The evolution of the Yamaha YXZ1000R has been exciting to watch. At first we were all blown away when Yamaha introduced its innovative side-by-side with a manual transmission. No more busted belts, no more trailside repairs, no more centrifugal clutch. It was glorious. Over the next two iterations we received the Sport Shift version with paddle shifters to go along with the manual version. That’s about when the wild-looking YXZ started to embrace its reputation as a dune-shredding, desert racing machine.
Apparently, its status as a sand slinger wasn’t as appealing to folks on the East Coast where tight, tree-lined trails covered in rocks, roots, and mud are much more common than the wide-open spaces out west. Consumers seemed content to pigeonhole it into that category and there was no turning back; the damage had been done. But why? It was a capable trail machine too.
Upon its unveiling, it seemed like every press intro, promotional video, and supporting literature at the dealership was saturated with epic imagery of the 1000R roosting Glamis’ berms, flying down fire roads, and blitzing whoops like its head was on fire. Perhaps this had something to do with its dune rep, but the “Pure Sport” UTV is no one-trick pony.
Shedding this reputation is what the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R is all about. Yamaha listened to the people who bought them and made the incremental changes to this latest version with the intent of selling a more versatile vehicle that also appeals to East Coast trail junkies.
After a full day trying to destroy the new YXZ1000R through the backwoods of the Stony Lonesome OHV Park, located only 130 miles from Newnan, Georgia, where the YXZs are assembled, we have a feeling folks are going to like the direction the new 1000R is headed. At first glance the 2019 YXZ1000R retains its signature stance with a low, angled front clip, shock reservoirs poking out of the hood, sharp edges, and pointed rear fenders. The front bodywork is slightly revised though the rear wingtips remain, but the big news are the new radiator and taller tires. The roof has a slightly new design that makes it look more traditional than before.
The new, larger radiator has been moved toward the back, between the rear seats and the storage area. It is now located up, out of the mud, dust, and muck that often comes from the traditional location under the hood. A pair of rear-facing intakes on either side—one inside the cab, facing forward, and the other rear-facing below the bed—help keep fresh, clean air moving across the largest radiator Yamaha has ever made. A pair of cooling fans helps to create a much more efficient cooling system.
This is all accomplished without sacrificing very much of its available storage space and maintaining the sleek overall look of the car. Four steel D-rings and a 40-pound carrying capacity far outweighs the space but still allows you to haul lots of stuff. It even has a pair of flag mounts, just in case you take it to the sand.
The OEM tires are now 29-inch Maxxis Bighorns that feature a new eight-ply-rated design (versus six-ply-rated for a standard Bighorn) that better resist punctures and are supposed to last even longer than the standard tires did previously. Maxxis developed these tougher tires alongside Yamaha specifically for the new YXZ. The bolt pattern on the wheels is now the universally utilized 4 x 156 so that owners have a wider selection of aftermarket wheels at their disposal. This is the same bolt pattern as the Polaris RZR.
Last, but not least, is a slight revision to the roof and the top of the roll cage. It is now an inch or so higher in the front to accommodate taller humans while the roof no longer has those bat wings. The result is a slightly reduced slope angle that increases the driver’s field of vision out the front.
Out on the trail these changes were all noticeable improvements. The new cooling system is arguably the most important of the batch. All previous YXZ cockpits are hot when you are driving hard. The front-mount radiator pushed hot air right toward the driver (which isn’t an issue unique to Yamaha). But the new layout cools things down 31 percent according to Yamaha PR. It was without a doubt a significant improvement in overall driver comfort. In addition to the cooler ride, the radiator was free from mud and debris when we checked it at the end of the day.
Suspension received some key updates that YXZ owners have been asking for. The new Fox RC2 shocks have updated spring rates with dual springs and adjustable crossovers. The front offers 16 inches of travel and another 17 inches from the rear, both of which see reduction in rebound and an increase in compression damping for 2019.
Add in the larger tires and it gets a bit (0.3 inch) of added ground clearance which was ideal in the rough, rocky terrain at Stony Lonesome. While following our trail leader we kept seeing his rig clear obstacles by a hog’s hair time and time again. The Bighorn has always provided good traction and the 2.0 delivers again.
Our first few sessions in the seat were exciting as the trail leader led us through the 15-mile test loop. Happily, the combination of low front end bodywork and a slightly higher view out the front allow for a fast acquisition of the trail when you crest hills and dive down into a valley on the other side.
As always, the YXZ was an animal on the fast dirt roads connecting the trails. It was dusty and mudholes were formed in every drainage spot on the course, so we got a feel for the protection (or lack thereof) from the bodywork. If you hit the mud fast, it will splash up into the cockpit so the trick is to get hard on the brakes right before the muck and ease through it at a pace which keeps the spray to a minimum… Then get on the gas quick on the other side. These on-off situations revealed how well the new YXZ brake system perform on the trail.
New for 2019 are steel-braided brake lines, larger calipers front and rear, along with the 10mm larger brake discs. The brakes are improved over the previous generation. They offer excellent feel and good power in both high- and low-speed conditions.
In between the corners and tough sections was the opportunity to stomp the gas pedal to the floor and row through a few gears while listening to that sweet sound of the howling triple and whining gears.
There are not a bunch of internal engine updates but the one that is most notable are the connecting rods. Beefy rods are already in place and ready to accept the added stress of the optional GYTR Turbo Kit. We didn’t get to try the Turbo Kit on this part of the introduction but we will be heading to the West Coast next month for part 2, so who knows.
Anyway, it’s not always about hitting warp drive, so here’s a juicy fact. The Yamaha engineers lowered the transmission’s 1st gear by 23.6% from last year, and 2nd-5th is reduced by 7% compared to last year. So the new design is, in theory, quicker while retaining its top speed through gearing. The goal was to make it better in tight, technical terrain while still hauling ass on top-end.
We spent a lot of time in second and third gear because these East Coast trails are so tight and twisty. There are boatloads of elevation changes as well, so the engine power was on full display for hours on end. Steep, rutted downhills are connected by berm-lined switchbacks which dump you at the base of tall, rugged hill climbs. All of which are seemingly tailor made for this type of vehicle. It’s no wonder Yamaha wants to get these in the hands of the East Coast crowd. They’re going to love it.
Imagine riding a roller coaster made of earth’s finest off-road obstacles at 30 to 60 mph. Instead of rails, you have Maxxis tires and you get to control the speed of the ride at all times!
There are plenty of gnarly areas at the heart of Stony Lonesome that had to be tackled in first gear too. These rut-filled downhill roads featured 1- and 2-foot-tall ledges, with granite rock faces that were slick enough to create some wheelspin. We just missed the rain or else these would have been a real challenge. This type of obstacle was a perfect chance to showcase the new low-speed chops the 2019 YXZ1000R is imbued with.
The differential lock has always been there but now the rig can crawl up this steep stuff without having to just hammer it and hold on for dear life. Obviously you can take that approach if you want, but where’s the fun in busting up your car when you can use finesse to make it through? Either way, the new clutch has been upgraded to handle the stresses that will come along with the newfound crawling capabilities.
Yamaha accomplished this partially through the MCU logic that controls the sport shifting. It now sees a 40-percent less clutch disengagement at low speeds, which should dramatically improve the life of the clutch unit. According to the Yamaha PR, the new setting result in 50-percent less half-clutch timing during downshifting, which also improves engine-braking.
Despite the slightly increased clearance, only a Jeep rolling on 40s would go over this stuff without dragging the bottom, so the plastic skid plate took a pounding in these situations. GYTR trailing arm sliders are a must-have for anyone who wants the extra protection for the hard parts when navigating this type of terrain.
We’ve driven every type of UTV in dang near all types of situations, and the Sport Shift-equipped YXZ continues to be one of our all-time favorites.
The ability to choose your gears makes the driving experience much different than driving a competitor’s car equipped with centrifugal-type clutch. You are totally in control, making the interface with the YXZ so unique and the driving experience so exciting.
Add into the equation these key improvements on the 2019 YXZ1000R and what you have is an even more capable side-by-side. This machine runs cooler, has gearing that is more conducive to crawling, revised suspension, taller tires, better brakes, still looks like it’s going fast even when it’s sitting still, and is 800 bucks cheaper than last year’s model (went from $19,799 to $18,999)! What more could you want?
Would you like to know how the new YXZ handles the dunes now? Funny you should ask. We will be back for round 2 in mid-October, for the West Coast leg of this first ride. Hopefully Yamaha has the new turbo-equipped version for us to check out this time too.
- You get to shift
- Awesome three-cylinder engine
- Agile handling
- Great brakes
- You have to shift
- Turbo Kit is only available as an option
- Annoying alarms for seatbelt and parking brake
- Polarizing design of bodywork