I was sitting at my desk about to check out and head home for the night when my phone rang. It was Van Holmes, the new PR guy for Yamaha. He was going on about the new Yamaha Rhino 700 FI Automatic 4x4 vehicle and how he would like for us to check it out. Knowing how much fun we have spent in the dirt with the previous Rhino 660 model, we thought, "Sure, why not?" I packed up my helmet, goggles, and some cold-weather gear, and flew out to Knoxville, Tennessee, to have a little fun with their new vehicle. Anyone can regurgitate press information about how great something is, which is something I wanted to avoid. Instead, read on about my personal experiences behind the wheel of new the 700.
As soon as I arrived to the Brimstone Recreation area I was handed the keys to one of the new Rhinos and was simply told, "Have fun!" I wondered, did that mean I could drive it flat-out as fast as I can? Could I take it through gnarly rock sections giving the suspension a thorough pounding? How about a little air time, should it happen? Once again I was simply told, "Have fun and just remember to wear your safety gear... and oh yeah, please sign these release forms."
Papers signed and helmet strapped on, my first impression of the new 700 came immediately. The improved seats were a joy compared to the harsh plastic 660 model seats. The new fullsize steering wheel adorning the dash left me all grins knowing I would have much more control than I ever did because of this addition alone. Looking down at both sides I noticed doors - yes, tough roto-molded doors that proved to be extremely beneficial as you will later read. The passenger seat was given a new grab handle alongside the seat as well as the traditional grab handles overhead on the cage. The console-mounted dual-range (H/L/N/R) shift lever was easy to grab and well located for comfort. Just below the shift lever was a conventional parking brake lever as well as a pair of cupholders new for the 700.
A turn of the key sent the new 686cc motor purring hungry for some action. Throttle response has been changed from the punchy launch of the 660 to a smooth torque-push feel which at first we though meant less power off the line but proved otherwise. Immediately, I slammed the gas pedal to the floor to see what this thing could do. As dirt slammed into my goggles, I noticed the digital instrument panel indicator showing me cruising at a smooth 38 mph. The new digital panel shows speed, an odometer, a trip odometer, fuel level, an hour meter, 4WD status, transmission position, and a clock. As we came to our first obstacle, a steep 40-degree downhill section filled with deep ruts and rocks, I noticed the engine braking that had been beefed up for the 700 doing just what I was told. I found myself on several downhill sections not needing to apply the brake at all, as the engine braking system did a great job of slowing me down and keeping the vehicle stable and in control.
Independent double-wishbone suspension provides endless control on the trail.
The new steering wheel, a much-needed complement.
The improved digital gauge provides all necessary information at a quick glance.
Getting down that hill, I made sure I was "testing" the vehicle and not just riding. This means I did not make anything easy on the vehicle, hitting tree limbs that had fallen at speed, crawling over numerous rock sections, traversing deep mudholes trying to find the Yamaha's limit. I tried, I really did, but the vehicle just wouldn't give up. The entire undercarriage of the Rhino is covered in skidplating which is probably one of the best features of the vehicle. Although the Rhino has a generous 12.1 inches of ground clearance (more than my truck) you still find yourself scrapping through and riding over tall obstacles.