By now we all know what a side-by-side (SXS) is and what they do. They tick just about every box imaginable in an off-road vehicle, however they’re still relatively obscure around these parts.
Despite ‘Straya being over-regulated to the point of condescension, there are companies like Yamaha Australia who are putting their best efforts into opening up privately-owned parks for SXS use as well as spearheading the safety considerations – a necessity if these things are going to get off the ground in the recreational market (did somebody say rec rego?). They’re already starting to catch up to ATVs for agricultural use, so is it only a matter of time before the 4WD consumer gets on board?
We snuck out to the beautiful Mount Seaview park in the Port Macquarie hinterland to run around in Yamaha’s brand new X2 Wolverine to find out.
WHY A SXS MAKES SENSE OFF-ROAD
Dedicated off-road rubber, locking diffs, fully independent suspension that is actually designed to work, light weight, tube frame and more fun packed into it per square centimetre than Disneyland. Sounds more like a purpose-built tube buggy than an off-the-shelf vehicle that’s cheaper than a Jimny don’t it?
But that’s exactly what you’re getting with a SXS. And here’s the kicker: these things have a smaller environmental footprint than traditional 4WDs, have smaller motors so lower emissions, and are generally easier to pilot on tight tracks than anything this side of an ATV. If our respective authorities wanted to actually reduce the number of things they regularly shut tracks down for, they’d be promoting the hell out of side-by-sides.
WHY AREN’T THESE THINGS ALREADY MORE POPULAR?
This brings us to our next point. I know I’d already own one if I could take it on public lands and national parks to explore. It has headlights, taillights and accessories available for inclement weather. Surely throwing a sand flag and a set of indicators on it wouldn’t be too difficult. So what’s the problem?
Nobody wants to allow them on public lands, despite the above points on how suited they are to recreational off-road driving. Still, with big companies like Yamaha leading the charge, I’ sincerely hope this will lead to a fundamental change in how our governments cater to a huge section of the voting population. Give us rec rego, allow responsible use in designated areas and watch the government coffers and small business communities flourish.
THE WOLVERINE X2 (I THINK I’M IN LOVE)
I won’t bore you with endless specs and comments on how good the CVT transmission is here (it’s freaking amazing btw), I’ll just tell you why I’ll be looking very closely at this thing when I’m in the market for a SXS.
Maybe it was the fact I had this thing sideways on a loose, rocky track at 80km/h, a sheer cliff on my left and an 80-foot drop-off on my right without once feeling like it was out of control. Perhaps it was the hill climb that I would have crawled in first-low in my 4WD but hit it in the Wolverine with my foot planted into the firewall and drove up it at speed, the suspension just soaking up the bumps. Or maybe it was just the fact that after a solid day of hard wheeling, I got out of this thing without even a niggle from my bum knees, hips and shoulder. Sure, I was dusty – no windscreen on drought-stricken land with zero wind will do that for you, but I wasn’t sore, stiff or desperate for a drink. I just had one of those stupid smiles plastered on my dial that made me look like a teenage boy who’s just discovered his dad’s ‘stash’.
The 847cc engine may not sound huge, but believe me, this thing scoots along with two burly blokes in it quicker than a greased-up whippet.
The Wolverine is more than quick enough to get you into trouble. Or so you’d think. The thing is the suspension, transmission and engine braking are dialled in so sweetly that you would have to be a full-blown window-licker to screw up in one of these. The harder you drive, the better everything seems to work. Loose, slippery downhills were feet-off-the-pedals affairs and it never felt like running away. Hill climbs were put-the-hammer-down-and-steer. Corners were Scandi-flick-and-enjoy-the-powerslides (and hope the Yamaha reps weren’t watching).
Fun, practical, capable and ultimately one of the safest and most rewarding ways to get around off-road. Why the hell aren’t we all driving these things?