Yamaha updates 2014 YFZ450R, moves production to Georgia and drops base YFZ
Its face is mean with a stance that’s impossibly wide, massive shocks with gold-toned piggyback reservoirs give the illusion of a snorting bull and the space between its A-arms and tie rods suggests a light, minimal chassis. The fenders cut a wing-like profile and, from the side, the gas tank and seat flow together like a wave. New colors and retro-modern graphics also help announce that, for 2014, Yamaha did much more than the usual round of annual upgrades for its YFZ450R sport quad.
Joining the Viking side-by-side, Raptor 700R sport quad and select Grizzly utility models, Yamaha has moved worldwide production of its acclaimed YFZ450R quad to its sprawling factory in Newnan, Ga. Like it did with other models the company moved from Japan to Georgia, Yamaha took the opportunity to make a host of significant changes to the YFZ450R that coincide with the production transfer.
Major upgrades included increasing engine performance while also making changes to meet the EPA’s more stringent 2014 emission standards, adding the industry’s first from-the-factory assist and slipper clutch, a new exhaust system, new heel guards and updates to the styling, among many others.
Yamaha also axed the base YFZ450 model that was priced $1,700 less than the 2013 YFZ450R. For the 2014 model year, the improved YFZ450R carries an MSRP of $8,799 — $200 more than last year’s R model.
Long list of updates
As it’s done in the past as its high-performance off-road products have steadily migrated to its American plant, Yamaha likes to talk about the job growth and spinoff economic impacts near its factory located 40 minutes southwest of Atlanta. The bigger story for riders, racers and dealers will be upgrades that are significant in a sport quad market that is still waiting for its own economic recovery.
Yamaha says the new race-ready YFZ450R is “the highest performance, most technologically advanced sport ATV on the market.” The biggest change for 2014 may come in the drivetrain. While the 449cc engine appears carryover, new cam profiles, a redesigned exhaust system, increased compression, tweaked ignition timing and fuel maps, new crank bearings and a new cylinder head helped the company meet tightened emission standards while concurrently improving mid-range and bottom-end performance.
“The emissions standards became much, much tougher in 2014, so trying to meet those new standards and improve the overall engine performance, that was really tough,” said Travis Hollins, product planning manager for Yamaha’s ATV and side-by-side categories.
The new clutch, called an assist and slipper clutch, reduces clutch lever effort by approximately 25 percent, while also increasing clutch plate pressure that reduces engine braking and allows for faster cornering, especially when downshifting. It also helps the suspension absorb bumps better during braking, which is key in racing situations.
Other MY14 changes include fenders moved lower and further away from the rider for improved body maneuverability; updated styling; standard quick-release fasteners that were previously only available on SE models; new Maxxis tires that replace the previous Dunlops; a narrower seat; wheels with an inner rolled lip for better rigidity and less weight; and new heel guards that provide more space for riders to ride hard on the balls of their feet if they choose.
“We focused on improving the overall comfort, especially in the choppy braking bumps, so we adjusted the suspension settings to be more compliant in that area; we came up with new tires that also affected the overall comfort and allowed it to slide easier and more predictably,” Hollins said. “When you talk about the engine character, we beefed up or made the mid-range and bottom-end stronger, so that you could really roll the throttle on, accelerate out of the corners and control the machine better as you were going through the corners or up to a jump face.”
The new assist and slipper clutch reduces clutch-pull effort by reducing the number of clutch springs, while adding ramps on the clutch basket and pressure plate that puts more pressure on the clutch plates.
This innovative design means that the more torque is put into the clutch, the harder the clutch plates are driven together. Off-throttle situations, when the tires are driving the clutch plates together rather than the engine, allow strategic slippage that prevents compression braking in situations like landing a jump or coming hard into a corner.
“If you’re on a machine that doesn’t have this and you come into a corner and, again, it’s even worse when you have a high-compression race motor, the minute you chop the throttle and let off the gas, that engine compression is actually stopping your rear tires,” he said. “A lot of times you’ll get the tires to lock up and they start hopping as you go into the corner, and that’s where the term braking bumps comes from.”
The ergonomic changes, as well as development of the new Maxxis tires, were influenced from Yamaha’s roster of factory racers, including multi-time QuadX Series champion Dustin Nelson. The YFZ450R’s new tires were designed to lighten steering effort, while also improving steering precision — usually a difficult tradeoff.
Staying in the game
While most other manufacturers have drastically slowed the release of new sport quad products or left the category altogether, Yamaha has maintained its presence in racing, with its factory riders and by making successive updates to its sport machine lineup.
Steve Nessl, Yamaha ATV/side-by-side group marketing manager, said the continued investment in the sport ATV market is a reflection of his team’s personal enthusiasm for the market, support from company management’s highest levels as well as a bet that the historically unpredictable market segment is poised for a roaring comeback as the economy improves. Nessl went so far as to predict that, if market forces continue to improve, the segment could see its sales double in the near future.
“Given where it’s at right now — again, it’s indicative of how hard it was hit — we can see it as much as doubling in the next 5 to 10 years relatively easily,” he said. “Those are forecasts, and they’re dependent on a lot of things, but this market … comes and it goes. It’s very cyclical and Yamaha lives with it, through it, and bolsters it and continues to support it regardless.”
In the meantime, as sales remain far below pre-recession peaks, Nessl said that Yamaha has continually increased its sport ATV market share as the American economy has clawed its way out of the depths of 2008-10.
“The market’s not ideally where we’d like it to be, but when it starts to come back — and it will — we’re in the best possible position to take advantage of that and continue to grow sport ATVs, sport riders and the sport in general,” Nessl said.
Hollins doubled down on the cyclical nature of the sport ATV market as the economy and government regulations have taken turns impacting the category.
“We’ve been through this before if you go back to the mid-80s,” he said. “We were introducing Banshees and Warriors and Blasters in ’86 and ’87 when the market at the time wasn’t so good either, so this isn’t something that’s necessarily new or changed for us. We’re part of this market, and we feel like we’re invested in it more than any other manufacturer is or ever has been, and we don’t want to see it go anywhere, so we’re in it and we’ve always been in it.”