By Chaz Rice
When Yamaha announced it was giving the Kodiak line Independent Rear Suspension (IRS), staff members at ATV Magazine were a little concerned. The old Kodiak 450 already was a crowd pleaser, even though it had a solid rear axle. The machine was so light and nimble on the trails that we could rail around the corners with little body roll. Yet, when it came time to do some serious work, the Kodiak was ready, too.
Yamaha led us on a short loop around the 30,000-acre Santa Barbara, Calif., ranch that would serve as our private IRS Kodiak 450 proving grounds. It was clear that the ride was smoother than the solid-axle Kodiak. The loop had mild uphill sections, ravine dips and a boulder field that was perfect for testing IRS.
The answer is simple and complicated. Some consumers like having a machine with a solid axle. And, with the introduction of IRS to the Kodiak line, finding solid axle machines in Yamaha’s lineup just got a little harder. In this engine category, the only Yamaha with a rear axle is the Big Bear — and that has a five-speed, auto-clutch transmission.
But Yamaha is betting more people will go for IRS than will go for an axle. We think that is a safe bet, too. In informal surveys, those who enjoy IRS outnumber those who want something else.
Yamaha engineers spent a lot of time designing the rear suspension of this new Kodiak. The first try at it involved mounting the rear suspension of the Grizzly directly onto the chassis of the Kodiak. It didn’t work. Thankfully that was the first step of many, which brought us to the current incarnation. Yamaha engineers also redesigned the front-end geometry to work precisely with the revised rear-end setup.
The extra attention to the Kodiak’s rear suspension and even the redesign of the front end make this machine even better. We can argue that it should have been IRS all along, and we are glad Yamaha likes progress.
The IRS on this machine works well for its size. It showed characteristics that surprised us and few that disappointed us. The IRS was most apparent in the boulder field. This consisted of a dry river bed with boulders of assorted sizes dotting it.
First we rolled over the rocks at slow speed to get a feel of the suspension. Things went smoothly. The tires stayed planted and we were able to inch the machine slightly across the rocks. Some machines get tippy at slow speeds on such obstacle courses, but the small Kodiak 450 seemed to stay relatively planted — better than its solid-axle cousin.
As we upped the speed, the ride became smoother, but some control is lost when it pounds through a field of boulders. Still, the Kodiak’s new suspension is able to handle quick bumps and jolts
The engine remains a 421cc, liquid-cooled four-stroke and it is mated with Yamaha’s Ultramatic CVT-type transmission. The 450 also has a digital display showing speed, drive mode, odometer, etc.
Suggested retail price: $6,199 (Realtree Edition $6,499) psb