New Grizzly 550 Purrs Like a 700

Yamaha will unleash a bear of a machine on the 500-class utility ATV market in August.

Published on: Jul 11, 2008

The new, fuel-injected Yamaha Grizzly 550 (http://www.yamaha-motor.com/outdoor/products/lifestylehome/ref/d3d3LnlhbWFoYW91dGRvb3JzLmNvbQ==/home.aspx) is powerful, slick and classy. It is a near identical twin of Yamaha’s monster 700 Grizzly, with only the engine scaled down to a 558-cc version.

That means the Yamaha 550 Grizzly provides nearly everything the 700 has to offer, sans a few horsepower and about $700 for comparably equipped models.

After a day-long test drive in the San Bernardino National Forest (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sanbernardino/) of Southern California, I’d say the Grizzly 550 is all the machine I would ask for, especially with Yamaha’s electric power steering and fuel injection.

The author thinks the Yamaha Grizzly 550 would be a great farm or ranch workhorse, and a comfortable to boot.

Despite its downsized engine, the Grizzly 550 has ample power. It effortlessly zoomed up every hill I aimed at, including one very rocky and rough climb which required some careful turns at low speeds to avoid impassable humps and crevasses in the rocks.

All this was at elevations of around 5,000 feet, indicating the worth of the fuel injection. Yamaha says the fuel injection will compensate for altitude up to 15,000 feet. In my test ride, the 550’s motor never dogged, even at low rpm, and always had plenty of forward thrust.

I must admit the only Yamaha 700 I’ve piloted was the two-seat Rhino, but after a very satisfactory day riding the new 550, I can’t imagine many reasons to step on up and buy the Grizzly 700 – perhaps for dragging heavy loads or an imagined virility boost.

The 550 simply does a great job applying its power to the ground. In fact, on lunch break that day of riding the new machines, I overheard a couple of the Yamaha guys talking about how they really preferred the way the 550 applied its power solidly to the ground versus the 700’s hard-digging, almost tire-spinning acceleration.

Comfortable ride.

Power steering is not a new feature these days, but it was new to this rider and will be to many other veteran ATV users. Hence, since it’s an option costing about $800, it’s probably worth a few words of description.

Not only does Yamaha’s Electric Power Steering unit make turning a breeze in two-wheel-drive and limited-slip four-wheel-drive. It also serves as a tremendous shock dampener, taking most of the jolt out of the handlebars when you hit those angling ruts or holes or rocks – the ones which strike one front tire and typically jam the handlebars sideways and drive one of your shoulders sideways.

When the Grizzly is set to differential-lock four-wheel-drive the power steering remains a tremendous help, but the tightest turns still take more muscle than the nearly effortless turns you can make in the other modes.

More new stuff.

The new Grizzly 550 shares several nice features with the new model-year Grizzly 700s this coming year.

A wider front suspension, tougher CV boots and new standard guards for the A-Arms, higher air intake and lower center of gravity for the fuel tank will grace all the new Grizzly 550s and 700s.

Yamaha’s Ultramatic transmission provided wonderful engine breaking and power application in all conditions. I noticed in most downhill situations I could control my downhill speed almost entirely with engine RPM.

Four-wheel disk brakes provide strong, but controlled stopping. The new shifter is nice and is much more definitive in its positioning. Also, the digital meter/speedometer includes a diagnostic function tied to the machine’s computer system. Yamaha thinks do-it-yourselfers will find this function useful because the diagnostic codes are listed in the service manuals.

Yamaha has also added some interesting, bolt-on cargo boxes and baskets and even a rear rack with twin five-gallon bucket holders to its accessory line-up this year.