Yamaha's next generation side-by-side vehicle, the Rhino 700 FI Automatic 4×4, adds power, performance and function to its industry-leading design. It's aimed directly at the “dual-use” consumer — the producer who wants a tough all-around utility vehicle (UV) for various chores around the farm, but also wants an off-road machine that can hit the trails.

Test drive

I was one of a handful of journalists invited to take the new Rhino 700 out for a test drive. And what a drive. Granted, I'm not a seasoned rider. I've mostly used a UV or an ATV to run across farm fields and dirt roads, not boulder-strewn switchbacks, drops and climbs that would give a mountain goat pause.

Our test track was the Brimstone Recreation Area, a short hour drive north of Knoxville. The 45,000-acre playground for outdoor enthusiasts, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, was a perfect proving ground.

We were greeted with a lineup of the new Rhinos in various color schemes and accessories. After a quick walk-around, we were split into groups and headed out on the more than 300 miles of trails the area has to offer.

Getting into the Rhino 700 was more like swinging into a truck instead of swinging over an ATV. The 700 now comes with doors.

Perhaps the most evident update to the Rhino 700 is the new 686cc Yamaha Fuel Injection engine. Several engine updates, which include a new forged piston, a new aluminum cylinder body and new roller rocker arm, help give this machine plenty of power. Pushing on the automotive-style gas pedal gets the machine quickly up to speed. Of course, I was the slowpoke of the group. But after a few minutes on the Rhino, I was keeping up and having a blast — until the first hill.

Hill doesn't really do the first climb justice. It was a wall with a bit of a slope, straight up. But I knew that others had made the climb, so I swallowed hard and pushed the gas. The climbing seemed to go on and on, and with each bump and boulder I just kept my eyes on the trail, which was so steep that simply standing in one place would have been difficult.

What made the ride so amazing was the Rhino's independent double wishbone suspension and 75.2-in. wheelbase. It felt steady over every bump, and even though I caught myself leaning, there was no need. The Rhino was solid on the ground.

After several climbs and a few ridgeline traverses, we were on our way down in a hurry — no snaking back and forth, simply straight down. Again, the Rhino handled this with ease. The engine braking in low gear brought the machine to a crawl, and I found that pressing the brake pedal was optional — a true benefit when hauling.

The Ultramatic automatic transmission didn't skip a beat throughout the test drive. In fact, most of the drive was spent in the high-gear range. Only in the most demanding parts did I shift to low range, and that was just to test the system.

An on-command, push-button 2-wd/4-wd system with differential lock gives the operator several options. All-new four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes with dual piston calipers stop the Rhino on a dime, and a redesigned parking brake lever on the center console is easy to reach. Ground clearance is a generous 12.1 in.

In the presentation, Yamaha representatives stressed the machine's comfort, and during the drive it was easy to see why. Redesigned seats and a new steering wheel lessened fatigue, and the new cup holders kept my bottle of water in place. I noticed that after a full day of hard riding, I wasn't nearly as tired as I have been on an ATV on trails half as difficult.

We entered trails that tested the narrow 54.5-in. width of the vehicle. One inch more on either side and the machine simply wouldn't fit. It's true that the Rhino can go where other UVs can't.

All-around use

The Rhino 700 serves the dual purpose of a true UV. A 400-lb. cargo bed as well as a standard 2-in. receiver hitch, which allows the Rhino to tow a maximum of 1,212 lbs., brings functionality to the fun. And a top speed of 42 mph gets you to where you want to go in a hurry.

Mike Martinez, Yamaha general manger of ATV and Side-by-Side Operations, says that one of the most important aspects of the Rhino 700 for the farmer/rancher is the durability of the vehicle. “Even with relatively flat areas to get around, producers have snow, rain and mud,” he says. “The Rhino offers them unmatched comfort.”

Martinez says that the true market segment for the Rhino is the all-around user. “Our market segmentation for our utility vehicles is 40% utility, 40% recreation and 20% hunting,” he says. “And for many users, they fit in all three categories.”

Manufacturer's suggested retail price for the Rhino 700 FI is $10,500. Yamaha offers more than 100 accessories for the UV. For more information, contact Yamaha Motor Corp., Dept. FIN, 6555 Katella Ave., Cypress, CA 90630, 714/761-7300, visit www.yamaha.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 122.