Yamaha’s wonderfully balanced YXZ hits the mark for sports-car performance. Here’s our 2021 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS SE Review.
2021 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS SE Review
Words: Cody Hooper // Photos: Adam Campbell
Take a look across the 1000cc non-turbo sport UTV segment, and you’ll find an incredibly broad array of options. There are CVT, DCT, and manual-transmission equipped UTVs. Some use A-arm rear suspension, some use trailing arms. They vary in size, too- the smallest and largest cars in the 1000cc Sport UTV class vary in wheelbase length by about a foot. Lastly, they all offer quite different driving experiences. This car in particular aims to provide one thing: “Pure Sport, All Performance”.
“Superior pure-sport performance and driver-controlled acceleration from this high-revving, high-output inline-triple engine injects adrenaline into any adventure, from open deserts to tight woods.” – Yamaha
Yamaha’s rev-happy YXZ1000R is billed by the tuning fork crew themselves as having a no-compromise attitude towards sport UTV performance. For the most part, this is true, although the YXZ can also be a very comfortable long-distance UTV with just a few light modifications. The backbone of these statements are primarily directed at the method in which Yamaha chooses to send engine power to the Maxxis Bighorn M917-8PR tires. Rather than send power through a belt-driven continuously variable transmission, Yamaha gives you two options: a fully manual, three-pedal sequentially shifted five speed transmission or a paddle shift variant that includes a computer-actuated clutch. The latter of the two options is this: the 2021 YXZ1000R SS SE.
Arriving in 2017, the YXZR SS, or Sport Shift, was created to bridge the gap between the racer crowd and the enthusiast. If road-going car sales are any indication, people don’t like to drive manual transmission cars much anymore. Yamaha knew that the three-pedal version of the YXZ1000R would have a very small market, so they invested heavily in making sure the SS version of their car worked brilliantly. In 2019, Yamaha released the second generation of the YXZ, bringing some large changes such as relocating the radiator to the rear of the car, fitting it with larger brakes, changing the transmission gear ratios, and much more. Gen 2 YXZ1000R SS cars also received revised transmission and clutch tuning, which has turned the YXZ SS into an absolute weapon on the trail.
Driving the YXZ1000R SS is just like driving a paddle-shift equipped sports car, although the YXZ lacks the programming to upshift itself. This is done entirely on purpose, as Yamaha tuned the transmission to be incredibly reliant on driver input to make its changes. It will downshift itself on heavy braking and return to first gear upon stopping, but the rest is up to the guy or gal in the driver’s seat. Pulls of the massive cast aluminum shift paddles crack off insanely quick shifts, allowing up or down movement between the gears even at wide open throttle. It will hold a gear to redline and stay there, which is exactly the way it should be. Hard shifts in the YXZ are audible and adrenaline rush-inducing, especially when the engine is singing north of 10,000 RPM.
Bolted to the UTV industry’s most hardcore transmission is also its most hardcore engine: a naturally-aspirated, 10,500 RPM inline three-cylinder engine derived from Yamaha’s streetbike and snowmobile expertise. It makes big torque for a naturally aspirated triple, but it takes some RPM to get there. Normal driving takes place above 4,000 RPM in the YXZ, so calling it subdued or quiet would be a lie. Yamaha does a good job of knocking out the drone of the YXZ’s engine, returning a nicely-tuned growl from the intake and a very subdued exhaust note. Aftermarket exhaust setups on the YXZ like the HMF Performance Series we tested here crank the YXZ’s audible euphoria to 11 – click that link for a sound byte!
The dual overhead cam engine is incredibly stout. It has also amassed a cult following from the drag-racing crowd over the last 5 years, leading to cars north of 500 horsepower on fully-built engines. Stock-engined cars with Yamaha’s GYTR accessory or other aftermarket turbo kits make north of 200 horsepower reliably, without eating its drivetrain. This car was designed for serious abuse, and it holds up well. Tallied up between the UTVOR staff, we have over 8,000 miles logged in multiple YXZ1000Rs, and we have never broken one of them. The most damage we have recorded were a couple bent rear sway bar links. To learn more about how the YXZ faired during our 3-year ownership stint with one, check out our long-term build review of our 2019 car here.
For 2021, the only change to the YXZ comes in the form of color and shock options. Yamaha has eliminated the X2 shock from the YXZ lineup, replacing all iterations with the 2.5-inch bodied Fox Podium RC2. These shocks feature high and low speed compression, rebound, spring preload, and spring crossover adjustment. They come beautifully tuned out of the box, only requiring adjustment if you add weight to the car. Drivers can fine-tune the car’s behavior easily with suspension adjustments, as the RC2s respond well to tuning changes. Ride quality is great, although it gets even better at speed.
Yamaha’s YXZ1000R comes in a few flavors, but all of them feature the same interior trim. SE and XTR models now come with small in-cab LED lights positioned at the rear of the center console, which is an odd spot. They do offer diffused light inside the cab at night, but we would have preferred to see them mounted above the occupants on the cage somewhere. Yamaha’s stock seats are grippy but fairly unbolstered, leaving most of the occupant containment to the rest of the car’s interior surfaces. Luckily, the center console, door, and shoulder guards are all smooth and fairly soft to the touch, making the YXZ cab a nice place to spend time. Aftermarket seats and harnesses are a must to fully realize the YXZ’s handling potential. All of the controls are well within reach and feel high-quality, including the electronic shifter on the center console. It makes 3-point maneuvers incredibly easy once you get the hang of operating the YXZ.
On paper, the Yamaha’s “double-wishbone” front and rear suspension does not paint a correct image of how the suspension functions. Sure, the front is a true dual A-arm or double-wishbone setup, using extremely long arms for less camber and scrub change during its 16.2 inches of wheel travel. Out back, the rear arms are quite massive, more closely resembling a triangulated trailing arm than a double-wishbone. It provides 17 inches of suspension travel, and leaves you with some room under the skidplate at full bump.
Yamaha wasn’t aiming to win any cargo capacity contests, especially since the 2019+ models lose half of the bed volume to the rear radiator and dual fan assembly. It’s a welcome tradeoff that can be remedied with some help from either GYTR or aftermarket storage solutions available to carry your gear and a spare tire. The rearward weight bias helps the YXZ keep its mass centralized, leading to laser-sharp steering precision and incredible stability. Interior storage is relegated to a center console box that will likely be taken up by a radio, stereo or other electronic equipment, and a decently sized glovebox. There is a tool kit and some other accessories under the passenger’s seat cushion, accessed by pulling up on the back of the seat base.
Suspension performance from the 2021 YXZ1000R SS is stellar, exhibiting great body control and bottoming resistance. The YXZ is not what we would call plush, but it is very well-suspended. It rides stiffer than the KRX and about equal with Talon R, so not stiffly enough that it is uncomfortable. The YXZ’s damping characteristics keep it in the middle of its suspension stroke very well, which keeps the car stable and allows room for emergency bump absorption without upsetting the chassis too much. Drivers will love the fact that as you push the YXZ harder and faster down the trail, the ride quality gets even better. Nothing makes the YXZ happier than being thrashed like the budget rally car it is. The YXZ has an incredibly well-tuned suspension package from the factory that allows it to fly over jumps, bumps, and whoops without batting an eye.
While the engine and transmission steal a lot of the limelight, it is really the YXZ’s handling character that sets it apart from the field. The YXZ1000R turns with incredible precision and shows off a near-perfect chassis balance that is easy to control at the limit of traction. We spend almost 100% of our drive time with the YXZ in 4WD. It offers selectable 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD with Diff Lock, which are accessed via a rotary knob on the center console. In 4WD, small inputs to the steering wheel or brushing the brake pedal mid-corner get the YXZ to rotate out, and feeding throttle back in helps lock it down on a line and power out of the corner. It feels very light, reacting quickly to changes in direction commanded by the driver. After a few hours of seat time, you will feel like the world’s most precise driver, able to nail a line in any corner while hanging the tail out at high RPM. This car makes you feel like a hero.
The YXZ is not without its faults, but most of them stem from sacrifices Yamaha made in the name of all-out sport performance. First, the five-speed transmission cannot be easily adjusted for big changes in tire size like a CVT transmission can, so if you are going to run larger tires, you might as well add some power to it as well. It also lacks storage space in the cab and the bed, but this can be remedied with aftermarket bags and storage accessories just like with any UTV. The ride is fairly plush at low speeds, but the valving is definitely geared more towards aggressive driving. Those looking to cruise around slowly would be much more comfortable in a car like Yamaha’s RMax 1000.
There are more comfortable cars on the market. There are also faster ones, less expensive ones, and ones with far more suspension travel. The YXZ, however, does wear a crown in the UTV industry, and that is for being the most visceral. This is the most sophisticated-handling UTV you can buy, and is also the one that delivers the most raw, unfiltered driving experience available. If you truly enjoy driving and are willing to run the YXZ hard, this car delivers a dopamine rush at every corner, bump, and jump.
2021 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS SE Review
Engine Type: 998cc liquid-cooled DOHC inline three-cylinder; 12 valves
Bore x Stroke: 80.0mm x 66.2mm
Compression Ratio: 11.3:1
Fuel Delivery: Yamaha Fuel Injection (YFI); three 41mm Mikuni® throttle bodies
Transmission: Manual foot clutch; 5-speed sequential with reverse
Final Drive: On-Command; 3-way locking differential; selectable 2WD and 4WD with diff lock; shaft drive
Suspension / Front: Independent double wishbone w/anti-sway bar, fully adjustable FOX® 2.5 Podium® RC2 Dual Spring shocks w/adjustable crossover; 16.2-in travel
Suspension / Rear: Independent double wishbone w/anti-sway bar, fully adjustable FOX® 2.5 Podium® RC2 Dual Spring shocks w/adjustable crossover; 17.0-in travel
Brakes / Front: Dual hydraulic disc
Brakes / Rear: Dual hydraulic disc
Tires / Front: 29 x 9.00R-14 Maxxis® Bighorn® M917-8PR
Tires / Rear: 29 x 11.00R-14 Maxxis® Bighorn® M918-8PR
L x W x H: 123.0 in x 64.0 in x 68.9 in
Wheelbase: 90.5 in
Turning Radius: 236.0 in
Maximum Ground Clearance: 13.2 in
Fuel Capacity: 9.0 gal
Wet Weight: 1521 lb
Warranty: 6 Month (Limited Factory Warranty)