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2012 Yamaha Rhino 700 FI Auto 4x4 Sport Edition

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on April 14, 2013
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"Dude, can I borrow the Rhino?" Be prepared to hear that a lot if you purchase one, because for some reason people think of these things as community property, in a way no one would with a truck. Typically we borrow a Rhino from Yamaha every year for Top Truck Challenge in order to run around the park, but this year we asked for one for an extended stay to get to know it better. So far, we've utilized this little truck-let in Denver, Colorado, at our sister magazine's Diesel Power Challenge, in Hollister, California, during Top Truck, and during several trips to the local desert for trail exploring, including Calico Mountains, Mammoth Lakes, and Johnson Valley. We've had a heck of a lot of fun during that time, but also gleaned a few things to note before purchasing one.

In spite of having a tiny bed, Rhinos are immensely practical for hauling loads into places you wouldn't want to take a fullsize truck. Managing Top Truck Challenge requires moving tools and equipment all around the park, which we normally handle with our '06 Ram 3500, but it's two-wheel drive, long, wide, and has a 53-gallon Transfer Flow fuel tank hanging under its belly, so sometimes it just can't get to certain areas. The Ram is a longbed, but somehow we were able to replace that 8-foot bed with this tiny Rhino for all of the areas that were difficult to access. One can easily see how useful a Rhino would be to a rancher, or anyone else doing outside work over rugged ground. We had no idea how practical this thing could be, it's not just a toy, it's a real tool.

The suspension is capable of handling speed over rough terrain that is much higher than expected. With 7.3 inches of wheel travel at each corner, and coilover shocks with external reservoirs, this little rig feels more like a mini Trophy Truck in the whoops than a pickup. You know a suspension is set up well when you're constantly flinching on approach to bumps, but then relaxing when you find there was more than enough wheel travel and damping to handle the chore. Obviously, Yamaha spent some serious time and money to get this right, and the payoff is well worth it in allowing the vehicle to maintain high speeds across some seriously bumpy trails. The only hard part is training your brain to not worry about the approaching bumps at speed.

Yamaha's 4WD system allows 2WD, 4WD, center differential lock, rear differential lock, and front differential lock, all through one easy-to-use dash-mounted electronic controller. Once the Rhino is placed in low range and all the diffs are locked, there's almost no place it won't go. In fact, we were very surprised to find how much fun rockcrawling is in one of these. The visibility is great, the 25-inch Maxxis tires are very grippy, and the light weight helps it go where you point it. Also, there are ample rocker guards and skidplating to hold off the rock bruises. Just be careful on steep trails, since this is a very short wheelbase, things get tippy in a hurry. So far we haven't managed to tip it over, but we've come close.

Not everything is happy here, though. The CVT seems to allow the engine to always hang at high rpm, resulting in a loud droning noise during constant-speed travel. The result is feeling as if an automatic transmission refuses to upshift. This transmission does allow for very simple operation, with nothing else to worry about other than standing on the gas and going. We don't know if there's a better solution, but that never shifting feeling is annoying. Also, the plastic hood has two small locating tabs that fit into slots on the cowl, and they occasionally work themselves out during headwinds, causing the tabs to rub on the exterior paint. It seems that the hood needs to be stiffer, or just have a better retention mechanism. One minor annoyance is the gear position selector. The gears are listed the opposite from most vehicles, with reverse all the way back. Finally, the top speed is electronically limited to 41 mph, which can feel very slow on smooth, graded fire roads and dry lakebeds.

So far we're more than impressed with the overall experience and reliability of this tough little truck, now if we could just figure out a way to get everyone to stop asking us to borrow it. Maybe we should have opted for the camouflage version.

Report: 1 OF 4
Base price: $13,399
Price as tested: $13,399
Four-wheel-drive system: Button-actuated, part-time, two-speed, locking center, locking front and rear differentials

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 223

This period: Adjust parking brake cable
Problem areas: None

What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Big-bump-absorbing suspension, utility, range
Not: CVT, noise, electronically limited top speed, counterintuitive gear position selector

Logbook Quotes
"Dude, can I borrow the Rhino?"
"Suspension is much better than expected."
"When's the CVT going to upshift?"
"Who mounted the shifter backwards?"

UTV Loading Ramps
Since we have a longbed pickup and the speed limit while towing in California is 55 mph, we ordered a set of Discount Ramps' Big Boy II UTV loading ramps for evaluation. These ramps are constructed of aluminum and fold in half for easy handling and storage. They're also made in USA and feature a 5-year warranty. We found them to be ideal for loading the Rhino into our truck, with the added value of being easy to fold and store under the UTV during transport. fw


Yamaha Motor Corp.
Cypress, CA
Discount Ramps

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