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A friend of mine, Ricky Sosebee of Dawsonville, Georgia, called it a real climber, a mountain goat. A freelance outdoor and off-road writer who thinks about such words, Sosebee was describing the performance of the Wolverine R-Spec, Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A.'s newest off-road side-by-side.
A climber it is. We had the opportunity to test the Wolverine on trails both steep and rocky, and on that day, over trails awash from heavy rains that had turned mud into grease and ruts into waterfalls. The trail ride unfolded over parts of the Cumberland Mountains, outside Huntsville, in northeast Tennessee. Brimstone Recreation manages this off-road destination spread over 19,000 acres, with 300 miles of trails.
The two-seat Wolverine R-Spec is indeed a real climber -- and one that protects the driver and passenger from the worst punishment of the trail. The Wolverine features 2-wheel drive, 4-wheel limited slip plus a full-differential lock, four-wheel drive setting to navigate the rocks and ruts. The full-lock setting was a bit tricky to engage while stopped once uphill. But once engaged, it gave the Wolverine total mastery of the climb.
The Wolverine mounts a four-wheel independent suspension that features KYB ultra-long-stroke nitrogen gas-charged piggyback shocks. The fully adjustable shocks are designed to improve driver confidence by smoothing out the ride. There were many times when a large rock or log could have sent a jarring shock up through the Wolverine into the back of the driver, but it did not. Even when the Wolverine fully bottoms onto trail obstructions, a full length, steel skid plate protects the vehicle's vitals.
The suspension also exerts a hefty down force. That function keeps the Wolverine's 26-inch Maxxis Bighorn tires down onto the trail surface for improved control and grip on the turns. Trailing behind other Wolverines, you could see how the suspension pushed the rear tires back down onto the trail. The shocks have 9.7 inches of travel in the front and 10.6 inches of travel in the back.
"A lot of machines can tackle tough terrain," said a Yamaha representative during a break in the ride, "but they beat the heck out of you." The Wolverine, he added, "gives you the confidence to make it, but you don't scare the crap out of the passenger while you're doing it."
The cab includes two high-backed, contoured seat and three-point seat belts (the driver's seat is quickly adjusted with a tool provided with the vehicle). The passenger has access to an inboard, steel tube, padded handhold. A pair of panels just behind and above the double-latch doors protects the shoulders of both passenger and driver. It's a small feature, but it absolutely improves driver confidence in the vehicle as it protects him from obstacles outside the cab, while holding him a bit more snuggly into the crew compartment.
The Wolverine R-Spec is a whole new animal for Yamaha. Its newer Viking three- and six-passenger side-by-side is built for the multi-purpose, utility and work market -- farming and ranching, to name two.