LOST PINES, Texas – They say everything is bigger in Texas, so maybe that’s why Yamaha decided to launch their newest side-by-side, the 2015 Viking VI, outside of Austin. The six-seater utility crossover is based on the three-seater Viking, which debuted in 2013.
During our technical briefing, the Yamaha PR and marketing folks really stressed the fact that their side-by-sides, including the Viking VI, are assembled at their factory in Newnan, Ga. Yamaha’s tagline of “Assembled in the U.S.A.,” Yamaha ATV/SxS Group PR manager Van Holmes told us, is a bit of a misnomer: The engines come from Japan, but the welding, powdercoating, tube bending, painting and plastic molding is all done in Newnan.
The all-American vibe in the marketing seems fitting, with the Viking VI aimed squarely at American farming as well as hunting. In fact, the Viking line is built with a width that accommodates row farming.
At a glance, the Viking VI appears to be the same as the Viking, but with three extra seats inserted into the middle. What this means for dealers is that sales staff will need to be armed with a list of the subtle differences that optimize the six-seater. The 686cc engine is the same, but the Viking VI version has a redesigned intake system, adjusted fuel injection, ignition advance mapping and new clutch specs to counterbalance the additional weight. And that weight can add up. Even though the difference between the two Viking versions is only 300 pounds, adding three more passengers can easily triple that amount.
Suspension settings were tweaked, as well, and the dual rate springs are a new addition. The Maxxis Big Horn tires have a redesigned internal structure and a different optimal pressure setting.
Yamaha says that comfort is a top concern for customers, and when the test drives began, we all piled in to put the concept to the test. The middle seats are offset, so the rider in the middle sits slightly behind the passengers on either side. Looking at the seats, it seems like a tiny difference. Sitting in the seats, though, proved that a little can accomplish a lot. We all fit in easily, and the offset middle meant that none of us were banging shoulders as we jostled over the terrain.
In fact, the only time I felt a little cramped was while sitting in the front middle seat, and that was only because the driver needs space for steering. In other words, I felt like our elbows were trying to occupy the same space at the same time. Resting my hands on the grab bar in front of me (every seat has one) kept my arms out of the way.
The real test was the middle rear seat. I fit into it easily, and at 5 feet, 9 inches tall, I had a few inches of spare room for my knees. One journalist, who stands a much more impressive 6 feet, 6 inches tall, had to splay his legs out to the side, but declared it to be a comfortable ride nonetheless.
The headrests are a change from the Viking. They now have an opening in the center, which is intended to increase visibility for riders in the back.
Trail Riding and Wildflower Whacking
Even with a full passenger load, the Viking VI still accelerated and braked smoothly. The additional length (the Viking VI is 153.5 inches long, while the Viking is 122 inches) was no hindrance as we traversed the “bush-whacking” section of the test course. It maneuvered around tight turns easily, and most of the time I wasn’t even conscious of the extra length behind me. There was only one turnaround area in which I had to use reverse once to keep from plowing over any trees. (No trees were destroyed in the testing of this vehicle. However, later in the day, I found driving through waist-high wildflowers to be oddly exhilarating.)
The extra weight and length could be felt – and heard – while cresting a couple of the steeper rises in the trail. The new skid plates underneath angle up on the sides to provide more ground clearance along the edges. Yamaha described it as being like a boat in shape and purpose, getting you safely over obstacles without leaving you hanging out to dry. The skid plate was put to good use, and we skimmed over the rises without any issue. In comparison, the original Viking barely noticed the same rises. The smaller vehicle is, of course, the more nimble of the two, but the Viking VI still proved that it can be used for some recreational offroad riding as well as ranch or farm duty.
Like the Viking, this new model has a steel cargo bed that dumps at the turn of a handle. The built-in tie-down hooks are a nice convenience. Returning the bed to its flat position takes some muscle, but isn’t difficult. (Full disclosure: I have skinny little arms.)
Yamaha has plenty of accessories for the Viking VI. Seven new accessories are making their debut, including camo seat covers, heated seat covers, a bow case mount, a chainsaw mount, a molded sun top and a second battery kit. There are another 35 accessories that fit both the Viking and the Viking VI.
The folding windscreen is probably great for taller riders, but for me, the seam folded at the spot where I typically look at the terrain ahead of me. On the flip side, the wind deflector was unobtrusive and efficient, and it seemed to keep out a lot of the dust kicked up by vehicles ahead of us.
The Viking VI will arrive in dealerships by mid-July. Color options are red, green and camo, with pricing starting at $12,799 for non-EPS versions and going up to $14,999 for the Viking VI SE.
Media images courtesy of Yamaha.