Tested: Yamaha Wolverine X2 850 XT-R

An outdoor adventure seeker who hunts from the sunlit plains to the towering Rockies, Mark Kayser is a Yamaha lover. Recently, he got to put Yamaha’s Wolverine X2 850 XT-R to the test, and it passed with flying colors.

by Mark Kayser

Have you been in the market for a new off-road vehicle recently? My mind keeps pondering an upgrade to my fleet of two ATVs. Both four-wheelers have proven to be great investments for backcountry access, Midwest whitetail hunting chores, wintertime predator pursuits, not to mention all the fun our family enjoys over the summer using them in the mountains. I credit nearly all of my DIY, public-land bulls to the advantage of the almost unstoppable rigs. Still, everything has a life span, and I fear my ATVs may soon be retiring. 

This past fall, I stopped at my buddy’s farm in the Kansas Flint Hills for a layover between deer hunts. We decided to do some coyote hunting. Sitting in his farm shop was a shiny new Yamaha X2 850 XT-R side-by-side. Actually, it was not shiny but cloaked in my favorite dull desert tan color. It looked mean! His older Yamaha Rhino was cranky after years of service, so he opted for an upgrade, and I got an opportunity to test the rig in the real world, not a dealer’s showroom lot. Now, this was a 2023 model, but it is basically the same as the 2024 models. The real show-stopper for 2024 is the Yamaha introduction of the all-new Wolverine X2 1000. Sorry, I did not have access to that dream machine, but here is a look at the Yamaha X2 850 XT-R side-by-side. 

I already own a Yamaha Grizzly 700 ATV, so I am familiar with Yamaha’s instrument layout, power, and dependability. The first thing I noticed about the Wolverine was its clearance height, nearly a foot of clearance underneath, with 27-inch GBC Dirt Commander radial tires that help boost that height advantage. They are also 8-ply construction. This is necessary for the rocky environments my rigs typically tackle. Add a dose of Slime for superior tire protection, and it is off to the mountain races. A full armor of skid plates underneath, complete with service access portals, guards everything from the front differential to the rear gear case. 

The cab doors opened with ease and snapped shut with the solid assurance of a secure fit. Many side-by-sides I have ridden in lack that tight lock. The seats were comfortable and high-backed, with knee pads on the side where your leg automatically wants to lay. Instruments were easy to read. The digital readout portrayed in a blue blackout display was pleasing to the eye. The large display gives you instant information on the status of the vehicle. I particularly like Yamaha’s four-wheel drive icon, which leaves no question about where you stand in that mode. You can even unlock Yamaha’s Adventure Pro GPS system in the XT-R version for detailed navigation while on remote trails. And if you need to plug in, the unit has a standard 12V DC port and multiple accessory switches to keep your accessories juiced. 

My first trip in the Wolverine was to help my buddy drop off gear at a whitetail hunting blind. Still, successive trips for predator hunting and even assisting a neighbor in extracting a whitetail buck revealed the truth worth of the side-by-side. To begin with, it is zippy, even for the 847 cc eight-valve, parallel twin engine. The Wolverine snapped to attention with pressure on the throttle foot pedal and continued to deliver through the range of its power ability. Although most of the driving was done on farm trails, I had the chance to open up the machine on a gravel road. It can move. 

Yamaha’s Ultramatic transmission continues to deliver with its CVT drive system that offers continual acceleration to change gear rations without interruption. A centrifugal clutch supports this dependable system with uniform belt tension and a sprag clutch to enable engine braking. This is excellent for downhill travel or when you wish to slow down without mashing the brakes. Speaking of brakes, large, vented disc brakes, operated by two-piston calibers, stop you on a dime or slow you down before that steep mountain curve. 

The ride floats due to an excellent suspension, but is accentuated by the engine being supported by rubber engine mounts. Yamaha teamed with KYB for piggyback shock development. Shocks are adjustable with compression that accommodates high and low speeds over various terrain conditions. 

One of the trails we drove on was a near-vertical slope up a rock-strewn Flint Hills gradient. I cringe when considering taking my truck up or down something like this. The Wolverine, locked in four-wheel-drive, gripped the slope with confidence when traversing the slope with common sense. Put more foot into the throttle, and it still ripped up the hill with conviction, albeit with a few more rocks spitting out from under the tires. 

A Yamaha exclusive, the three-position On-Command four-wheel drive lets you easily switch between two-wheel drive, limited-slip four-wheel drive, and fully locked differential four-wheel drive. The throttle is chip-controlled and responds like digital lightning. Plus, the power steering is electronic. My Yamaha Grizzly 700 (plus my previous Grizzly 450) steers with exceptionalism via this feature. The Wolverine was equally impressive. 

So, the ride and engine response passed my redneck testing. Still, the Wolverine has even more features to make it a hunting workhorse. With its hydraulic assistance and a robust latch system, this machine includes a tilting cargo bed to simplify hauling and dumping chores. You can load it up with 600 pounds of dirt or elk meat. Numerous steel tie-down points secure your load. The last thing you want when you have a camp load going up the mountain is for gear t to scatter. A standard 2-inch receiver allows you to tow a staggering 2,000 pounds. The XT-R version includes even more added value with its heavy-duty Warn winch for self-rescue operations, pulling a deer out of a coulee, or, in my case, possibly hooking it up for snowplow use. 

The tank holds 9.2 gallons of fuel to keep you going all day. Since most of us tow the unit outdoors, expect your trailer to hold 1,704 pounds of machinery. The unit’s wheelbase is 83.7 inches, and its overall length is 115 inches. Most standard trailers will suffice to haul the Wolverine back to its native habitat. 

I have owned two Yamaha Grizzly ATVs since 2008. Except for some minor repairs, both performed and never griped about the duties ahead, even in subzero conditions. They tackled some of the steepest and rockiest terrain Wyoming has to offer, plus ground down the mountain with heaps of elk meat aboard. My short relationship with the Wolverine did nothing but impress me again on Yamaha’s commitment to outdoor recreation. Am I going to purchase a Wolverine? My wife and I are whittling down the side-by-side options as I type, but the Wolverine makes the shortlist with its MSRP of $17,399. 


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