During the launching of the new line of Yamaha products in 2018, one ATV caught my eye more than any other: the Kodiak 450. Why did they bring back a model they had stopped producing in 2015? There are several answers to this question, but one is certainly to ensure a presence in the class of multipurpose, small engines that Honda currently dominates. Moreover, we’re seeing an increase in the sales of small and mid-sized engines that are attractive because of their affordable price compared to that of the 800 and 1000 classes currently on the market.
The people at Yamaha wanted us to test this ATV in its natural habitat, so they invited us to the State of Washington, or more precisely, to the city of Olympia, about an hour from Seattle. To give you an idea of the scenery and surroundings, it’s simply one part of the Rocky Mountains, which also cross into Canada in Alberta. Therefore, the type of terrain is highly mountainous, steep, and narrow. The people at Yamaha wanted their Kodiak 450 to be tested on very narrow trails to demonstrate as much as possible its agility, precision, and comfort.
I first noticed the new Kodiak’s size during my first few laps on the machine. The space available to sit behind the handlebar is surprising. If you look at the photos that accompany this story, the driver seems to be bigger than the ATV itself. The shorter chassis gives it a total length of 203.5 cm (80.1 inches), which is less than that of its brother, the 700 cc version, making it one of the shortest in its class. Several changes were made to improve the ergonomics of the driving position on the Kodiak:
a lower seat
a narrower front seat for more space for the knees
a clutch lever repositioned higher
wider running boards
These changes make for greater comfort on the Kodiak, and offer the driver more space to move forwards/backwards or left/right when suddenly manoeuvring.
The reputation of Yamaha’s engines has long been established, and the Kodiak 450’s is no exception to the rule. It’s the same engine as the one on the 450 during its last years of production. This 421 cc injection engine is equipped with two valves and a single camshaft, in addition to being liquid cooled. The Kodiak’s little 421 cc engine just wants to work, and you’ll quickly realize this after the first few laps.
The baby of Yamaha’s family of bears is built to work. It comes with the Ultramatic transmission with H, L, and R, of course. During our test run over mountainous terrain, we noticed the effectiveness of the engine brake. It’s especially practical on a steep slope, particularly when carrying or towing a load, thus making your trip safer. Power is transferred to the wheels through a centrifugal clutch that maintains a constant tension on the belt, thereby minimizing wear and tear. The 2WD or 4WD selector is easily accessible on the right knob of the Kodiak and can be switched during driving, if necessary. The people at Yamaha recommend switching at speeds under 10 km/h.
As I mentioned in the intro, the Kodiak is especially comfortable for an ATV of this size. The dual-arm, adjustable, independent suspension is equipped with gas-filled shocks with five settings. The suspension is easy to adjust as needed for comfort or when loading heavier equipment of up to 113 kg (250 lbs.) on the rear rack. Everything’s been thought of by the people at Yamaha to give you the impression that you’re on board an ATV with a larger engine.
The assisted power steering is available and was, moreover, available on the vehicles we tested. This is not the first (nor the last) time that I’ll say this, but all off-road vehicles should be equipped with this system. Yamaha’s version is very efficient, as it operates fully at low speed then gradually reduces assistance as the speed increases. At high speed, this option is essential to maintain full control of the machine, as it allows you to feel when you’re crossing the line. Too much electronic assistance at high speed could give you a false sense of security, which, in turn, could cause you to lose control.
This new Kodiak offers a few other innovations:
A new LCD display panel allows you to read all the information you need when riding.
The accelerator lever (thumb) has been redesigned to make it more comfortable to use. (On this point, I have two reservations, for I had to move it three times because of the pain in my thumb. They’ve made the surface bigger and longer for support, but I think they should reconsider the lever’s position, which is too far away from the handlebar and too stiff to manoeuvre.)
The EPS version offers a third headlight mounted on the top of the handlebar, a great added feature.
There are new, attractive colours, such as Realtree Camo/Fall Beige, and Armor Gray, as well as green, red, and Yamaha’s popular blue.
The CST tires are highly resistant 4-ply tires, ideal for this ATV.
The ATV is equipped with the wiring needed to add a winch. The required space in front is indicated by predrilled holes designed to take the winch mounting plate.
In my opinion, the Kodiak is probably the best quality buy in its class for the money. All the components are made of high-quality materials, and Yamaha’s reliability is renowned. Another factor to take into account when shopping is its price, which is approximately $1,000 less than that of its most serious rival, which comes equipped with the same type of equipment.
Even if this is a multipurpose vehicle, don’t expect explosive starts, for it’s programmed to be a utility vehicle. On the other hand, when running at mid-speed, the Kodiak delivers a burst of energy when coming out of a turn. At full speed, it will be capable of speeds of up to 90 km/h, which is very good for the size of this racer.
On the day of the test run, I had a lot of fun sitting behind the Kodiak’s handlebar. Its small, agile and precise frame did a remarkable job on the area’s very narrow trails. All of these solid and comfortable components exude confidence when tackling more challenging rides. This new Kodiak 450 is built to dominate the terrain, and I think it will soon dominate its class just as its brother, the Grizzly, did in the 700 cc class. For once, I don’t have anything negative of significance to highlight.
Congratulations to the people at Yamaha for having designed an ATV of this quality at this price that consumers will be able to enjoy for many years without having to spend an arm and a leg on costly repairs.