It’s almost hard to believe 2012 marks the tenth year of Yamaha four-strokes. The 2003 RX-1 was truly one of the most revolutionary snowmobiles...

It’s almost hard to believe 2012 marks the tenth year of Yamaha four-strokes. The 2003 RX-1 was truly one of the most revolutionary snowmobiles ever brought to market, by anyone, ever. Since that time, Yamaha has continued to evolve and advance their four-stroke powered snowmobiles, and that evolution continues for 2012.

With 1.5 million registered snowmobiles in the United States, Yamaha believes there is still a huge potential market for them to sell their sleds. 70% of those surveyed indicate they would now in fact consider buying a four-stroke for their next snowmobile purchase. There are only 110,000 four-strokes out there from the past nine years, so the potential is indeed lucrative.

We all know it is difficult for a snowmobile manufacturer to keep rolling out new platforms, new engines and new technology year after year, endlessly. Yamaha just gave us a completely techno-induced Apex re-work for 2011, so 2012 is a continuation of that theme. The Electronic Power Steering, or EPS, that was so well-received on the Apex models now makes its way to the popular RS Vector models and the cruiser king RS Venture GT. This was probably the most asked for feature by Yamaha faithful over the past year, as the addition of EPS takes away the primary objection Yamaha riders have had with their reliable scooters – heavy steering.

With all of the four-stroke benefits, one can not deny the effect of added weight up over the skis with a four-stroke engine under the hood. A heavier engine means heavier steering, and this does tend to slowly take more energy to get the sled to go left and right all day long. Yamaha was the first to introduce power steering for their popular four-wheelers (ATVs) so it seemed perfectly logical for them to adapt that technology to their four-stroke sleds to overcome the objection. And they did.

The EPS system is really a power-assist unit, in that it simply gives the rider some help in turning the handlebars. Whatever you want the handlebars to do, the EPS system makes it easier. This means it takes less effort from the rider to turn the bars back and forth, hour after hour, mile after mile. As an added benefit, there is some isolation from handlebar backlash where you’re going through rough terrain and the skis try to yank the bars from your hands. The EPS system counteracts this, as it knows by your inputs that is not what your intentions are. This makes for a sweet riding experience, and truly makes it easier to ride a heavier sled for extended periods of time.

As stated, the RS Vector models get the addition of Electronic Power Steering for 2012. But this isn’t all you get on the RS Vector and the long-track RS Vector LTX – you’ll also find the 3rd generation front suspension geometry with flatter cornering and more predictable handling, a protective mid-height windshield (like what the Apex has), HPG aluminum body shocks up front and a new clicker rear track shock. Gone is the RA, or Remote Adjust, dial on the side of the tunnel. Instead, the new rear track shock is a clicker shock. Yamaha research found that most riders would set the RA adjuster dial on the side of the tunnel, and once they found their sweet spot, adjustments from that point were infrequent. That being the case, it was more economical and reliable to get rid of the dial and the cable that ran from the tunnel to the shock and replace it with a single shock that could still be adjusted. Now you have to reach to the shock and do your adjusting. The knob is fairly big so you should be able to get at it with relative ease. We’re not positive, but we believe the adjustability is still more rebound damping based than it is compression damping – no confirmation on this one yet. Other than the shock change, everything else remains the same in the rear suspension.

FX Nytro models also see incremental improvements for 2012. They also get the new “8HV” skis that are still being sorted out as to exact details. Yamaha was looking to reduce the darting and ski lift, so they’ve been tweaking the mounting locations, tweaking the keel length, tweaking everything that the patent attorneys will let them tweak. Ski designs and profiles are very well protected and guarded by not only other snowmobile manufactures but also the aftermarket ski manufactures. Many times good ideas can’t be built and sold simply because somebody holds a patent to do so, so engineers are always trying to offer the best ski possible and stay out of legal trouble. Most snowmobilers do not realize how much of an impact this has on what can and can not be offered in terms of ski designs.

FX Nytro models also get a new, more durable seat design. Actually, it is a more durable seat cover material that is more resistant to stretching and/or ripping. Yamaha is very particular about how their products stand the test of time, and this is one of those detail items they labor over to get just right. The seat foam is also said to be more durable, now more able to retain its shape over time and not sag.

In what was probably the biggest surprise from Yamaha for 2012 we find a new track on the FX Nytro RTX, but only on the RTX. Yamaha is calling it the Rip Saw II track, but looking at it there appears to be little in common (other than the name) with the popular Rip Saw track that Yamaha pioneered in the first place with Camoplast. This is a single ply track, 2.86” drive pitch, fully clipped with open windows, and a new lug design with anti-slip characteristics. Yamaha tells us while the new design Rip Saw provides even better durability (hard to believe, the Rip Saw is already one of the most durable tracks ever) along with being lighter in weight and here is the big one – it reduces ski lift.

A track that reduces ski lift? Anyone who has ever added studs to a sled, or has installed a more aggressive track into a sled they know very well, should be able to attest to the fact that when the rear of the sled isn’t allowed to slide some, that sideways energy will manifest itself as inside ski lift. Think about it. You want the track to have some side slip to keep the sled level and flat around the corners. Now think about the FX Nytro. We’ve always figured the inside ski lift on the Nytro was due to a higher center of gravity with the stand-up ergonomics and component placement, as it was directly derived from the (stand-up) race sled platform. This new Rip Saw II track has less bite at the edges of the track, and will let the tail of the sled slide just enough to keep the inside ski from lifting. The far edges of the outside lugs look like they’ve been whacked off (they’re molded that way) at a shallow 30-degree angle for more side slip and less side grip.

A 2.86” pitch track means new drivers for the Nytro RTX. This time they’re single piece 8-tooth extroverts for reduced noise and vibration, superior durability, and of course the ability to run the track slightly looser than can be done on older four-strokes, which should translate into better hyfax wear? We can only hope.

Does this mean the FX Nytro MTX mountain sled is the same as last year? No way. You get a new seat like the short track Nytros, and you get some funky blow-molded skis. Dubbed the “MT9” skis, they were offered as an accessory item by Yamaha last year. They have a wider base for even better flotation with a reduced steering effort, and they weigh 1.8 pounds less than the previous mountain ski.

The 162” FX Nytro MTX also gets a new track and single-piece 7-tooth extrovert drivers. This new single-ply track is called the “Ascent”. It is a 3” drive pitch design for improved lift and light weight, and of course better acceleration. It is fully clipped with open windows, should be more durable, and is said to work very well with boosted sleds (more power).

One of the things Yamaha was after was to stiffen up the lugs without losing powder snow performance. They wanted to maintain the lift capability of the track while improving the forward acceleration, and improve the performance in set-up snow. The Ascent track uses reinforcement columns in the lug design to strengthen the lug base, so this is not a dual-durometer design. The tips are still flexible for lift, with a stiffer lug base for forward acceleration. This new track should not curl up the lugs and keep them curled like the previous track would.

On the snow the Ascent really does have great lift characteristics and gets up on plane quickly. It is a more consistent performer across a wider range of snow conditions, with noticeably improved low speed flotation (the wider skis help here, too). And most importantly, the sled accelerates faster and climbs further up the hill. Side by side testing of exact sleds with only the tracks being different reveals the Ascent track lifts the front of the sled better, and the entire sled comes up out of the snow quicker and further, so it climbs higher.

Back to the trail sleds, the mighty Apex, Apex XTX and all-air Apex SE models return for duty with little more than a fresh new look and a new pair of skis. The details of this new 8HV ski design are still evolving, but it appears the mounting hole on the ski will be slightly forward, resulting in the ski being slightly further back on the spindle. Again, the final specification is still being worked on, so stay tuned.

The engine package and power delivery of this Apex 4-banger is nothing short of breathtaking. Maybe the term “freight train” would best fit. The throttle response is unreal, the power delivery smooth and seamless, all the way to over 160 HP. And this is without a turbo. It is truly a mind-bender to open one of these things up on a smooth, wide open speed course and feel first-hand how hard and long this thing pulls. Even though the speedometer is rather generous (it reads high) you will be in awe of the engine’s running quality.

Make no mistake, Yamaha marches to the beat of a different drummer. They are a motorcycle company first, and they are able to integrate and adapt their technologies across product lines to offer us better snowmobiles. When they first introduced the RX-1 ten years ago, we wondered if they were crazy, or what. Since that time they have cultivated a very loyal following of snowmobilers who value durability, quality and reliability from their investment. While nowhere near perfect, their sleds have met the 2012 EPA emissions regulations for years. That has allowed them the luxury of working on other areas of development, both for now and into the future.

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