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Why the Yamaha RMAX2 Sport is better than a used Wrangler


I recently had a chance to travel with the folks from Yamaha to the Phoenix, Arizona, area to test the new Wolverine RMAX2 1000 Sport. The Sport model is the newest option in the RMAX lineup, entering on the lower end of the price spectrum, focusing more on performance and less on luxury. It doesn’t come with a fancy infotainment system or a premium speaker system, but it does come with Fox 2.0 performance suspension and beadlock wheels wrapped in tires that were designed specifically for this vehicle.

That being said, the 2022 Yamaha Wolverine RMAX2 Sport 1000 has an MSRP starting just more than $22k. If you have never experienced a side-by-side like the RMAX2, you might not understand why someone would pay for a two-seat off-road vehicle that can’t function as a normal daily driver.

However, I spent the better part of 8 hours behind the wheel of the RMAX Sport, and as someone who has done a ton of off-roading in the likes of the Wrangler Rubicon 392, it only takes a few miles of rough terrain to see why a side-by-side is better than an SUV when it comes to covering rough ground at speed.

Hitting the trails

We spent the better part of 4 hours driving from Lake Pleasant to Crown King, which is a secluded town deep in the wilderness. There are no paved roads anywhere around the town, and what they consider to be “public roads” are little more than well-worn forestry and mining trails. I would go so far as to say it’s impossible to get to Crown King without a capable four-wheel-drive vehicle on the public roads, but we headed to that tiny town by means of the “back roads.”

These back roads are crude off-road trails, comprised of sand, sharp rocks or a combination of the two. There are the occasional boulders that require some crawling skills, but for the most part, we were climbing from 1,800 feet to more than 6,000 feet on harsh trails. Along the way, we encountered quite a few Jeeps, all of which were moving quite a bit slower than our Yamaha side-by-sides. And that is the key advantage to these smaller, buggy-type vehicles.

Due to its lightweight nature, the ultra-durable 10-ply tires and the high-performance suspension, the RMAX2 Sport will glide across rough ground that would shake a Wrangler Rubicon to bits. While a stock Wrangler Rubicon would comfortably cover most of the trails and obstacles we encountered, Jeeps and other SUVs would have to crawl through many of the choppier sections. In contrast, RMAX2 Sport cruised through these same areas at 30 MPH. Obviously, with more ground clearance, straddling large rocks on the trail is less of a concern, and the Fox 2.0 shocks offer so much wheel travel that hitting a 10-inch rock at speed is little more than a bump in the road.

RMAX2 Sport

Climbing and crawling

The next big advantage of the Yamaha Wolverine RMAX2 Sport 1000 is the fact it is quite a bit smaller than most SUVs. When making our way up to Crown King, there were several situations where we had to squeeze through narrow pathways through the rock. These were trouble spots for Wranglers and XJs while being impossible obstacles for larger trucks, but the RMAX2 easily made it through even the tightest spots on the trail. In fact, the small stature of the Yamaha side-by-side allowed us to enjoy many smaller off-shoots of the trail, which were generally more technical, giving us a chance to do more rock crawling.

Several times we found ourselves driving up or down large rocks steps. In some places, this included climbing a sheer rock wall that measured a couple feet high — a feat that would be impossible for most trucks and SUVs due to limited approach angles. However, with the front tires of the RMAX2 being out at the front corners of the vehicle, we were able to carefully crawl up these large steps. We were also able to drive back down them, thanks to the control offered by the Fox dampers and the Yamaha 4WD engine braking system.

One more key feature of the Yamaha Wolverine RMAX2 Sport 1000 that makes it such a great off-road vehicle is the company’s D-Mode system. While a lot of manufacturers have a drive mode system, many of them don’t really do much. There is little functional difference from one mode to the next, but that isn’t the case with the RMAX2 Sport. Crawl, Trail and Sport modes each offer distinctly different driving characteristics.

Take a quick look inside one of the Yamaha manuals provided with each of these machines, and you’ll discover that in Sport mode, throttle response is very sharp, quickly getting you to full throttle and full speed without much throttle input. This mode is great for the open road, but in tight quarters, the power delivery causes the tires to spin. Thus, I spent most of my drive time in Trail mode, which offers a nice, balanced throttle. One of the aspects of the Yamaha D-Mode system is that you have full power available in every mode, you just need to ask for it more in Trail and Crawl.

It should be noted that in the most technical sections, I was using four-wheel-drive with full diff lock and Crawl mode to effortlessly climb up the sheer rock walls and piles.

RMAX2 Sport

RMAX2 Sport details

The 2022 Yamaha Wolverine RMAX2 Sport 1000 is powered by a naturally aspirated 1,000cc liquid-cooled engine that delivers 108 horsepower. With most SUVs offering 300+ horsepower, the output of the RMAX may seem light, but where a new Wrangler weighs at least 4,000 pounds, the Yamaha side-by-side weighs just less than 1,900 pounds. As a result, it is surprisingly quick, climbing to a top speed around 70 MPH.

Power is sent to all four wheels by means of the Yamaha Ultramatic V-belt transmission, which is what new car buyers would call a continuously variable transmission or CVT. This RMAX2 also features a three-speed differential system with rear-drive, four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive with full diff lock.

What makes the Sport trim level unique from the rest of the Wolverine RMAX2 lineup is the addition of beadlock wheels, unique GBC Terra Master tires and a Fox 2.0 suspension setup with individual adjustments for pre-load, low-speed compression and high-speed compression. The combination of the wheels, tires and suspension setup leads to best-in-class ground clearance of 13.8 inches. For comparison, the new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Xtreme Recon – arguably the most rugged off-road vehicle on the market today – offers just 12.9 inches of ground clearance.

Finally, the RMAX2 1000 Sport is engineered to offer more utility than a pure performance model with its roomy cargo bed and two sealed interior storage compartments. When you spend 8 hours driving through the desert at speeds reaching 70 MPH, you get dust in the cabin. However, the items I placed in the glove box and center console storage compartment were clean at the end of the trip. The bed isn’t huge, but it would carry items needed for a hunting, fishing or camping trip in the wilderness.

As for passenger space, there is plenty of legroom and headroom for a driver and passenger over 6-feet tall. The seats are wide enough to accommodate larger folks, but when you get to rocking and rolling on rough ground, they do a great job of holding you in place.

RMAX2 Sport

The bottom line on the RMAX2 Sport 1000

In short, for $22k, you can buy a 2022 Yamaha Wolverine RMAX2 Sport 1000 and storm across the roughest grounds at high speed with confidence, while also squeezing through tighter spaces. Something like an older Jeep Wrangler with aftermarket upgrades will go allow you to go many of the same places, but a side-by-side like the RMAX2 Sport will handle rough trails at higher speeds as well as conquer more extreme obstacles with confidence. You cannot register them for road use like a Jeep, but what your sacrifice on daily drivability, you gain in off-road functionality.

I have tested just about every trim level of the modern Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, and the Yamaha Wolverine RMAX2 Sport 1000 is just plain more fun on tight trails or a dry lakebed.

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Patrick Rall

Patrick Rall has turned a passion for performance vehicles into a career of test driving and reviewing some of the hottest vehicles on- and off-road. While his own racing experience has predominantly been on the quarter mile drag strip, where he has made thousands of passes, his experience of operating a horse farm gives him a unique, hands-on perspective of new trucks and SUVs. He combined his experiences of racing on paved roads and driving on muddy country roads, allowing him to push today’s top off-road trucks, SUVs and UTVs to their limits in the most grueling conditions.

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