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By: ATV Source

The 2008 Yamaha Rhino 700 FI

Things change fast in the ATV industry. Just a few short years ago Side-by-Sides (or UTVs) were merely glorified golf carts. Today, the market has grown and evolved to the point where UTVs more closely resemble miniaturized Hummers than they do golf course navigators.   Yamaha has been on the cutting edge of this revolution since the beginning (does anyone remember the 1989 Pro Hauler?) and 2008 marks another notch in their proverbial belt in the form of the Rhino 700 FI.  That’s right, FI stands for fuel injection and 700 refers to the displacement--a far cry from the old 230cc Pro Hauler days.  What is this new monster capable of, you ask? That’s exactly what we wanted to know.


Before we dig in to the actual test ride, let’s get up to speed on the spec sheet. The 2008 Rhino comes equipped with an all-new engine. Why fix what isn’t broke? Yamaha’s engineers wanted the focus of the new mill to emphasize the low to mid-range area of the power spread. Gone is the industry-unique five-valve head and in its place a more traditional four-valve design.  The goal here was to reduce weight and complexity (which in this case works out to a 21% decrease in engine weight) In addition to the weight, the big Y went with roller rocker arms in an effort to smooth out and quiet the revs. The cylinder wall is now coated with a ceramic composite to reduce internal wear and to increase engine life.  The crank has been lowered by 20mm in an effort to drop the reciprocating mass lower into the frame. Lowering the center of gravity equals a more planted chassis with less body roll out on the trails.

While the top end may have lost a valve this year, the clutch has gained a shoe (now six) for better engagement. The clutch has also been beefed up physically to handle the rigors of getting the power to the ground and slowing the Rhino through compression braking when its pilot lets off the gas. The CV axles are bigger this year and the CV joints are better protected with a more durable boot material. The stainless steel exhaust system now offers rubber mounts (in an effort to further eliminate vibration) and the engine itself rests on rubber frame mounts for the same reason. Other odds and ends include a larger radiator and flue, which equates to a higher volume of coolant flowing through the system plus a fan that has been increased in size by a whopping 74%.

Exterior wise, you may have noticed the new door design, which really keeps the splatter and foliage away from the rider’s legs.  For 2008 the Rhino offers such luxuries as a car-style e-brake and cup holders for those of us who wouldn’t mind bringing a little beverage out on the trails.

Now for the question on everybody’s mind--what about that fuel injection? Indeed Yamaha has taken no shorts when it comes to adding the latest technology into their flagship UTV.  Delivering the fuel is a 41mm throttle body and sensor array that closely monitors the fuel and air mixture. The goal here is to liven up throttle response and to provide trouble-free starting at any elevation.

The Ride

Okay, okay, we know you’re getting tired of hearing about technical data and want to know what it’s like to climb into the big 700. With that line of thinking, let’s cut right to the chase.  Compared to last year’s Rhino this thing is gruntier, meatier, and is much crisper. Compared to the 1989 Pro Hauler the Rhino is even more amazing--psych, we won’t even go there.

In all seriousness, Yamaha’s devotion to lowering the center of gravity on the Rhino is immediately apparent. The entire chassis feels more responsive and stout, a characteristic that is only amplified in tighter areas and overgrown trails. This machine definitely ups the ante in terms of what’s thought possible in high-speed cornering a UTV. The body simply slides out as if it were on rails. Long gone are the days of a top-heavy wallow or tippy-feeling even when the trail drops into an off camber. Thanks to the company’s attention to reducing vibration, the 2008 Rhino has an almost electric feel to it. Firing up the big 700 has a smooth, almost car-like quality to it. At idle, there is no teeth-chattering, no washers spinning on bolts, only a quiet purr; a soothing hum. Touching the throttle is an exercise in precision as the revs come on quickly. The Rhino builds speed with alarming efficiency, engaging immediately and pulling strong until the governor takes hold at about 42 MPH (we touched 45 if the hill was steep enough). During that zero to 42 acceleration, the Rhino feels torquey and responsive, almost as if there’s always something in reserve just waiting for a tap of the accelerator.

Being racers at heart, our test (and curiosities) wouldn’t be satisfied without pushing the limitations of the Rhino’s abilities. That said, we took the big 700 into a freshly plowed field that serves as the entrance to a particularly gnarly section of hard-pack whoops, some rain-rutted off cambers, and a few climbs that could scare a mountain-goat. For starters, we were able to tame the slimy clay of the freshly turned-over field without a hint of complaint. We even stayed good and clean thanks to the Rhino’s new doors. Once we got into the rutted out trails, that lower center of gravity we’ve been talking about came into its own with a chassis that tracked a straight course while the suspension worked its magic to keep the tires following the unevenness below.  The Rhino has enough torque to lighten up the front-end with a steady push on the pedal which makes whoops disappear with only a slight bucking to remind the pilot that he’s not playing nice.

The Not So Good

About the only negative to report is a slight case of deflection. Half-buried boulders, limbs, and exceptionally hard clay deposits can send the Rhino kicking sideways if they happen to catch a single wheel (or single side of the vehicle). That stiffness and chassis rigidity that work so well in helping the machine corner on flat ground can work against you should you happen to clip a trail obstruction. That and the rather conservative governor make up our entire negative column.

The Bottom Line

Yamaha has continued to evolve their UTV with the rider’s best interests in mind.  If you were to ride the 2008 and 2007 Rhino models back to back we believe the most noticeable change this year would have to be the feeling of refinement. With each generation, the engineers are weeding out the vibration, rattles, creaks, and moans and are approaching the type of precision we come to expect in the automotive industry. There is a hint of quality and reliability in the new Rhino that goes a long way in terms of increasing user confidence out on the trail. The fuel injection simply removes any guesswork from the equation and further enhances the sensation that the Rhino is ready for anything. Despite our intense flogging, we were quite unable to tip, stick, or stall the lively 700. It simply took our abuse in stride and never offered as much as a hint of complaint. The Rhino absolutely thrives on Jeep roads, packed trails, and tractor lanes. What started out as a work-only design has been steadily gaining a dose of fun with each incarnation; and for 2008, Yamaha has managed to raise the bar again.

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