When Yamaha invited me to test-drive its new utility vehicles (UVs) and ATVs at a ranch in the Arizona desert, visions of Baja 5000-style racing filled my head. I figured this would be a typical Yamaha event, hosted by colorful California “dudes” from the ATV racing circuit. After all, Yamaha has an almost legendary presence in extreme ATV racing, and its marketing folks have never hesitated to capitalize on that image. Even Yamaha's UVs have tended to be animals. A recent Yamaha entry in the UV market was a stump-jumping, extreme off-road beast with a roll cage, called the Rhino.
But when I arrived, I was surprised to learn that this event was tailored specifically to ag journalists, not ATV racing editors. The only “dudes” around were of a different sort — paying ranch guests in search of the quintessential “cowboy” experience, complete with desert sunshine, slow trail rides, a heated pool and a petting zoo.
It turned out the comfy setting was a fitting prelude to a test drive that would turn out to be nothing at all like extreme racing. Yamaha is rolling out a brand-new category of machine called the Pro Hauler. The 700 and 1000 models are basically beefed up golf carts designed to take aim at customers who require a vehicle that is worker-friendly.
The Yamaha marketing people at the event made a big deal out of not calling these machines golf carts, probably because that term might sound wimpy. But if you stop and think about the kinds of drunken fools who drive and abuse the typical golf cart day after day, you'll realize that this class of machine has to be tough and reliable just to survive. For the same reason, golf carts also must be stable, safe and easy to drive.
Both Pro Haulers are simple to operate. The same gas pedal on/off feature found on Yamaha's golf cart shuts off the engine when the brake is locked, but it's up and running instantly once the gas pedal is pressed. An automatic V-belt transmission makes for a smooth ride, and sealed drum brakes front and rear on the 1000 provide plenty of stopping power. Flipping the transmission into reverse and an audible backup warning are the same as those features in golf carts. A 6.3-gal. fuel tank provides the range to get through several workdays before refueling.
Engines on each model are the same 357-cc four-stroke, but the 1000 model is more capable for work, with larger 22 × 11 tires, a cargo box with a 500-lb. capacity, heavier suspension, front brakes and 1,000-lb. towing capacity.
For the farm, the total Pro Hauler package is a lot safer, more practical and more comfortable than an ATV. On current models, the high-impact plastic box will dump manually, but the only real use for this feature would be to access the engine and drive belt. Yamaha says future models might come with a power dump option.
Current optional accessories include a 3,000-lb. Warn winch, molded sun top, front bumper rack and lighting kits. Price for the 700 starts at $4,499. The 1000 starts at $5,999.
If quick transportation across fields is a higher priority than hauling gear, Yamaha's “mini-Griz” makes an excellent choice. Although it looks like a machine for kids, a quick ride soon showed me the little bruin is more than capable of handling full-grown adults. I weigh more than 200 lbs. and couldn't get the machine to bog down even on rough terrain.
While the 125 won't scream down the road at 65 mph like its bigger brother the Grizzly 660, it traveled fast enough (probably close to 40 mph) to make me smile and be thankful for my helmet. With a total weight of just 317 lbs. for the 125, I could pick either end up with one hand. I could see how, in a pinch, two people could easily lift the machine into the back of a pickup truck without the aid of a ramp.
Small also means a tight turning radius and the ability to sneak through tight spots that I couldn't attempt with a full-size ATV. Other nice features of the Grizzly 125 include electric start, fully automatic transmission, a reverse gear, and fenders and running boards set wide enough so that mud didn't splash up on me. Front and rear racks allow for tie-down hauling. Price of the Grizzly 125 is $3,099.