YZF-R1 of the off-road world. Already a huge hit in America, the YXZ takes the ATV theme (as they have it over there) and ramps it up a massive step. Yamaha designed the vehicle to absolutely annihilate everything else when it comes to a sporty off-roader and that involves some pretty kick-ass technology. Housed within a steel chassis it features independent double wishbone suspension with masses of travel (more on this later...), a three-cylinder 998cc motor with a five-speed sequential gearbox (plus reverse) and a final drive system that can be altered between 2WD, 4WD or 4WD with a diff lock.
Weighing just 685kg ready to rock, this side-by-side is described by Yamaha as a '100 per cent pure sports recreational vehicle' and is basically as nuts as it looks. If you need any more proof of its capabilities, Yamaha is planning on entering a YXZ in the 2017 Dakar - that's how good it is in the right hands. And I have to stress that part - in the right hands...
How hard can it be?
In the flesh, the YXZ1000R is a pretty intimidating sight. It's a bit shorter than a small car (3,121mm in total length and 1,626mm wide) but sits tall on its suspension, revealing the triple motor mounted behind the seats. A roll cage comes as standard (useful, it turns out), the seats are waterproof (also very useful) and it has a cup holder (less useful). But it is when you turn the starter it all gets worrying.
Our initial laps around an off-road course were in the passenger seat with an experienced driver who demonstrated there was no need whatsoever to slow down for bumps. Even really big ones! With the triple screaming he simply nailed the YXZ over a series of massive undulations and the Yamaha's long travel suspension soaked it all up. When we weren't airborne the landings were amazingly plush and it seemed as if the YXZ turned the whole course from a ploughed field into a tarmac motorway. All very impressive. Now my turn.
After it all going a bit '50 Shades' with the need for a helmet, four-point belt AND arm restraints I was let out for my first lap. It's very hard not to smile when you are slamming home a sequential shift and a triple is screaming its head off right behind you. And the YXZ certainly gives a thrill. It's amazing how much punishment the suspension can soak up with its near 30cm of travel and, when it comes to brakes, the 14-inch wheels and knobbly tyres dig in rather than skid.
We had been warned beforehand to treat corners as if the surface was ice and to be gentle and smooth rather than jerky. But the YXZ makes you buzz so much my little brain cell didn't really register this. For the first half lap I was hitting jumps, clearing undulations and having a riot, before I entered a left-hander way too fast... I'm not sure what was going through my head but, rather than push the front and understeer as I would have expected, the right tyre dug in, the suspension loaded up, the rear unloaded and I had just enough time to register the bang as the roof hit the floor before I landed back on all four wheels again. Turns out Edwards was right.
After a severe (and totally justified) telling off I was back on track and a lot more subdued than before. Now concentrating on braking and accelerating out of bends, in 4WD mode the YXZ was brilliant fun to drive. The grip from the front wheels under braking is very impressive but the main draw for me is that engine. The triple not only sounds ace, it drives with serious pace out of bends.
We weren't allowed to use 2WD or diff lock mode, but in 4WD the YXZ powers out of corners with the rear sliding slightly and screams towards the rev limiter before you bang another gear home. Yamaha claims a top speed of 85mph, which you would need balls of steel to hit in an off-road environment, but that shows its pace. When you are rolling (on all four wheels, not the roof) it feels as if nothing in this world can stop you and the YXZ.
You wouldn't let an L-plater out on a YZF-R1 but, to someone who's not experienced proper four-wheeled off-road riding at speed before, that's kind of what driving an YXZ is like. The fact it has a roll cage gives you huge confidence, but this is basically a race car and as such demands massive respect.
The capabilities in the right hands are simply staggering and, as you can see from the pictures, it can't half take some punishment and laughs off any jump or bump. If you treat it like a stag do off-roader, you will end up on your roof. But if you want a serious bit of off-roading kit, there is nothing better out there. Which brings me to another point. If you fancy a go in a YXZ then Thorney Motorsport www.thorney.ms is currently working on setting up experience days. And if you want to race one, you can enter the YXZ with minimal changes (a race kit costs £4,000) into the British Cross Country Championship. At less than £22,000 for a ready to rock race vehicle (with a cup holder), that's not bad value.
Engine: 998cc 3-cyl
Power : 115hp
Top speed: 85mph (est)
Weight: 685kg (wet)
MPG: 20mpg (est)