I have always been a big fan of riding and driving in the desert; the dusty, rough, and rocky terrain is always a grueling challenge for both man and machine. Which is likely the reason that Johnson Valley OHV Area was chosen as the destination for the second stop on the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R press intro-palooza.
Yamaha is so enthused about its revised pure-sport UTV that it was compelled to show us how awesome it is on the tight and twisty trails in the backwoods of Alabama before bringing us to JV to remind us that it’s still a force to be reckoned with in the desert.
Since we hashed out the major improvements in detail on our 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R First Ride last month, we are going to forego the rehash and get right to the point. Is the revised YXZ still great in the desert? The quick answer is yes, and here’s why…
Leading the long list of strategically chosen revisions to the original YXZ are the internal gearing changes in the transmission, its subsequently more durable clutch, revised suspension, taller tires, and relocated radiator. At Johnson Valley the terrain is rugged, full of rocks and challenging obstacles around every corner, so it puts a premium on a vehicle’s ability to navigate them without busting hard parts.
Our guides had set up a 90-minute route and it started off with high-speed whoops, lots of dust, and some more whoops. I could get the YXZ to somewhere over 60 mph; it was difficult to see the speedo with my eyeballs sinking back in my head as that triple hits warp drive. The Fox RC2 shocks soaked up whoops better than I remember, especially at these high speeds for extended periods of time. The new suspension settings were aimed at making this area better and they were more than up to the task, keeping the vehicle in line and flattening out those deep, sandy whoops.
Waiting on the other end was a dusty, rutted trail that led us onto a rocky road along the edge of one of the hills on the eastern edge of the play area. Despite the ruts and dust stirred up from 20 UTVs digging into the silt, this little section put a premium on the handling through tight turns, braking between them, and even showcased how the lower gearing increases acceleration.
Deep ruts were forming in the soft dirt as we snaked back and forth between the bushes at 20 to 30 mph. The ruts were getting big enough that the car would fall into them, body roll into position before the tires locked in like a slot car. This is similar to the technical nature of the woods ride we did earlier, with the added dimension of having to peer through a wall of dust.
I’ve always been impressed with how hard the YXZ accelerates as you paddle through the five-speed transmission with the engine howling and the gears whirling in a mechanical melody unique to the Yamaha. The brakes are impressive as they easily overtax the traction offered by the new Maxxis Bighorns while we were mobbing through the desert.
After completing the high-speed run we had to take it down a notch and switch our brains into rock crawling mode for 30 to 40 minutes. We picked our way through boulder fields, rock-filled sand washes, and roads that are not exactly roads because that’s what you do in the desert. These are Jeep trails at best with 2- and 3-foot-tall rock faces, sharp-edged rocks lining the entire route like a minefield with a bunch of deep ravines on either side, retired mining shafts and even a few small cliffs to keep us on our toes.
This is the type of terrain where we could get familiar with the lower gearing and improved clutching algorithm. In the past, you had to risk ripping off A-arms to keep your momentum up in order to get over this stuff without heating up the clutch. It wasn’t because it didn’t have the capability to go slow, but the clutch had to work so hard at these low speeds that it proved to be the weak link in the previous designs. Now with improved shift mapping and the lower gears, the YXZ is capable of dealing with these slower speeds as you pick and choose the least intimidating lines.
First gear is 23.6-percent lower and the rest are 7-percent lower which makes first- and second-gear crawling much easier than before. Add into the mix the On-Command differential lock and you have a formidable combination when you’re in these type of conditions. I was also impressed with how well the power steering absorbed the hits and sudden tweaks in direction without wrenching the steering wheel out of my hands. If Yamaha was hoping to prove the YXZ is now capable of conquering Hammer-style terrain at low speeds, then I have to say mission accomplished.
Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to just pin it and hang on for the ride but that is tough on any machine. Plus there’s no skill or strategy to that approach. Now you can finesse the Yamaha up gnarly rock-strewn routes, strategically placing a wheel on one boulder while floating the opposite one in the air before dropping it back to the ground on the other side. The rear follows suit with its A-arm-style suspension proving to be more than capable in these situations. Where rock crawling used to be a liability, it is now one of the YXZ’s strengths.
Here in the slow going is where another revision shines. The relocated radiator and the subsequent reduction in cabin temperature is a blessing that we hope all manufacturers will start to incorporate at some point. Although the outside temps were on the cool side of 70 degrees and sunny, this would have made the previous generation YXZ quite hot inside the cab. But not anymore. This radiator runs cooler and seems to keep the dust out much more effectively. I popped off the cover toward the end of the day expecting to see a filthy mess, but it was clean instead.
Of course there was also a short dune area that we got to play on, just to remind us that it still has the ability to dominate at the dunes too. Dune drivers will be happy to hear that the YXZ has a pair of durable, steel flag mounts plus the aforementioned list of upgrades that combine to make this an even better sand shredder.
Overall, we left the desert portion of our two-part press intro with a newfound respect for the 2019 YXZ1000R. We have always been a fan of this car and now it’s even more versatile and that is exactly what Yamaha wants to convey. The YXZ is no longer a one-trick pony. This is a do-it-all pure-sport side-by-side that is equally at home on high-speed runs as it is tackling the most technical terrain you can find from coast to coast. Like I said in the beginning, I’ve always been a fan of this model, but, now, the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R is even better and that should get you excited about it too.