Many of the vehicles we feature and test in this magazine are high-performance, race-bred machines that can cost quite a bit of money. Now and then, though, we come across a truck, or in this case an ATV, that not only performs at a high level, but won't set your wallet on fire if you decide to purchase.
This month, we submit for your approval our first riding impression of Yamaha's '04 Bruin 350 4x4 ATV, a quad that fits the bill in the entry level utility ATV market. The Bruin 350 is a fully automatic ATV, is available in both 2WD and 4x4 versions, and is stocked with many of the same features of its larger brethren, the Grizzly 660 and Kodiak 450 ATVs.
The Bruin is a unique machine because it's small enough for nearly any adult to 'wheel around on but packs plenty of punch for both work and play. A fullsize chassis is given maximum ground clearance, thanks to 25-inch-diameter tires and a suspension system with nearly 7 inches of available travel. To protect and keep the rider dry, full-length skidplates come standard on the Bruin.
One of the reasons the Bruin is so fun to ride and so nimble is its Ultramatic V-belt transmission and On-Command push-button four-wheel drive system. The Bruin's 348cc four-stroke SOHC engine is a powerful beast, and the Ultramatic transmission does an excellent job of transferring its power to the wheels without having to shift. The Ultramatic transmission's best feature, though, is that it keeps constant tension on the drivebelt to prevent freewheeling when negotiating steep downhill trails. This feature saved us from crashing the Bruin more than once when cruising down steep trail faces that were covered in loose rock. Tackling the same steep hills was also not a problem, thanks to Yamaha's On-Command push-button-actuated four-wheel-drive system. This shift-on-the-fly system makes putting the Bruin into four-wheel drive quick and super easy. This is also a great feature to have when you've underestimated the difficulty of a hill climb and are forced to switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive.
We hopped onto the Bruin and with the aid of a Garmin Gecko GPS unit, headed deep into the Kentucky woods in search of the harshest terrain we could find. Much to our enjoyment, the Bruin's suspension did an excellent job of soaking up ruts, rocks, and downed tree limbs as we blasted around the trails. The Bruin should definitely be considered a utility ATV and ridden as such, but even so, this ATV maneuvered well and was easily slid through the corners. In a wooded area such as our playground for the day, not having to shift the bike made the ride more enjoyable, and having a Reverse gear at our disposal when we ran out of room on the trail was great.
The Bruin's four-stroke engine made excellent torque, and this came in handy in four-wheel-drive mode. Slowing the bike down and pulling its way up hills, the Bruin made quick work of everything we threw at it. This engine yet again proves how well Yamaha's four-stroke engine program is because it revved quick and hard, and not once did we wish for a two-stroke engine.
Overall, the Bruin impressed us not only as a utility ATV, but as a vehicle we could play on as well. The front and rear utility racks and 2-inch receiver hitch tell us this bike is meant for working hard, but we think it's equally adept at ripping through some fun trail rides once the work day is over. We think you'll agree with us after a short ride aboard the Bruin.