Just When you think ATVs can't get any better, they do. I agreed to test one of the most recent entries to the utility ATV market — the Yamaha Grizzly 550 FI Auto. 4×4 EPS — on my farm near Cresco, IA, for several weeks after the Farm Industry News ATV Rodeo last August. I loaded the Grizzly 550 into my pickup after the rodeo and put it to work as soon as I got home.

What impressed me is the incredible power of the Grizzly 550. The 558cc, four-stroke, single overhead camshaft (SOHC), four-valve, liquid-cooled engine never comes up short on power in acceleration, road speed, responsiveness or low-end torque. The power from the engine is always there when it's needed.

In my operation, I use an ATV for quick and easy transportation between farms and between fields. Riding the Grizzly on one quick errand between farms, it came as a bit of a shock to me when I looked down at the digital speedometer and saw that I was doing 67 mph at full throttle! The combination of incredible engine power and the smooth ride of the Grizzly 550 made me forget just how much this machine is capable of without feeling overworked.

One of the greatest features Yamaha unveiled with the new Grizzly line is an electric power steering (EPS) system. Once you feel how smooth and effortless true power steering is, you realize how much more fatigued you were at the end of a day driving a machine without it. This was especially true after spending a few hours riding fences and herding cattle. The stiffness and aches and pains in my elbows and shoulders weren't there. Even though EPS is an additional $700 above the base price, I think it is well worth the price.

The Grizzly 550 has tremendous power but is able to bring all of those horses to a stop in a controlled fashion. Engine braking on the machine is outstanding. I could bring the machine to a complete stop on a hill in one of my pastures without using the brake pedal or brake lever at all. I liked this feature for safety reasons alone when working with cattle in hilly country. The dual hydraulic disc brakes on the front and rear are very good at stopping the Grizzly, but the engine braking is an unexpected bonus.

Switching from 2-wd to 4-wd is also easy to do with the push of a button. This was particularly handy when I was using the Grizzly to sort cows from the herd during AI season. Sometimes the agility of 2-wd is necessary for tight maneuvers, but if things don't go as planned, a quick switch back to 4-wd in muddy conditions can mean the difference between success and failure. Although the Grizzly 550 didn't have the tight turning radius of my 2-wd Big Bear 400, it more than made up for it in traction and acceleration when I could push a button, switch back to 4-wd mode, and get around the escaped cow before she even realized she had lost the battle of agility and wits.

When designing its latest Grizzly models, Yamaha spent some time on operator comfort. Some of the fine details like seat cushioning, positioning, balance and other engineering features really stand out. Add in the independent double wishbone suspension front and rear to smooth out those deep ruts, logs, rocks and chisel-plowed fields, and you have a very comfortable ride. You could operate this machine a full day in some repetitive task like spraying and you wouldn't be fatigued by lunchtime.

If there is a downside to the Grizzly 550, it is its fuel use. Because it has a digital instrument panel, fuel gauge, trip meter and odometer, it was easy to measure how far it could go on the fuel supply. I expected a fine piece of Japanese engineering to yield somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 mpg. Multiple fillings and measurements revealed that my expectations were unrealistic. The Grizzly turned out performances in the 16.4- to 17.7-mpg range under normal operation without pulling a load.

Overall, I am impressed with all the ATV has to offer. It provides an incredibly comfortable ride with tremendous power and acceleration. With a suggested retail price of $7,799, when it's time to trade my Big Bear 400 in for a new machine, it will be a Grizzly 550.