The Colorado Plateau spans 240,000 square miles and four states—Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Its parks read like the greatest hits of the American West, including the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion National Parks. Author and former Secretary of the interior Stewart Udall once said, “I think the Colorado Plateau is the most scenic area in the world—let’s begin with that. Not just the United States.” The dilemma, for a would-be modern explorer, is the vastness of the place. Huge mountains (almost 13,000 feet), huge canyons, huge distances, only a fraction of it accessible by paved roads. If you want to see a big chunk of the Platateu, better break in a sturdy pair of boots and set aside a year or two. Or get a Wolverine.
Yamaha organized a Colorado Plateau trail ride with its Wolverine RMAX 1000 side-by-side to make a couple points. First: A purpose-built off-road machine like a side-by-side can be superior to a street-legal 4x4 when you’re covering long distances far from pavement. And second, you don’t necessarily need a hardcore sport machine like a Polaris RZR or Yamaha’s own YXZ1000R to make haste off-road. The RMAX is designed to be useful, with a utility bed that can accommodate 600 pounds of cargo and the same tow rating as the Ford Bronco Sport (2000 pounds). But the Limited Edition model I'll be testing also has 108 horsepower from a 999-cc fuel-injected twin-cylinder engine, 30-inch Maxxis Carnivore tires and long-travel independent suspension with Fox iQS coil-overs. Our plan for the Plateau was to give those latter features a workout, in the service of scoping a maximum two-day dose of natural beauty.
With dust lingering in the air on an early morning, we blasted off down a high-speed dirt road, leaving the big red rock buttes of Gateway, Colorado behind and heading east to explore the high desert and rugged trails on the outskirts of Moab, Utah. Our convoy included both two-seat Wolverines and the new four-seat model. We comfortably hit Yamaha’s claimed top speed of just under 70 mph. The RMAX uses a drive-by-wire throttle with three settings, and this was terrain made for Sport mode, which offers the quickest throttle response. Yamaha adapted this system from its R1 superbike but realized it needed quicker responses because you can stomp an accelerator pedal faster than your wrist can twist a throttle. The system, dubbed D-Mode, also adjusts the amount of engine braking, depending on the setting.
The fact that the RMAX has any engine braking at all is unusual, given that it uses a belt-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). But Yamaha’s system uses a one-way sprag clutch and a wet centrifugal clutch and keeps the belt under tension at all times, minimizing the slippage and heat that can destroy belts in a conventional CVT. Yamaha is confident enough in this design that it offers an unheard of 10 year warranty on the belt. That’s nice to know when you’re planning to cover hundreds of miles of trails, none of which run past a dealer stocked with drive belts.
After a few hours running fast, the RMAX doing a passable impression of a Best in the Desert race buggy, we found ourselves on tighter, more technical trails, surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs and massive gorges. Here, the Wolverine showcased another side of its personality—the rock crawler. Throw D-Mode into Crawl and the throttle respose slows way down. The front differential is a limited-slip, with a toggle on the dash allowing full locking capability. With 13.8 inches of ground clearance, dedicated low-range gearing and full-locking diffs, you’d have to find some real trouble to require the optional winch. We didn't find it, despite the slick rock, ledges, and steep, boulder-filled climbs on our way up to 11,000 feet in the La Sal Mountains. The Limited Edition model offers adjustable Fox 2.0 iQS suspension and damping controlled via a dash-mounted switch. (The XT-R and the base model get the same suspension, but the adjustment is done manually on the dampers themselves.) With 14.2 inches of travel up front and 16.9 inches of travel out back, the RMAX comes just a couple inches shy of the numbers offered by the leading machines in the sport class. I quickly came to trust the suspension and am pretty sure I could hustle the machine through any terrain the way I would my own side-by-side, the more sport-oriented Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo S. The Wolverine's steering is light and precise but offers enough feedback to instill confidence through the twisty stuff.
We tend not to expect too much from side-by-side interiors, given that they’re designed to survive for years of exposure to mud, water, UV rays and spilled energy drinks. But after 200 miles of pushing the RMAX through every type of terrain imaginable, the interior might’ve made the biggest impression. The design, fit-and-finish and materials are almost carlike. The fabric and stitching on the seats would look at home in a Wrangler or Bronco, and the prominent outer side bolsters prove their worth when taking tight, aggressive turns. Both the steering wheel and the passenger handhold are well designed, extremely comfortable, and easily adjustable. My bony knees appreciated the added soft points where your knees often come into contact with hard parts of the interior while navigating rough terrain.
The center stack on the Limited Edition and XT-R models includes the Integrated Adventure Pro navigation system, which Yamaha developed with Magellan. This little navigation tool comes pre-loaded with 115,000 trails and waypoints and lets you record, save, and share your rides with friends. It looks completely built in, but is removable so you can take it inside, plan your coming adventures and easily load tracks and waypoints saved from other navigation tools like Gaia and Avenza. Below the navigation system are plenty of open switches for any aftermarket goodies one might add. One cool feature is that Yamaha used the same rubber covers for both the unused switches and the floor drain plugs, should you misplace a cover. The Limited Edition model also comes with a Bluetooth-capable stereo system with 6.5-inch speakers. The center console includes a storage area large enough to secure a phone, a small camera, and other loose ends while tackling rugged terrain.
I spent most of my time blasting across the Colorado Plateau in the two-seat RMAX2, but the four-passenger RMAX4s were along as well. As opposed to limo-length four-seat sport machines like the Can-Am Maverick, the RMX4’s wheelbase is only a few inches longer than the two seat model's. That's an advantage if you need room for passengers but still want to explore tighter trails. The downside is that you trade the tiltable bed of the two-seat model, although the rear seats do slide forward to expand the cargo area, and load capacity remains 600 pounds. The RMAX4 gets one-inch smaller tires and a few other tweaks to handle the extra weight, and feels less overtly sporty than the RMAX2.
By the end of two days, we’d covered more than 200 miles. Which is still just a fraction of the Colorado Plateau, but far more than we’d have been able to see otherwise without a Trophy Truck or a helicopter. “But I could do that in a Raptor,” you might say. And you might be right about that, but the RMAX2 1000 R-Spec starts at $20,699, and a Raptor or RAM TRX are going to cost a multiple of that unless they’ve already been jumped into the Grand Canyon. The Wolverine makes a compelling case for itself as a new breed of side-by-side—one that can get some work done, but all the better if the job site is off over the horizon.
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