2004 Sport Quad of the Year

Yamaha YFZ450 receives ATV Sport magazine award

In 2003, ATV Sport magazine created the Sport Quad of the Year award to honor the industry’s top sport ATV. This annual accolade is awarded to one machine, from a list of candidates, that meets the magazine’s list of requirements. For a machine to be eligible, it must be a current production unit and be either completely new or significantly redesigned. Other requirements include Innovation, Market Appeal and Competition Potential.
Like their 4×4 brethren, sport quads deserve significant recognition for the influences and trends they bring to the ATV market. This year, the YFZ450 was an obvious winner. Arguably, the creation of the YFZ has significantly changed the face of the sport quad industry and ATV racing.
Borrowing proven technology from its line of four-stroke dirt bikes and customizing the engineering for use in an ATV, Yamaha built one of the most potent ATV powerplants in history. Using five titanium valves, an industry first, Yamaha engineers designed the 439cc DOHC four-stroke engine to produce hearty torque yet still rev high. An FCR carb and short-skirt piston are vital to this engine’s operation effectiveness as a race quad. Because of its California Green Sticker-legal designation, the YFZ is an attractive machine for recreational riders. With simple modifications, racers have a competent performer.
Yamaha perfectly mated the hearty engine with a lightweight steel chassis. The YFZ chassis components, like gull-wing-style lower A-arms, cast aluminum subframe and strategically placed swingarm pivot point, were clearly inspired by the ATV Aftermarket.
Yamaha engineers added lightweight upper aluminum A-arms, a magnesium valve cover and quick-change clutch plate to improve this quad’s power-to-weight ratio. Other innovative features include a quick-remove parking brake, Kayaba KYB/Showa shock construction, specifically designed Dunlop radials and quick-adjust clutch lever. The front shocks, with a completely rebuildable and fully adjustable design, play a key role in this quad’s handling and overall performance package.
Market Appeal
Immense growth rates in recent years have resurrected the sport quad segment of the ATV market. Manufacturers, like Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki, are displaying a renewed interest in sport quads by introducing all-new models and significantly redesigning others. We can officially announce the sport quad revolution is upon us. At the YFZ introduction in the summer of 2003, Yamaha confirmed, for the first time in history, the sport ATV category outsold the 2WD utility quads. Though it still trails 4×4 utility quads by the number of units sold, the sport quad segment has grown to roughly 40% of the market. Yamaha expects that stat to leap another 15% in the near future.
The introduction of the Honda 400EX, in 1998, started the current trend of ATV manufacturers building machines that challenge the industry and beg for attention from consumers and aftermarket shops. The Bombardier DS650, Yamaha 660R Raptor, Cannondale FX400, Suzuki Z400, Polaris Predator and others have since followed and helped evolve the sport and build momentum for the next generation of sport quad riders.
However, because of its environmentally friendly setup, ability to perform in a wide variety of terrain and link to ATV racing, the YFZ doesn’t alienate the recreational rider or racer. These are three key attributes of any modern sport quad. Editors have tested it in the sand, hard-pack dirt, woods, desert and motocross track, and cannot find a significant complaint.
Competitive Potential
One of Yamaha’s major objectives with the YFZ was to capture the heart of the racing community. All it takes is one visit to a Grand National Cross Country event or ITP/ATVA MX National to understand how much of an impact this quad has had on racing. Around 80% of the National MX Pro class is competing on YFZ450s. Similar numbers can be found in the GNCC pro ranks, too.
From the start, Yamaha listened to the ATV racers, aftermarket shops and governing bodies and limited the engine displacement to 439cc — at the time, that was the displacement limit for a four-stroke in the ITP/ATVA Nationals Pro class.
Two years ago, the most talked about quad was still a $20,000, two-stroke-powered 250R. Since its inception, the YFZ has made four-strokes the “in” thing to do. Sure, this model didn’t initiate the four-stroke rebellion, but it has helped evolve it and reduce the cost of being competitive on the race track. Affordable bolt-on performance was a legitimate concern for Yamaha, so it designed a full line of GYT-R accessories for buyers to customize their YFZ.
The Yamaha YFZ450, along with the Honda TRX450R, has help create a bright future for ATV racing and high-performance quads. This segment of the market will only become more competitive as manufacturers try to build the best sport quad and hire the best riders to race it. Suzuki and Kawasaki, among others, are sure to join the 450 four-stroke shootout and battle for marketshare in this continously growing segment of the market.
This niche of the ATV market may actually gain similar status of the current off-road/dirt bike portion of the motorcycle industry. This includes evolving technologies, annual redesigns, factory-sponsored race teams and more. psb

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