There's a new wave sweeping the backcountry! That wave is a logical extension of ATVs -- side-by-sides. Yes, while there are two-seat ATVs available, it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea to use the large ATV drivetrains and build a useable vehicle that allows two or more passengers to sit side-by-side in comfort. In 1988, Kawasaki introduced its Mule, a little "truck" that was aimed at the utility/farm market. These were two-wheel-drive haulers that worked great for what they were designed for. The Mule and several others from different companies have evolved into many vehicles with both two- and four-wheel drive. Hunters and others have found that these vehicles worked in the backcountry, too, and it hasn't taken long for most of the large manufacturers to design new offerings for a brand-new, hot market.
Yamaha jumped into the fray with both feet when it introduced its Rhino 660 Auto 4x4 side-by-side. The Rhino's tough drivetrain borrowed many pieces from Yamaha's successful Grizzly 660 ATV. So we don't miss anything, here's what Yamaha says about the Rhino's features:
Comfortable interior with automotive-type controls: steering wheel, left-side foot brake pedal/right-side foot accelerator pedal, center-mounted console shifter and parking brake lever, turn-to-start ignition switch, indicator lights, and 12-volt accessory outlet
Liquid-/oil-cooled five-valve 660cc four-stroke engine
Fully automatic Ultramatic transmission with dual-range (Hi/Lo) drive. Maintaining constant belt tension reduces wear, gives instant throttle response, and provides all-wheel downhill engine braking.
Three-position On-Command In/Out 4WD feature lets you switch between 2WD, limited-slip 4WD, and fully locked differential 4WD -- all at the push of a button.
Fully independent four-wheel suspension: Double-wishbones front and rear deliver 7.3 inches of wheel travel and 12.1 inches of ground clearance; five-way preload-adjustable shocks provide maximum tire contact.
Thick bucket seats and that great long-travel suspension system work together to provide a smooth ride.
As you can see, the Rhino may be closer to a Jeep CJ than it is to its motorcycle/ATV siblings. It works great in the rocks, in the sand, and in mud (we hear), and can be used for sport, or for work with its useful dump bed.We'll be reporting on exploring trips we've taken with the Rhino in future issues and will let you know how it works over time.
We can report right now, though, that the Rhino 660 Auto 4x4 is a blast to drive! We had so much fun, in fact, that we're going to make a prediction. We predict that the side-by-side segment of off-roading is the Next Big Thing in our sport/hobby. Because we believe that, we're going to continue to cover this sizzling segment to bring you the latest in what's going on here.
-New stamped-steel dump bed is rated to haul 400 pounds of gear, with a new latch that opens from either side.
-New Maxxis tires offer good traction, longer life, and a comfortable ride.
-Five-valve cylinder head design (same as on the Grizzly 660) delivers low-rev torque and right-now throttle response.
-Dual-range (Hi/Lo) drive with Reverse
-Console-mounted dual-range (H/L/N/R) shift lever
-Sealed drive case keeps out water and debris, and a hand-operated side cover drain lets out what little gets in.
-Specially designed full-stainless-steel exhaust system features aluminum heatshields and a screen-type spark arrestor.
-Large-capacity aluminum radiator and oil cooler with fan-assist delivers maximum cooling efficiency and is positioned high in the frame for optimal protection.
-42mm Mikuni CV carburetor and high-output DC-CDI ignition system
-Specially designed drive system air intake vent helps prevent overheating and keeps water and mud from entering the drive case.
-Easy-access, tool-free air filter box
-Steel frame is lightweight and features outstanding durability with superior rigidity for great handling.
-Light, responsive rack-and-pinion steering features a fully sealed steering column and double U-joint steering linkage for smooth operation and good turning radius -- even in 4WD.
-Large-diameter ventilated hydraulic front disc brakes and shaft-mounted hydraulic rear disc provide outstanding stopping power in a variety of conditions.
-12.1-inch ground clearance delivers maximum underbelly protection.
-Low-maintenance front shaft drive features gear case and electronic servo-activated 2WD/4WD/Diff-lock via the On-Command system. Direct rear shaft drive eliminates the U-joint for greater durability and more efficient power transfer at all rpm.
-Heavy-duty front guard and CV joint guards protect against rock and debris damage.
-Standard center-mounted, heavy-duty 2-inch receiver-style hitch can tow more than 1,200 pounds.
-Large, specially designed seats are extra-plush and supportive for all-day driver and passenger comfort.
-Operator and passenger safety belts
-Dual 30-watt multi-reflector Krypton bulb headlights with high/low beams; dual 5-watt/21-watt tail/brake lights
-Large 7.9-gallon fuel tank features a fuel level sight gauge.