Yamaha turned the utility market on its ear and put other ATV manufacturers back on their heels in 2004 with the introduction of the Rhino 660. Before then side-by-sides we pure work machines with low-tech suspension and even lower tech engines. The Rhino opened up the possibility of enjoying the trails after working all day on the ranch or job site with a high performance engine and four-wheel independent suspension. Since then the Rhino received a larger engine displacement and a host of updates, but it remained basically the same machine as other brands leap-frogged the original recreational utility machine with more power and capacities. Ten years on, the Rhino has now reached the end of its run as the 2014 Viking takes the torch offering the same formula of work capability and trail prowess while offering more in every aspect.
Most side-by-side enthusiasts were expecting a pure sport machine from Yamaha, assuming the Rhino would carry on for at leas a few more years. So when the Viking broke cover reaction from the hardcore was lukewarm to be honest, but the product planning department at Yamaha
isn’t staffed by dummies. According to their research it made more sense for the first all-new side-by-side in ten years to be a machine that has a wider appeal than the hardcore sport segment. Two-thirds of the units sold are used for farming, hunting and other utility duties. The Viking was designed to fit this role while still offering the ability to handle spirited trail riding, called “terrainablity” by Team Blue. Basically Yamaha aimed for the right mix of utility that is absent in pure sport machines and the sportiness lacking in full-time workhorses.
Yamaha shipped us up to Ten Sleep, Wyoming to sample the new Viking EPS model at the Red Reflet Ranch
. This ranch is a working cattle ranch that also offers up deluxe accommodations and activities, one of those being trail riding on 27,000 available acres. Along with time on the trails we’d get a short opportunity to do a little work hauling trailers and cruising around the farming outbuildings.
Taking a seat in the Viking you immediately are hit with how much room is available for the three occupants. Three bucket seats are aligned hip-to-hip, but the back of the center seat is reclined slightly to allow for shoulder clearance. Three full-
sized adults can easily fit in in the cab without being uncomfortable. The large grab handle works well for the center and right-side passenger when the going gets rough. A recessed area for the monkey in the middle keeps his or her feet where they should be. The remainder of the cockpit is typical Yamaha quality with a center-mounted LCD gauge, on the dash shift and parking brake levers and a knob for selecting 2WD, 4WD or 4WD with the front differential lock. Our blue test until was also fitted with a roof and short windshield, which are not standard equipment for this color of the EPS model. The red, green and camo units do come with the roof however.
The 686cc rear-facing single-cylinder jumps to life with a turn of the ignition and settles into a lumpy idle. This idle tends to impart a good bit of vibration to the dash, but Yamaha engineers claim that they sacrificed some vibes on idle for smoothness in the upper rev range. A fair trade, but it could be disconcerting for a new owner to see the dash of the Viking bouncing up and down. I would classify this as a quirk of the Viking rather than a problem.
Once underway the engine smooths out nicely and has a nice grunt off the bottom in both low and high gear. Mid-range and top-end were muted due to the 5000- to 8500-foot altitude of the ranch property, but it seemed in line with what you should expect from this type of engine displacement and configuration.
Yamaha’s Utramatic CVT puts the power to the ground without any belt noise or issues. The inner centrifugal clutch on the drive side allows for constant belt tension to reduce premature wear, but it also feels like the response time is quicker than other systems. Shifting the transmission with the engine off was difficult on several occasions, but firing the Viking up allowed the gears to mesh easily. Selection of 2WD or 4WD was as easy as turning the knob to the left of the steering wheel and could be done on the fly at low speeds. In higher speeds the system prevents changes between drive modes. Switching into and out of 4WD with the front differential lock requires coming to a stop. Several times I forgot this fact and tried switching out of the diff-lock at speed. A red warning light flashes on the gauge cluster and a rev-limiter kicks in to remind you to stop.
On the farm Yamaha had numerous scenarios available to test. Everything from loading 600 pounds of hay into the bed to a towing trailer laden with farm equipment was on the menu. I’m not one for heavy-duty physical work so I skipped tossing hay bales and opted to find out how well the Viking tows. Attaching a long trailer with irrigation pipes demonstrated that the Yamaha pulls nicely out of the hole, even in high gear. I expected the long trailer and short side-by-side combination to possibly cause some under or over steer issues, but that was not the case and the Viking rounded tight beds with ease.
One feature that is a must for farm duty is the Electronic Power Steering (EPS). Maneuvering in tight quarters was a breeze with a steering effort that could be done with just your index finger. No hand-over-hand nonsense here. On the trail however, the EPS made the steering almost too light and imparted some vagueness to the front end. The system just cuts some of the feedback from the front tires and suspension, which took away a truly planted feel. If you are only concerned with off-road duty the non-EPS version could be the way to go to save a few dollars.
Suspension settings on the Viking are geared for work capacity as well as trail performance, and as long as you understand that the intersection between those two qualities is give and take, the ride is as expected. Around the barn the suspension is firm yet not harsh. Out on the trail the suspension finds its comfort at a moderate pace. Slower speeds in rocks and logs give a slightly bouncy or stiff ride, but smooth out the faster you go – to a point. It’s clear that the large weight capacity affects the comfort somewhat. It seems that a couple hundred pounds of camping or hunting gear in the bed would result in a smoother ride, but overall it is a well-balanced package when pushed to do duty in two very different scenarios.
Braking on the Viking is handled by four-wheel disc brakes and are some of the strongest we’ve ever tested. The stopping power was a surprise on the first stomp of the left pedal, but after a few minutes it was easy to adjust to how responsive the binders were. That extra power is not only nice out in the woods, but also when hauling or towing heavy loads. I really wish all UTV brake systems were this good.
At the end of our time at the Red Reflet Ranch, I was impressed with the Viking, but not blown away. And that is fine, as the best work machines are not meant to knock your socks off but rather go about the task at hand without a fuss. On the trail, it put a smile on my face even though it is not a sport UTV. If I was looking for a do it all side-by-side that could work all week and then play on the weekend, the 2014 Viking FI 4X4 EPS would be right at the top of my list.