can be speed-limited to just 25 mph, presumably so you can toss the keys to a farmhand and not have him rip up the corn field. It may just be our lack of knowledge showing, but it seems like these options would be better left to the “Multi-Purpose” category of UTV, and not really necessary on a vehicle designed for high-speed adventure. But maybe the dump bed is good for hauling firewood to the campsite, and the speed-limiting will be fun for pranking your buddies in the desert.
Overall, we’re beyond stoked to see this new vehicle come to market. And we know we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all of the effort put forth to make Wolverine RMAX 1000 the best recreational UTV on the market (we tried our best to distill the 110-page presentation down for you). We cannot wait to get behind the wheel and give one a thorough test, in the name of science, of course.
The 2021 Yamaha Wolverine RMAX 1000 is available at Yamaha dealers nationwide and starts at just $19,799 for a standard RMAX2 in Alpine White or Armor Gray. The RMAX4 starts at $21,299. A fully outfitted Limited Edition RMAX2 will set you back $23,299.
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