This Rhino's Tough!

New Rhino 450 is essentially a 660, but powered with a smaller engine. Dan Crummett

Published on: Nov 2, 2005

The African Rhino is one of the toughest animals on earth, from its hide to sheer will and weight. It's no wonder Yamaha wanted to name their side-by-side utility vehicle the Rhino when they first introduced the 660. Now, the folks of the crossed tuning forks are celebrating their 50th anniversary by offering similar Rhino performance in an equally-capable, but more affordable package—a tough challenge to Kawasaki and Polaris.

The new Rhino 450 is essentially a 660, but powered with the proven single-cylinder 421 cc. liquid-cooled, overhead cam, five-valve "Kodiak 450" ATV engine. The towing capacity, payload and top speed (37 mph governed) are the same as the 660—thanks to gearing and the smaller engine's very wide torque band—but the price tag is a buck shy of $8,000 on the basic model.

More than 12 inches of ground clearance and full bottom skid plates, independent front and rear suspension, and five-step preloaded shocks make the 450 capable of going places usually reserved for two and four-legged folks. In fact, because of its bucket seats, three-point seatbelts and low center of gravity, the two-seater SXS will go places (with two people on board) I would hesitate to take a 4X4 ATV.

We drove the 450 on the steep, rocky and wooded trails of the Off Road Vehicle Recreation Area near Paducah, Ky., recently as Yamaha introduced the outdoor media to its challenge to the Mule and Ranger. What I noticed was seemingly nothing in the terrain was insurmountable—other than nearly seat-deep mud in one slough that got another driver's attention. A quick pull on the ROP by an accompanying Rhino equipped with a front-mounted Warn winch and we were on our way. With a high-mount muffler and air intake, the joke of the day was, "If your rear is dry, keep driving!"

Seriously, the 450's ability to go is equaled only by its ability to stop. Hydraulic disc brakes are more than adequate even with two adults and gear on board. AND, the machine's four-wheel engine braking is superb on steep grades—the kind where you find yourself supporting yourself with locked arms from above on the steering wheel.

The Rhino's off-road capability comes with a dual-range CVC transmission that is coupled to the engine by a centrifugal clutch. The clutched design prevents drive belt-wear in high load situations, a common problem with machines that connect the engine and running gear directly through a belt and sheaves.

OFF ROAD: The new Yamaha Rhino 450 brings the same rated performance as its 660 sibling with an easier-on-the-wallet sticker price. This machine promises to be a farm and ranch workhorse as well as a weekend "outback" vehicle.

Behind the passenger seats, a gas-assist dump bed is rated at 400 lbs., and can be outfitted with weatherproof cargo boxes and tie-down nets. Yamaha tech folks say a hydraulic lift is in the works for heavier applications.

The 450 tips the scales at just over 1000 lbs. dry, and is rated to pull 1,212 lbs.

Standard amenities include seats and floorboards equipped with drain holes, a 12 volt power port, a 7.9 gallon fuel tank, electric cooling fans for the radiator and oil cooler and a well-designed roll cage. You can have one in Hunter Green or Realtree Camouflage.

Yamaha offers a host of after-market add-ons such as gun cases, front and rear receiver hitches, a remote-controlled Warn winch, and a pair of trailers. Also, in a cooperative agreement, Summit ATV Accessories helps equip Rhinos and Kodiak ATVs with various pull-behind tools such as sprayers, disk plows, a two-row food plot planter, a fertilizer spreader and a one-pass disc/planter/packer tool.


DUMP BED: A gas-assist dump bed rated for 400 lbs. payload makes the Rhino 450 a versatile hauler. Here, optional weatherproof tool boxes and a cargo net are installed.

For $7999 the 450 is a good value, but in reality most folks will want the $200 upgraded instrument cluster (it's just easier to be able to see what gear you're using) and the $46 (for a plastic door?) weatherproof glove compartment. So, while the base model is in the "$7s" a "nicely equipped" 450 will run about $8,500—a tough challenge to the competition.

Driving the 450 and seeing it work on hills, mud holes, rocky ravines and steep rutted draws, I couldn't help but think of the specs for the first U.S. Army "quarter-ton reconnaissance vehicle"—the Willys-Overland Jeep of 1941. That machine weighed a ton, had a 4 cylinder 60 hp. engine, a three speed transmission and dual range 4WD transfer box. It would carry three passengers and a cargo load of 600 lbs. The Rhinos delete one passenger and a couple hundred pounds in the back, but for the most part they do exactly what that first all-terrain vehicle was required to do—with a single cylinder engine and a lot more comfort.

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SIT IN NOT ON: The 450 Rhino comes with bucket seats, three-point seat belts, a low center of gravity and an automotive layout driver's experience. Options include a digital speedometer, LED gear indicator, dash-mounted winch remote control and an enclosed glove box.


HOOK-ON OPTIONS: Yamaha is cooperating with Summit ATV Accessories to equip both the Rhino 450 and 660 with various tools for establishing game plots and gardens. Implements include this sprayer, a disk plow, a two-row planter, trailers, and a disk/planter/packer combination machine.