2018 Yamaha Kodiak 450 Review


photos by Frank Hoppen
I like to put as many hard miles on whatever machine I’m testing, so when the time comes to review a low-priced entry level machine, I tend to think the long ride won’t be quite as fun and I’ll surely be a little more beat up than if I were riding the manufacturer’s top shelf model. Typically in year’s past, the day after a “hard day’s work” on a low-cost  ATV with minimal suspension meant a sore lower back and legs, bruised knees and probably a few blisters from wrongly-placed controls. And surely, after a full day of wrestling a misbehaved 4×4 through rough terrain of course meant my upper body would be reminding me not to do that again anytime soon. To my surprise the new mid-sized Kodiak 450 didn’t beat me up one bit. On the contrary, I found that long extreme rides on the new Kodiak 450 are just as comfortable and capable as they are on full-sized big-bore 4x4s that come with a much higher price tag!

Sometimes a mid-sized ATV is ideal.

Sometimes a mid-sized ATV is ideal.

Yamaha invited about 15 members of the ATV media to try out the mini Kodiak at Capital State Park in Olympia, Washington. The ride park features a lot of old single track terrain that was widened just enough to accommodate ATVs. I thought I had ridden all the types of terrain possible over the years, but this place threw something new at me. Prisoners were brought in about 15 years ago to lay thousands of cinder blocks in an effort to keep tire ruts and erosion at a minimum at some sections of the trail system. Besides the tight wooded sections and 50-inch bridges, the narrow cinder-block-prisoner-handiwork was framed with railroad ties creating runway like trails. What’s more, tree ruts, stumps and rocks littered the trails and were often hidden with overgrown vegetation on the sides of the narrow passageways. To further complicate things, and demonstrate why our small and nimble 4×4 Kodiaks equipped with EPS were ideal in this type of environment, we were forced to tackle the terrain in extreme dusty conditions.

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Olympia, WA offered up plenty of rugged terrain but the Evergreen state always seemed to pair it up with beautiful scenery.

The ride event organizers at Yamaha tried to out-smart the dust by breaking us up into smaller riding groups. I liked this idea, and especially liked the group I was assigned to, Pat Biolsi (Yamaha ATV & SxS Testing Supervisor), Cain Smead (ATV Rider Magazine) and Nick Nelson (ATV World Magazine), good friends are always the best guys to go riding with. Our four man team was small, but still kicked up a lot of dust. As if the trail system wasn’t challenging enough, not seeing the many daggers that I mentioned above made this ride one of the most mentally demanding rides I’ve ever been on. You really had to be on your A-game every second of the way. Crashing here meant a sure trip to the hospital as there was never a soft place to crash on. I mention all this in detail ahead of time because it’s all key to how important it is to choose the correct ATV before you get to a place like this.

You wouldn’t expect it from a mid-sized entry-level ATV, but the Kodiak 450 is surprisingly plush just like its big brother the Kodiak 700 and well-to-do Grizzly 700 cousin. Yes there were times when I maxed out the suspension capabilities, mostly when pushing the machine through whoop sections on the trail where the rear bottomed and the machine began to swap a bit, but the lack of suspension travel provided enough warning to let me know it was time to back off a bit. The trade off for not swallowing up whoops at the kind of speed I was asking is well earned, everywhere else the mini Kodiak was as plush and forgiving as an expensive big bore 4×4! Besides, who buys a 4×4 to motocross through whoops anyway? The five-way adjustable gas-charged shocks offer 6.7 inches of front wheel travel and 7.4 inches at the rear. They’re bolted to independent double wishbone suspension front and back. I didn’t cut the machine a break one bit, I hit hard square-edge ruts at speed and I’m happy to report that the suspension soaked up everything I put it through like a plush Cadillac!

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The Kodiak 450 behaves more like a full sized high priced 4×4 than it does an entry level mid-sized ATV.

Since suspension duties are so well done on this machine, Yamaha was able to use a bigger and stiffer tire setup. The 25” 4-ply CST tires offer minimal roll, more ground clearance (9.6 inches) and even after a long 50-mile ride in some pretty extreme tire-cutting conditions, not one test rider came back with a flat. Also worth noting is its full length composite skid plate system, which provides excellent rock protection without the annoying vibration of an aluminum unit.

Suspension and handling should always compliment each other. Thankfully that’s the case on the new Kodiak 450. It’s a well-balanced, nimble machine that impressively carves through tight rutted terrain quite well, and that’s because sometimes less is more. Yep, this little 450 with its compact chassis is unlike most mid-sized 4×4 ATVs. The Kodiak 450, with its compact size and body design is lighter, smaller and less bulky than competitive models. Its measurements are 80.1” long, 46.6” inches wide, 45.7” tall, seat height is 33.6” and weighs in at 650 pounds. In other words, it’s built new from the ground up, this is NOT a Kodiak 700 frame with a smaller powerplant. I’m thrilled to see that Yamaha didn’t try to attempt the same kind of mid-sized trickery that Honda and Polaris is offering with their competitive models, the Rancher 420 and Sportsman 450. I want agile maneuverability from a mid-sized ATV. If I have that, in certain terrain situations, I can actually out-ride a good rider on a bigger more powerful 4×4! For me, this was the case with Yamaha’s discontinued Wolverine 450 4×4, and after a long day on the Kodiak 450, I’m confident, in the certain sections of the trail in the right conditions, I could do the same with this new Kodiak 450! And since I mentioned the Rancher, which would be my distant second choice if I were buying a mid-size 4×4, comparing apples to apples the Kodiak EPS is $1300 less than a Rancher equipped with power steering!

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The mini Kodiak is amazingly agile. Quick turns are a blast on this machine.

The most important thing a 4×4 ATV can offer is not the ability to carry a zillion pounds on its racks or pull a big trailer on a gravel driveway. A good 4×4 ATV, in my opinion, is one that handles exceptional well, easily and effortlessly goes right where you aim it without any surprises or issues that leave you uncertain of your ability to tackle an obstacle, has plenty of unobstructed room to move around on the machine, doesn’t vibrate or fatigue its rider whatsoever thus encourages all-day long rides and provides just as much fun out on the trails as it does working around the property. That’s a big order but I’m here to tell you Yamaha satisfied all of these points for me with the new Kodiak 450. Little things like properly placed controls, a well-crafted narrowed seat and rubber engine mounts that isolate vibrations all combine to give the rider one of the smoothest and most comfortable rides ever offered in a utility ATV!

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That’s massive Mount Ranier photo bombing the Kodiak in the background.

Not only does the new 450 Kodiak seem to fit my 5′-10” size and riding style, I think it will do the same for absolutely EVERYONE. It’s a smaller-than-typical-4×4 yet it still offers a ton of room to move around thanks to a well designed narrow seat, wide impressive traction-assisted floorboards and a handlebar bend that is shaped for riders of various heights. I also found that it was easy to be aggressive on the machine whether in the sitting or standing position, and that just isn’t the case on several other 4x4s. Even the new oversized swept thumb throttle design suggest that all-day riding is just a thumb push away for any rider, male, female, big or small. Since I mentioned carrying and pulling, large diameter steel cargo racks with durable wrinkle paint finish can carry 264 pounds combined. A heavy duty ball  mount comes standard and the Kodiak 450 can tow 1,322 pounds.

The Kodiak 450 uses the same 421cc SOHC engine as it did when it was last in production (2014) on the Grizzly and Kodiak 450 of old. I would have liked a little more power while they were in the rebuilding mode – I think they should have at least increased displacement size from 421cc to something closer to 450, but with its new electronic fuel injection the new 450 Kodiak performs better than the older version, should provide way easier cold weather starting and probably sips a little less fuel. Also worth noting is just how well this little gem ran. There isn’t gobs of arm-yanking power, but that’s probably one of the reasons you’re eying it up in the first place. The power that it does make is delivered in a smooth ride all day manner. Engineers at Yamaha specially tuned the clutch so it provides extra smooth low-speed response this will be great for backing up to a trailer or slowly carrying a fragile unsecured load on its racks. But when it’s time for some fun, all it takes is a quick stab of the throttle and you’ll find that the Kodiak gets out of its own way with impressive acceleration that is sure to make you want to get out and ride every chance you get. Also, from idle to full throttle there is no lag, only strong steady usable power, and from full throttle to idle there’s no backfiring or sputtering. In short, after spending some time with this powerplant, you get the impression that this well built motor will perform this exact way for a long long time. Yamaha sure is known for that kind of dependability, and if you’re considering a new ATV that should be something to to be concerned with if you ask me.

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You wont be able to wheelie too well with the mild mannered power that the Kodiak 450 makes, BUT power is very usable and available throughout the RPM range.

Putting the power to the ground is a Yamaha specialty, so of course a scaled down version of the same Ultramatic CVT system found on the Grizzly and Kodiak 700 is used on the 450. It features a gated shifter with slots for High, Low, Reverse and Park. Shift engagement was flawless and the position of the shifter was carefully placed – it’s clearly out of the way of your left leg even if you have long legs. As for power to the ground testing, of course the Kodiak 450 performs perfectly, everyone already knows Yamaha makes one of the most reliable and well performing transmission in the market. An automatic centrifugal clutch maintains constant belt tension for reduced belt wear and a sprag clutch provides Yamaha’s renowned all wheel engine braking, which works just as you would expect it to on Yamaha’s mini Kodiak. Traction is managed by Yamaha’s On Command selectable 4WD, which is always only an easy right thumb press away. When pressed there’s little to no hesitation or slipping since there’s no waiting for a computer controlled systems to engage, which is common in some competitive models.

How inviting is this new big thumb throttle? Also seen is the ultra-convenient push button 4WD selector.

How inviting is this new big thumb throttle? Also seen is the ultra-convenient push button 4WD selector.

Slowing the machine down is done with a pair of front disc brakes and a sealed wet rear brake system. The sealed rear brake is protected from dirt and water and said to be maintenance free, but don’t expect the effortless lock-em-up at will kind of braking power you get with a real disc brake system on the Kodiak 450, it performs more like a drum brake. I understand that most buyers in this category would prefer not to have to hassle with installing new brake pads but I’m the guy that always wants real hydraulic disc brakes front and rear, so if I’m honest I don’t like the wet brake system.

I didn’t expect that a curvy narrow gravel fire road could provide so much fun, but with its lower center of gravity, widened width, plush suspension and nimble corning capability the Kodiak allows a very precise in complete in control feel even at wide open speed. After an impressive day of traversing through extreme trail conditions, the time on the fast sweeping dirt road sealed the deal for me, the Kodiak 450 is one of the best handling 4x4s I’ve ever ridden! That’s because the Kodiak’s height, wheelbase, weight balance and stance were all carefully considered from ground up to offer the rider a light and precise steering feel throughout the entire range of suspension travel. Oh, and if you’re curious about top speed, it seems to top out around 48 mph.

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The new Kodiak 450 is now three inches wider than the old 2014 model. It’s also a bit lower. With this and many other changes handling is superb, in fact it’s one of the best handling 4x4s I’ve ridden!

You can get the Kodiak 450 without power steering but don’t be tempted. I know it may be tempting to save the $1000 it costs for EPS and perhaps you may feel more manly by going without it, but trust me, unless you plan to just use your Kodiak for chores around the property or dirt road transportation, and don’t plan to “go riding”, you will be happy you got it. I’m glad we will never know, but if we would have spent the day on non EPS units in the conditions we rode in someone probably would have crashed! Yamaha invented Electric Power Steering for ATVs back in 2007. It’s by far the best technical innovation to ever be added to an ATV in my opinion. The EPS system provides the industry’s best balance of steering assist and positive feedback by checking gear position, 4WD mode and speed to match terrain conditions in real time. It significantly reduces fatigue with predictable steering assistance that adapts to changing riding conditions and speeds, pretty impressive stuff, huh? Power steering can without a doubt keep you from crashing. This was especially true on our specific ride in Olympia, WA where bar-yanking stumps and rocks were hidden along the dusty trail. Hit one of these IED-like bombs out on the trail without EPS and chances are the bars will be yanked right out from under you. That can all be prevented since Yamaha’s EPS not only assists your steering but dampens kickback by quickly counter-acting the force from hitting a rock or stump and applying power in the opposite direction. This all happens within milliseconds, so near crash situations are swallowed up and corrected. In other words, you’ll barely know what would have tossed you over the bars if you didn’t take advantage of this incredible piece of technology (especially Yamaha’s version of EPS). Lastly, if I still haven’t sold you on upgrading to an EPS model, the center headlight mounted on the handlebars is only available on EPS models.

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Did you know the stuff on a trail that can reach out and grab a tire and yank the bars out from under you can be swallowed up and the force counter-acted by Yamaha’s Electronic Power Steering? Avoid fatigue and possible crashes and upgrade to an EPS equipped model!

Other notable items I found on the new Kodiak 450 include, a tool-less air filter design along with a reusable foam air filter, a plastic composite vibration-less full length skid plate with convenient oil and diff drain holes, high mounted air and CVT intake ports and high mounted electronics, which use marine grade quality connections and an all-LCD instrument cluster that doesn’t lack anything, it includes a big speed display, fuel level, transmission status, 4WD indicator, Check Engine light and even a service interval indicator that you can set as a reminder to change the oil. Also a winch wiring system is pre-installed at the factory as are a range of Genuine Yamaha Accessories – all designed from the inception of the machine. This means you can simply plug and play to install a new winch, plow or whatever other accessory you might want to install in the future.

The Kodiak 450 LCD instrument cluster is far from something you would find on an entry-level 4x4. It even has something the Grizzly and Kodiak 700 doesn't, a service interval indicator that you can set as a reminder to change the oil, while you're at it clean your air filter! Two of the most important things you can do to keep your machine running well for a long time.

The Kodiak 450 LCD instrument cluster is far from something you would find on an entry-level 4×4. It even has something the Grizzly and Kodiak 700 doesn’t, a service interval indicator that you can set as a reminder to change the oil, while you’re at it clean your air filter! Two of the most important things you can do to keep your machine running well for a long time.


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The Kodiak 450 is begging for you to install a new winch. Mounting holes and plug and play wiring await whenever it’s time.

It seems that there are always pros and cons with a purchase. While the pros of the Kodiak 450 massively outweigh the cons, I have to list a few things I didn’t like. Topping the list is the lack of diff lock. For me personally this isn’t that big of a deal. I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve actually needed diff lock. I tend to use momentum to get through technical slippery terrain, but if you’re a slow speed adventurer that rides in a lot of muddy terrain you might miss it more than me. There’s a bump-out in the plastic behind the seat that I thought was for storage but it’s just a design molded into the plastic, so unfortunately the only storage is an unsealed box under the seat. Speaking of the seat, removing it is almost too easy, all it takes is a light tug anywhere and it’s off. Putting it back on is just as easy. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, as it could pop off while standing through rough terrain or transporting the machine. I did ask around and didn’t hear of anyone losing their seat, so it may not be an issue at all.

Pull the seat off and you'll have access to a storage area, battery and air filter.

Pull the seat off and you’ll have access to a storage area, battery and air filter.

The Kodiak 450 color options include the new Armor Grey (which is my personal favorite), Fall Beige with Realtree Camo and Hunter Green. In addition to Fall Beige with Realtree Camo and Hunter Green, the non-EPS Kodiak 450 comes in Red, with pricing starting at only $5,999 MSRP. All Kodiak 450 ATVs, along with every Yamaha Side-by-Side and full-size ATV, is proudly assembled in the USA at Yamaha’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Newnan, Georgia, for worldwide distribution.

2018 Yamaha Kodiak 450 EPS in Armor Gray

2018 Yamaha Kodiak 450 EPS in Armor Gray

If you’re narrowing down your search for the best mid-class 4×4 utility ATV available that doesn’t cost a fortune I would highly suggest the new Kodiak 450 EPS. It plays as well as it works, handles all types of terrain exceptionally well, provides adequate smooth usable power from idle to full throttle,  surprisingly offers a ton of room and perfect ergonomics, rides as plush as the high-priced big bore 4x4s and comes with industry-leading Yamaha dependability – now that’s a lot of value if you ask me.

View additional details on Yamaha’s all-new 2018 Kodiak 450, along with the complete lineup of Proven Off-Road vehicles online at YamahaMotorsports.com

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